Monday, 11 April 2011

A Lightweight Epiphany in Glen Affric

The one that got away. Mam Sodhail and Carn Eighe from the ridge of Sgurr na Lapaich, 23rd April 2006
It may seem contradictory for one who purports to take a dim view of the pastime of Munro bagging to keep a careful record of his own ascents, but that is exactly the position in which I find myself. This noncommittal approach has led to me skipping some summits where a more dedicated bagger would have pushed on.  I've had it in the back of my mind for some time to return to Glen Affric to nab Carn Eighe, a hill that got away back in 2006. Looking back at the photos I'm not surprised that it escaped. I'd been experimenting with the lightweight, wearing approach shoes and crampons instead of boots. What I hadn't realised was the extent to which the nubuck outers of the approach shoes would wick moisture under my gaiters onto my socks. By the time I reached Carn Eighe's companion summit, Mam Sodhail, I could feel the makings of a blister. I bailed out down the ridge of Sgurr na Lapaich instead of making the return journey to the summit of Carn Eighe.

Campsite in Gleann nam Fiadh
It was fitting that the weekend's return visit marked a further journey into the world of the ultra light. Over the course of the last two years I've been developing a taste for solo trips. This started with a trip into the head of Loch Monar in my pre-blog days. Since I've been blogging I've taken a couple of solo trips, a winter bivvy and a spring trip into Fisherfield last year My only successful previous attempts at the ultra light have been bivvy trips. For camping trips I've always had my packweight boosted by a 2.75 kg two man tent and while it is quite possible to haul the resulting load over the hills it has been something of an exercise in masochism. Climbing hills is just so much easier without a 15 kg sack; one can easily spending several days completing a route that could be done - and enjoyed - in a day by the unencumbered. I enjoy spending time on the country as much as I enjoy climbing hills so have always been able to justify the inherent inefficiency of this approach to myself.

Mam Sodhail and Carn Eighe from the east, 9th April 2011. Much less snow this time.
All that changed last week with the arrival of Terra Nova Solar Competition a one man tent. At 1.15 kg it saves me a full 1.6 kg in tentage, but that is only the tip of the weight saving iceberg. Carrying less tent means that I can strip the lid and backplate from my pack, shedding a further 500 g. The danger with a heavy pack is that it is easy to stick more into it. With a light pack the reverse is true. All in all I ended up with a pack weighing 9.5 kg, under the all important psychological 10 kg barrier. If that sounds a lot it is because in addition to the essentials I was carrying a dog bed (required to prevent dog from moving around the tent), dog food, trekking poles and a heavy Canon G10 camera.

Carn a'Choire Ghairbh reflected in Loch Affric
I left Inverness just after 1800 on Friday night. By 2100 I was 7.5 km from the road in Gleann nam Faidh, relaxing in my tent with a warm drink. Saturday morning dawned fine and I was on the move by 0700. I paused for a brew on the summit of Carn Eighe at 0900 and was back at the car by 1200, having chewed my way through 24.5 km in under 6 hours moving. I arrived home just after 1300, satisfied and ready for an afternoon of family activity and gardening.

To complete the same itinerary as a daytrip by noon would involve leaving home at the unpalatable hour of at 0400 so this approach is actually an efficient means of travel, combining most of the speed of the day hike with all of the pleasures of backpacking. I've seen the light and can see why there are so many blogs devoted to this most satisfying of outdoor pursuits. I'm keen for more of these short fast trips, designed to spend maximum time on the country while minimising time away from family.

I'm in the market for a lightweight dog bed if anyone knows of such a thing??????????

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2 Comments:

Blogger Chris said...

Gavin

thanks for that - great photos. My favourite area of the country. Full of memories.

Think I'll get a new tent!

12 April 2011 at 07:32  
Anonymous Zed said...

The photos certainly are excellent, but what's wrong with Munro bagging? It's not as if baggers can only bag. Backpacking over Highland summits is a full on experience. Lots of skills to employ in a wide range of circumstances in all seasons reaching beautiful corners which might otherwise be missed.

27 April 2011 at 17:56  

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