Monday, September 8, 2014

The solution

The solution is of course to dig a cone-shaped hole into the sand, bury the water bottle in the center of the cone, make a hole in a plastic bag, and place the bag in the cone, fixing it with stones. Too late, too late.

The man above

The weather, spectacular. I had everything. The warm, quiet, wet atmosphere that midges like so much. If I ever start a rock band, I will name it 'Midges in September'. Rain, lots of rain. Rain without wind. Rain with wind. Sunshine, moments of sunshine, here and there. Good moments. And storm. Storm from the south, storm from the north. During the last night, the storm was blowing the waves right into the tent. Well, not quite. I've never listened so intensely to waves before. It's nice to be so secure in the assumption that the water can't reach you, unless you jump in of course. When the storm didn't stop, and I couldn't stop shivering, I packed everything together, thereby performing some weird free dance to hold tent and sleeping bag and mat and thousands of other things all in my three hands. The glen of the loch is a great wind tunnel.

Coire Mearach

It is always steeper than you think. I chose to leave the mountain through Coire Mearach, a steep funnel from the ridge straight down to the loch. Lesson learned: If you absolutely have to go down these 60 degree slopes, please consider their surface. Scree is terrible, cliffs are deadly, grass is acceptable, particularly if you can find some clean slopes where you can practically slide downwards like there is no tomorrow. Heather on the other hand is messy. You never see the ground, you slip on wet branches, you step into deep holes, you end up hating yourself. No fun. At the end I find a few mud tracks paved by my compatriots, a group of 20 deer, all male, all with spectacular antlers. It was a curious meeting. They stare at me, I stare at them. Do they already know that, a few weeks from now, when the hormones take over, they will wage war on each other, just for the chance to procreate? I reach the loch with holes in my feet.

Munroing by accident

This is the way to climb mountains. Not to aim for it, but as part of an afternoon stroll, sometimes accidentally arriving at the top, sometimes stopping just short of it, sometimes exploring some other aspect of the hill. Mountains corrupt our minds. They make us think that we need to strive for something, to reach the top, any top, that we have to work hard, suffer for a while and will be rewarded at the end, basically a geographic version of protestantism. Perhaps not coincidentally, the concept of mountains as a destination was invented during the rise of capitalism. As I arrive on Gabhar, I feel neither elation nor pride, I'm just glad to have reached the relative shelter of the huge cairn. Really, why would anyone want to be here, I mean, at this specific spot, and not at some other place a few meters or kilometers away? Just for the view? Why on earth would I want to look at all that stuff?

Sunday, September 7, 2014


I felt sort of weak upon arrival. Nothing twenty hours of doing absolutely nothing cannot fix. Absolutely nothing, in other words sleeping, reading (Napoleon, 1812), and mourning the fact that I'm unable to construct a simple funnel to collect rain water. Then more sleeping. The funnel seemed necessary because the filter failed, again, the unreliable bastard. Saturday afternoon I was so enormously refreshed that I climbed 400 meters without noticing. Mostly to collect some cleanish water. Also to check out the most pathetic corrie in the world, straight up the stream Cas-eagallach that feeds the loch. You really have to look for a flat square meter here. Rocks, rocks, rocks. A place made for a miserable bivouac in a rainy November night.

Almost coincidentally, I continued up to the ridge and the munro. This is the view towards the east from a point close to the top. The loch's south beach just visible. The munros on the other side, something with Righ and something with Tulaichain, in the background. And yes, that is my shadow. For the first time I reached Carn nan Gabhar in sunshine. It was again one of these moments in Scotland. At 5pm in September, any person can throw a huge shadow. 

Sunday, February 9, 2014

The massacre

On the way out, I found the head of a deer. A female, it was lying upside down in a puddle, stabilised by the large ears, and it was empty apart from the bones. Good job, ravens, foxes, otters. It was also very obviously the result of a decapitation. No animal can make such a clean cut. This was not an accident or a fight between prey and predator. This was mutilation. But why.

Minutes later, after unshackling the bicycle from a fence (yes, the bicycle, parked halfway in a little tree plantation, and the perfect solution for the dreaded approach is found). Also, after a short dip in the raging river, which was icecold, but not as cold as the loch, hundred meters higher. After all that: A car, in front of Daldhu Cottage, the first house on the way. A normal, small car, not the usual landrover. Man, I thought, how did this guy park with the front just at the stream and the rear just at this mound of, well, something. What is that. What is.

A mound of deer cadavers. All with their heads and their feet cut cleanly off. Maybe half a dozen. They smell like wet animals, not particularly unpleasant.

Clearly, I am not alone here.


Again the walk in ended in total darkness. But, hey. The sky was almost clear, the snow dutifully reflected every bit of light that was thrown at him, and I was casting a freaking shadow in the moon light. There is a little hill on the way in, the highest point of the last watershed, only two kilometers down into the valley from here. The top of this hill has the same grass as the Best Campsite in the World. It is always dry, always green, always short. I took my pack off and sat down for a while. The night was completely still, the moon surrounded by a rainbow, warm enough to sit there without gloves and hat. Moon bathing in February.

In the next night it was more difficult to stay outside. Sure, with Neopren socks, my new discovery for the highlands, I can walk around on the snow without any trouble. But the wind came out and tormented me. The snow blasting machine was full on. And still. The mountains in black and white. The cuts in the mountains are white, everything in between black. The zebra pattern is perpendicular to the direction of the valley, the direction of the glacier that formed it. The valley is like a zebra seen from the inside.

And then hurry up, back inside, my fingers are frozen.


My excuse is the weather. What a crappy excuse. I didn't make much progress. Nothing new about the shielings, most of them buried under mud and snow anyway. Nothing new about the northern or eastern approach. I didn't take any pictures. I didn't swim in the loch. Too much snow on the beach, a rim of ice around the edge. The water dark and viscous, just before freezing. No attempt on Carn nan Gabhar. Avalanches, too dangerous, so I told myself. Wonderful.

Not much learned about animals either. I heard the barking of deer, the croaking of ravens, and whatever hellish noise the grouse is making. Rabbits or hares, I'm not so sure, dashed around the tent at night. I know, because I saw their tracks. More tracks in the morning: Something as big as a large dog with five-fingered paws. Badger? Otter? The tracks were too bad to tell, the snow too unreliable. Look, I try to pretend to know something about animal tracks.

I did visit the peninsula and the valve on my only little excursion on Saturday. The northern side of the peninsula ridge offers almost perfect shelter from the storm, here, pottering about down at the loch, one can only wonder why I found it so distastefully windy on the other side of the hill. Just climbing a few metres up serves as a good reminder. Hard snow drives horizontally into my face. This is the same place that I considered 'too hot' in July.

The valve is unchanged. Compared to July there is much much more water now in the valley, but the loch seems to have exactly the same level, plus/minus maybe a couple of inches. More water goes in, more water goes out. That's the only explanation. It's a well-balanced equilibrium. Which begs again the question: What the hell happened in 2005-6? A catastrophe?

First winter

Fantastic weather on the way in and on the way out. In between, however, 36 hours of rain, snow, more snow, rain, more rain. By Saturday morning the wind-beaten backside of the tent was encrusted with ice. When the water finally stopped coming on Sunday morning, it was almost a pity. At this point I had run out of food and didn't have dry pants anymore. But I still had half a battery life on my Kindle and half a dozen new books to get through. I should have stayed the entire week. Reading. Sleeping. Lying awake in the darkness. Standing naked in the storm. Pissing. Back to reading. Waiting for the next day. It's a simple life at the loch.