The recent spell of fine weather here in the Highlands was a great opportunity to enjoy a relatively easy night out in a tent. After several good hill days on Cairngorm and Creag Meagaidh, I was very keen and eager to spend some more time among the mountains with my camera.
I chose a fairly easy option to ease back into things, and to polish up skills that have gone a little rusty during lockdown. So we headed to Glen Eanaich, which would also let me make use of the golden hours of sunset and sunrise to visit and photograph some of my favourite trees that grow way up on the hillsides.
T-shirt and shorts were perfect for the walk in, making quick progress through the woods of Rothiemurchus. I felt quite fit in fact, which after several years of chronic fatigue is a wonderful feeling.
My rucksack was somewhat clumsily packed, but I knew I had the essentials, and as it was a single night out I did not worry too much about it. One of the absolute joys of going wild camping is discovering how few things you need to have a wonderful experience in nature. How, in fact, having too much becomes a literal burden.
I carried my tent, rollmat and sleeping bag; along with my jetboil, meal and some spare clothes. That was about all. Admittedly some of those things are not cheap; but once you have them you have them, and they keep repaying you for many years. Over time and many adventures some bits of kit become like precious artifacts – prized possessions soaked in their own histories of adventures.
The other significant decision for me was which camera to bring? I opted for my light and compact Fuji x100T, rather than the heavier and bulkier Nikon D7200 DSLR. Lately I’ve been using my Fuji a lot, and I find that it is an incredibly capable camera. Although it only has a fixed 23mm lens, it is incredibly sharp. That means it can squeeze every bit of quality from its 16MP. The Fuji RAW files also handle blacks and shadows beautifully, so you can comfortably reduce the exposure by a stop or two while shooting, in order to control whites and highlights, then correct in processing.
I pitched camp beside the land rover bridge, on a sumptuously flat piece of grass. The view toward Braeriach was glorious as it still carried a great deal of spring snow. I must have seen at least 30 people coming down the glen on bikes with ski mountaineering kit on their backs. Braeriach must have been a busy hill that afternoon.
After a short while I had the glen to myself. I settled into the tent to wait a while until the sun was a little lower in the sky. As the soft glow on the hills began to intensify I headed uphill to the tree I call The Sentinel.
I have made a few visits to this spot now. The first was still the most dramatic, in a winter gale with rich transient beams of sunlight flashing through the rippling clouds. Tonight by contrast the hillside was quiet, steady, and warm. The sun descended gradually toward the hill across the glen, deepening the shadows there. The Sentinel stood as always, keeping watch over the gloaming.
Once the sun had set I descended the hill again to meet Kirsty and Scout who had now arrived. The temperature dropped rapidly with the onset of night, so we wasted no time in getting in our sleeping bags.
We passed a mostly quiet night, save for the odd time Scout wanted out. During once of these moments I unzipped the tent on my side, and stuck my head out to stare in awe at Braeriach. The moon flooded the glen with an intense silver glow, that shone on frost creeping across the land, mirror to the diamond points of the stars above.
An early start awaited us; Kirsty to depart for a course, and I to catch the sunrise. We were packed and walking by 6am. If anything, it was actually a little too late to catch the best light, but I had already decided not to put any pressure on myself, and just let things happen as they happened.
I said farewell to Kirsty and Scout, who headed straight back to the car, and turned off to wander the tree-dotted hillside above the mouth of the glen. I have spent many days exploring the area there, and always imagined how potent sunrise would be from that spot. It did not dissappoint.
The sun was rising above the slope of Carn Eilrig, pouring beams of light into the layers of the forest. A ragged shroud of mist drifted here and there in the woods, far off below Meall a Buachaille. Too far away to do anything with. But there was no shortage of splendid old granny pines, set against the stunning backdrops of Glenmore, Braeriach and the Cairngorms.
As the sun reached higher and the light became brighter and flat once again, I put the camera away. For some while I just stood and watched, feeling the warmth on my skin, listening to the sounds of the wakening woods. The chirruping hoot of Black Grouse carried on the gentle morning air, and the trickle of water through the moor sang a little song beneath my feet.
At last I returned to the path, tightened the straps of my bag, and started the long walk home.