It’s 7am, Thursday 27th of July, I put on my backpack, lock my front door and say goodbye to civilisation.
In this blog I share some dreams that a 10 day Cairngorm Expedition inspired in me this summer.
The second part of the blog is my photo journal from the trip.
Part 1 New dreams becoming stronger than old fears
Making the time & Lizard brain fears
When Simon first talked about this 10 day trek I immediately felt attracted to it. My lizard brain, who I’ve affectionately named Molly, had other ideas. She went straight to ‘I can’t take 10 days off work’.
Ten days felt like a long time to Molly. Surely she was too important to disconnect from business, friends, family and the internet for 10 days.
I convinced Molly that the world would keep on turning without me. Although I still get scared I know it’s just my brain trying to protect me.
I feel like my dreams are becoming stronger than my fears.
Stepping away from everyday distractions
Coming out at the other end of the experience, 10 days doesn’t feel like very long at all.
After a couple of days I settled into a routine where all that was asked of me was that I walk, eat, camp and be vaguely sociable! Once I fell into that routine I absolutely loved it.
I felt a dis ease during our rest day in Braemar. I didn’t want to rest. Maybe walking in the hills is my way of resting? After an hour or two I tired of the shops and cafes – I just wanted to be walking in the wild!
By about day 7, I began to dream of finding a way to keep walking. I wanted to walk my days into weeks, my weeks into months.
Why do I feel this way?
My first solo outdoor adventure last summer awoke something in me – you can read more about this in my blog “What if I get stabbed in my tent…”
I’m happiest when I’m outdoors in nature. I’ve a beautiful life and so much to be grateful for but I realise that the current norm of life can leave me feeling restless, disconnected and distracted. This walk unplugged me from the internet, from constantly running around and being busy – both with work and with life. It gave my mind space to work out what really matters and what’s just distraction.
I’ve now got a clearer vision for my life: to live more simply, closer to nature, and to be more adventurous and generous.
I’m already doing work that I love through my growing life coaching business and combining this with Women’s Wellbeing Treks. I’m dreaming of a future where I work with more clients, with greater depth and reach, as they move towards freedom in mind and body.
My wish to downsize to a tiny home, log cabin type-of-thing, is something that I’ve started to take action on since coming back from the trek. Watch this space!
Another emerging passion is to do some longer walks. I’d love to walk the Pacific Crest Trail and I’m penciling it in for 2019. That gives me time to plot and scheme! All being well, I’ll do some longish walks in 2018 – possibilities include The Cape Wrath Trail and the part of the Camino de Santago or another of the Caminos. Again watch this space.
All of these things depend on both my and my families health, something I’m grateful for and never want to take foregranted.
Yes, some of these dreams were there before I went on this trek but having that time and space has created a greater sense of both possibility and clarity.
Taking time out of the ‘everyday’ to be in nature and to be with yourself is a wonderful thing to do. It might feel indulgent but maybe your life actually depends on it.
The walk gave me a window into what’s possible and into what might be next for me. Maybe even what’s coming after that.
The ever-expanding horizon.
I feel very, very, lucky to have had this opportunity. If you’re considering it I’d encourage you to go with your gut not your lizard brain!
If it feels like a step too far you can start of smaller, like I did last year, and then wait for the next nudge.
Cairngorm Treks are running this trek again next year and there are only 4 places left. Find out more here.
If you want to trek with myself and Simon next year on a shorter trek we are running Women’s Wellbeing Trek where I provide Life Coaching. Find out more here or if your joints won’t let you go up hills try here. If you are male there are lots more treks too, read more here.
Thanks for making the time to read my blog, it means a lot to me. I’m a Life Coach offering one to one coaching, as well as running programmes to help women with secret eating, weight loss and body image concerns. Once we are able to work through self limiting thoughts and behaviours a whole new world of adventure awaits us!
My new coaching programme Feeding Freedom for secret eaters is now open and the course starts 2nd October.
