Long days and warm weather, surely a perfect mix for a bivy night out in July? On the whole yes, though over the years I’ve been less inclined at this time of year, due to the midge levels starting to peak. The best answer is normally to hit the coast or go high and hope for a breeze. Since I was on holiday in Nethy Bridge, I was aiming high! I’d done similar a couple of years back and slept on the summit of Bynack More on a frosty night, but a similar attempt last October to sleep on Cairngorm had been thwarted by minging weather and a general malaise. Now we were actually here in summer, I couldn’t see that happening again, hopefully! I kept an eye on the forecast during the week whilst we had fun with the kids, doing all the usual stuff at the same time as trying to pick spots away from the summer hordes. The weather was much better than the forecast predicted and I finally saw a potential nice morning I could aim for being up top. The usual drill applied – feed the kids and start packing around bedtime. Being the summer, I still got to ride out during daylight and was hoping to knock most of the ride out before dark.
The first part of the ride I can practically do in my sleep, up through Abernethy Forest towards Ryvoan, passing An Lochan Uaine, where I had camped out the previous Autumn when doing this full route hadn’t appealed in rough weather.
I cut through the forest at Glenmore and joined the ski centre road higher up. The route went up interminably as I passed the car parks packed with camper vans and threaded my way between the buildings and diversions in the dark, to get onto the main track up the mountain. It was steep and loose, but not quite loose enough to spin me out and give me an excuse to walk. My heart thumping in my ears, I kept winching up until finally I lost traction on a steep bend and had a chance to walk without guilt! I eventually got back on and finished the last stretch to the Ptarmigan Station, where I had a drink and a breather before starting to pick my way up the technical Marquis Well Path to the summit.
After an obligatory viewless photo of the summit cairn in the dark, I wandered around the plateau beyond the weather station, looking for a flat spot to get the bivy out and have a nice view of the sunrise. The air was very still, not too cold and freakishly midgeless and I got myself set up on a nice shelf of rock out of the way, in case there were any early morning walkers about later. After a late dinner and some Irn Bru I settled down, ready for my usual restless sleep, knowing I would wake near sunrise without the need for an alarm.
After getting up and taking plenty of sunrise shots I lingered around the summit enjoying the warm temperatures in the early sun and the continuing freakish lack of midges. I was expecting to see some early walkers popping up the path, but no-one appeared and I had the whole place to myself.
Eventually, I managed to tear myself away, as I didn’t want to be up here all day and leave the family waiting on me to get back. It was still around half six, as the sun had got me up early! My plan was to drop down to the west, following the line of the corries, before splitting off in a “V” shape around Cairn Lochan to get more level riding before dropping down the ridge to the west of the Fiacaill ridge. I conservatively hopped on and off as appropriate for the first drop, before getting into the swing of things near the lip of the corrie.
The riding got simpler as I turned away from the cliffs and I was soon at the bottom of the “V”, where I had to resist the temptation to carry on up to the Ben Macdui summit and turn north instead. I had a climb up from here and lots of jutting rocks to deal with on the narrow path. As I started to head downwards, I got a shock as I pinged one rock hard enough to cause a large burp from my front tyre. I stopped straight away and start lobbing some air into the tyre, which gave a satisfyingly loud pop as it reseated.
As I dropped further north the going got progressively steeper and I occasionally hopped off, rather than trying to be a hero and commit to something my aging psyche isn’t up for. Still it was a good workout, that I don’t often get on my usual bikepacking rides over more sensible terrain. As the slope levelled out, there was plenty of hopping over stepping stones before I joined the main path round the bottom of the corries towards the ski centre. The going was now a bit quicker and I descended into a warm moist mist that I had been well above on my cosy night out.
I reached the car park quickly enough, where I had been thinking of dropping down the Allt a Choire Chais rather than the tarmac. Signs however informed me this was closed due to erosion, which shows how out of date my plan to head this way was! I continued down the road instead, with an eye on a track further down to get me back on dirt. As I flew down the road, I realised I was having brake issues, probably caused by my vice-like grip on the brakes during the steep descents earlier on. I stopped on a side track to get a new set of pads in, which was when the midges saw their chance to remind me they existed! As I fumbled with the always awkward job of swapping out the BB7 pads, they extracted a few litres despite my best running away from the bike and then coming back tactics. Finally sorted, I got going and started down the overgrown steep hillside track I wanted to get me down to the burn rather than repeating the road. It was probably not worth the hassle, but I eventually got down and weaved my way along through the trees, before splitting away again to take a wider track which would deposit me along the main path around the southern side of Loch Morlich.
The sun had burnt away the mist whilst I had been playing in the trees and it was looking beautiful near the loch, making me want to get a move on and get the kids out for a play. I was going to head over An Slugain as usual to complete the loop, before taking the back roads to the village.
As I whizzed along the declassified road from Pityoulish, I started to get that sinking feeling as I realised my rear rim was making contact with the odd bump. I stopped, gave it a top up and carried on, hoping the tubeless sealant would take care of whatever was happening. After a minute or so, I got the same sensation and stopped for a closer look. I could see sealant seeping out, but this was no ordinary puncture – the sealant was actually weeping out from blisters in the tyre’s surface. To be honest, this was entirely my fault – the blisters had appeared a year or so ago and on reporting it to Chain Reaction they immediately refunded me without further questioning. It was obviously a dodgy batch of tubeless Racing Ralphs, but sourcing a 26″ replacement had been such a pain I’d given up and just left it on to see what happened. Now my casual approach to bike maintenance was bearing fruit!
I was so close to home and couldn’t be bothered cleaning it all up to put a tube in, so I resorted instead to pumping it up hard and just riding as fast as I could, stood up with all my weight on the front wheel. This was hard work on my arms, but did the trick, giving me about a km before each top up was required. So it was I finally got home, slightly later than intended, with arms burning and a full day of family fun to look forward to.