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The Reason Why?


Since I only started this website in January 2018, to get started my Blog posts are taken from my blog posts on WalkHighlands.

Having previously wild camped on Suilven and Stac Pollaidh, Cul Mor the ‘big lump’ seen from both those mountains appeared to present fantastic photography opportunities and I waited for a weather window to try my luck.

I left my home and travelled north: Stirling – dreich, Perth – dreich, Aviemore – not bad, on the A9 and down towards Inverness – not too bad. Garve – glorious, Ullapool, glorious. Won a watch here I thought. In my humble opinion (why do these youngsters have to abbreviate everything – IMHO), Scotland has 3 types of weather: Dreich, Not Bad and Glorious. I find Glorious happens for two weeks of the year but not all at the same time and not always in the same location – 15 minutes here, 2 hours there, etc.

Parked at the lay-by near Knockan Crag for the stalkers path towards Cul Mor, dragged my pack out of the car, struggled to get it on. Camping and photography on top of mountains is a real pain, the amount of gear you have to take is quite frightening. Set off and after 30 minutes I was cursing all the weight and asking myself why do I do this? As I rounded the side of the hill on the stalkers path Suilven came into sight with some nice clouds floating over it and back towards Elphin – a quick photo opportunity.

As I reached the top of Meallan Diomhain where the paths split I could see that the weather was beginning to turn nasty. Looking south towards Cul Beag there was some serious rain showers blowing over. So much for the Met Office weather forecast of clear blue skies and sunny conditions all day. They have (allegedly) improved their forecasting for Scotland’s mountains recently. Sometimes I wonder whether this consists of a guy taking a look out of a north facing window in the Glasgow weather centre and guessing what’s over the horizon.

Up the shoulder of the mountain through the boulder field was a real struggle and the weight of my pack meant frequent stops. Why do I do this? As I reached the top I could see a big rain front heading directly towards me. Down to the bealach, then it hit. Driving rain, then hail, I got soaked. I tried to hide behind some rocks, not enough space, so I opted to protect my rucksack rather than me – skin is waterproof, camera gear, etc. takes priority. Bad weather can equal good photo opportunities and as soon as the rain front moved onwards, there were some glorious sights southwards towards Cul Beag, Stac Pollaidh, The Fiddler, Sgorr Tuath, etc.

After the Rain (and Hail)

I planned on camping right on the edge of Sron Gharbh (the big bit that sticks out north westwards) so that I had an unobstructed panorama, but it is a long plod to that point and I got there in the end. 4 hours in total from car park to campsite. Why do I do this?

Got the tent up, one door aligned with the view of Stac Pollaidh, the other towards Canisp but weighted down with rocks to afford wind protection, gear unpacked and time for coffee. The clothes I was wearing were soaked but there was a strong wind and as I walked about taking photos I dried out. The sunset was a bit disappointing but the views were fantastic and I spent 2-3 hours simply taking photos, including the obligatory ‘tent on a mountain’ shots.

By 11PM I was in the tent with my evening meal – some stodge that was probably meatballs and pasta on a good day – but that day had long gone. I made an ass of cooking it and it was lukewarm but I ate it anyway. Then coffee, a nice cigar and a hip flask of Dalwhinnie Winter Gold malt whisky – seemed appropriate for the Scottish mountainsl – as I watched the light fade over Stac Pollaidh. Bed by midnight, alarm set for 4AM. I sometimes have trouble sleeping when camping but this time I slept like a log – I was knackered. 4AM alarm. Oh God, is it that time already? I quick peek out the tent to see a fantastic sunrise in the offing over Canisp and Suilven. quickly dressed, up and out. 3 hours taking photos and drone videos.

Then breakfast, got the cooking right this time - all day breakfast with six cups of coffee. Time for some obligatory 'selfie' photos - but always following my 'Selfie Rules'. 1. Never look at the camera. 2. No close ups. 3. Take it at an iconic location - tops of mountains are good. 4. Try to look heroic - even though you're knackered.

My tent is at the bottom in the image above.

Then more photos as the scenery just kept getting better and better. Packed up by 8:30 AM for the long trudge back. Enroute I met Dave Miles from Newcastle who had camped on a spur below the peak of Creag nan Calman and his tent gave more photo ops. Spent about 20 mins chatting to Dave who planned to camp somewhere that night and I suggested Stac Pollaidh where I camped last October. I later discovered he had taken my suggestion as he posted photos of his tent on the eastern summit.

Is there a better place to wild camp?

Took the alternative route down which is much easier, there is a good worn path to follow. Should have taken this route up as I don’t climb to reach summits but only climb for photography. I find some mountains are boring so I only do them once, some not at all, some are really great and I climb them numerous times. I’m not a ‘Munro Bagger’. I respect those who are, but its not my thing. Buachaille Etive Beag is a much finer photo location than Buachaille Etive Mor, so I’ve climbed BEB about 12 times and BEM only about 5, however Beinn a’Chrulaiste which looks onto them across the A82 beats both so I’ve been up it numerous times, usually mid-winter in the dark to catch sunrise. Sgurr na Stri on Skye is Britain’s finest viewpoint but its not a Munro or even a Corbett or a Graham. Ben A’an in the Trossachs is dismissed by many and insultingly called a ‘pimple’ (by some), but its one of Scotland’s best viewpoints. Pays your money takes your choice. 3 hours back to the car and a 5 hour drive home. Looking at the photos, I know the answer to my question – why do I do this. The reason why is obvious.


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All Images and Content © John McSporran (2018/19)