Summit Camping, Sunset & Waiting for the Toaster to Boil
It is no great secret that attempting to complete a Walk Report for my first round of the 282 Munros can occasionally feel like a drag - not on this occasion. Hopefully my account and pictures can do this circuit justice. In good weather it is a cracker with so many route and camping options.
Over the previous 51 added to the bag I have quickly realised that the "epic" weekends, in my opinion, are by far the best! So when you see the MWIS "Chance of cloud free munros?" come up with "nearly 100%" you know it is going to be a good weekend!
Thankfully I had a companion this weekend so we used the cheeky two car trick. We arrived at Ben Lawers Car Park at 09:30 (which meant an early departure from Aberdeen!), I had a quick chuckle at the group questioning whether or not to take the sunscreen before leaving one car and heading with the second to the Ben Lawers Hotel.
There is a £5 parking fee for walkers parking at the Ben Lawers Hotel, but the hotel wasn't open so we just left the car and set off.
I think I would like to start by saying that Meall Greigh isn't one to be underestimated that is for sure! Maybe it was just the 75L on the back or the first outing of the year but we struggled on the log slog up!
View halfway up Meall Greigh looking back towards Loch Tay (testing out some new found camera settings - I thought the plane trail was different)
From left to right, Ben Lawers, An Stuc & Meall Garbh
Slightly further up and zoomed view of Ben Lawers - you can start to see how good the weather was!
This was going to be my first overnight Munro bagging adventure whereby the remains of winter was still on the hills, and the first outing in a good few months. I am not sure how others deal with the thought of camping out on the hills but for me it consists of; 1) being excited all week long, and 2) panicking the night before when you realise how easy and stress free sleeping in your bed is and how much could go wrong .
There is a chance that feeling of panic is just being out of your comfort zone? Either way, every time I get out in the hills with that heavy backpack, the feeling vanishes quicker than my supply of water!
Cromar ignoring the beautiful views of Loch Tay, still slogging up Meall Greigh!
The first summit of the day, Meall Greigh - and my "1st" Munro of the year.
When I say "1st" I think I may have accidentally bagged Cairn Gorm... Now this is not quite as impossible as you might think . With 99% of all my walking in the summer months (well the months without snow / heavy frost), I made one of my 2017 goals to complete a winter skills course.
After extensive research I opted to do the Introduction to Winter Skills course at Glenmore Lodge. I know this is far from the cheapest options out there, but being able to borrow all the kit sold me. We we didn't have a great amount of winter weather but thankfully there was enough to get the crampons and ice-axe out. We even had a spot of lunch in poor visibility at the (near) top of Cairn Gorm - hence why I may have accidentally although bagged one before Meall Greigh. I have opted not to include as I had a rather long and epic weekend planned up in the Cairngorms for summer that would nearly complete the region... and plus starting from a ski car park felt like cheating !
Slightly different view towards Ben Lawers from our lunch spot at Meall Greigh.
When we set off the camping location was incredibly fluid, we even contemplated getting all the way past Ben Lawers and doing the Tarmachan Ridge on the Sunday. Based on being cream crackered before noon the idea of pitching the tents around 4pm and swapping out the ridge for some pub grub and an earlier arrival home on Sunday sounded far more appealing!
To be fair, as I was devouring my lunch snacks it dawned that only 6 days earlier at the exact time I would have been roughly 21 miles into the Loch Katrine Marathon, looking back even with 75L backpack this was an easy weekend in comparison!
The feeling of being cream crackered subsided quickly once full of sandwich and Jelly Babies (other junk food is available), so we set off towards Meall Garbh. It is hard to describe this section, although it felt easier than the first incline it took longer than anticipated.
This section probably had the majority of the weekends snow patches, and quite frankly I am glad it did. It very quickly put into perspective how easy walking on firm ground is and gave a good account of how much more physically challenging walking on incredibly soft / wet snow that was only a foot deep is .
Idea of the snow cover and look at that sky!!
I used to write these reports almost immediately after getting off the hills when the content was still fresh, but really the longer you leave it the more... creative license you have.
Talking of creative license, the next picture is easily one of my favourite pictures I have taken out in the hills. It looks like proper winter here - I like to call it "Cromar on Everest".
Now that we had summited Everest the real challenge was about to begin.
First, to enjoy the views West from Meall Garbh and more "that must be...".
So this is the part where I feel my report will sound a bit like a broken record for anyone else who has read others on this circuit. However thanks to the other reports and some first class map analytical skills (for the "you must have experience, before getting experience, brigade" - if you don't think you know any of them..... ), this was the first section of the route that would provide a bit of a challenge.
An Stuc from the East
By now most of the super quick athletes were long ahead of us, and others had taken the route down from Meall Garbh to the Lochan and back to the hotel car park. This meant we had a bit of time to appreciate An Stuc / work out what was the route up. There was a few "surely not that way", "that looks like a cornice avalanche not someone's tracks", "I better not show Mum this one". I believe the recommended route is straight up, almost following the sliver of snow in the middle. However looking through the binoculars there was a few paths going left and coming up from the South East side.
For scale you might see those ascending from the South East at the near top?
I am not sure if the photos do it justice but with a half dusting of very wet snow and overnight backpacks it fairly got the ticker going - thankfully this is my favourite type of hill! The steeper and ridge-y-er the better .
Beginning the descent from Meall Garbh before re-ascending (funnily enough, there is a lot of that if you decide to take up bagging).
The further down, the taller it looks!
No more down, means only one of two things, pub or up.
Here we experience another "snow problem", multiple tracks going one way and, one going another. Based on maps, views from above, other reports on here and looking at both routes we followed in the footsteps of one man, or women or transgender or alien or whatever they may have been (since at the time of writing this it is 2017 so you have to be careful with any assumptions!).