Please message me if you’d like to chat more about any of walking or coaching! http://www.shonafitness.co.uk/services/
Part 2 My photo journal
Simon Greaves from Cairngorm Treks has organised this 10 day expedition. He’s a friend and colleague so I know I’m in very safe hands. The two other group members are Andrew and Jonas.
Simon and his wife Kerry pick us up from Aviemore and we drive to our starting point, Glen Feshie.
We have a quick sort out of our backpacks and food supply. One of Cairngorm Treks USPs is they make things super easy by supplying light weight backpacks, sleeping systems, all the food plus toiletries – even the small but crucial things like midge repellent and toilet paper!
Our snacks are pictured above – plus we’ve receive dried ‘Expedition Food’s 800 calorie evening meals (which we will rehydrated with boiling water for our evening meals) and fresh sandwiches (made by Kerry’s fair hand). We have enough food to last us for the first 2 ½ days until our first planned food re supply.
Kerry leaves with the van and our walk begins. Too late for me to chicken out and thankfully I have no desire to do so, there’s nowhere else I’d rather be.
Day 1 ‘Beginnings’, Thursday 27th July: Glen Feshie to Loch nan Stuirteag
Starting out from Glen Feshie, Simon gives Jonas and I a chance to practice our navigation skills as we are both keen to improve on this skill.
Simon drops back for a pee, five minutes later a young couple pass us and joke that they’ve just seen a a man expose himself! (Great mickey taking fodder for the rest of the day).
The walking is fairly easy and we eventually we summit Sgor Gaoith.
After a cuppa and appreciation of the views we walk to Abore Loch Einich – via some beautiful Reindeer. Andrew proves to be a particular hit with the ladies!
We have our homemade sandwiches and coffee whilst sitting on the stones of a ruin. It starts to drizzle so time to move on.
We cross boggy land to Loch nan Stuirteag where we set up our first high camp of the trip.
Again it starts to rain. Simon puts up a tarp so we can eat our dinner in comfort. Dinner tonight is cuppa soup and Thai Green Curry. The hot food tastes so good and warming.
We are camped below Monadh Mor so we decide to leave our packs and have a quick jaunt up the hill before bed. The sunset is beautiful and our spirits are high.
Day 2 ‘The Day of Patience’, Fri 18th July: Loch nan Stuirteag to Carn a Mhaim
We stay in our tents due to persistent rain. Eventually a brief weather window gives us the chance to have a quick breakfast, pack and be on the move by 11am.
It’s a day for a few classic Cairngorm Plateau munros. We climb up the west side of Allt Clais an t-Sabhail to the col between Angel’s Peak and Cairn Toul. We leave our bags in the col and then summit Angels Peak and Cairn Toul. Lunch is speedy as the weather is coming in and the rain is getting heavy. My fear of the cold emerges – so much so that I don’t finish my Crunchie bar – unheard of for me. I put it half eaten back in my pocket and look forward to devouring it later.
We walk along edge to Stob Coire an t-Saighdeir to Bod an Deamhain (The Devil’s Point). The weather’s clearing and we are rewarded with a rainbow. The picture below shows Jonas touching it!
We then descent Coire Odhar and pass Corrour Bothy. The bothy is super busy and we debate to camp here or go higher. After talking to a couple of bothy users we decide to go higher.
We cross the Dee and walk via the distinctive Tailler Stones. Simon tells us a great story about the tailors who perished there years ago. (I love a macabre story!) We climb up by up Tailler Burn and make the steep ascent to the shoulder of Carn a Mhaim – our camp for the night.
It’s stunning here, looking across at the hills and down into the Lairi Ghru.
Tonight it’s cuppa soup and fish pie for dinner followed by another back pack free night walk, summitting Cairn a Mhaim.
The light is beautiful and I don’t feel ready to be removed from it. I find a huge big stone by my tent that feels it’s be waiting for me. I lie there feeling content, still and peaceful for sometime before climbing into my wee tent home.
