Thursday, 25 June 2015

TGO Challenge Day 9 Saturday 16 May

Paul was up early and left, leaving me to get myself organised and decide what to do. As I lay in my sleeping bag after waking up, I thought about what was going on in my legs. I had assumed that it was all muscular and that I would walk through the pain and discomfort but the more I thought about it, the more it dawned on me that my legs don't have muscles up the front in front of the bones. I realised then that I was probably suffering from shin splints, something I'd only read about before. Amazingly, I was able to get internet access where I was and googled shin splints and, yep, that's what I'd got without a doubt. I knew then that it wasn't going to get better. I texted Roger Smith at Challenge Control for a bit of advice. He was very helpful but obviously it was for me to decide what to do. I looked at the map. I was about 8km out of Aviemore where I knew there was a rail station. Anyway, I packed up and started walking. At a junction of paths, one way went towards Aviemore and the other went towards Loch Morlich which would be my route were I to continue. I went a few steps each way a number of times and dithered about for a few minutes. In the end, I went in the Aviemore direction. It was hard as I had been so looking forward to finishing. However, there would be no easy way to bale out with five days to go.

Reaching Aviemore, I headed for the station and found there was a train to London at 1.30pm. I bought a ticket and went off to raid Tesco for food and drink to last me the long journey home. So, that was that. The right decision made though.

TGO Challenge Day 8 Friday 15 May

It was an undulating trail along the northern side of Allt Bhran. Last night's pitch was really good with running water just feet away. It was a lovely morning and the five of us headed eastwards.

It was a bit boggy from time to time. We skirted around some woodland to reach a good track south of Carn Dearg.

There was supposedly a track lower down through the trees but it was said not to be good with lots of blow downs. Eventually, we started to descend towards Glen Feshie.

The legs were very uncomfortable. I was wearing a knee support on my right knee and ankle support on my right ankle but walking was still a bit of a trial although it came and went.

On reaching Glen Feshie, it came on to rain. The others went ahead to cross the river which proved to be passable. I went off alone up the glen as I had planned. I stopped among some trees to cook up some lunch to restore energy levels. It continued to rain as I passed Glen Feshie Lodge although it was easy level walking. I crossed the only bridge across the river at NN849964 near Stronetoper. Other bridges have been washed away and not replaced. Here I met a young couple and stopped to talk briefly. However, they weren't Challengers although I was able to point them in the direction of the nearby bothy at Ruigh-teachain. I just carried on walking, walking, walking, stopping briefly at a car park for a bite to eat. There were a few vehicles around but it was generally very quiet.

I knew where I was likely to end the day so just kept going. A brief stop at a river to top up water with extra for the night in case I didn't find any more. At Feshiebridge I joined a forest road.

It was all very quiet but nice walking apart from the tired and uncomfortable legs. I plodded along checking the map from time to time as I had to be careful to take the correct turns as there were various tracks going off in different directions. One turn took me on a much narrower track but it was the right one and really very nice.

Eventually, I came upon a bothy.

Inshriach Bothy
I had been doubting its existence as I wouldn't normally expect to find a bothy in woodland but there it was, in a clearing. I had no idea what it was like inside. I pushed the door open startled someone who had retired early to bed. Paul was from Belfast and had been coming across to Scotland for some thirty years with his bike. He had overnighted in this bothy each time and this was the first occasion when he had company. There were just two bunks, one up and one down. There was no ladder so I opted to lay my mat on the floor next to Paul's bike. We got on very well. He was about my age. I cooked a meal and a hot drink and got my head down as soon as I could, feeling very weary. The bothy is Inshriach at NH883056.

Walked 25km; ascent 675m; descent 841m.

Monday, 22 June 2015

TGO Challenge Day 7 Thursday 14 May

Darren and I didn't leave the bunkhouse till mid morning. The full Scottish breakfast was well worth taking time over with lots of coffee to help it down. Dalwhinnie Bunkhouse really is an excellent place. We headed down the A9, stopping off at the petrol station/shop/post office for Darren to post another parcel home - food and gear he didn't want to carry. Then over the river bridge to follow the lengthy aqueduct towards Loch Cuaich.

Following Allt Coire Chuaich, it was a long and gradual ascent to a lunch stop at NN719867 where we caught up with Fred and Liz. I had been intending to end the day at a wild camp at about NN722853 but I'd heard that the descent towards Gaick Lodge was horrendously steep and we could see quite a bit of snow up there so we changed our plan and decided to go off in the same direction as Fred and Liz had gone. The destination was a wild camp around Allt Bhran. It was an interesting way to go - about 5.5 km over virtually pathless heather and bits of bog; very hard work and the constant twisting of knees and ankles didn't help.

