Well this was a day to remember and memories are all I have due to my waterproof pockets proving to be very capable of holding water! But more on that later.
I'd camped overnight at Spey Bridge Campsite in Newtonmore. The night had been torrential rain until about 7 in the morning. I'd pitched my tent down near the toilet block next to another hiking tent that belonged to a walker who I later found out was called Esther. She had been walking since the beginning of the month from the Borders to Skye.
I packed up my wet tent onto the back seat of the car where it would hopefully dry out during the day and set off the short (2 mile Journey) to the walk start at Glen Banchor. Passing and stopping to chat to Esther on the way who was walking through Glen Banchor on her way to Laggan. I parked up next to a camper van and started getting ready. The van owner (Chris) had been camping overnight having done Carn Sgulain and A'Chailleach the previous day. He said he hadn't done Carn Dearg as it seemed such a long way from the top of Sgulain. He was planning to do it the next day as he thought it would be too boggy following the nights rain. Chris was 71 and had done 235 Munros so far. We chatted for quite a while, in fact so long that Esther started coming down the road towards us.
As Esther joined us I bade farewell to Chris and said I'd let him know how it went later as he would be back for another nights camper vanning. I set my iPhone GPS tracker going (it was 0910hrs) and stared walking with Esther up the Glen. We saw an eagle as we crossed the bridge over Allt a Choarainn.
Esther explained she was going to be walking for the next month or so. She had been made redundant and felt it was the ideal time to do some walking. She talked of having done the West and East Highland ways, and Great Glen, plus many I can't remember now. Apparently this track formed part of the Great Eastern Way from Fort William to Aviemore. I was so busy chatting that I crossed the second bridge and up to a rundown white farm house before I realised I had missed my track up Glen Fionndrigh. Esther had actually realised but not said anything! She had been up Carn Dearg before and thought I knew a different route! Back tracking I followed the track up the Glen.
It was a very good but very stony track that follows the river on your left hand side. The track turns to boggy grass about halfway up and the crosses a single handrail wooden bridge. I stopped breifly here for some energy intake and a drink and then set of up to climb up the steep bank.
The ATV track was quite clear but the hillside was very wet from the previous night’s rain. The track split and then petered out around a knoll as Carn Dearg came into sight. It was quite obvious the route up Dearg was going to be the diagonal grass ridged bank cutting up from the head of the Glen (Glen Ballach). Getting there was just a case of making your own way across the peat Hags. Sometimes close to the river worked well, sometimes just hopping hag to hag did.
Ascending the grass bank I stopped for a lunch at the Carn Ban Beallach. A few spits of rain came across here and Can Dearg was popping in and out of cloud but I felt quite lucky as I was expecting a lot of rain today and boy was I soon going to find that I was correct about that.
Reaching the Summit of Carn Dearg had taken 3.5 hours. The clouds had temporarily cleared and looking down at the peat bog I had crossed early I thought about Chris walking it the following day and returning that way. I felt an extra 2 hours to take in the next 2 Munros and avoid that bog again was a good call.
Heading off towards Carn Ban which was a summit view with a great view, and onwards to the fence posts which make navigating towards Carn Sgulain very easy, albeit the track is very stoney and hard on the feet for much of the way. On one of the minor summits of Meall na Creughaich I stopped for a quick rest and a drink. I checked the tracker on my phone and saw I was 14km into the walk. Roughly the halfway point in 4hr50mins. Not very good going as I had planned to walk it all in about 8 hours, but still at least the weather was holding out.
As I was sat I had a look at my map and tried to discern which of the peaks to my right was A’Chailleach. From where I was the farthest hill looked to be higher. Checking with my compass I realised that the farthest hill was Geal Charn and felt slightly relieved it wasn’t on my route.
I carried on walking following the fence making only a small detour on the way to fill a water bottle from a small loch. A chance to try out my latest acquisition later, a SteriPen. Making my way up to Carn Sgulain over a few more minor peaks. I checked my phone just to make sure I was on the right cairn at the top as they both seem the same height.