Day 3 ‘Day of rain and rushing’, Sat 29th July: Carn a Mhaim to Hutchison’s Bothy
Again we wake up to rain so we stay in our tents until 10am ish. We’ve arranged to meet Simon’s son-in-law for a food drop later so we move quickly to make up time.
The day starts with a climb up Sron Riach and then a descent to Loch Etchanchan. She is a stunning loch, one of my favourite places to be but today isn’t a day for views or hanging around.
Myrddin and his friend Mark kindly walk in and meet us here with our food resupply. Our eyes feast on the fresh sandwiches, snacks, tea bags and new Expedition Foods dinner. Due to the weather coming in we don’t hang around – just time for a quick up and down of Beinn Mheadhoin.
Then we walk down to Hutchinson’s Bothy where we pitch our tents for the night. The forecast predicts that it will be too windy to camp higher.
I have Spag Bol for dinner. We meet Roy and Craig who are staying in the bothy. I enjoy listening to everyone sharing stories over dinner. It’s so good to see parents passing on their love of the outdoors to their children.
I’m not tired and I want to be outdoors in the dusk so I go for a solo walk back up to the beautiful Loch Etchanchan. She’s still and moody, with the clouds hiding the hills surrounding her. With nowhere to be and no time pressure, I sit.
Day 4 ‘The Day of Rain’, Sun 30th July: Hutchison’s Bothy to below Ben Avon
There’s no rain this morning! We eat our breakfast in Hutchison’s Bothy before packs on and back to the walking business.
We drop down into a pass, then climb up Beinn a Chaorainn, Beinn a Bhuird and down the Sneck.
We set up camp very quickly as the rain is coming in. We camp just below Ben Avon (Leabaidh an Daimh Bhuidhe).
Poor Andrew’s back is beginning to get sore. Jonas is a yogi and helps him with some stretches.
Tonight I have Asian Spicy Beef Noodle for dinner. (At this point in my journal I lost interest in recording my dinner menu!)
Simon, Jonas and I climb Ben Avon after dinner. I’ve never been to this hill before and she’s a stunner! She has lots of tores to climb and scramble on. Jonas and I continue down for into Slochd Mor before heading tent ward.
Day 5 ‘Walking Back to ‘Civilisation?’, Mon 31st July: Ben Avon to Braemar
It’s a very wet morning and we eat breakfast with haste so as to get to the river crossing before water level becomes to high.
We descent to A llt Eas Mhor then proceed to River Gairn, crossing a footbridge through Bealach Dearg.
I do some more navigation practice. It’s beginning to get easier, becoming slightly more intuitive.
This is the first time in the 5 day that we’ve walked on land rover tracks. They are less interesting but necessary as there as no other options to get to our destination.
We walk down through the lovely woodland of Invercauld Estate to Keiloch. Tomorrow is our rest day so we are headed to Braemar.
We get the bus to Braemar as the main road is dangerous to walk on. We’ll return to the same spot to commence walking after our rest day in Braemar. It’s strange to be in a campsite after having such beautiful remote camps.
After setting up our tents and showering (the first in 5 days!) we go for a fish & chip dinner then a drink (or 2!) at Invercauld Arms. Andrew turns out to be quite the whisky connoisseur! I’m tired and a bit of a light weight so I eventually leave the guys to it and head back to the campsite.
Day 6 ‘Get Me Back to the Hills’, Tues 1st Aug: (rest day in Braemar)
Our day in Braemar includes cooked breakfast, lots of coffee, re waterproofing our jackets and trousers, a BBQ with Simon’s family in the evening, a food resupply and another trip to the pub!
I speak to my family and get the wonderful news that my sister has delivered a baby boy. I knew she was due a c-section that day. It feels strange not to be able to see them.
That night back into my tent, I drift of to sleep thinking of my new nephew and relishing the though of being back in the wild.
