A Winter Trip to the Famous Tarf Hotel

29 08 2011

Nov 2009

Hardly took any photos for this as I was mostly too frozen to think (on the second day at least)…

This was my first ever winter bothy trip – it was also my first trip meeting up with the folks off the walking forum I used to frequent.  Although I was expecting it to be an uncomfortable and cold weekend, the thing which normally motivates me was there in abundance – challenge!   Not least the long walk in of around 16 miles over a Munro with a big pack followed by a similar day to walk out again.  Load-carrying is something I’m totally unused to and so I had to practice carrying heavy loads during the preceding weeks round my local lanes and hills.

Although I set off driving in crisp, clear conditions from the Pass of Drumochter B&B (Balsporran Cottage – and a great full veggie breakfast) I descended into the clag at Blair Atholl – however, it was later to clear, the sun came out and it turned into a lovely day but with a very cold north wind. I was the last to arrive just before 10 and introduced myself to the people I could see with big packs – obviously the right group!  I was amused to read in the others’ trip reports upon my return that, prior to meeting ‘the mountain coward’, everyone was convinced I was not only a bloke, but a gay one at that!

Despite saying they were going to set an easy pace as we had big packs (mine was 3rd biggest but I don’t doubt it was probably the lightest) everyone set off like the clappers down the glen.

Glen Tilt (after initial forest)

Looking back down Glen Tilt

Snow-capped Beinn a’ Ghlo from Glen Tilt

The Deep Defile of Glen Tilt

Before the start of the ascent of Carn a’ Chlamain – via the ‘motorway’ track which I found a lovely route – we sat for a short break by a lovely placed cottage with ponies.  I was still full from my breakfast so just had a nice warm coffee. Then we were off again…

Glen Tilt from Chlamain track

About 2/3 of the way up we met the snowline – the snow was nice and grippy and we weren’t sinking deep into it so it was quite easy walking.

Carn a’ Chlamain shoulder

Everyone thought they were approaching the summit at one point except me – I’d seen the looming, huge-looking bulk of the true summit through the mist! The final bit of the ascent was very steep but luckily short as I found it pretty hard.

If you look hard, you can see the true summit looming behind!
False Summit, Carn a’ Chlamain

Luckily we didn’t hang around on the summit as it was absolutely freezing – just a few quick photos and then off. It was starting to drop dark by then and I was horrified to see we’d taken five hours to get there, despite what I thought was our rapid ascent! Coming down the back of Carn a’ Chlamain we met the wind-frozen slopes and they were absolutely solid. I couldn’t kick many steps into them and was descending very hesitantly indeed, eyeing the long and steep slide down the back to a distant plateau! I was just hoping there were no rocks if I slipped. The lads were making better progress than me so Janet came to my rescue and suggested I use their kicked footprints – cheating I know – I was wishing I’d taken my ice-axe!

We were soon down safely and the long walk down the moorland to the bothy started – it was very nearly dark by the time we got off the steep slope. The moorland seemed to go on for ages although I don’t think it’s very far, but eventually we could smell bothy smoke. By now everyone except me had their headtorches on behind me but I found I didn’t need mine as I could see fine – it was suggested later I must eat a lot of carrots! 😉 Very soon after that, we rounded a corner of the burn and there was a little distant candle-light in a side window of the bothy – a nice touch from John who was there from the night before. He also had a nice fire lit for us! 🙂

We’d taken loads of burnables (much of it carried by Kev who was carting a huge pack!) – they took coal and wood, I took peat blocks and someone (Kev I think), in addition to coal, brought a shelf he was supposed to put up for his other half but he’d chopped it up instead – gave out a great heat! We kept the fire in all evening while people had a civilised session of drinking the two lots of whisky and small amount of beer and eating my chocolate liqueurs – as I don’t drink it was the nearest thing I could think of to share around and anyway they’re much lighter than carrying bottles! I was really surprised to hear that Kev, in addition to the whisky, was also carrying 4 litres!! of bottled water! I asked him why he didn’t just drink out of the burn… must’ve weighed a ton! We even had music, although unfortunately, no Megadeth for me!

Contrary to my prior beliefs about bothying, no-one got horribly drunk, although Janet may have been a bit tipsy 😉 and we were all in bed by 2230. I was amazed that, not only did I fall asleep pretty quickly, after I’d solved the ‘cold face’ problem by pulling my ‘fashion parka’ hood over my head (I was using it as an extra quilt), but I rarely woke during the night. I woke sometime later in the pitch dark and heard John who’d slept in the other room going outside. He’s gone out for a pee I thought… he came back in… then he went outside again. I realised he must be getting water for a brew so must be getting up. I checked my watch with my headtorch inside my sleeping bag and found it was 0730! I was amazed I’d had such a good night’s sleep and been perfectly warm. Also with my air-mat I hadn’t found it hard and uncomfortable either.

We managed to get breakfasted and out by 09:00 (I was dismayed how disorganized I was with not being used to bothying or camping). We had various discussions about what route out to take. Everyone had abandoned the (to me excessively ambitious) original plan of doing An Sgarsoch and the Fiddler and then walking out. We were split three ways between: simply walking along the River Tarf to the landrover track and out through the spectacular rift valley of Glen Tilt, going the other way along the Tarf and then either over the Corbett (Mheadhonaich) or my personal original planned route over the Munro Beinn Dearg. I kept changing my mind between them all but in the end we decided to set off towards the mountain routes and make our minds up when we saw them.

