I met up with an old college friend last year. It was the first time I had seen him for over 20 years but he still had the same sense of adventure, so as he lives in Scotland I asked him if he fancied spending a few days hiking in the mountains. He was more than keen, so on the 1st February I headed up. Now as I was taking a 2 month break off the bike, (if I manage that it will be the longest time I’ve had off training every day since 1988) I was in the odd and very pleasant situation of not having to take a bike with me on the plane (first flight without it for 5 years). The travelling was made even easier as I had posted my rucksack/boots etc the previous day (it just made sense as carrying crampons/knives and gas cannisters on a plane is somewhat awkward). So I breezed through Heathrow and Edinburgh with just my phone/credit card and driving license. Damon was waiting for me the other end with all my kit in his car and within 2 hours we were parked up in Braemar, on the edge of the Cairngorms, ready to start.
We walked for 5 hours that afternoon, firstly through forests and along the river up through valleys. We were carrying enough rations for three days. As the gradient increased up the valley the snow depth also increased, by this time we were only able to trudge 3 or 4 paces before the snow would be so deep we’d sink to our knees and stumble. With a heavy pack that would invariably mean falling sideways and struggling like a beached whale. My legs had yet to adjust to hiking rather than riding, and they felt very stiff and achey. Initial plan was potentially to dig an ice cave to stay the night, but with the snow so soft and very wet underneath we were committed to press on to the Hutchinson Bothy (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bothy) With the light fading, we lost visibility. Luckily Damon's map and compass skills were excellent. We had 1km to go, now in cycling terms that would be all over in a couple of minutes but at the rate we were covering this arduous terrain, it could take us over an hour. At just after 6pm our accommodation came into view, although we couldn't see it until we were about 20 metres away (see photo below). We could see from the lack of footprints and the fact that the door had a foot of snow drifted against it that no one was inside.
Things in a bothy are really basic, it’s just to get out of the wind and snow. We had no means of getting a fire going but once into down jackets and sleeping bags we were warm enough. Rations were really grim, my freeze dried spag bol was horrendous but it was warm and I soon washed it down with some hot ready brek and hot chocolate. Later in the evening we hear voices outside, two weary hikers stumbled in. They had been trying to dig a snow cave for the previous few hours but abandoned it and pushed on to the bothy. With the wind howling outside and a lot of snoring from our new guests, I got very little sleep but still comfortable and resting for tomorrow.