Bothy night and dog day dreams in the bleak midwinter

Corbetts: Stob Coire a'Chearcaill

Date walked: 21/12/2019

Time taken: 4 hours

Distance: 14km

Ascent: 860m

It was the first weekend in November since I had last been out in the hills - a rather dreich and forgettable day with Kev on the Corbett of Carn Dearg (South of Glen Eachach), followed by a far more enjoyable night in Luib Chonnal bothy, where we managed to get the stove to draw properly and avoided a repeat of the smoked kipper incident from February! :lol:

I was keen to get a last hill day in (or two if I had been good and Santa would allow it :crazy: ) before the year was out and the 20s were upon us so I cancelled on the staff afternoon/evening (and going on past experience, early hours of the next morning) out to celebrate the end of term and instead made plans to hit a bothy and some hills. Kev was keen to join me but had to bail during the week in the run-up so it was just me. Just me and some ghosts.

I pulled some strings to allow me to bunk off school on the Friday a bit before the official midday finish so I could attend my daughter's end of term service. My parents then took her away for a sleepover at their house while I finalised gathering my stuff together and bought some last minute bothy essentials (batteries, beer and coal). I was away from Perth by the back of 3pm and heading up the A9 on what turned out to be a fairly wet and miserable drive to Fort William and then along the Mallaig road to just before Glenfinnan. Destination Gleann Dubh Lighe bothy. I had stopped off for lunch here back in July on the walk in to do the Corbett of Braigh nan Uamhachain on a pretty foul day, but this would be a first overnighter in this compact and cosy little howff.

I pulled into the unmarked track entrance just east of where the road passes under the railway a short distance before the Callop turn off and parked up to the side of the gate in the same spot where I had been forced to spend the night in the back of the car in July after it failed to start when I returned from my walk that day. Fortunately it started up in the morning, saving me the hassle and expense of arranging a breakdown call out and allowing me to carry on my way undelayed to the summer meet in Kintail.

Being the shortest day of the year, darkness had long since descended by the time I shouldered the heavy overnight pack, switched the head torch on and headed through the gate onto the forest track for the short and straightforward walk to the bothy.

Even laden down with coal, wood, peat, beer and chestnuts, yes that's right - chestnuts! :crazy: , it didn't take me much longer if at all to reach the bothy than it had travelling light with only a day pack back in July. I had half expected to find the bothy occupied by like minded souls escaping the pre-Christmas weekend madness but it was all cold and ghostly dark when I arrived there.

Back so soon!!!???

I quickly cracked open a can and set about clearing out the grate which was overflowing with ashes from a previous fire. I soon had the place warming up nicely, and a few well placed candles completed the transformation. I was glad that I had chucked a few extra logs in for good measure as there wasn't a scrap of fuel in the place save for a few bits of broken kindling, and being an open grate in the stone chimney breast, it turned out to be quite a hungry fire.

Getting the place ship shape

A selection of the evening's libations

The fire now fully up to speed

Dinner was cheese, sundried tomato and jalapeno toasties cooked on the fire in the Diabolo, a bothy staple these days. Dessert was an entirely new bothy experience - roasted chestnuts on the fire. Well, it is Christmas after all! :lol:

Diabolo time!

Open fire roasted chestnuts for dessert

I had the place to myself, notwithstanding the ghosts that inhabit former dwellings such as these. I have never encountered anything out of the ordinary in a bothy (well, not in that sense anyway :lol: ), but doesn't mean that a night staying in one of them cannot transport me back metaphorically speaking to a bygone age. It only takes a bit of imagination and a couple of beers. It is also on bothy nights and hill days that I often feel closest to Lucy, my four legged friend who shared many of these experiences with me over the course of her 14 years. It is almost 2 years now since she left this world but she is still there, in that bygone age that I am often transported to in these situations, especially when it is just me and the ghosts in attendance. However tonight, there was another presence there. Not a ghost from the past, but a new dog from the near future who I am sure will in her time share many wonderful bothy and hill adventures with me by her side. Luna, a black Labrador bitch will be joining the family at the beginning of January, aged 8 weeks and with a whole load of hills and bothies to do in the fullness of time. 8)

Looks like some weird ghostly sh*t is going down in Gleann Dubh Lighe tonight!

I must be getting old or something, or else my body was telling me to put the brakes on ahead of the Christmas overindulgence, but I couldn't manage to finish off all the beer! :shock: I turned in for a long dark night of dog day dreaming with two men still standing! :o

Saturday 21st December

I awoke with a sore back to discover myself lying on the bare floorboards, or at least as good as. My thermarest had completely deflated during the night. It has had a leak somewhere and has been losing air for a while, but it had clearly given up the ghost in the depths of a long dark Glenn Dubh Lighe night. :( To confound matters, I then went and knackered my Jetboil stove in the process of trying to pull the burner out of the canister. This has always been a tricky operation ever since the day in Kintail a few years ago when I accidentally ran over it in the car, and slightly buckled the shape of the canister. In my attempt to prise the burner out this morning, I pulled the device apart and was unable to get it back together. That put paid to the coffee and porridge and left me having to make do with a breakfast of water and a couple of cereal bars.

