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Loch Ossian two day winter expedition

Loch Ossian two day winter expedition


Postby pjm1 » Wed Jan 13, 2016 2:51 pm

Route description: Sgor Gaibhre and Carn Dearg from Corrour

Munros included on this walk: Beinn na Lap, Carn Dearg (Corrour), Sgor Gaibhre

Date walked: 07/01/2016

Time taken: 29 hours

Distance: 30.6 km

Ascent: 1600m

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My walking pal and I like to cram in as much variety to our walking trips as possible. Taking dinghies, bicycles and the like are "extras" which make our trips more uncertain in terms of outcome. Obviously we do everything we possibly can to stay safe, but we like rolling the dice a bit as to what might break down and cause us grief next.

So we conjured this plan involving a train ride to Britain's most remote station (for the second and third time for each of us), a cycle in, a quick munro, second cycle to find a good camp spot and then set up camp for the night. Day 2 would be more straightforward - a simple ascent of two munros, return to camp, depitch and cycle back to Corrour where we'd hopefully arrive in time for the Friday evening Fort William "party train" back to Glasgow.

We were hoping this would be a belter of a trip for various reasons: we had made a previous nav error some years ago and walked up a munro top instead of Beinn na Lap when doing a circuit of some Loch Treig hills... embarrassing error which we would be able to rectify here. BnL would otherwise be a single trip just to summit that one hill, so by doing this longer two-day route, we were getting bang for our Scotrail bucks!

Secondly, we thought we could find a decent wild camping spot that would allow us access to water, shelter from the worst of any wind/rain, and an optimal crossing point between the two days' walks. We didn't expect to find quite such a brilliant location, though!

Finally, we'd have the opportunity to brush up on winter skills, get a really solid mid-winter walk under our belts (after doing Mount Keen just before Christmas) and start 2016 off in a positive way.

If this trip report is a case of "too long; didn't read" then a quick summary would be: absolutely bonzer!

Day 1
0851 train from Dumbarton to Corrour
0855 sunrise
1121 arrive at Corrour, cycle to base of Beinn na Lap
around midday start our walk up BnL, aim to return to the bikes before 2:30pm
1430ish cycle to the South bank of Loch Ossian, past the hostel and locate a good camping spot around half way along the south bank


Day-1-route.gpx Open full screen  NB: Walkhighlands is not responsible for the accuracy of gpx files in users posts



Journey-wise, everything went pretty much to plan. It was teeming it down at Dumbarton but we offloaded the bikes and kit bags (35l rucksack, two big panniers, 80l North Face duffel bag) from the car and up to the platform with about 45 minutes to go. Train journey up to Corrour was uneventful, apart from a really rather attractive female train guard ;)

When we alighted at Corrour, there was a very light drizzle but otherwise weather conditions were unremarkable for the time of year. Snowline looked to be about 550-600m. We dropped the bags at a fork in the road - we were heading left towards BnL and would be returning to this point to head past the hostel and to our camp spot, so it seemed a good place to leave anything we didn't need to take up the mountain. I had been doing some "make you own kit" experiments in the days leading up to this adventure, including making my own tarpaulin from a bedsheet. Sadly, with the wet weather we'd been having, I hadn't been able to hang the sheet outside after proofing it, so it had been drying in my garage. Our whole house ended up smelling very strongly of white spirit, as did our train carriage on the way up to Corrour. So I took this opportunity to cover our bags with our superking sized tarp, in an effort to "air" it. It was mottled/camo green, so it helped my bright red NF duffel bag blend in a bit, at least :)

We cycled to the base of BnL at around 400m (a fairly flat cycle from Corrour station all the way round, to be honest). The bikes were dropped and probably unnecessarily locked together. We had our minimal day packs with spare clothing, food and water, emergency kit and crampons/ice axes each. Nice and light for the summit.

It took us just under 90 minutes to ascend - we were taking it easy as the clag had really started to descend once we got about 600m.

20160107-IMGP7866-fl18 mm-ISO 320-exp1-50 sec at ƒ - 11-bias-1 EV.jpg
View back across to Loch Ossian, heading up Beinn na Lap


Nav was simple (this time!) - due South up the side slope of BnL until we got to about 750m, then swing round NE veering ENE to follow the ridge up up and up. At the swing point (750m) we found a few loose stones (not big enough to be a home to anything) and made ourselves a baby cairn surrounded by a ring of footprints in the snow. This was our marker on the way back down to change bearing to South.