Day 7 ‘River Fall/ Bothy Night’, Wed 2nd Aug: Braemar to Gelder Shiel Bothy
We have an early start, 6:30am, as the Braemar bus has a limited time-table. We get off at Keiloch and cross over the Bridge of Dee. It’s breakfast time.
Then onwards into Ballochbuie Forest. This forest is absolutely stunning, as you can see!
We stop and make a brew at the Royal Lodge by Glenbeg Burn. One of my life dreams is to live in a small log cabin so I ask Jonas to take this picture to help me visualise my dream!
Later we come to a waterfall and bridge [Falls of Garbh Allt]. The sun is shining and Simon suggests we make the most of the opportunity to sun bathe or swim. I decide I’d like to swim and proceed up the river so I can skinny dip away from the guys. Unfortunately I slip on a rock and end up having a premature fully clothed swim!
(I had my I-phone in my pocket so all the photos from here on in are from Andrew and Simon!)
The sun is shining so I have the perfect excuse to sunbathe in my underwear while my clothes dry.
Eventually it’s time to move. We cross the Feindallacher Burn over two broken bridges to the Ballochbuie Burn.
We decide to camp at Gelder Shiel Bothy because that will enable us to light fire to dry my clothes and boots. It’s my first bothy stay and, as bothies go, this one is lovely and very well maintained. I don’t sleep as well as I do in my wee tent, too many little creatures biting me!
Day 8 ‘Rainbows in Lochnaghar’, Thur 3rd Aug: Gelder Shiel Bothy to Glas Allt Shiel Bothy
After breakfast in bothy we start our day with a very steep climb to Creag Liath, Meall Coire na Saobhaidhe up to the summit of Cac Carn Beag.
We then summit Lochnagar. It’s been drizzling but then the most beautiful double rainbow almost encapsulates us.
Very randomly two of my friends from Inverness, Caroline and Hugh, summit Lochnagar while we are at the top! We have a quick catch up which is lovely.
We then go around of rest of the White Mounth Munros: Carn a Coire Bhoidheach, Carn an t’Sagairt Mor, Carn Bannoch, Broad Cairn.
We are tiring and decide to dropped down to Glas Allt Shiel Bothy to camp for the night. We eat our dinner in the bothy. I get an early night. It’s the first evening where I’ve felt really tired. I don’t feel as sociable and as light in my spirit as usual.
Day 9 ‘Feeling quiet’, Fri 4th Aug: Glas Allt Shiel Bothy to Glen Doll
After breakfast in bothy we make the steep climb back up from bothy. We came down this track last night so we knew what was waiting for us!
We pass the Pony Shed where we meet 3 mature women. They are so full of life and sparkle – I dream to be like them in my older years. They ask us about our route and strongly encourage us to go in particular direction (slightly different to our original plan).
We listen to them and follow their advice. Down to Bachnagairn Bridge, up to Loch Esk, onto Jock’s Road, down to Lungard shelter. We aren’t as convinced as they were that this is the best route but beauty is in the eye of the beholder!
It’s hard to find good ground to camp on. Eventually we settle on a beautiful place and set up camp Glen Doll by White Water. It’s our last night.
I go for a short walk on my own after dinner. I’m feeling the need to be quiet and still. I feel torn, part of me feels ready to go home tomorrow and part of me just wants to keep walking.
Day 10 Sat 5th Aug
We have breakfast in drizzle under the tarp, then we pack up for the last time. We walk from Glen Doll to Corrie of Fee. It’s a very beautiful Corrie but soon becomes very busy – so different to the solitude we’ve been used to.
We chill out in Corrie Fee for a while before starting our journey back to Glen Clova. The last 5km of our journey are on the tarmac road. Fortunately we are offered a lift by a lovely elderly gentleman, Tom.
Tom joins us for a beer at our pick up point, the Glen Clova Hotel. A couple more drinks and food and then Kerry arrives with the van to take us home.
In Banchory and Aviemore we say our tired farewells.