Night navigation adventure (Oct 2013)

Adventure report: Night
navigation with Andy Murphy and Justyna Szczachor

On the memorable day of
October the 14


2013, two very determined mountain
enthusiasts set off from Dundee in the direction of the Cairngorm car
park. We were both happily off school/university for the week and
looking to fill time with something pleasant, productive and useful
for sticking in our ML (mountain leader) logbooks. The intention was to set off from
the car park early afternoon and allow around 3h for the walk-in to
our intended camping spot at the banks of the Feith Buidhe, just off
the Cairngorm plateau. We would then wait for darkness to descend
only to use it to practice navigation under its treacherous veil…
What a noble cause. All sounded perfect.

Se we set off nice and
early, just after 9.30 am. The weather had already been predicted
rubbish but we cheerily decided this will just make our cause more
challenging. Andy decided to take a scenic route, driving through the
Cairngorms via Braemar, which sounded like a brilliant idea –
gorgeous views and all that – until just after Blairgowrie, where
the road narrowed and became very tortuous and my stomach reminded me
that I’d been used to being the driver and not the passenger for a
while now… I managed to keep the gut bay until just before
Tomintoul but I shall spare you the details. My apologies to Andy!

The unexpectedly prompt
walk-in took 1.5h and was wet and cold but didn’t put us off at all!
We arrived at the camp early and got straight to putting the tent up
with freezing fingers. We needed to jump in, away from the rain, and
warm up. This done, we wondered what to do next… a nap seemed in
order. I doubt either of us actually slept, mostly for the cold and
wet and the thoughts of what we would do if the weather continued to
get worse… Following that, some dinner was put together, and
spirits were high despite the grimness of continuing rain and wind.
As it soon got dark, and the weather hadn’t eased, we decided to wait
until it stops and sleep until then.

We set an alarm for
3am, hoping for the best… Lucky for us, the rain indeed stopped
shortly before 3 so we breakfasted and had a look at the map. As
there was thick fog and some snow outside, which just looked
partularly uninviting, we thought we would do some rounds around the
tent. Good thing we did, because as soon as we’d walked around 10m
away from it, we lost sight of it and had to shakily re-trace the
steps back! It’s hard to describe how poor visibility and orientation
can be in thick fog, sub-zero temperature and complete darkness, on a
featurless plateau. We then played about with bearings to little
streams around the tent, and after this packed up and set off to pick
up the path to Ben Macdui.

We took bearings off
each other and counted steps in between, to finally arrive at the
path absolutely spot-on, right next to the loch! We followed by the
cairns and our bearings to summit Scotland’s second highest mountain
at 7:08am. After a quick breakfast in the lovely storm shelter we
happily, and this time in daylight, scooted down towards the car
park, passing other hikers, with faces full of admiration at the
sight of us (ekhm), to then sit triumphantly in the warm and dry for
the first time in almost 24 hours! What a treat.

Great adventure,
recommended to every aspiring mountaineer. I might become the next