No need for crampons and I didn't even take my axe off my pack as the snow was fresh, unpacked and with the warm temperatures we'd been having there wasn't a trace of ice on any rocks that were showing through. Ascent to the summit was straightforward as a result with no particular nav concerns. We summited before 1:30pm, had a few minutes to send texts to wives to ensure they were aware we were safe etc. and then descended. I wanted to make sure we hadn't left a new cairn to confuse anyone - but just as well for the footprints (just about visible) because the snow covering had made my baby cairn invisible.

Picking up the bikes, we were back to our bags by about 2:30. With sunset just before 4pm and a near hour of useful twilight after that, we had plenty of time to make our way around the South side of the loch and find a camp spot. My cycling strength and ability isn't great (unlike my pal) so I was finding the going tough, despite it being flat. a completely rammed 80l duffel bag on my back wasn't going to help, but I was glad when Kevin found a perfect prime location for our pitch.

It had been used before, was mostly under shelter of trees but still had views of Beinn na Lap on the North side of the loch. Enough flat and rock-free area to pitch my Tarptent Scarp 2 and a sitting area which was completely clear of vegetation and had been used for a fire by someone previously, judging by the stones they'd left. We wanted a very small and controlled fire if it was safe and sensible to do so and we'd carried in a bucket load of firewood, kindling and tinder just in case (hence my particularly heavy pack). Given the dampness of the ground, lack of roots, peat etc. we thought it would be fine. I had filled a 15l water butt from the loch so nothing was going to get out of control. I had put a tarp up to help give us shelter from any last remnants of wind/rain. We were lucky though as it was basically windless.

We had a fantastic evening: we managed to heat up some penne alla puttanesca I'd made and partially dehydrated the day before. We were both starting to get very very cold by 5pm so the hot food was a godsend and got us back into chirpy spirits. We had a small bottle of port to share (lighter than wine or beer) and enjoyed watching the sky clear to a starry night. At about 10pm we'd finished our firewood, food and conversation had degenerated to the point where we agreed it was time to turn in.

BOY, was it cold that night! No clouds meant I had to pull on fleece lined trousers at about 2am because my legs were too cold. Kevin's feet were in a bad way in the morning, too. But then we looked out of our tent and saw this:

20160108-IMGP7879-fl18 mm-ISO 125-exp8.0 sec at ƒ - 11-bias-1 EV.jpg
Beinn na Lap from our tent before sunrise


Day 2

KM log 500k.gpx Open full screen  NB: Walkhighlands is not responsible for the accuracy of gpx files in users posts



I faffed around quite a bit - my hands got too cold when I was refilling my water bottles with filtered loch water. I desperately needed my pot noodle (courtesy of Kevin's awesome Biolite stove, fuelled with kindling we'd collected and dried the night before). I then wanted to take the picture above! So we didn't set off until 9am, which was an hour behind our planned schedule. However, we'd have a short walk further E along the loch path until we reached a fence which we could follow onto a path up towards Peter's Rock.

The walk up to Peter's Rock (which we couldn't really find because we were too busy looking at the amazing sight behind us) was glorious. Pretty clear skies and the "golden hour" meant Loch Ossian and its surrounding hills looked spectacular. When walking it's tempting just to focus on what's in front of you, but we couldn't stop turning back:

20160108-IMGP7906-fl28.13 mm-ISO 160-exp1-250 sec at ƒ - 8.0-bias-2 EV.jpg
Back towards Loch Ossian from near Peter's Rock


Our ascent up Carn Dearg - the first munro of the day - was straightforward and I found the going fairly easy, although my legs weren't quite as fresh as they had been the day before (possibly the port!) We were walking over snow-covered heather for the first couple of hundred metres of ascent so were pleased when this became rockier and more certain ground. We started following the Allt a'Choire Odhair Bhig as it snaked away up towards the ridgeline at about 800m, above us. Plenty of opportunity to replace the filtered loch water I had with me with much nice tasting "burn juice" as we followed the Allt. We began heading SE at about 650m as we (well, I!) had decided I wanted to aim for Gualainn Chlachach and then take that ridgeline up to the Carn. There was a bealach on the ridge at about 840m which we could have hit had we simply stayed in line with the burn, but that was the "well trodden route" so I fancied an alternative.

The final approach to Carn Dearg was pretty, in some ways made more visually interesting by the cloud which had started to roll in from the SW above Glen Etive and the hills to the south:

20160108-IMGP7915-fl18 mm-ISO 80-exp1-250 sec at ƒ - 11-bias-2 EV.jpg
Before summitting Carn Dearg, looking out towards Glen Etive and South


Carn Dearg had a pretty substantial cairn, although not a U-shaped shelter like Beinn na Lap. We took a breather on the leeward side (although winds were very light still), admired the view then headed down to the bealach between the two munros... Sgor Gaibhre here we come!