I quickly cleaned out the fire and swept round before taking the spade for a wee walk into the woods. Then I said farewell to the bothy ghosts and hit the track for the considerably lighter walk back to the car. One ghost was still with me though, as well as the promise of a new hill companion to come. :D

Leaving the bothy at first light

Walk back out in the pale midwinter morning light

South to the Callop hills

Back at the car, I sent a quick text to Mrs D with a few details I had not had a chance to pass on before leaving and to inform her of my change of hill. I had originally suggested to her that in the worst case scenario, my remains could be recovered from Sgurr an Utha, but I had altered my plans and decided to head the short distance back east along the main road and onto the Strontian road on the south side of Loch Eil, destination Stob Coire a'Chearcaill.

East along Loch Eil from near the start A861 road on the south side of the loch

The whole place seemed deserted and ghostly quiet this Saturday morning before Christmas, other than the occasional plume of smoke emanating from a chimney. I was soon parked up on the verge just east of the wide double junction at Blaich and off up the hill track.

Across Loch Eil towards Gulvain from the start at Blaich

The hill track gains height steadily - quickly without overdoing the gradient. Views soon began to open up behind me across Loch Eil towards Gulvain, Meall a'Phuibil and co, as well as west down the loch towards the Glenfinnan hills and eventually, eastwards towards the Narrows of Loch Eil and Corpach beyond. And of course the Ben was a towering presence in front and to the left of me, looking resplendent in at least light winter clothes.

West along Loch Eil towards the Glenfinnan hills

East along the loch to Corpach and Fort William, the Aonachs and the Ben peeking out

Shortly before the end of the track, I struck off towards the prominent cairn on the skyline to my right. The ridge of Braigh Bhlaich is initially quite broad and poorly defined with rough, tussocky terrain but it soon becomes narrower and more defined, the going becoming rockier and more solid.

The cairn near the end of the ascent track, marking the start of the walk along the ridge, looking across Loch Eil and up Gleann Suileag to Meall Onfaidh, Meall a'Phubuill and Gulvain

Nevis and the Mamores

Nevis and the Aonachs

Stob Coire a'Chearcaill summit looking closer than it actually is

Looking back down Braigh Bhlaich - Nevis and theAonachs standing sentinel over Lochaber

Snow patches getting bigger as the summit looms closer

Aonachs, Nevis and Mamores

Although there was very little in the way of snow cover, there was plenty evidence that there had been thicker and more extensive coverage recently in the form of the remnants of cornices around the rim of Coire a'Chearcaill. They were of no concern in their current state and on a day of good visibility such as today but clearly this place could present some dangers in different conditions.

Down into Coire a'Chearcaill and Gleann Sron a Chregan

The trig pillar and nearby sprawling cairn soon came into view and then I was at my last summit of the decade, and Corbett number 104 in total. Surely 2020 will see me to the half way point o this particular journey! :crazy:

Aonachs and Nevis from the summit

South to Loch Linnhe and the Glencoe hills


Last summit of the decade

I had fancied taking in the Sub2K of Meall an t-Slamain as well but as I turned around to head back down the broad ridge of Braigh Bhlaich, I had second thoughts and decided to head straight back to the car and straight back down the road. Worrying times indeed - not finishing all the beer in the bothy last night and now turning my back on a Sub2K! :roll:

Braigh Bhlaich across Coire a'Chearcaill from just below the summit

Ardgour zoom on descent

One more gratuitous shot of the big mountains of Lochaber

I arrived back at the car on a still seemingly deserted Loch Eil side and,after one last shot of the Big Yin, proceeded to take a leaf out of Chris Rea's book and drive home for Christmas. :lol:

Zoomed to the Big Yin

It has been another fairly light year in terms of the number of outings but what it has lacked in quantity, it has made up for in quality. Highlights have been Stob Coire an Albhannaich and Beinn nan Eun in April, a trip out to Ailsa Craig in July and 3 fine days in October in the Mamores, Glen Affric and the best of all, Sgurr a'Mhaoraich in Glen Quoich. There have also been quite a few great bothy nights, not just last night in Gleann Dubh Lighe but a couple of nights with Kev in Luib Chonnal at either end of the year and in Gleann Suileag in the first days of the year.

Next year looks like being a fairly light year too. I will do well to get my Munro "to do" list down below 50 and to hit that half way point of the Corbett round, especially with a new pup joining the family at the beginning of January. It will obviously be some time until she is able to join me on big hill days but the day when once again a dog will be by my side on the hills is something to look forward to as we enter the new decade. I look forward to the next decade of walking with not only the ghost of Lucy but the hill dog that Luna is still to become. :D :D :D :D :D :D

My very best wishes to all Walkhighlanders ahead of the New Year and happy hill walking in the new decade. Who knows where and when Luna and myself will cross your path in the hills. 8)

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Graeme D

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Location: Perth
Occupation: Teacher
Pub: Moulin Inn
Mountain: Too tough to answer
Gear: Paramo gilet/Scarpa boots
Member: MCofS
Ideal day out: No such thing as a bad day out on or amongst the hills - only degrees of goodness.
Ambition: 2b sent home on full pay!

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