This is the continuing tale of a walk across Scotland in 1977 in November where from day 1 we were hit by storms and awful weather. November was a wild month anyway to complete a traverse we started in the dark and finished in the dark. The gear we had was very basic the maps were basic and no mobile phones and very basic clothing, we were soaked every day and were carrying all our food in 3-4 day stages. It was a test that the three of us will never forget. We learnt about mountaineering from this walk on the wild side.
Day 17 – November 12/11/77 – Culra Bothy Beinn Alder and Beinn Bheoil (hill of the mouth)
We were exhausted but still headed off up to Beinn Alder to me is the remote heart of the Central highlands in between the Cairngorms and Lochaber. We went up by the winter scramble the Short Leachas, the weather was okay when we left the bothy and we got views of the great cliffs of Beinn Alder where I was to climb in later years. It is a simple winter scramble but one you have to take care in, the Long Leachas is easier but this was not the choice today. On the opposite side of the Glen is Lancet Edge a great fin of a ridge where I had been avalanched in 1972, it was an impressive view. We were moving well and then weather hit us and the bulky summit plateau is a tricky place with its huge Cornices. At this time I felt that we were all at one with the hills, I felt aware of everything even though we were very tired. This happens I feel if you spend day after day in the hills I feel that you become like an animal that lives in these wild places and your senses heighten? We reached the summit plateau and by now we were in white out and found the descent to the Bealach never an easy place to make a mistake. There have been a few bad accidents here in this wild place. It was then a slog up to Beinn Bheoil I felt this but tomorrow was a day off at Dalwhinnie and it was about 3 hours away. The weather cleared a bit and everywhere was covered in snow and it was snowing heavy as we descended, it was really hard going till we hit the path. It was another slog off back down to the path and then the long haul to the Estate track to Beinn Alder Lodge and Dalwhinnie. We met the keeper near Beinn Alder Lodge Mr Oswald with a stag he had shot and we gave him a hand dragging it he offered us a lift but of course we refused, he laughed and off we went. He told us of a horror forecast with a big storm coming in and he knew his weather and these hills. We told him our plan and he was amazed that we were pushing on and what we had achieved. Mr Oswald is a great man and a good friend of the RAF MR teams and we valued his advice. He left us with a “take care” in his highland lilt and sound advice about watching the weather. We had no accommodation booked but had been told that we may be able to use an old caravan next to the pub, that would be ideal for our day off which we badly needed. It was another big day the track was endless in the wind, there was no letting up.
28 k and 1243 metres al in bad weather.
In the end the pub took pity on us and we had the use of the caravan and had a great day off! We ended up the Pool champions of Dalwhinnie! We never really got our gear dried but a least the socks and boots were dryer. We spoke to RAF Kinloss who confirmed the terrible weather that was forecast and advised us to end the walk.
That was not an option we were on a mission and we were now heading into the wild Cairngorms!
Day 18 November 14 1977
Dalwhinnie – Meal Chuaich ( Hill of the Quaich) to Gaick Lodge. A day of wind heavy snow and avalanche slopes.
I look back and this part of the walk was one of the hardest things I have ever done. The A9 was closed as we crossed it after meeting Jimmy Simpson a great character and local Policeman and SARDA member. He was laughing at us as we vanished into the white void, these were the days before the A9 had gates but the road was well and truly blocked and would be for a few days. Meal Chuaich is usually an easy hill accessible from the A9 normally done with a few others but not today. You follow the aqueduct which takes water from Loch Cuaich to Loch Ericht all part of the hydro and past a small bothy it was really hard going and the wind and weather was up. From here you follow a broad ridge and then on to the flat shoulder above Stac Chuaich and then onto the summit. It was wild here and the big bags were heavy with 3 days food. From here it was awful ground 3 miles over deep snow and hidden burns all above 2500 feet and then the steep avalanche descent to Gaick Lodge. I was really worried about this descent as this was where one of Scotland biggest avalanches struck. We passed hundreds of deer and followed their paths at least the snow may be safer there!
Situated South-West of the Cairngorms between the A9 and Glen Feshie is Gaick lodge in Glen Tromie. On New Year’s Eve in 1800 the original Gaick Lodge was hit by one of the UK’s most historical avalanches. The remains of 5 men and their dogs were recovered eventually. They were at the time sleeping in the bothy which was completely covered and destroyed by the immense avalanche. On a recent visit we saw that several large avalanches had crossed the main track which leads you into the estate. You will find the full story of this incident in Blyth Wright and Bob Barton’s book “A chance in a million”
There was little shelter anywhere and we had to keep going, it was tricky navigation and we descended the steep ground in the dark. We arrived at the lodge to be met by the keeper who was watching for us and was also amazed that we had come over from Dalwhinnie. He also said that the weather was wild and the forecast was for more snow, we were by now very worried.. We had a great night in the bothy and a dram with the keeper and we crashed out. We may have to re plan our route?
It was only 20 k and 967 metres but what hard work. We had a great night in the bothy near the Lodge with the snow falling all night.
Day 19 November 16 Gaick Lodge is a remote as you can get and the decision was made to change our route and head for Ruigh itcheacan bothy in Glen Feshie. Too many this is a Glen Walk but not today it was a big survival Exercise as we pulled up from Gaick Lodge up the steep stalkers path onto a high plateau in deep snow and wild weather and then into the Glen and to the bothy. It was a hellish day navigation was not easy and the ground was difficult. We were so glad to make the bothy as darkness fell, no Munros that day but what an effort and the weather kept coming. There was lots of wood in the bothy and we had a great fire. The snow was still falling it was grey daylight was getting even shorter what would tomorrow hold!