My legs became quite uncomfortable which I put down to pulled muscles. My right foot was painful to lift. At a point where we stopped for a quick break, we were joined by James, who I had met on Day 5. We headed for a stone track at NN751882 which was visible from quite a distance. That was then followed until we left it to go east, aiming for a bridge we could see (on the map) at NN763890. Here again, the ground was very rough and absolutely no sign of a path. After about a km, we started to look for the bridge. However, it was evident that there would be quite a drop down to it as the river it was to cross was out of sight below us. Getting to a point where the only way was down, we scouted about for the bridge but couldn't see it. Eventually, it was found and rarely have I been across such a rickety bridge. There was a drop of maybe twenty feet to the river gorge below. We went across one at a time, each thinking that the bridge might give way. There was then a pathless ascent through ferns up to a metalled track which we followed north for a km or so before heading sharp south east to the weir over Allt Bhran. It having been a day without rain, the evening was just perfect. Looking for a place to camp, we spied from a short distance two tents (which turned out to be occupied by Humphrey Weightman and Andy Howell). We went on a short way to pitch by the river which was just about as nice as it gets. The legs were in dire need of a rest.

Allt Bhran
20km walked; 572m ascent; 487m descent.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

TGO Challenge Day 6 Wednesday 13 May

Darren and I left the youth hostel quite early and walked along the southern shore of Loch Ossian, some 5km. Here we met Challenger Harry who joined us for the slow ascent alongside Uisge Labhair, a river. Construction work was going on for the first stretch and then we were met by a new dam blocking our way so we climbed up on to a rough path of sorts across heather and very soon had wet feet again. We lost Harry after a while when we stopped briefly.

There was a pathless scramble up to a higher level path at around NN468719 which we followed upwards to Bealach Dubh where we stopped for lunch with great views back the way we had come and ahead where we had a long descent ahead of us.

The path dropped down, we had to skirt a belt of snow (avoiding the parts where we could see deep holes), and then down to follow an easy winding path in the foot of the glen.

Darren filtering water
 We passed Culra Bothy, closed due to asbestos, and stopped for a breather on the south side of Loch Pattack. I'd been planning to camp around here but we went on to the east side where we found Harry already camped.

Loch Pattack
It all looked idyllic but Darren was booked in at Dalwhinnie Bunkhouse and I thought I might as well go with him and thus leap 12km ahead of schedule. Along the way, we were able to contact the bunkhouse and found they had one space left. It was a long and hard walk, mostly alongside Loch Ericht and my legs were really feeling it. It was relief to tumble through the door of the bunkhouse where we saw some familiar faces - Andy Howell, Humphrey Weightman, Liz and Fred and others.

The food was plentiful - we settled for wildboar and chorizo burgers with salad and superb chips, washed down with a bottle of Cairngorm beer. Following an evening of great company we staggered off to our room feeling utterly weary.

35km walked; height ascended 700m; height descended 736m.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

TGO Challenge Day 5 Tuesday 12 May

I left Gairlochy Holiday Park around 8.30am. The recommended way into Spean Bridge was along the course of the former Invergarry and Fort Augustus railway. This was accessed via a gate within the site. It led first of all through a sort of caravan graveyard. The path was alright to start with but very soon deteriorated into ankle deep wetness and mud. It was easy to follow though but I had to divert from it a couple of times on to higher ground where the way was obstructed by fallen trees and general undergrowth. It was interesting to see the ruin of General Wade's High Bridge. Here were fired the first shots in the Jacobite uprising in 1745.

I located the Spar shop in Spean Bridge where I restocked some food items and posted maps back home. I left Spean Bridge at 11am, a road walk for some 3km and then a track which I left at NN252807 where there were a multitude of SROWS signs, the one to Corrour Station 12m being the one I would follow. I didn't see anyone else all day. At Lairig Leachach Bothy, I crossed the river

and continued on the path straight ahead, only realising after about 1km when I was too far away from the river to my left that I had taken the wrong path. It was then easier to back track the 1km rather than bash across country so that is what I did. It was very annoying. I then located the correct path and followed it where it eventually led along the southern shore of Loch Treig. I was half expecting to catch up with Darren as I kept seeing what were probably his recent footprints in the mud although he had left Spean Bridge some time before me but I was taking only short breaks so might have caught up but the wrong turn obviously lost me time.

