After a week of excess at Friedrichshafen it was time for a good walk. The WX Saturday was top notch and Sunday was forecast as another cracking day. I’ve been doing SOTA for a few years now and I’ve noticed that I’ve developed a bit more stamina such that I can attempt longer walks now and when I started I’ve have found them impossible. Not bad when you consider I’m fighting 35 years of lethargy and diabetic complications.
So Ben Vuirich was the target. As it’s over 900m it’s worth 6 points, but as it’s not a Munro it’s nice and quiet and lacks Munro trenches up to the top. Ideal! The downside is it’s a long way from everywhere. Well a short long way from everywhere laying in the vast expanse of mountains and not much else that is the Cairngorms. A huge area of big hills bounded by the A9, A923, A93, A95, A939 and about 4000 sq. km in area. Just hills and lochs and rivers and deer and grouse and not much else. Wonderful.
I did the southern approach. You park on the A923 near Tarvie. There are a few laybys and verges to park on within 500m of the entrance to the Tarvie Estate. (The estate is clearly lablelled on the walls but the big green gates have been removed.) The route involves walking up the metalled drive to the Lodge and then you have to find the path around the private house. It was 20C when I parked and a few minutes later I was sweaty even though I was walking through lovely mature woodland and gardens. When I got to the lodge there was an immediate problem. There was no lodge! The outbuildings were there suggesting a large country house but the ground was fresh earth with some rubble. The lodge has been demolished and the debris mainly removed. Anyway turn left when you get to the ex-lodge and go round the back of the buildings and through the gate into the field.
The track disappears as you cross a rich pasture. Confusing. No lodge and now no track. However, just follow the course shown on the OS map and suddenly the track reappears. Disappearing tracks is a feature of this summit! OK, it’s easy from here. For the next 3 and a bit km the route is trivial. A bit steep at first but then easy along the bulldozed track. Past the dam at Loch Tarvie and you follow the Tarvie Burn that was lovely as it cascaded down amongst the rocks and boulders. There’s evidence everywhere that this was formed by a glacier, especially the boulder debris left behind when the Neanderthals discovered spray cans and caused global warming and melted all the ice!
In the same vein as disappearing tracks was the split in the track. I decided left felt right and then checked the map and GPS. Left was right, if you see what I mean. Shortly after that you come to a fine shelter for shooters. This is unlocked and you could shelter inside in inclement weather if you desired. Judging by the number of empty chocolate biscuit wrappers and crisp bags in the dustbin outside someone had a severe case of the munchies here I’d already hit my water rations big style so I’d topped up as the paths split. There was a ford to cross which may be more than boots deep when the burn is in spate. Forwarned is forearmed as an old mentor of mine would say.
The path is now a quad bike track and I followed up over the rough ground. If you look at the OS map you’ll see the contours are all jaggy and we know what this means. Not nice smooth hills but very up and down and uneven. I’d been led to believe a quad bike track led to the top but I was prepared for about 4km of wild walking. The heather wasn’t too deep but deep enough to slow me down. The aim was to get to Carn Liath and the ridge at Druim Mor and then follow the ridge and my nose. I didn’t go straight up Carn Liath but contoured up onto the ridge. It probably would be easier to go direct rather than the way I went. What surprised me was how easy progress was. Or I’m now able to walk in horrible ground without getting so tired. Anyway I was on the ridge soon enough and came across a lovely quad bike track.
I followed this as it made walking so easy. It soon became a single track with many boot prints in it. The ground was very dry with the crunch of heather twigs underfoot. Hot and just a gentle breeze, very un-Scottish weather for July. I can’t remember when it was this hot here, probably last August! The path continued and looked like it went up Carn Dubh which is a summit about 1km SE of Ben Vuirich. Rather than climb up to go down I contoured into the col and then up to the col between Carn Dubh and Ben Vuirich. Wrong. The ground is hellish. Much thicker heather and grass. It was awful bog country but actually the bog was dry. I crossed quite a few hags now and was fed up.
Anyway the summit was in sight but it took an age to get there. I was getting tired after 2h30 non-stop in the sun. However, the views where getting good. Carn Liath (Beinn a’Ghlo) was now visible as was Carn an Righ CS-020 and Glas Tulaichean CS-011. The track up Glas Tulaichean some 8km away is clear as an ugly scar. Just before I reached the top I met another walker coming down. He was somewhat phased by finding someone with an English accent living in Scotland and climbing in Scotland not on holiday. He was English and lived in Scotland and was climbing in Scotland. Perhaps he thought he was the only Sassenach up here? Or as my youngest would say “meh!”.
