Archive for June, 2015

June 28, 2015

TGO Challenge 2015 – Days 7 to 9

by backpackingbongos

Days 1 to 3 can be found here.

Days 4 to 6 can be found here.

Day 7 – 20 kilometres with 680 metres ascent

Day 7

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I packed up under sunny skies and continued my hobble towards the east coast. The three blisters that I had acquired the previous day had hardened to little pebbles overnight. They caused discomfort rather than pain, an irritant to what would otherwise be a perfect day in the Cairngorms.

I initially followed the track as it rose above the Allt Chireachain. This soon ended and I decided that I would attempt to cross the river and pick up another track a mile away on the other side. A long set of metal steps led down into the deep gorge to what appeared to be a dam for a hydro scheme. The steps appeared to be new, the gleaming metal being out of place amongst the rock and heather. Crossing the dam the climb up the opposite bank was a tricky one involving grabbing handfuls of heather and hoping for the best. I made it in one piece and continued up rough trackless ground.

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At the summit of Carn a Chullaich I sat in the sun and watched a group of hikers make their way slowly cross country, heading for no obvious destination. Probably Challengers enjoying a fine day high in the hills. I picked up a track for a while which eased progress. The views were superb, the air as clear as gin.

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The track deserted me at a boggy bealach and I was left on my own to stagger and curse though the vegetation before dropping down to Bruar Water. The lodge sits in an oasis of green amongst the patchwork of browns on the hills.

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Before reaching the track I had to cross a large section of what initially appeared to be ground that had been ploughed. Loose peat was making the watercourses run brown and silty. The disturbed ground continued in both directions parallel to the track as far as the eye could see.

Approaching the lodge I could see diggers in the distance and a sign prohibiting work vehicles from approaching the lodge. It was not until I had passed the lodge (with a large Union Jack flying outside) that I could see that a dam was being built just below the small lochan marked on the map. It was clearly a new hydro scheme, the disturbed earth possibly the buried pipeline?

The banks of the rocky Allt Beinn Losgarnaich provided an idyllic place to sit and make a cooked lunch and cup of coffee. My feet were wet and steaming in the heat of the afternoon and it was good to dip them in the frigid water. I had to resist the temptation to nod off.

I had not been looking forward to the steep path that would lead me eventually to the headwaters of the Tarf. It climbs high above the rocky chasm of the Allt Beinn Losgarnaich, zig zagging its way up steep slopes. It eventually levels out, the Munro of Beinn Dearg rising above to the right.

There was a real feeling of entering a wild and lonely place as I crossed the first watershed. I was coming close to one of the remotest spots from a public road in mainland UK. It was just a shame that the construction machinery had ruined the illusion of wilderness just an hour before.

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There were still some sizeable snow patches remaining where the strong sun had not managed to penetrate.

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The second watershed was between the Tarf and the Allt a Chuil, hard going even with perfect visibility. Initially I decided to stay high and try to contour above the bogs. However I eventually spotted a narrow path below and dropped down to follow it. This led me across short cropped and crunchy heather to the infant river Tarf.

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It was pointless trying to stay on the north bank like I had initially planned. The river meandered all over the place and following its banks would have taken ages. Instead I simply followed a straight line east, crossing the river numerous times. This was bliss for hot tired feet, the cold water filling my trail shoes, the shock each time initially making me take a sharp intake of breath. At the deeper sections the water was above my knees, washing away the peat stains as I did not bother rolling up my trousers.

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I continued for a while until tiredness finally took over. There were numerous flat spots on which to pitch a tent. The Tarf is a wild campers paradise, superb pitches in a wild and remote setting. It was a lovely evening in the sun and I revelled in the feeling of being miles from civilisation. As the sun sank towards the horizon all the warmth of the day evaporated into the clear sky. It turned out to be a cold night.

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Day 8 – 25.5km with 220 metres ascent

Day 8

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I was up and away early as I knew that a weather front would be moving in during the late morning. The day dawned bright and sunny but cloud was beginning to build from the west. I’m always keen to do as much walking as possible before pulling on my waterproofs.

The walk along the north bank of the Tarf was a delight. Pleasant cropped grass interspersed with peat and heather to ensure that I did not get too complacent. It was good watching the Tarf grow from a small stream into a bigger more powerful river.

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I spotted the ‘Tarf Hotel’ on the other side of the river and decided to cross and investigate as it had been many years since I had last visited. The crossing was easy with the water level being low but I can imagine that it would be formidable when in spate. It’s not one to expect to cross dry-shod whatever the conditions.

The bothy still sports its AA hotel sign, although it has not been awarded any stars and the service is hopeless. Inside there are several rooms suitable for sleeping along with an annexe to the side. It was cold in there but I took the opportunity to air my feet and have an early lunch, once again cooking a hot meal. A pleasant hour was spent eating and drinking whilst reading the bothy book.

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I eventually closed the door and headed back across the river where I picked up a rough track heading downstream. Looking back upstream the view reminded me a bit of Arctic Sweden and the two backpacking trips that I have had there. It’s just that the scale is a bit smaller and the distances involved not so great.

