Sometimes the planning pays off and it all comes together. I’d been looking forward to a winter’s wild camp – camped on snow with a star-filled sky – for perhaps a year or two. Beinn Trilleachan, at the head of Loch Etive, was to tick all of these boxes.
This was a quick 24-hour trip, leaving home Saturday lunchtime and back in time for lunch the following day. I parked at the bottom of the long, winding single-track road down Glen Etive and climbed up the shoulder of Beinn Trilleachan, a Corbett that stands at 839 metres. Once above the snow line my pace slowed, weighed down with a heavy pack. (In spite of me normally being an enthusiastic proponent of lightweight walking, my rucsac carried an SLR and tripod, full winter gear including ice axe and crampons – on top of a tent, sleeping bag, water and so on). Luckily I was following the trail of others who were just coming down as I was climbing up. I stopped frequently to admire the views, with a panorama of Glen Etive and the Glencoe hills opening up below me.
I arrived at the subsidiary top (767 metres) just a short while before sunset. I could have gone on – Beinn Trilleachan was only 15 minutes or so in front of me – but I would risk missing the sunset and then might be forced to put my tent up in fading light. I decided that the subsidiary top was good enough: the views were stunning and gave me everything I needed.
I took some photos as the light changed from pink to a deepening red over towards the west. I could feel the temperature plummeting. Just enough time to get my tent up. I’d never actually camped on snow before and I realised that it calls for a slightly different technique. For a start, the snow was about a foot deep so I needed to kick it away to find some ground below. But this was easier said than done since it was largely frozen of course. Most of the pegs went in okay and the remainder that seemed a bit iffy I weighed down with stones from the summit cairn. Never mind, I’m sure someone will be along again in the Spring to put them back on the cairn.
After my evening meal (a butter bean and aubergine stew – leftovers from home – in case you wondered) I stepped out to look at the stars.
It’s only when you head out to a place far from light pollution that you begin to realise how much you’re missing. Not only were they much brighter than at home but there was such an incredible number. I won’t tell you how many photos I took but let’s just say that this post includes the edited highlights !
Even a few meteors showed up to make my night. (No aurora though, or temperature inversion the next morning. Now that really would have ticked all the boxes !).
I was keen to do a composite star trail shot. It was going well – the photo below is a stack comprising just over 100 20-second exposures. However, my camera battery decided that it was far too cold to be standing around on a mountain top and decided to call it a day after 4o minutes. (I found that I had to keep swapping over my battery and spare battery, warming them up to revive them. As for my iPhone, well it really couldn’t cope with the cold … well it did get down to something like -8 to -10 degrees over night. I don’t think I’ve ever worn so many layers in bed !).
In spite of my iPhone not working I did manage to wake up in time for the sunrise. And just as well I did since it was jaw-dropping.
The hills soon lit up pink then turned a golden orange. There wasn’t a breath of wind or a sound to be heard. The sun reflected off the frozen ice crystals, both on the ground and on my tent.
After breakfast – with one of the finest views anywhere – I packed up and savoured the views one last time as I trudged down the snowy slopes in my crampons.
I really enjoyed this overnight adventure. It just goes to show that even a quick trip away can provide such a fabulous experience: Scotland’s mountains at their very best. It’s just great when some forward planning, plus a bit of luck, really pays off.