The Tomaselli Salami

The Ferrata Tomaselli is a well known Via Ferrata in the Dolomites, and also possibly one of the hardest. It also gives its name to an award given out at an annual meeting of two outdoor sports clubs for what they call “endeavour”. This yearly award was given out on Saturday night past and I’ll tell you a little more of the context later.

In the meantime, I met Gav at the Old Bridge of Tilt car park on Saturday morning with a vague plan to walk to the Allt Sheicheachan bothy, drop our stuff, continue to the peak of Beinn Dearg, then return to the bothy for some whisky and slumbers. We assumed we’d probably have the bothy to ourselves. Although we did have a back up plan in case of weather etc, with a return to the vans if necessary and a drive to Loch Rannoch for some loch side rest and recuperation.

It was clear on the road north that it was snowy, Ben Vrackie above Pitlochry had on a full white coat, so it was a safe bet the bothy would be snowy, which was quite exciting. With our gear packed, we moved off up the icy tarmac road, an indicator of how wintery the road up to Allt Sheicheachan would be.

We cleared the woods and we walked higher into the open moors. Quite slowly, as the track was quite snowy where the white stuff had drifted across it. Soft and deep in places, hard and flattened in others, but more often the former, making heather jumping a quicker and more energy efficient way of moving forward.

The cold and accompanying breeze meant little time to stop and enjoy our surroundings. I’ve been up to this bothy a few times now, but the landscape had never looked so monochrome, other than the roaming red dot of Gav’s waterproofs.

I can normally get to the bothy in a couple of hours. This journey took us three and a half, weighed down with kit and fire wood as we slipped and stepped our way through the snow.

When the bothy finally appeared, at the last minute as usual as it’s tucked down in a natural, river created gully, our smiles reappeared and we reached the door thankful to have completed our journey. By this stage it was too late to head for Beinn Dearg and the snow higher up looked quite deep so we opened the front door, got our lunch ready and made a hot cuppa.

After eating, we explored the area a little, threw snowballs and tried to find the deepest snow. We met Sam, a walker from Greenock, who had tried to walk up Beinn Dearg but the thigh deep snow had won and sent him back down the hill. I felt pretty happy that we hadn’t tried to do the same.

Sunset was due at 3.30pm and the three of us hunkered down and got the fire going. A hot chocolate and some flames soon warmed our soaking wet feet. Sam had brought wood too so we had fuel aplenty to last the night.

The door opened again and in walked a pretty wet looking chap called Raymond. He had coal, which was great. And he then told us his ten pals (yes 10!) would also be coming with fuel.

Each snow or rain flurry brought another small group of people out of the darkness through the bothy door and each looked more relieved than the last that the fire was on and roaring. More chairs were brought in from the store next door. More wet socks were squeezed onto the drying line above the fire. More wet boots were uniformly placed on the hearth to dry. And more and more whisky was passed around, offered and gladly accepted. The atmosphere was as warm as the fire as it blazed on, the centrepiece of our growing commune.

Another couple, not linked to the big group, arrived around 6pm, bringing the total number of bodies to seventeen. I’ve never been in a bothy with more than a couple of other people, more usually I’ve been on my own. It was amazing that such a large group were so far from civilisation and yet feeling completely at home in this cold and remote glen.

After speaking to a few of the big group, it turned out they were on their yearly outing. Two outdoor groups who travelled Scotland and the world searching for adventure. Each year they gathered in a bothy and celebrated their “endeavours” through the giving of an award, the Tomaselli Salami, named after the Via Ferrata route I mentioned earlier. You can see the trophy below.

Yes it’s an old salami and it’s looking well passed it’s best, but it’s well sealed. And as trophies go, I’ve seen few more entertaining or beloved. Engraved on the trophy each year since 2005 was the name of the recipient and the reason for the award and it was clearly awarded to the individual who had cheated death in the most thrilling way possible.

But this year The Tomaselli Salami was being awarded to Ian, a member of both outdoor groups who had recently died, which had clearly added a somber note to this years gathering. It was remarked on a number of times through the night how tame the evening had been. But Ian was clearly missed. His sons were present and it was lovely to see the different generations supporting each other in what was an emotional trip for all.