Probably fed up of photo calls now…
Tarf Hotel Gang (l-r) Kev, Graeme, Darren, Janet & John and the famous AA sign some wag had affixed to the door many, many years ago 🙂

While walking alongside the Tarf I found I was going quite well but I didn’t feel great so I whipped one of my veggie sausages out of my camera bag in case I hadn’t eaten enough – I’d actually had a piece of Bakewell Tart for my breakfast. We had one tiny hill to ascend before we decided which route to take. As I started up it I suddenly felt really ill – exhausted and energyless and sick with it! I looked around me in despair at the empty wilderness in all directions and realised that, whatever I decided to do, it was going to be really long and arduous and I was very dubious about whether I could actually make it back.

Sheer desolation!
Loch Mhairc from Tom Liath

After literally staggering up the hill I decided to try some chocolate. I just had one square as I didn’t have much with me and knew we’d hardly started yet. I decided the Munro actually looked like the easiest option despite being further and slightly higher, partly because it wasn’t narrow and steep-sided like the Corbett – I was worried about meeting snow conditions like the evening before and there was an extreme crosswind blowing!

All but Graeme opted for the Munro and descended to the Tarf again to walk to a distant ridge up the north-east side of Beinn Dearg. We were soon at the foot of our ascent ridge so I had another square of chocolate while we had another quick stop. We then set off up the ridge and suddenly I was going great guns and feeling fine – amazing what just two squares of the brown stuff can do!  

Near the top of the climb stopping became a very cold business indeed as the wind had picked up and the wind-chill was horrific – MWIS said about -18degC and I could believe it. At some point, John accused me of being a fairy! He was actually referring to the technique I have of not sinking into the snow while walking but smoothly staying on top of it – much easier!

Approaching Beinn Dearg

John asked if I was going for the old decommisioned ‘top’ to our right. I said I’d see when I got to the col between them. As I approached the col I thought that it looked quite tempting so decided to detour to the top first and then rejoin everyone on the ascent of the Munro. So I set off traversing to the top. Of course it was further away than I thought and took a while but it was pretty flat so I hurried along to the cairn thinking I’d have some catching up to do up the Munro after my detour. At the cairn I turned to see everyone had decided to do the top as well. I then wished I hadn’t hurried as it meant I had to sit behind the cairn trying to avoid the by now furious icy wind while everyone caught up.

Beinn Dearg from old top

As Beinn Dearg itself was a twin-humped summit I wasn’t sure exactly which bump was the summit (although I correctly guessed the second) so went for the rearmost one first just to make sure (it was too cold and windy to get my map out). That meant heading more or less straight into the cruel wind – it cut right through to the bone, even with windproofs.  You’d never know I had gloves on, my hands were soon that frozen! They’re very warm gloves too. I soon saw the other peak was the main summit and diverted to that. By the summit the wind was catching my backpack and spinning me round and making me fall over rocks and suchlike so I said I’d wait further down the slope out of the wind.

Looking SE from Beinn Dearg

As everyone left the summit there was a sudden blizzard and we couldn’t see anything at all. I knew which direction to head though so kept going straight for the path. The others decided to stay on top of the ridge – probably had less snow but must have been horrifically windy. I was by now going as fast as I could plough through the snow as I thought I was about to freeze to death any moment. To be honest, I couldn’t wait to get back down and off the mountain out of that wind.

It was a slippery descent and the wind was getting more obnoxious and trying to hurl us down the path. We eventually got down to the icy landrover track – by now it was 3pm and only an hour of daylight left to do the last 5 miles. I went flat on my arse by the river crossing as I realised too late it was shot ice – shortly afterwards Kev did exactly the same! At this point Darren excused himself as he wanted to get back in a hurry and, as I had a long drive to England and a trip to the Lake District the next day, I decided to do the same and rush off. However, I couldn’t keep up with Darren’s cracking pace on the icy track and had a couple more falls before I decided to go at a more sober pace on my own. This was fine and I managed to set up a terrific pace when I reached the lower, sheltered, less icy bit a couple of miles further on.

However, by the time I got into the final forest, it was dark and I got lost a couple of times. I probably did an extra couple of miles going off on the wrong forest tracks (my lowland navigation was always hopeless). In the end I got fed up and just did a cross-country across muddy fields (startling a herd of poor cows in the process), fences, ditches, burns etc. until I hit a landrover track going in the right direction. I was soon back at the carpark where I got changed, sorted the mess in the car out and set off. I think I just saw John arriving as I left.

I was thoroughly tired and ratty by then and glad to drive home, although as I was so tired my driving was awful until I got to Annandale Water Services where I stopped for my customary double egg and chips! I felt fine after that.

I didn’t do much in the Lakes over the next couple of days as I was too exhausted and Richard had a knackered sciatic tendon 😦

All I could manage on my Lakes trip immediately after!
The Bell (a very miniature hill), Coniston



6 responses

31 08 2011

Passed by it a few times in winter doing the hills around but not stayed in it.Glad to see its still looking good.Probably too remote for the drinking den types to reach.Some great remote bothies out there to visit.


31 08 2011

Yeah, I think that’s a definite advantage of the remote bothies – they’re not full of p***heads! I need my sleep if I’m doing that kind of walking!


30 08 2011

Another great read Carol. It was good to see this report again. Remember I was meant to be on this walk but my knee was knackered at the time. Sounded Coooooolllllllldddd hahaha


31 08 2011

It was a bit bracing yeah! LOL


29 08 2011
Scotlands Mountains

You certainly packed a lot into two days Carol.!
Talking about heavy packs…we had a Yorkshire girl in our club some years back who could carry huge loads. We were impressed when she told us she was first female home in a race in Yorkshire where you have to run up a hill with a bag of coal .We were even more impressed when she told us she was second overall .! On top of that she drank like a fish and smoked like a chimney 🙂


7 04 2015

LOL! Well I used to drink like a fish… but I had to give it up I’m afraid! Never smoked though. Sounds like my mother – I’ll have to ask her! 😉


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