Whisky & Mountains

Last week we made the fascinating discovery that the Dalwhinnie Whisky Distillery is running free distillery tours until March. We quickly formed a plan to tour the distillery as well as bag a couple of munros over a weekend.

Carn na Caim and A’Buidheanach Bheag were our hills of choice as they were conveniently placed across the road from the distillery: whisky on Saturday and mountains on Sunday, the plan fell into place.

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After a civilised start on Saturday, we loaded up Bruce (the camper van) and headed up the A9 to Dalwhinnie. There wasn’t quite as much snow on the hills as we had hoped but it is still early in the season and there was a good dusting of the white stuff, so we were not too disheartened.

Amazingly, we found a perfect spot for Bruce within walking distance of the distillery and there was even time for a cup of tea and a sandwich before our tour. I have always enjoyed the Dalwhinnie whisky, ever since drinking it in a cold and wintry Shenavall Bothy a good few years ago, so I was really looking forward to the tour. Rightly so as well, as the tour was super and the whisky and chocolates at the end were excellent: a huge thank you to the staff at the Dalwhinnie Distillery for a great time.

We headed back to the van for our classic chorizo, vegetable and tomato sauce and tortellini pasta and settled in for the night. It was a cold night which even included a bit of down jacket action in bed!

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A stunning morning

In the morning we tentatively got out of bed and made our final preparations for the day ahead; this included defrosting the inside of the windscreen as it had frozen during the night. It was only a short drive to the start of our walk at the Balsporran car park about 5km south of Dalwhinnie. We planed to follow a circular route described in an old edition of Cameron Mcneish’s Munro book. His route takes you straight up the west slopes of A’Buidheanach Bheag and down the land rover track that connects to the A9 about 3km north of the Balsporran car park. In the interest of not wanting to walk along a road at the end of the day, we did this route in reverse, which turned out to be a brilliant idea…

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Summit just up ahead (!).

It was a stunning morning and, although we were walking so close to the A9, it was a pleasant stroll north up to the path that would lead us into the hills. We gained height fast and thought we deserved second breakfast just before reaching the vast plateau of these mountains. At a track junction a path leads north towards the summit of Carn na Caim. This is a very undramatic summit and you only know its the top because of a small cairn, otherwise you would probably miss it if you were not paying  attention. We were paying close attention though, the clouds had been following us since the track junction and by the time we made the summit, we could have just as easily been in a steam room, although a lot colder!

So cold in fact that we needed to keep our primaloft jackets on as we made our way off the summit following our compass bearing. Thankfully by the time we had made it back to the track junction the cloud had lifted and once again revealed the vast open space towards the second munro of the day: A’Buidheanach Bheag.

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The vast plateau

The walking was simple due to the big track and flattish ground, meaning we quickly covered the 2.5km to the summit. It was on our way to this summit that we saw our first hare zooming across the open hillside, we would see two more by the end of the day.

The A’Buidheanach Bheag summit is even less dramatic, if even possible, than the previous one, but at least it was not in a cloud so we could enjoy the superb views across to Glen Garry and Ben Alder.

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Views across to Ben Alder

After enjoying the summit and some more flapjack, obviously, it was time to head back to Bruce. That meant descending the west slopes of the mountain, which certainly added interest to the day. The steep, half snow-covered, half wet grass and heather made for a tricky descent, then there was a small river crossing before slogging over the last bit of muddy ground under the huge electricity pylons before returning to the van. During the decent I couldn’t help thinking “I am so glad we didn’t try to walk up that!”

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In the end we had a lovely time bimbling across these hills but I would not recommend ascending or descending the West slopes of A’Buidheanach Bheag. Descending them isn’t horrendous but ascending them certainly would be. It may be worth heading back to the track junction and walking NW back down the track to the A9: not as adventurous though.

Details

Time: 6 Hours 15 minutes

Distance: 12.8Km / 8 miles

Munro summits: A’ Bhuidheanach Bheag (936m) & Carn na Caim (941m)

Ascent: 610m

 

 

 

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Hiking and backpacking food

It has been observed that we mention food a lot in our posts! That’s probably because it’s a very important part of our experience: a tasty treat can be a great reward and in some situations even redeem an otherwise miserable day!

The food we take varies considerably between activities and has evolved over the years. On the first mountain day out I ever went on with Chris, and my first Scottish hill day, we tackled Curved Ridge in Glencoe and took SO MUCH food, including jelly cubes, flapjack and fruity things in tubes: it cost a fortune! In the end we were back down before lunch, had hardly eaten any of it and went for lunch in the Clachaig!

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Everyone enjoying a sandwich in the snow

 

I also used to get very nervous before we went out into the mountains and couldn’t eat any breakfast. I would  sometimes struggle to eat a lot during the day, and this has probably influenced our choices. I would find myself feeling horrible an hour or so after starting but then realised that I felt much better in the afternoon, possibly because I had eaten more by then. Now I often eat a cereal bar soon after setting off or even sometimes as we leave the car! As a result we try to ensure that we take appetising food and snacks, so that there is always something to look forward too.

We do not stop for an official lunch break, but usually have multiple snack and lunch breaks and something to see us through to the end. This allows us a breather, a chance to enjoy the views and top up on energy, and we find it works much better, than one or long pauses.