Now the next decision quickly followed - crampons or not?! Personally I though the snow was way too soft and sparse, and quite frankly with limited crampon experience there was more chance of me taking a tumble getting a spike stuck in the moss! The aforementioned individual had opted for the crampons and the provided a good amount of route guidance.
The solitary trail might just be visible on the right hand side
Actually whilst it is fresh in my mind: I upload all my photos to Flickr and then paste across the BBCode - does anyone have any advice on the size to chose for these walk reports / how to get better quality?
It has been said across numerous reports but it is not as bad it looks. Arguably the snow did make it more difficult but I reckon in summer months it would be a breeze of a scramble. It was however difficult enough to justify the camera being tucked away for the scramble up.
Nearly at the top. Remember I chuckled at those taking sunscreen.......
Now that was the 3rd Munro of the day, and going by my hazy memory it must have been just about 15:30. So we spent a fair amount of time lounging on the slopes / looking for the best option to pitch the tents.
Another view West.
Thankfully the wind was nearly negligible so we easily set up the tents and opened up the kitchen.
Making a five star hotel look like a travel lodge (well in my opinion anyway!)
One benefit I was never even close to contemplating about winter camping was the snow. In my head, snow would be a wet cold hinderance on anything camping related... not when it comes to water! I don't think I have ever consumed so much snow in one day as I did walking up the hill, it was like the joys of being 5yrs old again!
When it came to boiling up the evenings pasta and restocking water bottles there was none of the usual stream locating difficulties, just a case of turning on the gas and 2 minutes later being good to go!
"It's like waiting for a toaster to boil."
This was me attempting to describe what waiting for the sun to set is like. Quite frankly I think it is a better saying than the original.
Now as this was a highlight of the trip I don't think my meandering two week old recollection will do it justice, so instead here are the photos. Got a good bit of time exploring the manual camera settings (another goal of 2017!)
One of the best summit sunsets I have ever had! Views for miles!
Strangely when I write these reports I always feel obliged to tell you about my sleep, I don't actually know why...
In keeping with tradition, I had a great sleep. I maybe got four solid chunks, which is good for any summit. Normally the wind keeps you up 25-75% of the night! During the night I did actually learn another good life lesson: I don't quite have the capability of taking "sky pictures", but when I woke up desperately needing to remove some of the snow I had been consuming all day, I thought I would give it a try. Unfortunately I had binned my contact lenses and only had one set for tomorrow, looking at the sky I could see the billions of stars, unfortunately they all merged into one!
Next time I'm definitely taking my glasses - oh and a tripod (another item to carry).
When I originally mentioned the weather, I think I forget to say this wasn't just a one day cloud free Scottish phenomena, but a two day beautiful weather extravaganza - which meant sunrise, and not just a "it's getting light".
Spring forward, fall back. Nothing worse than losing an hour in bed in Spring? Well I have actually found a rather unusual way to gain an extra hour in bed in both Spring and Autumn. I will start with Autumn, just stay in bed.
Now, Spring. Whenever you go camping you have to get up for the sunrise because on some occasions it is an incredible natural beauty. But with the clocks changing this Sunday, sunrise is technically an hour later. Voilà, an extra hour in the tent!
How'd you like your coffee in the morning?
Some other views from sunrise.
The views you get from the above photos puts any and all doubt / fear / concern you'll have the night(s) before heading out into the hills to rest.
After some morning fuel we packed up the tents, loaded the bags and then set off towards Ben Lawers. Thankfully because it was so early the snow was still rather compact so we planned to get the crampons out for the final section up to the summit.
Heading towards Ben Lawers (and the crowds)!
Whilst we knew the snow patches could have easily been avoided, it made sense to spend the time practicing getting the crampons on and off.
It was quite steep so the spikes definitely helped!
So we had summited Ben Lawers and my 55th Munro before 09:30 (I think), and we were the first at the top. We had a quick stop and a few more bites to eat before we even contemplated heading onwards to Beinn Ghlas.
Summit of Ben Lawers looking back on our Saturday route.
Now all that remained was the relatively easy jolly down and up to Beinn Ghlas and rolling back down to one of the cars before shooting off for some lunch!
By now the route up Ben Lawers was becoming increasingly busy. There is something rather enjoyable about the looks of confusion you get as you're heading down with the overnight bags so early!
When you read about Beinn Ghlas, it is known as one of the most unknown, yet commonly summited Munros. For all the day trippers it is really all about Ben Lawers (plus it is easy to pronounce than Beinn Ghlas!). In fact the cairn of Beinn Ghlas is rather uneventful, but offers one of the clearest views to Ben Lawers for those coming from the car park.
By the time we had got down to Beinn Ghlas the need for any winter boots was long gone - quite jealous of those firing up in their trainers .
Ben Lawers from its little sister, Beinn Ghlas.
You'll probably be glad to know this report is finally coming to an end . Sometimes I am sure that the time I spend uploading pictures and writing these reports, exceeds the time it takes to walk them!
I don't really have much to account for the walk down to the car park from Beinn Ghlas, but I would like to say a massive thanks to everyone we passed - you all smelt AMAZING (and potentially apologies for us not smelling quite as fresh!).
Walking partner for the weekend.
After finishing, with a face a like a tomato, we headed into Aberfeldy and demolished one of the finest haggis and bacon cheese burgers!
That's me now at 56 and still learning something new each time out on the hills. This time the lessons are;-
1) "gain" an hour by camping on "spring forward";
2) take glasses; and
2) sunscreen - get a miniature to leave in my bag!
Thanks for reading!
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Warning Please note that hillwalking when there is snow lying requires an ice-axe, crampons and the knowledge, experience and skill to use them correctly. Summer routes may not be viable or appropriate in winter. See winter information on our skills and safety pages for more information.