At the top the view takes your breath away. Firstly the trig has a new coat of paint and was painfully white! Then there’s the big boys, Cairn Toul etc. A bit hazy but oh so big. And the Larig Ghru. And Carn An Righ, Beinn Iuthern Mor, An Socach, Glas Tulaichean, Carn a Gheoidh, The Cairnwell, Glas Maol, Lochnagar. And Schiehallion, Carn Maig, Meall Tairneachan. Even boring Mount Blair looked pretty. Far in the south I could East and West Lomond some 67km away in the haze. They’re the biggest things down there and a so very obvious in this part of Scotland.
And Beinn a’Ghlo. Or lordy, lordy, sweet lord! What a sight to see this from the side. The sheer scale of the 3 summits that make up this enormous mountain. 24 points of SOTAness but who cares about points when you can look at this. Awesome. Amazing. Really rather good!
Onwards and upwards. The WX was fab so I expected HF problems! Up went the aerial on went the 817 and handy. 60m was noisy and I could hear Colin G8TMV at 41. Then I couldn’t hear him. Then I could. Funny. VOLMET and Shannon VOLMET were big on 60m. VOLMET was loud on 11MHz, Shannon was loud on 8MHz. TMV was up and down like a doodah’s whatsits. But not smooth. Here, gone, here, gone, here, CLICK gone. Aha, the aerial is iffy. I checked where the dipole legs hook on and the connections were tight. It did this on Carn an Caim 2 months back. Then I twizzled the BNC and everything was fine. Twizzled it again today and everything fine.
Now I blew up my main 817 not so long back. Like a fool I ordered a new PA board and just wanged it in with checking if it was dead or not. It turns out Q3004 (2sk2973), a driver FET, is drain-source short so I have no drive out into the PA board. New drivers are on the way (£7.50 inc vat and postage from Vicky at Yaesu) so I’m using my reserve 817. I also need a hot air gun to get the SMD blighters off the PCB. I was watching the SWR display and there was just the odd flicker of 1 bar. Good enough for 4 contacts So I called GW4CQZ who was finishing with G8TMV and dropped down one channel. I worked Martyn and then Brian G4ZRP (ears like a hawk that man). Then Robin appeared on 2m FM so I bagged an S2S with Craig Meagaidh CS-002. Then a few more on 60m finishing with Rob GD4RQJ/p on CW.
The clicking was back. The SWR was flickering back to FSD and off. I did some more tests and found the there was a break in the shield side of the coax. Disconnecting the dipole leg on that side made no difference to received signals. My antenna was working as some kind of Zepp. I had 6 contacts and a working 817. Time to stop. I’m sure the intermittent fault was responsible for seeing off the old PA/driver.
Now I would have been livid if I’d have walked all this way for just 6 QSOs. But the hill was qualified and I just drank up the views. Then I sat on the trig point and ate a Mars bar and some Oat bars whilst talking to Brian G4ZRP on the phone. Yes 903m ASL and LOS to 2 big cellsites on The Cairnwell and Mount Blair, endstop 3G, 3.6mbps Internet access all on 2.1GHz in a wee thing in the palm of my hand. It gets me everytime how silly it is when I spot with an SMS to psuedo-arrange skeds with CW chasers on 7/10MHz. It;s a huge contrast between all the technology connected with the phone and the simple pleasure of (just) being able to have contacts on Morse… the original radio comms method!
I packed up, took some photos and plodded back the way I came. There seemed to be lots more tracks on the way back than the way up. But that’s always the way. It took 2hrs45 elapsed to get to the top and 2hrs to get back to the car. Nothing much eventful happened going back apart from seeing many toads and a lizard basking in the sun on the path. At the car the thermometer said 25C. I was off with the AC on full and set on back down the hellish A9 which wasn’t too bad at all. The biggest hazard being Bints in their Bintmobiles using their Bintphones as they drove along. I know now that whenever I see any car with solid folding roof and some blonde 30 something driving it that she’ll have a phone in the hand and be yakking or texting. I’d cut their hands off for driving and texting. That’d stop them!
Back home I was looking forward to a long relaxing evening only to realise I had 20mins to shower and eat as I was off out with Mrs. FMF to a blues festival. Lucky the antenna broke or I’d have been back late and guess who would have been popular then!
Total walked: 17.1km, total ascent: 685m, total driven 165miles.
I noted I drank 4L of water between leaving the car and getting back and needed no comfort breaks at all. I guess that will give you some idea how warm it was on the walk. I drank 3 pints of Stella at the venue and still didn’t need a comfort break till getting home. Dehydrated? “Not half pop pickers!” as Fluff would have said.
Pictures on Flickr.