Friday, 30 March 2018
Staoineag Bothy Trip. Glas Bheinn, 789 metres. The 4000 foot Mountain Gallery. The First Cold War.
Staoineag Bothy the next morning- after the walk in the night before. 'A good dry shelter' as the first survey noted when the idea of using abandoned cottages in the wilds of Scotland as unlocked places of free overnight accommodation and refuge was initially proposed. Before then outdoor folk had used these empty buildings as relief from the elements but they were quickly becoming ruins without roofs, doors or windows. Over the years since the mid 1960s The Mountain Bothies Association have gradually saved and repaired many abandoned estate buildings, remote outhouses, small barns, and cottages, turning them into places of relative comfort again.
Bothy life is a very simple one- like backpacking. Carry enough food, water and fuel for your trip... get to where you are going... build a fire and spend the night. This can be adventurous and challenging in its own way but the general rules are simple which is probably why people are drawn back to it time and time again.
A glowing, shifting, always different kaleidoscope that no doubt inspired early imaginative humans to embellish and add sparkle to a range of stories, ideas, omens good or bad, and future dreams. The first television, the first oracle, the original witch/muse for humankind in cave, forest or hall, and a lifesaver/best friend against the terrors outside- be it savage beasts- other tribes- or the eternal Cold War of winter's dark grasp on the land.
When we arrived the smaller room in the bothy was already taken by two young folk- Mae and Elie from the Stirling area. They had already spent one night here and were walking out via Spean Bridge in the morning. After we had unpacked in the other room, see first bothy photo, we introduced ourselves and had our dinner around the one fireplace. After that we settled down and had a chat- the usual bothy conversations. It was however the coldest night in a bothy I've had in many years and even with a good fire going in a small room you could still see each person's breath like a veteran smokers vape exhale every time a sentence was produced. Four small dragons. It was a freezing windy night outside and air flow did seem to be getting in somewhere. When you went outside however it was far worse with a bone chilling gale blasting you in the face as soon as you stepped outside- as bad as any mountain summit. The river had frozen edges the next day so well below zero coupled with a constant biting wind. Mae went to bed early - probably to get a heat in her sleeping bag as I was sitting in a chair right beside the fire already cocooned in mine. Melting gear and drying off vs getting warm was a constant battle and I managed to slightly burn one of my hanging snow sodden boots later on in the other room. Being polite we didn't outstay our welcome and decamped next door to leave them in peace.
We went to bed ourselves three hours later, around midnight, with yours truly still wearing full thermals and more gear on inside the sleeping bag than a normal winter hill day. All that was missing was my gortex jacket, used as a pillow, as I'd taken my 3 season bag to save weight and bulk. Not a cosy night by any means but a tolerable one- it wasn't too cold and I fell asleep quite quickly while watching the fire and the ember creatures.
Normally, when bagging these two impressive peaks you don't really see this drop off properly but from this Corbett you get a grandstand view.
While John climbed the ridge in full view to the summit I warmed my frozen hands under my armpits as the gloves were less effective than hoped, and waited for circulation to return.( John didn't take any photos at height so his gloves stayed on for the duration, once he was on the ridge.) A full 15 mins later I had my hands back enough to allow me to strap on crampons. Normally this isn't a problem in winter but conditions were so severe it was a real drawback this time. Once an action man again with jaggy feet attached successfully and ready for rescue or retreat I lay down on the ice sheet coating the ridge and waited for John's return. There was no viable shelter nearby if I wanted to see him return so a curled ball position was the best option against heat loss and skin damage- gloved hands stuffed inside my rucksack and a foot high rock at my back offering some scant protection.
To be continued.... The last day...
A good short video of a cross country/downhill ski trip to Corrour and typical Scottish ski conditions. You need to be hardy to ski here, even in the resorts, and this is completely off piste with no uplift and untamed slopes below.