Terra Nova Ultra Quasar
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We (me+GF+dog) did a spur of the moment just after Easter this year when we saw the arctic weather heading south.
We'd originally planned a 3 night wild camp to get some snow time in, leaving Cairngorm mountain centre car park, heading left up to Ben MacDui, then down towards River Dee and then back around upto River Avon and back to Cairngorm. As there wasnt enough water high up and we were melting snow we burnt through the fuel very quickly so it became just an overnight wildcamp because the trangia we were using kept melting the ice sinking down which restricted the air flow a bit as well. It was fantastic though waking up to pristine snow as it had been snowing since 4pm the day before and with snow already on the ground with plenty of ice it only took a few hours of a clear day for snow blindness to set in which was the chocolate powder lumps in the bottom of the mug appearing lime green in colour.
However we were able to book into the Glenmore campingintheforest.co.uk site as there was plenty of space at that time of year, they only had the one toilet block open the one nearest the motorhomes pitches.
Whilst we got some snow on high ground, it did fall to -8 Deg C inside the tent one night when staying on the campsite, the cold just rolled down them hills.
Tentwise, I've got a Terra Nova Ultra Quasar which I've had from probably nearly ten years now, its a nice balance between lightweight and tough enough. Its stood up to the Aug Bank holiday gales a few years back when the remnants of Hurricane Katrina hit the UK, and that two days/one night was a hike up Devils Cauldron and down to Llanberis. But the cloud dropped so to be on the safe side we found a spot heading down to Llanberis which wasnt marshy and pitched there. The design of the tent means the flysheet is hooked onto the bottom of the poles and the inner tent is held up by the poles, inner tent first then fly which isnt ideal if its really pouring down but thankfully it only takes a few minutes to get this up before pegging out. Now if it wasnt for this design ie the flysheet hooked onto the bottom of the poles, other tents would have lost their flysheets, some of the gusts literally flattened the tent onto us whilst lying on top of our sleeping bags which gives you an idea of how strong the winds were. I even thought a couple times we might even take off inside the tent considering how much it was being buffeted around and lifting even with rucksacks and other gear playing it safe for an overnight camp if the weather turned bad. No broken poles either so I'd recommend the Terra Nova Ultra Quasar any day for extreme conditions. You can also get valance's stitched on by the factory to further reduce the draughts which we noticed when up at the Cairngorms but we have a solution for that namely a 2m x 2m mylar foil backed thin foam mat. If you get stuck with wild camping, you also have Bothies you can stay in but the one nearest Glenmore is very popular during the summer and public holidays so much so, I heard some people planning to use them had to pitch their tents and camp outside they were that busy, but if the weather turns really bad and one is nearby they can be a nice alternative. Normally these are just shelters with no running water or anything, a fireplace can be found in some and just one or two may have water & toilet but these are spread out across Scotland. The other thing to bear in mind with the Cairngorms is the rocks, some of them are human size which makes pitching a tent impossible so you need to hunt online for photo's in the area you plan to pitch to make sure its not a horizontal rock face. Its also why we went up with some snow on the ground as this covers the rocks and we pitched on a marshy bit between two water course as this would be frozen with snow on top making a nice level pitch. In fact when theres plenty of snow on the ground is probably one of the better times to wild camp around the Cairngorms because of the rocks, but not all mountains are like this and its not like say Mont Blanc where you only have a few weeks in the year in order to ascend that one. If you dont mind pitching on the side of a mountain though you will find plenty more soil to get the pegs in but you'll be on a steep incline so be warned! :-)
Water is also an issue high up as its essentially a number of rock plateaus but if you plan ahead and plan to descend into some valleys you should be alright especially if you know your limits, you should be ok with carrying some water, filling up when you find a stream and so on. I doubt its like the Lake District a few months ago where there was a drought and few water courses to fill up from.
I'd recommend the Glenmore site, its a nice location, might be popular at this time of year, and I've heard the other main campsite Rothiemurchus is nice as well but doesnt accept dogs so no good for us. For parking you can park in the Cairngorm mountain centre car parks, payment is a donation basis and its not unusual to see a few cars & campers parked there for a few days in a row, and at this time of year you might be lucky. When we went only the car park next to the centre was really in use, the lower car parks was empty, I imagine its busy over winter though when theres plenty of snow on the ground as there is a ski lift from the bottom car park if I remember correctly, but when we went in Easter one day it was 2/3rds full & the next day only 1/4 full. Worth calling the centre to get an idea of how popular the car park is at this time of year though. Failing that theres the Forestry Commissions car park opposite the Glenmore campsite which can do tickets for a few nights again call them to check on availability, its not very big though (maybe 10-20 cars) compared to the Cairngorms mountain centre would could handle a maybe 300 vehicles for comparison. Cant remember if the ticket machine at the Forestry Commission car park allows you to pay for a few nights in one go either, but a couple camping next to us had parked their car up on their last day as they planned to mountain bike up to a bothy for an overnight before heading back.
