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Cairngorms Baby!

Last week flew by as I eagerly waited for two things: a long time planned weekend away to the Cairngorms and a phone call from the garage to say that my car was fixed and ready for collection.

Unfortunately the former relied on the latter, which never happened.

I rang the garage at 3pm on Thursday after I had spent the morning packing and praying and hoping for the phone to ring. It wasn’t going to be fixed today, and not likely the next day either.

I was devastated and considered the alternatives of being transported around by various people to reach the final goal, but ended up defeated and sulking!

It was at this point I rang Dave Nelson, who gave me a boot up the backside and told me to sort something out. He said “The people here would happily transport you so that you can have a weekend away if the alternative is having you grumpy and sad all weekend.”

So, with fresh enthusiasm and encouragement I rang Phil.

He couldn’t give me a lift due to having other plans, but he was willing to lend me their second car. I hated to ask the question but was so grateful for his offer.

I quickly walked up the drive to pick up my transport. The weekend’s transport came in the shape of an eighteen year old silver Chrysler Neon. Objectively, not a particularly pretty car, but right now it was beautiful!

With leather seats, cruise control and an automatic gearbox, it is a sweet cruising machine and easily ate up the miles all the way to Aviemore. I found Dave and Jake, from Rock UK, camping in the van in the Coire na Ciste car park. I pulled up next to them and hopped in the van for a great catch up, a spot of banter and a few games of “Pass the Pigs”.

On the Friday morning, I was roused from my slumber by none other than Al Stapleton lurking outside and knocking on the car window. I leapt out and greeted him with a big hug. I was introduced to Phil and re-acquainted myself with Pete and James whom I know from previous trips.

We noted the forecast which was great for the day, but would turn bad overnight into Saturday. Despite this, we set out with tents, equipment and food for three days and nights of mountaineering and adventures based out of Coire an Lochain.

I had brought a prototype pulk (sledge you pull behind you…think arctic explorers) with me for carrying stuff. It was great not having to carry the weight on your feet, but it needed constant help from someone else to stop it from rolling over all the time! Some upgrades will be needed for future trips. We soon arrived at a suitable campsite and quickly set up the tents so we could make the most of the good weather.

Al reminded us all of a long-standing tradition by shouting out “CAIRNGORMS BABY!”

This phrase can be used by anyone as long as it goes along with one of the following conditions:

  • You wake up

  • You see an amazing view

  • You are hit by severe weather (e.g. wind or spindrift)

  • You complete a hard climbing move

  • You see someone struggling and wish to offer encouragement

  • When you wish to express how happy you are that you made it to the weekend and have just realised how awesome the day is going

On this occasion, I believe it was the last bullet point for Al.

We were soon set-up and ready for the off, our goal: the mighty Fiacaill Ridge, a grade 2 winter climb.

I took the lead with Dave and Jake on the other end of my rope. This was quite a significant moment for me, my first time leading a winter route.

I had completed the ridge before with Nate a few years ago, so knew what was coming up but was still nervous, although excitement was the overriding emotion that afternoon. Step step, swing swing. Repeat.

Slowly but surely I made upward progress until I ran out of rope. I made a quick belay and brought the chaps up after me.

The next section of ridge was stepping-stones, of sort, along the ridge line that I chose to walk around to get to the next climbing section. Off I go again. It was tough but extremely satisfying. Too soon we were at the end of the ridge where James greeted us.

We carefully walked around the rim of Coire an Lochain, avoiding cornices and trying to scout out routes, before heading down to the tents, food and games.

After dinner we crammed into one of the tents for card games, whisky and strawberry bon bons. It was lots of fun, but as the night grew on and the wind strengthened, we all started to need sleep so Dave, Jake and I left to go to our own tent.

None of us really slept that night. The wind was battering the tent, decreasing its size from a spacious three-man tent to a very cosy one-man tent. Moisture was appearing from somewhere, wetting our bags and our faces, and so it was a long and noisy night.

Welcome relief came as I realised that it was getting brighter. Al stuck his head in to check in and tell us that it might be a good idea to bail as the winds were forecast to increase even more! We needed no more encouragement than that and packed up camp in record time with two people being tasked with holding onto the tents whilst others dismantled them.

Back down in Aviemore, we had a coffee with Mr and Mrs Jones before repacking a lighter load to spend the night in Ryvoan bothy. The bothy is only 2.5km or so from Glenmore Lodge and is therefore quite popular.

