Sue and Martin in Mallorca 2019

Sue and Martin in Mallorca 2019
On the Archduke's Path in Mallorca

Thursday, 4 March 2021

22 and 23 February 2003 - Pitlochry Bunkhouse Weekend

I organised Scottish Bunkhouse weekends most winters from the 1970s until the early 2000s, as well as camping weekends and weeks in rented cottages. These fell away after Sue and I started to visit Ottawa during that 'bunkhouse period', from 2001. We didn't go to Canada in 2003, so I organised a weekend visit to Pitlochry. There are very few photos from the Olympus digital camera, so there may be more snaps elsewhere, but given the weather conditions, I don't think many pictures would have been taken.

Here's what I, and several guest diarists, made of this trip. Some of us were experienced winter Munro baggers, but reading the report you'd be forgiven for thinking that we were a bunch of novices.

Saturday/Sunday 22 and 23 February 2003 - Pitlochry Bunkhouse Weekend 

(Martin's Report)
This year's bunkhouse weekend is at The Old Bank House (easy to find - if you know where it is - Nick) in a big old house, presumably once a bank.

We arrived (Andrew, Sue and me) around 10 pm after a 5-hour journey, to find Andrew J and Nick ensconced in the Old Mill Inn next door. Don and Liz made up the team of seven, arriving at 11:30 after problems with Liz's boots being left behind.

We were expecting a nice day, but it dawned very grey. Bacon butties and other things for breakfast - Liz produced some porridge but it was a bit late to entice us.

We got away soon after 9 - and headed up the A9 to drop a car off at Drumochter summit (it wasn't needed - no one did the four Munros) before going on to Balsporran Cottages. We left there at 10:10 and headed up Geal-charn. Soon in the mist. (Where we became separated - luckily I had map and compass and reached the top first - Nick)

Strong wind from the south, plod up - following old footprints, to gain the summit at 11:50 (917 metres). Very windy, especially on the steep descent south. Paused to adjust hoods so that they didn't blow back. We went directly south and got onto steep ground to the east of the main ridge. Eventually we got to the stalkers' path - calm here so we had lunch (12:30).

Then up the stalkers' path to the col at around 750 metres. Then south along flattish ground before ascending south east - steeply up, with good snow in places, to the ridge, which then led steeply/easily, (if windily) to the summit of our second Munro - A 'Mharconaich (975 metres). Andrew J and I, having followed the path, arrived about 10 minutes before the others. It was a cold, windy spot, with no visibility. 

(Sue says)
The descent involved avoiding crags off to the right. Nick donned crampons; the rest of us managed with axes only. Some more small glissades. Martin's pacing went slightly awry due to these glissades, so we descended a bit too far. The result of this was a long traverse across steep ground - scree and snow. We were all relieved at reaching the ridge down, where we stopped for a cup of tea. The wind was still extremely strong, but at least the wide ridge made going easier, and the descent was quick.

The view improved and the cloud had risen a little since we'd set out, although it was still very grey. Returned to the cars at 4:15, then drove back to Pitlochry for tea and banana cake. 

(Nick says)

Drinking mugs of hot tea at the end of a walk has to be one of life's biggest pleasures - especially when served by someone else (Sue) and accompanied by a slice of Sue's banana cake. My stroopwafels will have to wait for another time.

Just on cue, Andrew produced a box of chilled beers and wine. The beer was cool and the wine warmed up. And Martin's steep walk didn't seem too bad after all.

(Liz says)

Ok, so despite the various mishaps - forgotten boots, over production of porridge, etc, etc (too numerous to mention), we had a fantastic day out there against the conditions. Two lovely and 'easy' Munros, though seriously challenged by the weather, some rather unusual navigation techniques (in which I played no part whatsoever), but we all arrived safely and in one piece. But in daylight! (Martin, are you losing your touch? - no headtorch needed!) Some beautiful ptarmigan, and very pretty red flowers surviving in the harshest of environments.

Good to be out in Scottish mountains once again.

(Don lost a hat - it blew away.)

Above: Balsporran Cottages
Below: our approximate route - 11 km with 750 metres ascent

Sunday 23 February 2003 - Not Schiehallion

(Martin's Report)

After some pleasant glasses of wine, a nice chicken casserole, a good crumble pudding courtesy of Liz, and an amusing game of Uno, we reassembled around 8 am for porridge and sausage butties (except small Andrew,* who arrived from a deep sleep around 9 am).

Again the cloud was down, and as we left for Queens Drive and Tummel Bridge it started to rain.

Our car went first. I took Nick's map as we had none, then Andrew J, under strict instructions to keep all four cars in convoy, decided three was enough and left mapless Nick behind. He did find us though, and by 10:30 we were off on the frozen track up Schiehallion, following some old hands who quickly drew ahead.

