Friday, December 29, 2017

The wind funnel

It's time to abandon the Best Campsite in the World. So I said to myself on the way back to my little rescue boat in the middle of a gigantic wind maelstrom, and slapped myself immediately. Never! Never will I abandon. At least let's turn the tent around to face away from the loch. But then, I heard myself say, I don't have the view in the morning if and when it calms down a little. And it will calm down. (It didn't.) When I lie awake in the night, listening to the waves three meters in front of the tent, the streams left and right, and the howling gusts which push the tent down onto my face, it doesn't quite feel anymore like I'm on this planet.

The Best Campsite in the World has a wind problem. The glen funnels every bit of airflow from the north or south into a gigantic gale. If the wind comes from the north, it has two miles to accelerate following Bernouilli's laws, before it reaches the south shore and the little beach. If it turns just a little to the east, the winds take up speed on the plateau above before they drop down to the glen, in clumps of turbulence that shake my confidence in the tentpoles. Leave the glen though, just by a little bit, set up shop just outside the wind funnel, and you have a lovely quiet night. You sort of understand why there are fundaments of old houses just outside the glen, in both directions, but not in it. No fools, these people.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

The power of place

This is the first time here with a phone that can do more than just emergency calls, and with basically unlimited power. I can report that there is very little internet beyond the last farmhouse on the Straloch side, and absolutely nothing beyond Daidhu. The undisclosed place remains undisclosed. I climb up to Sron nan Dias to see how far I have to go until my phone finds anything, and at around 600 meters it detects life. Ben Vuirich straight ahead, the ruin straight below. It is one of the more astonishing places to have at tiny shred of internet.

Here I realised for the first time how fantastic this place is for a house. Not only are you the only one with internet in the glen. You also have winter sunshine in the morning (left of Vuirich) and in the evening (right of Vuirich). When the Sun is above Vuirich, you know it's time to go and get lunch. For most of the year you have a stream running down the slope next to the house. You have a shortcut to the main valley. You are sheltered from the ferocious northern winds. And you have a view. What a stroke of genius. For comparison, here is the view out of the shadows towards Sron nan Dias, from the shielings down by the watershed. The inhabitants are raging with envy.

The north shores

I use the few hours of daylight to walk to the far end of the loch. A crude stone shelter on the south side of the peninsula, probably new, but definitely convenient on a day with north wind. The valve still holds ankle-deep water. I've never seen it much deeper in six visits since 2013. The loch is stable, until further notice. The outflow deeper than I remember it, and impossible to ford without wading over icy rocks. This is not completely unexpected, after two days of rain earlier in the week. On the other side, a herd of moving dots on the slopes, female deer, about fifty of them. They have noticed me, move a little, but are not too bothered. Let him ford the river first, they say.

I continue north, until I reach the confluence of my stream with another one, hopping down from the slopes to my right, also unpassable. Those two combined make a formidable river. They will continue north, until they hit the River Tilt, who will take them around a corner and back south on the other side of the big mountain, to the Garry, the Tummel, the Tay, and the North Sea.

For me, the natural deadend means that the decision to turn around is made by nature, how convenient. Following this second stream, I find a series of nameless waterfalls, carved deep into the rocks, and vow to return when it's swimming pool season. Exciting.

The experiment

The ostensible goal has nothing to do with the outside world. I just needed an inhospitable, remote place to find out if it possible to sleep outdoors in the winter - that part is easy, it is definitely possible - and be completely comfortable. That second part is important. So, when I pack my bag, I maximise the number of items that promise to keep me warm and minimise everything else. First aid kit - sorry, out. Food - only room for leftover pancakes, compact and enough calories for an army. Water filter - come on. Instead, I came with two mats, two sleeping bags, rescue blankets, and a competent double layer of fleece. And a bicycle to carry all that shit.

The results are in: Apart from the weird smell in the tent after thirty hours of just lying there, a mixture of bodily functions and pancakes inexplicably stuffed with peanut butter, the nest was perfectly comfortable. Whenever I peeled off my layers of insulation and stumbled into the darkness, I was amazed how hostile the world had become. My little green bubble is a foul smelling, warm oasis.

Second winter

Three years ago I came to Loch Loch in the winter. It was cold, windy, and, in the few moments when one was able to contemplate the surroundings, stunningly beautiful. This time it was even colder, even windier, and no less beautiful. Beinn a'Ghlo, snow and cloud covered cones, a white crown far above the landscape. Brown, rough, ripped slopes when I arrive on Tuesday, gently dusted by snow flurries by the time I leave on Thursday. Every year, more double-track paths lead up the hills, made by the landrovers from the hunting lodge. The loch with black water and white foamcrests, close to freezing, only kept liquid by the feral winds. The sun grazing the horizon for a few hours, producing long shadows and crepuscular lights. There is nothing left from the lovely summer habitat, everybody is in survival mode. Ravens follow me for the entirety of the two days. Skulls of deer along the way. Judged by their tracks, little furry animals are hectic and in a bad mood. I build a nest for myself and settle in for two long nights.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The room with a view, but without a roof

Finally a detailed investigation of the ruin just in front of the spur that runs up the undistinguished hill opposite Gabhar. Among the shielings in the valley, this is the one with the best view, the entire floor of the former village spread out hundred meters below. It is a magnificent house, with two chimneys and spacious cupboards built into the walls. Probably a two room affair for up to twentyfour children.

I walk up and down in front of the house, talk to myself, and convince the sheep that I'm an idiot. Nothing to see here, people, just an idiot. Only the souls of dead Highlanders can hear me.

The loch, changed

In spring things are different. The peak of Gabhar still white and icy, the northern corries a wasteland. The views towards the north are not very inviting. White, white everywhere. Is that Antarctica or what. Nope, just Cairngorms. I think about April 2009 when I first found out that different rules apply to the Cairngorms.

On the other hand, the deer have finished their winter business and are roaming the hills in huge herds. I stumble upon a group of about twenty stag with antlers and everything. One of them, huge horns, looks back at me in anger. Evening of the same day: An army of female deer, many of them childish and immature, settle for dinner on the huge meadow just underneath the summit of Gabhar, directly adjacent to the loch. I count 130, plus minus 10. I count them again. And again. The error is statistically sound. Counting so many deers is not trivial. The herd is shapeshifting around the features of the landscape.

The moors are dry these days. Only trickles come down from the hills. The grass resembles straw. Only the best campsite in the world is green, as usual. Something is happening here.