As the night wore on, I thought about my own boys. Would they follow me into the outdoors world? How would our relationships change as the years go on? Would they be so well supported after I’m gone? I can be quite unemotional sometimes about family, a reflection of my own family life as a child, but I looked at Ian’s boys and for a few minutes they were Sam and Robbie and I was gone. Trying to pinpoint one particular part of our collective future. It was a sobering few minutes but reminded me how strong my love for them is, despite their joint efforts to make parenthood as difficult and stressful as possible.

Gav and I had a great night. Unexpected but in the best possible ways. We met some lovely people and they were all very gracious in including us in what could normally have been a very private event. I climbed the ladder to our sleeping area around midnight, leaving the revellers to burn the other ten bags of coal they brought and maybe talk about the stories they couldn’t tell with strangers in the room.

We were up early the next day and decided to head out for home before breakfast.

The weather was clearer on the Sunday than the day before and the sunrise looked gorgeous as we headed East. The monochrome was shattered.

Dark Skies

Two days walking part of the Southern Upland Way from Balgrennan to Dalry with Paul and James. Our camp near White Laggan bothy looking towards Loch Dee, a peak at just how “dark skies” that part of the world is, and our morning view as the sun was hitting Craiglee. A belter of a trip. And thanks to P and J for some of the photos. Film below.

And here’s the film.

Sandwood Bay (Strathchailleach and Strathan Bothies)

Always been one of my bucket list trips, I finally made it to Sandwood Bay. I spent a very chilled couple of days exploring the beach, the bay, Am Buachaille and the surrounding moors.

Spent the night at Strathchailleach bothy and also stopped in at Strathan bothy on the way home. No rain, but I still got soaked from the bottom up due to all the recent bad weather, the ground was really boggy. I was smiling the whole way round though. Even when I lost my camera…

Carron Bothy

Last weekend, Neil, Gordon, James and I were supposed to be heading to Sandwood Bay.  But the weeks worth of torrential rain had put that plan on (pretty wet) ice.  We scoured the weather forecast for even a glimpse of sun, anywhere that the chance of rain was low-ish.  We settled for a trip to Argyll and Carron Bothy.

  

We arrived at the Auchindrain forest road end in sunshine and warmth, totally unexpected as other parts of the country were under yellow weather alerts. The forest road was great for walking, allowing us to travel fast, even with our heavy packs laden with waterproofs for the expected deluge.  The final 2km of path were wet underfoot.  And when I say wet, I mean tsunami wet, turned to small rivers by the weeks rain.

  

The bothy was clean and well maintained, despite James’ best efforts to blow it up with his exploding Jetboil.   We dropped our overnight gear, had lunch, found some deadwood for a fire and headed into the hills.  The views were superb and the breeze took away some of the heat from the sun.  The main phrase of the afternoon was “I can’t believe it’s not raining”.

  

The peaty brown burns did a great job of soothing the sore feet before teatime.

  

A peaceful nights sleep followed a peaceful evening of games and chat.  And the next day we headed back the way we came to the car, in the rain this time, but by then, it didn’t matter.

And the film…

A Straight Line from Laggan to Newtonmore

I’ve been meaning to get a proper bike rack for a while. I’d tried a few of ways of attaching the bike to the car and most would involve regular resprays. The £25 I spent was far less than expected and this trip was the fantastic first foray into what my brain already calls “bike and hikes”, a phrase the rest of me feels a bit embarrassed by….

The idea was akin to my time kayaking at uni. We’d take the minibus packed with gear, and on top of our boats and paddles we’d attach a bike so that someone could cycle back upstream and get the bus. Why we didn’t take a car I’m unclear about now, my memory being all the poorer after a lifetime writing lists.

But the bike was part of the adventure and I felt that access to a bike now would allow me to reach remote hills and areas more quickly and mean some of my walking trips could be more linear. I love a circuit, to avoid walking to a particular point and back, the back being the bit that for me can be a bit dispiriting on a day out. I’ve never particularly enjoyed the walk back as much as the powering ever onward, and this trip demonstrated the power of always moving forward.