Heading up into the mist we found a path# that headed to the north of the main track. I thought it would take us nicely up, but it petered out. Had I known the mountain better (I'd only been up it three times before that!) I would have carried on, and ascended steeply up the north slope to the summit. That would have provided shelter from the strong southerly wind. Had I known how strong that wind was, I would have insisted on everyone gearing up with crampons and ice axes before continuing.

We retraced as Liz was uncomfortable with the steepness of the slope we were climbing to regain the ridge. Once the ridge was regained, we hit the wind and a steep but relatively soft slope. The group was very slow in getting up this, and once up some decided crampons were needed.

Time to go back. I decided not to continue with the inexperienced and wind affected party. (Andrew - no overtrousers, Liz - susceptible to wind [apparently got blown over 3 times yesterday]).

We were probably up at around 850 metres, with over 200 metres of ascent and 1¼ miles to go along the windy ridge. Momentum was desirable and we didn't have that. Also very low visibility. (12:00) Nick had already retreated, but we caught him up (he had heard our voices).

It was a slow, slippery descent. We emerged below the main snow line and in less wind, at 1 pm. Lunch, and crampons off (for Sue, Don and Liz - the rest of us managed without).

Then an easy stroll back to the cars by 2 pm, when the old timers also got back, having successfully climbed the mountain. They were obviously heavier than some of our party, and had momentum.

Never mind, we all enjoyed the 'blow' - certainly no cobwebs remained. So we set off on a 4¼ hour journey home at 2:30, just as another small group was attempting to start climbing the mountain.

(We were not the only failures - another couple had also retraced from below where we got to.)

Our chauffeur, Andrew, returned us efficiently in the Megane. Noticeable was a buzzard sitting relaxed in a tree just outside Glasgow, and a swarming flock of lapwings in a Lake District field.

Shame about the weather, but good company and a very enjoyable weekend (and a couple of new Munros for some). Nick returned to Pitlochry for another night, and Andrew J went to Helensburgh to extend his trip. 

* 'small' Andrew must have given me and Sue a lift on this occasion, but neither of us can remember who he was! [MM's boyfriend?]

# since 2003 the path up Schiehallion has been converted by the John Muir people into a 'motorway' that has dramatically reduced erosion on the hill.

1 comment:

Phreerunner said...

I received this lovely message from 'Big Andrew', who is under the knife for a hip op tomorrow, so we wish him well with that. I'll try to dig up stuff for the other trips he mentions.

"Hi Martin,
More memories - a weekend of glorious failure. Probably the banana cake was the high point. I assumed throughout the text that I was not "small" Andrew - was there ever a report of me sleeping until 9.00am?! (or being small for that matter.) I did disappear off to Helensburgh for a couple of nights to stay with my friends Michael & Marion. I had met them on a trip to Colorado Rockies in 1992 and I'm still in touch with them. On that weekend Michael and I almost climbed The Cobbler in the Arrochar Alps in the snow. Another failure as I bottled the final tricky ascent to the summit.

I have two other bunkhouse memories. My very first one was Roybridge, probably in 2001 (the first of two visits I seem to recall). On the Saturday we climbed Creag Meagaidh, my first winter Munro. I was impressed with your pacing technique as you calmly navigated us off the snowy, featureless and viewless summit plateau down towards The Window. We lunched in your emergency shelter before dropping into Coire Ardair for the long walk out to the cars at Aberarder. In the dark as we hammered our way down the Coire I tripped and fell heavily on my side. I had an enormous bruise and the pain lasted for weeks. A nurse friend of mine said that I had probably ruptured my liver - but not to worry, it will repair itself - which it did.

The best memories are the one we spent in the Blackwater Hostel at Kinlochleven. It must have been a long weekend as we had two full days in the hills, and were blessed with good weather. On the Saturday we wandered into the Mamore Hills. Looking at the map I think we climbed Stob Choire a Chairn. And then onto AM Bodach where Nick and I called it a day and wandered back to the hostel, while others went further. On the Sunday we parked not far from the Clachaig Inn and wandered up a side valley beneath Meall Mor. The first target was a Corbett - I think it must be Meall Lighiche, but Alastair and I decided to get ahead of the pack and make straight for the Munro, which I think was Sgor na h-Ulaidh. A steep grassy ascent, hanging onto tussocks to make progress. It turned out to be an entertaining snowy, icy, descent to the north down to the valley. As we reached flatter ground, Alastair was amused by my ability to fall over on every patch of ice we crossed, despite wearing crampons. However we made it back uninjured to the Inn, meeting up with the rest of the party who had called it a day after the Corbett. Oh Happy Days!