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.
and 23 February 2003 - Pitlochry Bunkhouse Weekend
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.
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.
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.
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
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