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Regular breaks allow you to appreciate where you are!

Hill days

For single day trips we take some form of sandwiches: the absolute favourites are bacon sandwiches! Cheese and chilli jam sandwiches probably come second: the chilli is great when it’s cold. We store them in plastic boxes to avoid single use bags, cling film or foil. For snacks, Chris loves granola bars, I like flapjack squares. Hobnobs or oatie biscuits are almost always with us and are great for sharing.

Bananas get squished, apples usually end up staying in the bag. The jelly never got eaten so we don’t take it anymore. Last year we bought a good flask so we can have hot chocolate or hot squash on winter days, which is a nice treat when drinking your water gives you brain freeze and it boosts our moods. Kitkats have made a recent appearance and will stay on the list. Chocolate raisins are a treat saved for the final tired kilometres on really big days.

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It’s especially important to stop for food in bad conditions; our shelter (the red cafe) allows us to take the time to this

This sounds pretty unhealthy, but hiking with large rucksacks uses an incredible amount of energy, so we aren’t too worried, especially as our usual daily diet is fairly healthy. If anyone has any delicious healthier options they would like to suggest though, we would love to hear them!

We have also found that with experience and improved hill fitness, we now take less and don’t need expensive food, and no longer always need an shopping trip before heading out for a hill day. We don’t have official emergency rations either, but I don’t think we’ve ever eaten everything we take.

Multi-day backpacking

Keeping the cost down was something we also thought about when planning what we would eat on our TGO Challenge. In May 2017, we walked across Scotland, carrying all our equipment and wild camping most of the way. This was to take a fortnight, which was much longer than any previous trip; food organisation therefore represented a very important of our preparation! It was also quite a social event and we were complimented a few times on our food (and the quantity we ate!).

Many people used food resupply parcels and there was a lot of talk about, and offers for, specialist dehydrated backpacking meals. Our route took us through small towns approximately every four days, so we decided to buy what we needed at each place. We just sent one parcel to a town where we weren’t sure we’d have time to buy food before catching a ferry. Specialist camping and hiking food is expensive! Having seen this post about food for long distance hiking, we decided we didn’t need it.

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Food for four days of backpacking and wild camping: almost all of it can be found in any small shop

We had a single MSR Windburner stove that is excellent for boiling water quickly but not great at cooking anything else, so our options were quite limited. For breakfast, we decided on granola with powdered milk: the oats keep you full, there’s lots of sugary energy and it wouldn’t need cooking if the weather was bad or we needed an early start. We mixed it up occasionally with bacon rolls when available and some instant porridge.

For lunch, sandwiches weren’t practical, so we started with oat cakes and hummus. When we were tired of these, we tried garlic naan bread and a cup of soup or crackers with squeezy cheese. Best of all was cold pizza, cooked on the few nights we spent in a hostel (it’s awesome, do it!).

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Cold pizza in plastic boxes: a classic in Glen Affric on the 1st day of our TGO Challenge

We practised our dinners before we left, testing out a few options, which I would highly recommend, even if just to gauge the quantities required. All testing was successful and all we needed was boiling water and a plastic lunch box each. Sachets of flavoured couscous (like this) were brilliant: there are different flavours so you don’t get too bored. We chopped smoked sausage or chorizo into the couscous in our boxes and simply poured on hot water, stirred and left it for 5 minutes. When we were tired of couscous, we did the same with fine noodles and chorizo but added a small tub of stir-in sauce, or had smash and smoked sausage. These were all surprisingly delicious, required very little fuel and were extremely light and easy to prepare. We always looked forward to them and they were easily digestible, which is important when doing strenuous exercise; we were given a dehydrated meal on one night but it didn’t re-hydrate well and Chris didn’t feel right after it all the next day….we were very happy with our corner shop options.

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A plastic pot is very useful for allowing hot meals to sit and for keeping your lunch in, thus avoiding creating too much rubbish

Chris often had a cup of soup for a starter which is good for taking in extra water. Pudding usually comprised instant custard (occasionally semolina, when Chris picked it up by accident, which turned out to be also OK) and/or hot chocolate (and possibly hobnobs!).

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Testing out meals on the MSR Windburner in chilly conditions

Snacks included all the regulars, as well as home-made trail mix (raisins, nuts, seeds, chocolate buttons/raisins, etc), which started well but by the end, I just picked the best bits outs and was left with a bag of stale raisins and lots of sunflower seeds that are still in the kitchen cupboard (and will probably stay there for a year or two).

Whenever we were passing through towns or staying in hostels, we made sure to eat plenty of fruit and veg!

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A perfect evening meal on our TGO Challenge

Getting through the tough bits

We had also been given a pile of protein bars and Chris won a box of Cliff bars before we left; we had enough for one each everyday of the Challenge and they actually became a key item, perfect for getting me through the three o’clock slump!

I have also found that Dextro Energy Orange tablets are brilliant when I feel done-in. I have never had more than two a day but on scrambling days when I can’t eat due to nerves or to get me down that last bit of thigh-trembling descent when I’m exhausted and struggling, one of these can be a big help.

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Bacon sandwich with a view!

What do you eat on your adventures?

Eating well is definitely part of the fun!