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.

Castle Law Hill Fort

The doors are closed and locked on adventures far from home once more as coronavirus takes hold again. So close to home is the default option when scouring maps for places to explore. I’d seen the Castle Law hill fort from afar loads of times, often from the Dunning to Bridge of Earn road in the van, sometimes from the park in Forgandenny with Young Johnston.

Find out more about the fort here: http://hillforts.arch.ox.ac.uk/records/SC2994.html

It was so cold last night, the frost on the van was thick, snow-like and solid. -5 on the temperature gauge. But the sun was rising and the clouds were in hiding.

I passed the snow line and was slightly disappointed at what lay on the ground, you can’t craft snowballs out of powder. The views improved with every step looking west toward Ben Chonzie and back toward Bridge of Earn.

I passed what used to be Glenearnhill, an old farm, finding a bonus geocache in the old fireplace, and carried on up the last few metres to the top of Castle Law.

I reached the summit. In some ancient forts you struggle to spot the ditches or wall foundations. Today, even in the snow, the lines and curves here were clear.

The summit cairn included painted stones, a reminder of the virus. But my mind was lost in the hills and the snow and the sunshine. The views were stunning, with the shapes of Ben Vorlich and Stuc a’ Chroin obvious in their winter coats.

The snow was so deep in places. But it was so powdery that getting a solid foothold was pretty tricky. I slid most of the way back to the old farm.

After lingering in the cold at the summit and marvelling at the fort and sliding most of the way down, my hands were like ice blocks. So I built a wee fire, created a cheese and tomato masterpiece and checked out the geocaching app again to find another treasure nearby. Turns out there are a few around the Law.

And after my second treasure find I started for home.

My route.

Lockdown has curtailed our outdoor adventures again but their is so much to see on our doorsteps that it’s a great opportunity for Microadventures. And with this walk today I achieved my 50 mile target for Doddie Weir’s DoddieGump challenge, raising money to help fund research into MND. Might have to try for 101 miles now. There’s lots more to see on my doorstep.

Good Lordy it’s coldy at Loch Ordie

Went on my first adventure of 2021 today to Loch Ordie, which is off the A9 between Dunkeld and Pitlochry.

The weather was beautiful. Cold, sunny and cloudless. And I spent a good part of my time at the loch being followed around by this Robin, even managing to photobomb me at the top of the stairs on the left as I pondered whether to get into the water. The ice covered water.

Hi Kev, said Robin.

A bit of walking and a bit of swimming. It was pretty cold today, but what a feeling to be in the water with my new friend, Robin.

A Hole Lot of Wonder

Q. What equipment do you need to go caving?

I only ask because if a Trivial Pursuit victory depended on my knowledge of potholing, I would be left floundering with 5/6s of a pie. The very idea of exploring the depths of middle earth excites me but scares the bejesus out of me, probably because I saw The Descent. I’m no caver, not for me the dark, creepy and ever decreasing holes in the ground where my larger frame would be constantly screaming “diet!”. But I do like the idea of natural howffs or shelters, which give you a genuine sense of protection from the wind, rain and snow, cut into or made of rock such as Bonnie Prince Charlie’s Cave near Elgol on Skye.

I recently heard about a cave in Glen Almond near Amulree. Not a deep cave. And no evil creatures apparently. Thieves Cave (Thiefs Cave on OS maps) can be found at the back-wall of Coire Chultrain. There isn’t much information online, but it’s link to reivers and catarans (and no mention of Neil Marshall) made it sound worthy of a expedition.

As it turned out, the cave has mostly collapsed, leaving a pile of particularly large, slabby boulders. It was at least a lovely, snowy walk up from the bridge at Sma Glen, but what really made the trip was that some enterprising soul has placed a geocache on the site. And a well stocked one at that.

I swapped trinkets. However, my new helicopter wasn’t quite big enough to fly me out of the corrie.

Continuing my search for dark places, yesterday I went looking for Cave number two of the week. Balnamoon’s Cave can be found in Glen Mark, near Edzell. The hiding place of a Jacobean laird on the run, I was hoping for better luck this time, something I could clamber inside and get a sense of protection from the wilderness.

After a mornings walking through light snow and then an hours rock hopping around the hillside looking for the tell-tale vertical slit, I was in luck.

Water streaming down the back wall like a fountain, but roomy and with two heather single beds already created by some expert howffers, it inspired some  mixed thoughts along the lines of “Who last slept here?” and “I’d like to give that springy bed a shot”, which I duly did.

But actually, I was well chuffed with my find. More than big enough to hold a crowd, lots of protection from the elements and a feeling of stepping back in time, the cave was just deep enough to be a shelter, but close enough to the sunshine to escape any strange predators that Hollywood might create.

Sitting under one 500 tonne rock was scary. So to ask my initial question again, what equipment to you need to go caving deep under ground? The answer is simple. You don’t need ropes, rucksack or even a helmet. You need balls. Big ones.

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