I had originally thought about camping around Loch Treig but nowhere would have been suitable and there were lots of works going on on the part of the Corrour Estate. At the railway bridge at NN341681 my way should have taken me alongside the railway to Corrour Station but just the other side of the bridge I was distracted by the presence of another hiker. I thought at first it might be Darren as he was wearing a blue top but it turned out to be a new face, belonging to James, from Banchory, another Challenger. He was vaguely looking for somewhere to camp but we walked on together. It was only after a while when I realised that the railway line should have been on my right that it became clear that I hadn't taken the path by the railway bridge. Anyway, it didn't matter as the path we were on was, in fact, a slightly shorter route to Loch Ossian Youth Hostel where I had reserved a bed. The YH was a welcome sight after a very long day. It can just about be seen in the picture below to the right of some trees in the distance. James went off to camp somewhere nearby and I was to see him again further along.

Darren had arrived only an hour before me and pressed a welcome mug of tea on me. There were other Challengers there as well. The setting of the hostel is amazing, right on the shore of the loch. I slept very well that night!

Surprisingly, only 16km walked; height ascended 328m; height descended 410m.

Monday, 18 May 2015

TGO Challenge Day 4 Monday 11 May

From the hut, I took the track immediately heading south. It was flooded at times but I was getting used to this.

I came to where I needed to branch off at NN226983, my first crossing of the day.

Then, for 2.5km, I followed a Scottish Rights of Way Society waymarked path through a firebreak in the forest. It was very wet underfoot and raining on and off but I was able to make a stop for breakfast after a couple of hours in between showers.

The forest came to an end and the path continued across heather moorland. It was rough and the path kept disappearing but it was more or less following a straight line.

I had intended to cut across to the ruin at Fedden but it looked boggy and I couldn't make out the ruin in the rain so I kept to the path I was on, following it around the foot of Sron a Choire Ghairbh and over the bealach to drop down towards Loch Lochy.

Not everyone survives this journey 
It was a tough ascent to the bealach and, as I went over the top, there were hail stones, thunder and lightning. Not a time to hang around. There was then a long descent to the forest above Loch Lochy. I passed by a bank of snow on the way down.

I stopped for lunch where I emerged on to a cycle trail. I wanted to drop down to the Great Glen Way. The only trail to it was going out of my way by a couple of km so I slid (literally) down into the strip of closely planted forest and followed as straight a line as I could for maybe 3/4km until I dropped down on to the Great Glen Way. It was boggy at times and I and my pack were covered with pine needles and odd bits of branch. Well worth doing though.

Once on the Great Glen Way, it was just a case of one foot in front of the other down to Clunes and then following the road by Bunarkaig to Gairlochy

where I had booked in to Gairlochy Holiday Park.  Here, I had a resupply parcel waiting and I was able to shower and dry out my sleeping bag in the tumble dryer there. The only other Challenger here was Simon from Aberdeen. I pitched with a view of Ben Nevis.

28km walked; height ascended 902m; height descended 1,047m.

TGO Challenge Day 3 Sunday 10 May

In fact, I probably would have had time last night to reach Kinbreak Bothy. Anyway, I made an early start. The river crossing across to the bothy was easy. Last time I did it, the water was much higher. As I arrived, Graham and Marion were just leaving. They said that they and just one other were at the bothy that night, far fewer than expected.

I stopped and had breakfast and coffee upstairs in the bothy, nicely sheltered from the wind and intermittent rain.

Then down to the River Kingie for an easy crossing

Up then to join the track eastwards towards the forest in Glen Kingie.

Walking in the rain to the bridge at NN090998

Up ended trees
At the bridge at NH129000, I misread the map and my intended route. There is a new forestry road just after the bridge which I should have taken. My brain obviously wasn't engaged and I discounted the road as being the route to take. As a result, I fell back to a route taken on a previous Challenge which I knew was going to be tough, the intermittent wet and boggy path just to the south of the River Garry to Garrygualach, a very squelchy plod of about 4km. Even before I got on to the boggy bit, there was a battle to get through and round some felled trees.

Just before Garrygualach, I got to a bridge where there was a red barrier at both ends to discourage crossing it but it had to be done. Then it was a walk up a very wet and, at times, flooded track. Here, I met a German and a Chinese walking the Cape Wrath Trail (Fort William to Cape Wrath). We stopped to talk trail. The German seemed pretty well kitted out and prepared; the Chinese had forgotten to bring waterproof overtrousers and, altogether, looked a bit miserable.

Just past Greenfield, I encountered Liz and Susan (Susan just accompanying Liz for the first three days of the Challenge). They were just about to pitch by the side of the farm track. I went on the the wooden hut at NH230002 where I had stopped on another occasion. I pitched behind the hut as before. At the hut were Mark (who I had met at Mallaig) and Alex and Liz, both of whom are MBA volunteers doing the Challenge together for the first time. We ate together and the time passed very pleasantly with the rain falling outside.

29km walked; height ascended 715m; height descended 953m.