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Once past the old tin hut the path marked on the north side of the river soon becomes hard to follow and I lost it amongst the heather for a while. The day had turned cloudy with a few spots of rain, the views dull and flat.

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Down in Glen Tilt the landscape suddenly changed. Gone were the wide open vistas of the Tarf, they had been replaced by a deep steep-sided valley which was as straight as an arrow. Apart from a pair of mountain bikers I did not see a soul on the long stretch north to Bynack Lodge.

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There were a couple of tents in the lee of the ruin when I passed Bynack lodge. I decided to carry on and wild camp at a spot I had used before. The Geldie Burn was not difficult to cross but it did involve a bit of a wade, another river that could be tricky when in spate. There were a few tents pitched in the vicinity of the building on the other side of the Geldie and near Ruigh-nan Clach. White Bridge itself was packed with tents. It is a bleak and exposed spot and all the occupants were firmly zipped up from the weather. It’s not somewhere I would recommend camping.

My chosen spot was a vast flat area of cropped grass close to a forestry plantation. It was very windy and a succession of showers rattled down the glen. The Scarp as usual handled it really well and I had no worries about it standing up to the onslaught.

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Day 9 – 14 kilometres with 110 metres ascent

Day 9

(Click map to enlarge)

I have done the road walk to Braemar a few times now, either on the Challenge or as a way into the Cairngorms when using public transport. On a previous Challenge I had gone via Mar Lodge but this time there was a wedding taking place. Instead I stuck to the road on the south side of the Dee. The scenery is pleasant all the way but being on tarmac with traffic it is a bit of a trudge. Along the way I bumped into Scott, one of the nurses who tended to my injured foot back in 2013. Sitting chatting on a bridge a guy appeared from nowhere, asked if we were Challengers, gave us a bag of cookies and disappeared before we could thank him properly. My first bit of trail magic!

The weather alternated between warm sunshine and heavy downpours, at one point turning into snow. It was having difficulty in deciding whether it was spring or winter.

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The first port of call upon arriving in Braemar was the Old Bakery to fill myself with fish and chips. After three days on my own it was good to catch up with other Challengers. I then hauled my weary body up to the Moorfield hotel where I had booked a room and sent a parcel. I have to say that the Moorfield is a bit of an odd place. The owner is rather gruff and not particularly welcoming, the room was nice but rather overpriced for what you get. They were not serving food and the bar is in a dark windowless room.

I was therefore grateful when David Williams texted me to meet up for a pint. I ended up following him to the Braemar Lodge hotel for a great meal with Ian Sommerville, Toby and Vicky Green, Stan Appleton and Hugh and Barbara. I left with a stomach full of good food, a couple of pints of Guinness and Challenger love.

Unfortunately the Moorfield Hotel does not have a veggie option for breakfast. I requested beans on toast which was a request too far. I made do with fried eggs on burnt toast.

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June 14, 2015

TGO Challenge 2015 – Days 4 to 6

by backpackingbongos

You can read days 1 to 3 here.

 

Day 4 – 21 kilometres with 300 metres ascent

Day 4

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The Scarp1 was my refuge from the weather from about 4.00pm until 7.00am the following morning. It was with some relief that I poked my head out first thing and saw patches of blue sky amongst the boiling and angry sky. When I had zipped myself up the previous afternoon another Challenger was struggling with a small piece of silnylon which he was attempting to turn into a tent shape. This had been replaced by a Scarp2, the occupants being John and Sue who I had met on my 2011 crossing.

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With the skies threatening rain again I managed to pack my tent whilst dry and headed to the bothy. Hugh and Barbara who I had met on the train were there. In total 6 people had spent the night after a very wet walk in the previous evening. Most were heading towards Loch Rannoch, crossing the bridge and then following the railway track. My plan was to stay on the bothy side of the river for a couple of miles.

It turned out to be a good decision, the going was relatively easy, the river banks being grassy. Luckily I was able to walk under the railway as it crossed the river with ease (there is a pedestrian underpass) and there I met up with John and Sue and another Challenger.

What followed was possibly the grimmest section of the whole Challenge. None of us fancied trespassing on the railway, reinforced when a goods train rattled past with a loud hoot of its horn. We followed the pylons the kilometre to the edge of the forest through the boggiest bog imaginable. At one point I found myself stranded, uncertain in which direction to go, a retreat the only wise decision. A handy deer fence was electrified which put using it as a hand rail out of the question. A shoe was nearly removed from my foot by a quaking bog. All of this was done with rain hammering down, driven by a strong wind, the surrounding hills hidden from view. The world may of well been in black and white.

Once in the forest the going was much easier, a swath cut through to allow the pylons. There was even the vestiges of a narrow path in places. I lost the others after deciding to plow on straight across the river rather than following its circuitous course. My feet were soaked anyway, a wade just made them a bit cleaner.

The forest was a bit of a trudge so I was glad when I finally exited it near Bridge of Gaur. The weather changed from grey and wet to thundery showers and sunshine, the wind picking up speed. The surrounding hills sparkled under the fresh clean air before being hidden by black clouds. Darkness and light danced across the landscape.

