Cairngorm Bivvy on a School Night

Posted by on Jun 13, 2014 in Bivvy, East Highlands | 7 Comments

Late evening sun on the cliffs of Coire an Lochain

Late evening sun on the cliffs of Coire an Lochain

For years I have toyed with the idea of a midweek bivvy in the long days that surround midsummer. The thought of having to rise at an absurdly early hour to rush into work for 0800 has always put me off. This year I made an effort to muster that merest sliver of motivation that separates the man of action from the couch potato.

Chris Townsend piqued my interest in making an evening visit to Coire an Lochain. He blogged recently about paying a visit to inspect the unusually large deposits of snow and described feeling envious of someone camped by the lochan after which the coire is named. This made me realise that I couldn’t recall ever having laid eyes on the lochan, the northern Cairngorms having always been a winter place for me, a place trodden by ski and cramponed boot. It is an ideal venue for a midweek trip, less than an hour each of walking and driving would make it easy to get into work in time.

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Lochain Panorama

On Wednesday night I left the house just before 2000 and was on the trail at 2052, partly jogging. Although the sun had left the floor of the coire by the time I arrived, I lingered, admiring the lochan side lawn and the crystal clear water. The scene was almost glacial with a great snowslope stretching from core rim to the water. A jumble of snow blocks littered the great slab below the cliffs. The low sun cast an orange glow where it hit the cliffs directly, illuminating many routes that I will never climb and some that I might. Elsewhere a pink glow accentuated the granite’s natural hue.

Though the soft grass was tempting, the sunlight just above my head lured me upwards.  Clouds moved swiftly over the tops above, casting doubt on my original plan of a bivvy on the summit of Cairn Lochan, where I had hoped to catch the sun’s rays as soon as it rose. There was still plenty time and light enough to drop back down to bivvy if need be. Soon I was on the tops, pulling on trousers and coat to keep warm.

Cloud intermittently spilled over the nearby summits of Ben Macdui and Breariach.  I checked behind every cairn to see if might provide adequate shelter, but in the end dropped down to Coire Domhain, the scene of a slightly harrowing night in a snowhole a few years back.

View towards Loch Morlich from Cairn Lochain

View towards Loch Morlich from cairn Lochain

Choosing a campsite on the grassy floor was surprisingly difficult. With a tent it is somehow easier to pick an appropriate pitch. But when you’re just looking for a human-sized flattish area in a couple of acres it becomes more complicated. I thought of Casteneda’s confusion when Don Juan insisted that he find the correct spot during a jimson weed session or some similar psychedelic excursion. When you find it you will know he said. When I came to the confluence of two streams I knew that it was a appropriately auspicious spot and settled my self down. A nearly full moon rose over Beinn a Mheadoin but the night was substantially overcast. Not quite a night under the stars.

In perfect conditions I love a bivvy, but it is often well worth carrying the 700 g that separates a light bivvy (Rab Survival Zone) from a  light tent (Terra Nova Solar). My night would certainly have been more comfortable inside a tent, but the purpose of this trip was to be as light as possible to enable running. My calculations were about right:  I had no unnecessary clothes; even with everything on and my bag pulled up to my armpits it was slightly chilly in the wind until I retreated right inside.  


Bivvy site in Coire Domhain

My sleep was adequate but no more. Even in my sheltered spot, gusts disturbed my sleep a couple of times in the night, but it was possible to make my morning coffee without my windshield or any other equipment flying off. Once brewed I took the short walk to the lip of the Coire to get my blood moving, warm up and get a view down to the shelter stone and the head of Loch A’an. By about 0630 I was on my way up over the top of  Stob Coire an t-Sneachda and dropping down into Coire Cas.  I had to jog to each the car by 0715 but made it to work by 0800.

View to the Shelter Stone and the head of Loch A'an

View to the Shelter Stone and the head of Loch A’an

Colleagues seemed perplexed by my activities, but I was content to have made the best of a midsummer night. Twelve hours that would otherwise have been forgotten, diluted by a thousand similar evenings, had been converted into an indelible memory that I will take to the grave or at least to the advent of senility.


  1. Jamie Sparkes
    June 14, 2014

    found this via UKC, just wanted to say that you write very well indeed and that I really enjoyed the comparison with the snowholing!

  2. Alastair Humphreys
    June 16, 2014

    Very nice! What a great place you live near to…

    • Gavin
      June 16, 2014

      I’m always amazed at the remote spots I can get into within 2 hours of leaving the house, especially with a mountain bike approach. The motivational barriers are surprisingly high though, it’s always tempting to wait for perfect conditions!

  3. Eddie Brennan
    June 17, 2014

    Lucky you. I’ve done similar in the Arrochar Alps but not for two years as my wife’s work means she gets too late (she’s got the car). Must try again.

    • Gavin
      June 18, 2014

      Go for it Eddie, it’s always worth the effort!

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