We had the bothy to ourselves at first, but soon seven cyclists turned up, and a family of four. The family had dinner and left, the cyclists stayed, got drunk, high, and played loud music too.

I’d had enough! I needed some sleep and was about to set off back to the car, when Jake suggested I took the van keys. Yes lad. I ran back to the van and slept for twelve hours!

Suitably rested, I walked back in to re-join everyone for the day’s activities. I was greeted by the smell of bacon as I entered the bothy, and was informed there was plenty for me - enough for 3 rolls in fact! I wouldn’t be surprised if there is bacon in heaven!

Due to strong winds, sometimes from James but mostly from the sky, we went for a stroll towards Bynack More. Jake and Dave had to turn around half way up so they would get home at a reasonable time. It was sad to think they wouldn’t be there that evening, but I was really glad to have spent some quality time with them.

The rest of us carried on to hide behind some rocks for a quick bite to eat before Al, Phil and Pete pushed on to the summit, whilst James and I headed down to start the fire and have some down time.

Fortunately no one bothered us in the bothy on Sunday night and with a roaring fire, good food and great company, time positively flew by! We played a card game called Communism, helped Al to think of some ‘Top 5’ themes for his sermon, drank the unopened bottle of port that had been left by the cyclists, before crawling into our sleeping bags at midnight. Al then started up a game of Linkee which lasted an hour, what a brilliant evening.

Monday morning, our last day together. Because the chaps had to drive to Rugby in the afternoon, we packed up, left our bags at the bothy and went in search of another building we had seen from Bynack More.

It was a wonderful bimble through the Caledonian forests of Abernethy as we chatted about anything and everything. Before I knew it we were back at the cars, packed up and heading for Aviemore and coffee. With coffee inside our bellies, it was time to say goodbye. After some good man-hugs goodbye, the chaps drove off into the sunset. (Except, it wasn’t yet setting).

Whilst the last few days had been terrific for developing friendships, confidence and memories, it had also had a profound effect on my smell. To put it simply, I was ponging! I drove to Nethy Bridge to visit the centre there and asked for staff privileges to use a shower. After watching four days of grime disappear down the plughole, I donned fresh clothes and felt like a real human being again!

I stuck around at Nethy chatting to various people and started sorting through my photos whilst I eagerly awaited the evening’s agenda.

Not wanting to come so close to Nethy and not see anyone before going home, I had arranged to meet up with Amanda and Roald for drinks at The Old Bridge Inn before my journey back south.

In my wanderings around the centre, I found Amanda in the marketing office, a tiny portacabin hidden out the back somewhere, and the plan developed to include polishing off some leftover curry with Sam before venturing out to the pub.

Excellent - I was looking forward to not having to cook my own meal in one pan and some variety to boot. The curry was delicious. The flavours and textures were supported by the fact I was sitting in a warm house, on a comfy chair and with a lovely cup of tea. I couldn’t have asked for anything more and then Roald walked in and joined us!

I had met Roald last year when he came to Ardeonaig as one of the Trainee Instructors on placement there. We soon realised that we had some mutual connections due to him having lived in Royal Tunbridge Wells for a few years. From then, we got on like a house on fire, which is amusing as Roald used to be a fireman! It was a pleasant surprise to find out that he was around and free to join in with the evening.

Amanda is a relatively new friend too. She started at Abernethy at the same time as me but as the Marketing Manager based at Nethybridge. We get on well, due to the fact that I send her my pictures to use for marketing purposes and she encourages me to keep taking them and tells me I’m a “marketeer’s dream!”

An evening in the pub with these two superb people was a fitting end to a fantastic weekend. We had a good couple of hours chatting about all sorts, laughing and playing with candles. I was sad when I had to leave, because I was having such a great time.

But, alas, I had work the next day and a two-hour drive in front of me. So after saying our goodbyes, I settled in for the journey home. I put some classic tunes on my phone and sang along, as if there wasn’t anyone left in the world, all the way home. The roads were empty and I made good time.

Ah, bed. To help catch up with some sleep, I ended up having a midday nap at work the next day.

Was the effort worth it? Borrowing cars, snow, high winds, changing plans, nights in cars/vans, pooing outside, tiredness?

Absolutely, I would do it all again in a heartbeat.

The pros massively outweighed any cons: adventure, first winter lead, shared experiences, pictures, memories, quality conversations, character building and most importantly, growing friendships.

It seems how I measure a good time has become less quantifiable as I get older, but, I’m happy with that.


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