Instead of dropping down to the hamlet I crossed open moorland and picked up the track that leads round the back of Leagag. A steady climb was cruel on tired legs.

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A large grassy area is located around the 400 metre mark, an ideal pitch and with great views to the north. Just as I was setting up the Scarp all hell broke loose. A wall of black cloud raced towards me brought on by a wind that nearly knocked me flat. The hail stung all exposed skin and the Scarp flapped like crazy as I struggled to get the pole in the sleeve. In ten minutes the squall had passed and the sun came out. This process was repeated over and over again throughout the evening and night, often leaving me worried that the Scarp and me would be blown away by a freak tornado, such was the fury of each squall. The Scarp did a very good job that night and I was glad of the security it provided.

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Day 5 – 21 kilometres with 230 metres ascent

Day 5

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As soon as a hefty shower had passed in the morning I quickly packed up in the relative calm and headed east on the track that contours the southern slopes of Leagag. A very scenic section as I dropped down to enter Rannoch forest.

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Most Challengers that I had spoken to who were heading to Kinloch Rannoch said that they were planning on following the road along the loch shore. A bit puzzling as there is a good track on the southern side that avoids most of the road walking. I eventually exited the forest near the campsite close to Carie and followed the road for the last few miles into Kinloch Rannoch. I was dismayed to see that there was a discarded energy gel packet every fifty metres or so, a constant trail of litter that led all the way into the village. I later learned via twitter that a cycling event had passed through a few days earlier. What a bunch of arses.

It was far too early to check into my hotel so I sought out the cafe in the village. Sadly it was not a cafe but a rather posh tea room sort of place. All fancy local crafts for sale and posh horsey looking women in Barbour. Chips were definitely not on the menu and I made do with an overpriced panini (you never pay £9 for a cob and coffee in the Midlands). I was very aware of my five-day stink!

I was caught in a big downpour on my way to the Loch Rannoch Hotel, passing Lou and Phillis, veterans of several Challenges and possibly the eldest on the crossing. They had already checked in and were heading out for a stroll, more energy than me.

The Loch Rannoch Hotel is an odd sort of place. A cross between a coach holiday hotel (there was a Saga coach outside) and one with faded grandeur. It was hugely overpriced for the room that I got but I was happy to be somewhere warm and dry. Reception had kindly taken in a food parcel for me and I was glad it was there when I checked in. My room and bathroom was soon full of dripping gear and I took the opportunity to wash my clothes. I caught up with a couple of Challengers in the bar before dinner and then had an early night. Surprisingly I did not sleep very well, despite a comfy bed. There was the usual hotel cacophony of creaking floorboards, loud TV’s and slamming doors.

 

Day 6 – 27.5 kilometres with 830 metres ascent

Day 6

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I headed to the local shop in the morning to stock up on sugary snacks and bread and cheese for lunch. Outside I bumped into John and Sue again. They and most others I had spoken to were heading toward Blair Atholl, it appeared that I would be on my own for a few days as I was heading for an off piste route into the Cairngorms.

A new Hydro scheme is being built in the village, looking like it will take water from the Allt Mor. A diversion had been put in place for the path up and over to Loch Errochty but I still failed to locate the start. One of the workers eventually pointed me in the right direction and I was soon climbing along the lovely old path through the woods.

The path soon gave way to open moorland and I followed a deer fence across the hill, grooves worn across the hill by countless hooves. A huge herd of red deer spotted me and made short work of the rough ground.

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It was a long and rough trudge to reach the shore of Loch Errochty and the sad ruin at Ruighe nan Saorach. It would have made a nice bothy before it fell into disrepair. Nearby was the remains of a vehicle which looks like a leftover from an early Mad Max movie.

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Progress was swift on the track along the Loch before it dropped down steeply to the dam. From a distance I could see that the gate across the dam road was shut. I was worried that it would be locked which would then mean a detour down into Trinafour and then a climb back up. Thankfully it was unlocked and I made my way across the dam. I startled a worker cleaning the brick work ready for an inspection the following day. He said that the gates may have to be locked soon as they had sadly suffered some vandalism recently.

The temperature had risen and I was finding it increasingly hot as I climbed up to and along the road towards the A9. Wet feet in the morning followed by hot tarmac made my feet sore and I developed a blister under a toe. I had to stop a couple of times to air my feet. The real fly in the ointment on this section however was the new pylons that were marching across the landscape. They were absolutely massive, giants striding across the hills.

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Part of the old A9 is now a cycle track and I followed it for a while, parallel to the busy road. At Dalnamein lodge I crossed the A9 and into the Eastern Highlands. On each of my three Challenges crossing the A9 has a certain significance. The sound of traffic soon diminished as a track took me north into the Cairngorms.

A set of ruins provided an area of short-cropped grass and an atmospheric place to pitch, even though I had to do so at a jaunty angle. The evening air was alive with the sound of moorland bird song, my favourite being the drumming of the snipe. It was late, gone 9.00pm by the time I got dinner on. My feet were very happy to be out of wet and hot trail shoes, although I was not happy with a total of three blisters. It had been a long day but I was on track for a three day solo crossing of the southern Cairngorms.

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