Its a good location with plenty of walks, circular and otherwise, the loch is popular with some good sunsets lighting up the Cairngorms if you get a nice red sunset which you can see from the car parks (not overnight) that are next to the road leading up to the Cairngorm mountain centre from Aviemore. The Tesco's in Aviemore is small or large metro sized, mainly food with some odd camping outdoor bits as you would expect in a place like this, plenty of other cafe's some door a nice Scottish breakfast which sets you up for the day, and some places do mountain bike hire, but the bikes are typically hard tail and quite heavy if you fancy a bit of that as well. Theres also a cafe next to the Glenmore campsite & small pub/bar which does some food and the YHA opposite which does food for a couple hours each evening but I think you might need to book in advance for that as I heard it can get popular. Phone signal is reasonable as well, but best to keep you phone on if doing a wild camp so that your phone can ping a phone transmitter which could be useful for mountain rescue. Also you can file a wild camp route with the wardens office at the Cairngorm mountain centre with a guide on your route and where you plan to pitch each night. When you get back remove the plan from the wardens office so they know not to send out a rescue team to search for you, or if its closed phone them up next day so it can be removed. This keeps you covered to some degree in case of problems because the most extreme weather has been seen up here so its always good to play safe and not push your limits too much. I dont know your capabilities etc, so if its wet and windy beaware of the signs of hypothermia because thats a bugger when that sets in, so basic first aid knowledge will serve you well, especially for twisted ankles and so on.
Dont be over ambitious about carrying everything with you, its quite popular to have the latest and greatest gear, but weight will slow you down and sap your energy. Whilst I dont want to put you off, these mountains can kill if the weather catches you out. I'd recommend what this chap has to say on wild camping,
as you'll see from the site, they have plenty of experience mainly fairweather and they have documented with photo's plenty of hikes which can give you some inspiration. Note they tend not to eat when away, which is fine if you are used to that, and if you plan to try that, just remember when hunger sets in, so the hormones rise so arguments on the top of a mountain are sometimes best avoided. Me personally, I cook a mean full English (sausages, bacon, eggs, hash browns & beans) in my Trangia, its just takes a bit of planning and utilising the stacking of the pots to keep stuff warm whilst not burning whats closest to the flame. I find a full english sets you up for the day so tend not to have to eat at lunch time and theres nothing wrong with having another full english for dinner at night either. Dont forget the HP sauce mind!
No2's bag it, baby wipes are useful for cleaning the trangia, hands and "flannel" wash, an alcohol gel is useful too, you may not need to take a full pack of baby wipes mainly because if you have to carry any thing out other than equipment or waste you have taken too much and trust me, being brutal about keeping the weight down is essential. For example a light weight waterproof cagool doubles up as a windproof top and wind can chill you in minutes. For an example, during that Welsh adventure during the gales that Aug bank holiday, getting out of the tent to go for a pee and then getting back into the tent again left me shivering, the wind can chill that quickly. I also find natural fibres better than many manmade fibres when it comes to clothing, but the top shell has to be waterproof and thus windproof with leggings as well. Its easier to take clothes off if you get too hot, than it is to warm up if you get too cold. Dont worry about using your main clothes two or three days in a row either, its better to be a bit stinky and lightweight than to have to carry the weight of clothes you wont use. To give you an idea my 3day wild camp weight with food, no water but fuel for the trangia including the weight of the rucksack and tent came to about 15kilos. I've carried heavier packs in the past like you would see squaddies having to carry but teenage testorone levels make that light work, but the v-g website also gives you a breakdown of the weights they aim for and for a few night 15kilos is a good pack weight to aim for. I wouldnt go heavier if I can help it, put it like that.
Any other questions just ask as I've been on here on and off for a few days checking out tent reviews as we plan our winter break up at Glenmore for a base camp this winter. If you hadnt guessed I like to test my equipment and seek extreme weather conditions to make this possible when possible, but safety is always important as is reading a map without a compass as well as reading a map with a compass for when the cloud cover does come done, because when that happens its like the worst pea soupers you could ever imagine.
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