As we descended, it was worth noting that the slope down to the bealach would be particularly susceptible to small avalanche in different conditions. We'd had very little snow so far in the season, so the covering was a single thin strata, but we observed a fair bit of shearing of table-sized sheets as we walked through it. The sheets were only a few cm thick at this point in the season, but I'd want to stick to the ridges/shoulders in less benign conditions! The views were also unhelpfully distracting ;)

20160108-IMGP7925-fl35 mm-ISO 80-exp1-2000 sec at ƒ - 11-bias-3 3-10 EV.jpg
Between Carn Dearg and Sgor Gaibhre, looking S


I'll be honest and say my legs were starting to grumble on the ascent to Sgor Gaibhre. Kevin was looking more and more comfortable as the trip had gone on and I needed to crack on to keep up his good pace. We finally summitted the Sgor at about 1245, nearly four hours after we'd started off - not exactly our most rapid progress ever!

The views from the summit were great in all directions, with views over so many mountain ranges. It was also great to get a different perspective on Schiehallion from beyond the pretty miniscule cairn:

20160108-IMGP7933-fl55 mm-ISO 80-exp1-125 sec at ƒ - 11-bias-1 3-10 EV.jpg
View from Sgor Gaibhre towards Schiehallion


We'd been discussing whether to do the final top of Sgor Choinnich on our way up Gaibhre. We both agreed we'd had a fantastic day out so far and there was little upside to staying out longer, especially with the clouds looking like they might roll in. Assessing the "escape" options, we could either head down into the Bealach nan Sgor and follow its eponymous Allt or take a more direct route off the E/ENE face of our munro. There was a fair amount of hardpacked neve and we discussed popping on our crampons for the final descent. However, we spotted a fairly consistent run of softer snowline which gave us both very good purchase under our heels and I didn't feel it necessary to "clamp-on the cramp-ons". The gradient was such that any slip was likely to be very good fun, rather than dangerous and unstoppable.

The journey back down below the snowline was lengthy but eventually we reached the larger Allt a'Choire Chreagaich. This was quite in spate and had to be crossed carefully and followed, with sufficient forethough to avoid subsequent crossings of its later tributaries. It certainly kept us awake as we trudged through the snow covered heather once more.

The man-made dam (presumably with some hydroelectric purpose now) marked the edge of another plantation by Loch Ossian and, more importantly, a landrover track! This was a welcome final leg and we plodded along, occasionally doing a bit of Strictly Come Dancing on ice that we hadn't noticed (Len would have given me a 7, I'm sure).

The gentle walk back along the lochfront was a needed rest as our bodies caught up with the two days' exertions. Reaching our tent about six and a half hours after we set off, we were looking forward to a sit down. Given we didn't do one of the peaks on the "official route", I was a bit disappointed with our time, but then again, had we raced round quicker, we'd just have had longer to wait for our train anyway! We were fortunate to enjoy very benign winter conditions and although we didn't use either crampons or ice axe, I'd never set off without them at this time of year (well, maybe if I was just going to Tesco).

After spending quite a long time decamping, packing up and generally (in my case, at least), relaxing a bit, it was time to get back on the bikes. Our packs and panniers were lighter this time - fortunately - but I discovered that my front and rear gears had frozen! So I enjoyed one of my least favourite exercises (cycling) in a single gear. Hey ho, it was better than getting a puncture.

We arrived back at Corrour station with about 90 minutes to wait for our train. It was minus 2 degrees and although there was no wind, it was the first time that day that I began to feel quite cold despite having all my walking gear on.

Final note then: Corrour Station is not a great place to be waiting for a long time on a cold winter's evening!

Eventually, the train arrived, the guard helped us load bikes and gear on and we enjoyed a relaxing 2 and a half hour journey back to Dumbarton with a couple of Magners.

Absolutely bonzer!
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Re: Loch Ossian two day winter expedition

Postby Silverhill » Wed Jan 13, 2016 11:06 pm

Great first report pjm1!
To go camping this time of year.... I think I would have preferred the youth hostel! I did these three in the clag, so I never saw Schiehallion. That is a great picture! 8)
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Re: Loch Ossian two day winter expedition

Postby pjm1 » Thu Jan 14, 2016 12:46 am

Thanks Silverhill! I wanted my first TR to be of a decent outing... thought this would be worth breaking ground for :)

Last year I didn't manage to rack up many hills (moving house, work commitments out of Scotland) so I've only ticked off 50 munros - in fact, Sgor Gaibhre was my 50th. Of those 50, I reckon maybe only 5 have been clear tops! So for me it was a bit of a shock to remind myself what the views can be like...

