I knew I’d be in the tent last Friday night but I hadn’t decided on the exact location before I left the house in the morning. I did tell Sarah my route though and gave a few options of where I might end up. My first thought was at the col of Lochnagar, just down a bit from Meikle Pap, that’s what we discussed anyway. The forecast was perfect, light winds, clear skies, chance of a meteor shower and perhaps an aurora! I first camped at the col with Sarah circa 1995, can’t remember for sure, but this time I was a little more prepared.…
Before that though I met up with my chum Struan and we took the boys for a stroll to Shielin of Mark Bothy. The hard frost crafted ice formations on the burns and made the usually damp walk to the bothy quite easy across the peat hags. Dropping down to the bothy in beautiful sunshine we had our picnic by the fire (to add to the bothy experience) and played a game of top trumps, in which I came last. We had both carried in and left fire wood for the next visitor. Be warned though, the chimney is a bit like me, no good at drawing!
The 4 of us and very happy dog left the bothy (with fire out) and enjoyed our walk back over the heather to the path. The boys tried to smash as much ice as possible, icicles fascinating them as usual. We met another nice chap outside the bothy, carrying two large cameras and enjoying the sunshine and fading light on the way back. We probably disturbed his afternoon but he didn’t seem to mind.
Walking back we admired Lochnagar in the distance and I was looking forward to extending my walk along the road. I walked back to the car park with them and waved them off while I changed over bags and boots. By this time the sun was already getting low and I walked up towards Allt-na-giubhsaich as the light faded.
This was my first longish day since the festive period and I was feeling it with the heavier pack. The walk up the track was quite slow for my usual standards, possibly because of the weight in my bag and around my waist!
At the path junction before the walk up to the col I stopped for a break to decide what I was going to do. The mist was starting to form and I contemplated turning back for a comfy night in the van. I put on my stove for a cup of tea then out of the darkness I heard footsteps approaching. Thinking to myself ‘who could this be’, along walked Bill Dallas. I used to work for the same company as Bill and we’ve crossed paths a couple of times since. I told him I wasn’t sure where I was going to end up that night. Being a member of the Braemar Mountain Rescue Team he probably wasn’t too impressed with this indecision but he did kindly offer me to join him on the top. I would support that view and it’s not advisable to wander in winter if you don’t know what you’re doing. To explain, I gave Sarah a full late back procedure, including route and times of contact. In winter I also carry Spot SOS tracker, I know the area very well and I’m a qualified Mountain Leader. Camping up high in winter is life threatening if you don’t understand and mitigate the risks. Serious stuff over.
Bill left me and my boiling stove and I stood looking at the stars, occasionally I could could see him switch on the head torch as he wandered up the hill.
It’s amazing the difference a wee hot drink and a snack can make to your energy levels. Inspired by Bill’s efforts I decided to plod on, soon reaching foxes well where I filled my water containers for the trip up top, the best water in Scotland. I didn’t carry my tripod which was a mistake so balancing my camera on a rock I took a couple of poor photos of the corrie before continuing on up the ladder and over towards the top.
There was some ice on the ground but mostly avoidable. A snow patch on the path before the climb to Cac Carn Mòr was avoided by staying closer to the corrie rim. I didn’t continue onto the top, I decided to leave Bill to the solitude he probably went up for. I pitched my tent on the flat spot west of Cac Carn Mòr, by this time getting tired and hungry.
I only saw one meteor but the glow of the northern lights and huge skies above was eye opening, utterly beautiful. I pitched my tent with the door facing north, sat in my sleeping bag and watched the display eating a lovely...chicken curry. About 10:30 I was dozing off and I heard another couple of voices and torches approaching near the Cairn. Bill’s solitude was about to be disturbed by another couple of team members as I found out in the morning when speaking with the Aberdeen team who were out training.
During the night the cloud came in and the frost came too. I don’t think it was overly cold but there was a good deposit of rime on anything exposed. I woke up a few times through the night, opened the door at 6 ish and quickly closed it again! Then awoke about 8 for breakfast, still in cloud.
After packing up the cloud began to lift and I had a great walk down enjoying the clouds drifting below and chatting to folk as they walked up.
Long story short, pick your day, know what you’re doing and go for it. Watching that sky at 1140m is something I’ll never forget. I’ll keep the camping in winter for myself but if you’d like to experience this in summer get in touch.
Happy New Year all, Garry.