The East Highland Way has interested me on and off for years and particularly the section between Laggan and Newtonmore. The bike made this simple. Park at Newtonmore, pedal to Laggan, and walk back to the car, a 13km cycle along the A86 followed by a 15km walk via Strath an Eilich, Dalnashallag bothy and Glen Banchor.

The old bridge up the track to Strath an Eilich from Balgowan. Yes I crossed it. No it didn’t break.

img_2908Looking down Strath an Eilich towards the Monadh Liath.

img_2918Almost at Dalnashallag bothy.

The view back down Strath an Eilich from Dalnashallag bothy.

Looking back at Dalnashallag bothy from Glen Banchor.

img_2951A ruined cottage at Dalballoch in Glen Banchor, looking back towards the bothy.

The warm weather and sunshine was amazing and the autumn colours on show were brighter and more natural than any Instagram filter could provide.

I’ve now got my eye on completing the EHW over the next few months. The bike rack will definitely help. As will the bike. And always forward. I don’t fancy cycling backwards. Check out the film.

The Devil’s Point from Carn a’ Mhaim 

img_7556Today’s lunch spot. Sitting on the ridge above the Lairig Ghru looking over to the Devil’s Point and Corrour bothy. Oodles of sushi just out of frame.

Sharing Suilven

Leaving the house at 4.30am, the murky morning mist poked some tiny holes in my enthusiasm and, for a second, made me question the wisdom of driving four and a half hours north. The forecast looked good. Yet the fog became thicker as I passed Pitlochry and even from the roadside near Elphin, Suilven was nowhere to be seen.  A mountain with a distinctive shape, recognisable from all angles, rising from the relative flatness of the Assynt estates all around, it was elusive. Parking up near Glencanisp Lodge, Suilven had decided to show its skirt and the mist was beginning to clear. It was warm as I passed the honesty shop at the lodge and the road turned to track, but progress was still quick and with every turn in the track, the mountain became clearer.

I reached the bothy after an hour and a quarter. Suileag has two rooms, each with a working fireplace and sleeping platforms. My overnight gear dropped and laid out, I was ready to fall into my sleeping bag when I returned that night.

On I went through the treeless Glencanisp forest and after crossing the footbridge over the Abhainn na Clach Airigh, I turned off the track and found myself on the first section of a newly created path leading up towards Loch a’ Choire Dubh. By this stage I could see the full Suilven profile and I have to say I was a bit excited. I’d wanted to climb Suilven for as long as I’d been a walker. A hill walker mind, not a toddler. And here I was. Completely in awe. Why hadn’t I come up before? The final steep scramble to the Bealach Mor was tough. But the rewards were huge as the top of the pass was reached with views south across Stac Pollaidh, Cul Mor, Ben More Assynt. And more.

The final push to the top at Caistel Liath was short but glorious. I could see for miles, blue sky and sea surrounding the rough coastline and mountain landscape. A paraglider lugged his 15kg of machine parts just behind me and since he looked shattered from the effort, I headed off towards the other, more pointed end of the ridge. A footstep here, a scramble there. I didn’t make the peak of Meall Meadhonach. I value my various body parts.

One curious point about the day was the wall. A wall that cuts Suilven in half and runs down both sides as far as the terrain will allow. A stunning piece of work. And whether built as a joke between neighbouring estates, or for a labour creation scheme, the splitting in half of the hill adds a sense of symmetry to the view and a neat human-made addition to nature’s Scottish sugarloaf mountain.

Back to the bothy and the company of T and C, a fire in the grate and a bottle of Highland Park. More sharing. Company. Whisky. Heat. Suilven looked glorious in the evening sunshine, the breeze meaning I didn’t need to share the view with the midges. Later at dusk, as the sun went down, the mountain was ablaze, the red a major contrast compared to earlier in the day, the red rainbow a bonus touch.

And click the link below to see more…

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