Re: not choosing the hostel: well, I just love wild camping - almost as much as the walking itself. My previous trip was Mount Keen which was, in terms of the walk, wholly uneventful, but at the tent we had a clear night sky with no cloud cover and the number of stars we could see was frankly unbelievable. Being that far away from light sources (we'd cycled pretty much as far as we could get) and a proper cloudless sky was genuinely breathtaking.

So, whilst I've stayed in bothies and the like, I just love camping out in a tent too much!
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Re: Loch Ossian two day winter expedition

Postby Alteknacker » Fri Jan 15, 2016 1:15 am

What can I say? I just loved this. :clap: :clap: :clap: What a brilliant way to spend a couple of days. Get thee behind me, green god of envy....

BTW what bag do you have? I'm thinking of doing some winter camping shortly, but have only experienced something around zero (when I was too hot in the 3 season bag I have, even in just pyjamas). Not sure the bag will manage a Highland winter night though...
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Re: Loch Ossian two day winter expedition

Postby pjm1 » Fri Jan 15, 2016 10:20 am

Alteknacker wrote:What can I say? I just loved this. :clap: :clap: :clap: What a brilliant way to spend a couple of days. Get thee behind me, green god of envy....

BTW what bag do you have? I'm thinking of doing some winter camping shortly, but have only experienced something around zero (when I was too hot in the 3 season bag I have, even in just pyjamas). Not sure the bag will manage a Highland winter night though...


Hi Alteknacker (great name btw!) - glad you enjoyed the write-up.

My sleeping bag isn't perfect but it was reasonable value at the time. I think you can get better in the sales, to be honest. It's a North Face Kazoo Gold. Just under 1kg, 650 fill goose down. Whatever it's official rating, I sleep fairly warm and I was cold without fleece trousers at about minus 2 (no wind chill). I also had a base layer and thin down midlayer on. Once I put the trousers on I was fine.

Worth thinking about your mat as well - because in winter camping you can lose as much warmth through the floor as you will to the air. I use a Exped Synmat UL which is exceptional. My mate doesn't and gets cold feet/hips from the floor.

Hope that helps - it's what works for me, but YMMV!
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Re: Loch Ossian two day winter expedition

Postby Happy Dave » Fri Jan 15, 2016 4:19 pm

Fantastic trip report! Loch Ossian is one of my favourite places in the world, as one of the first really remote (well, comparatively for Scotland) places that I went as a nipper. This brings back memories (especially your photos), although you probably wouldn't want to try swimming in the loch like I did at this time of year. It was cold enough when I did it in April!
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Re: Loch Ossian two day winter expedition

Postby wilkiemurray » Fri Jan 15, 2016 7:17 pm

Fantastic - really jealous - I was hoping to get a winter wild camp this weekend but unfortunately cant seem to fit it in at the moment!! Cracking report and photos :)

ATB

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Re: Loch Ossian two day winter expedition

Postby pjm1 » Tue Jan 19, 2016 1:23 pm

Happy Dave wrote:Fantastic trip report! Loch Ossian is one of my favourite places in the world, as one of the first really remote (well, comparatively for Scotland) places that I went as a nipper. This brings back memories (especially your photos), although you probably wouldn't want to try swimming in the loch like I did at this time of year. It was cold enough when I did it in April!


Thanks Dave and glad you enjoyed reading it, as I did walking it :)

It was a great setting and we were lucky with the weather. I'm sure the going would be a lot tougher with all the snow we've had in the last week, so glad we did it when we did. I have done my fair share of loch swims but nothing in the winter. That's just nuts!

wilkiemurray wrote:Fantastic - really jealous - I was hoping to get a winter wild camp this weekend but unfortunately cant seem to fit it in at the moment!! Cracking report and photos :)

ATB

Murray


Hi Murray... plenty of winter camp options now that the snow's come in if you don't want to have to travel far. You just need to get it in before the white stuff disappears again! Glad you enjoyed the report. Hopefully I'll have time to do one for February's winter expedition (venue TBC!)
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Re: Loch Ossian two day winter expedition

Postby thomsok » Mon Jan 25, 2016 5:30 pm

Great report, planning this year to make the train journey to Corrour and have a go at these hills!
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Re: Loch Ossian two day winter expedition

Postby pjm1 » Mon Jan 25, 2016 5:33 pm

thomsok wrote:Great report, planning this year to make the train journey to Corrour and have a go at these hills!


Thanks, glad you enjoyed the read. It's a cracking spot up there although I wouldn't recommend the station on a cold winter's evening...

All three would be manageable in a single day if you're fast, but given the setting, staying over (even in the hostel) is probably the safer option. We've had a couple of great wild camps near Corrour, so if you're after tips closer to the time, just ask.
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