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Wilderness Camping at the Tarf Hotel

I joined 5 other members of Adventure Out at Blair Atholl train at 10.30 on a dry and warm Saturday morning, most of us having travelled up on the morning train from Edinburgh. We set off on the long walk in to our weekend campsite at the Tarf Hotel bothy. I calculated the walk as 12 miles / 20 km long with a total ascent of 1160 metres. The group had a range of wild camping experience from a lot to a little (in my case).

We were accompanied for the first 5 miles or so by day walkers from GOC Scotland and shared two convivial breaks with them. The first half of our route followed Glen Tilt, one of the most beautiful glens in the Highlands with increasingly dramatic scenery. I tried to appreciate this as I toiled upwards and my backpack seemingly heavier with every step. The climbing started In earnest after parting from the day walkers at around 2 pm, with our 'short-cut' route to the bothy taking us right over the summit of the Munro Carn a Chlamain (929m)

The descent to the bothy was over rough pathless ground, and we were very pleased to arrive at around 5.30. Three of us set up tents, the others staked sleeping space in the bothy, where everyone brewed up tea and later made our evening meals. The first night was shared with a young group staying in the bothy, which has a number of rooms. The concrete floor in one room proved to be very cold despite the use of an air mattress, while those lying on the coloured 'jig-saw puzzle' foam matting in another room had a more comfortable time. There were a number of fireplaces in the bothy and a fire in the evening would have been welcome. However all firewood has to be carried in and so this was not an option.

On Sunday the plan was to ascend two Munros, An Sgarsoch (1006m) and Carn Ealar (994m), which are very remote from any road or indeed track. Staying at the bothy made both a reasonable objective without the day being too long. We managed to set off at the planned departure time of 9 am. To reach our day's objectives we had to ford the Tarf river.  The river was deep enough that keeping our boots on would have meant wet feet, so we variously wore sandals, boat shoes, Crocs or socks (less slippery than bare feet) to make the crossing.

Both Munros were successfully ascended, for the second Adventure Out weekend in a row the weather was fine and there were stupendous views of the surrounding mountain ranges. However the conditions were very different from the Easter Loch Ossian meet, as the then abundant snow had almost completely retreated except for a few patches.

4 of the 6 then added a remote Corbett Bhein Bhreac (a hill over 2500 feet) to the day's tally, the remaining two taking a more direct return to the bothy. The return route along the River Tarf sounds easier than it was, with constant climbing up and down from the riverside to heather banks, detours to cross streams, and the warm sun making it hot work. After re-crossing the river we arrived back at the bothy between 5.30 and 6.15, all pretty tired.

There was no time on Monday to do more than strike camp after breakfast and set off in the only rain we had all weekend. One of our number set off on a 2 day backpack to Newtonmore while the remaining 5 commenced the 14 mile walk back to Blair Atholl, taking a longer route this time to avoid a re-ascent of Carn a Chlamain. The rain cleared after an hour or so and walking conditions again became rather warm. We had joined a well-made track only a few miles after leaving the bothy, which allowed fast going but became a bit hard on the feet. We were grateful that we arrived at Blair Atholl just in time for tea and cake at the Watermill tea room, a good end to what had been an absolutely first rate weekend in the hills.

Many thanks are due to all but In particular Dave for planning the trip and leading the walks.               

Andy Fisher

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