At this point I had been walking for about 6 hours and I reckoned I had another 3 hours of walking to do. I sent my son, Andy, a text to let him know I would be behind schedule. Andy is my safety man when I’m out walking on my own so the text would stop him being concerned if I couldn’t get a signal further down the hill. I used my SteriPen on the loch water I had collected earlier. I actually used it twice because it wasn’t easy to tell if it had worked with the sunlight shining on it. I knew the instructions had something about an indicator light, which was off after the 90 second treatment, but I couldn’t remember if that was a good thing or a bad thing. Ah well if I got really thirsty I’d just have to risk it.
From the Summit of Carn Sgulain I backtracked a bit along the fence line then started cutting across a peat bog heading directly towards Geal Charn. There was a smaller hill in front of me that I could see from my map I needed to cut down in front of to cross a river and start the climb up A’Chailleach. The small hill was covered with a herd of dear grazing. I counted sixty and got a photo before they noticed me and ran off. Crossing the river gulley and starting the hill climb the first spots of heavy rain started to fall. By the time I reached the summit it was bucketing it down.
The descent started fairly straight forward down towards Geal Charn then turning left to follow a stream. There were ATV tracks but they came and went in multiple directions as I crossed boggy ground. I could see in the distance the main river I was heading for but it was on the other side of my map so I wasn’t overly confident of where I went from there. It was still pouring down and I didn’t want to take the map out of the clear case to turn the fold over so I took my phone out to check my position. To tell you the truth I was quite disorientated. My gut was telling me I should be heading left at the river even though I knew I had gone around in a big circuit and should be heading right. I just couldn’t shake the feeling. The phone GPS track confirmed it was a right turn but I still got the compass out to check as well.
I continued to head down until I saw a bothy. At this point I could feel water inside my boots. The rain had been running down my waterproofs and under my gaiters where it wicked into my socks. I felt the end was near so pushed on towards the river. I heard my phone, which I had in my jacket chest pocket of my waterproofs to keep dry, get a text message on the way down. As I got to the river I could see it was in full spate. I took out my phone to check the message to be met with a blank screen with water on it. A quick check of my pocket and was shocked to find an inch puddle in the bottom. The zip must have been slightly opened.
My phone, GPS tracker and worst of all my photos all gone! Oh what a sweet lesson. I dug the map out and turned it over, looking for somewhere else to cross. With slight relief my two favourite letters “F” and “B” showed a km downstream. Walking wasn’t much fun on the North side of the river. There were hardly any tracks and a few minor inlet streams to cross, but quite quickly I arrived at the bridge.
The rickety old bridge taped off at both side with a small sign on the far side no doubt with some helpful words for walkers in the other direction saying something like, “Danger do not cross”. The words FB actually took on a new meaning for me. The second word being bar steward. Actually looking down into the small gorge it crossed falling would fairly ruin your day…week…year.
Anyhow, arriving back at the car it was 7pm. I’d been walking for nearly 10 hours and was so pleased to see that Chris was parked back up in his campervan having spent a relaxing day at the Folk Museum in Newtonmore. I really must get one of those vans. Chris jumped in the driver seat and shut the curtains that allowed me to get all my soaking kit chucked out the back door and me dried and dressed a fresh. I borrowed Chirs’ phone and called the only number I could remember, my Mum n Dads, to get them to phone my son to let him know I was down safe and sound. Unfortunately my mum had left the phone off the hook by mistake and all I got was the answerphone over and over again.
I did finally get a message to Andy just 30 minutes before his rescue call deadline, but how is a long story for another day.
1. Have a written copy of your emergency contact numbers, preferably in a dry place.
2. If you carry an expensive do it all phone, keep it in a polybag or waterproof shell.
3. Put waterproof trousers over the top of gaiters.
4. Check and remember how to use a SteriPen
5. Consider carrying an emergency 2nd phone in a dry bag. PAYG would be a good idea just leave it switched off in the bag.
Always carry a map and compass, even if you have GPS
Don’t trust gut directions.
NB. After stripping down and replacing the battery,docking connection, lower speaker and mic on my iPhone I'm chuffed to say the photos and tracks survived.
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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.