Archive for ‘TGO challenge’

July 16, 2015

TGO Challenge 2015 – Days 12 to 14

by backpackingbongos

Days 1 to 3 can be found here.

Days 4 to 6 can be found here.

Days 7 to 9 can be found here.

Days 10 & 11 can be found here.

 

Day 12 – 14 kilometres with 220 metres ascent

Day 12

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It was the coldest night of the Challenge. I woke at first light and tried to unzip the fly which was a solid sheet of ice. The rain the previous evening had frozen and I was treated to an icy shower as I brushed against the Scarp. I went back to sleep for a few hours until the sun had risen over the hills and warmth filled my tent.

The Water of Unich was followed downstream for a bit before I crossed it and picked up a track that led up and over Carn Lick (I couldn’t find a cairn to lick).

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The Shank of Inchgrundle is a great name for a very scenic ridge walk down towards Loch lee. The views along the Loch and up the Water of Lee to Mount Keen were splendid. The following two days would be across farmed glen, intensively managed grouse moor and country lanes towards the coast. I took the opportunity to savour the hills whilst I could.

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The walk along the Loch is via a well used landrover track. I stopped often and sat on various rocks in the sun, avoiding leaving the hills behind.

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Just past the castle and at the beginning of the public road I spotted Louise approaching from Glen Mark. After a couple of days on my own it was great to receive a warm hug and see a smiling face and we talked of our adventures as we walked together to Tarfside. The hill path that skirts to the north of the Hill of Rowan is a much better alternative to walking the road, although I have never been tempted to climb the small hill with the big monument.

We both made a beeline straight for St Drostans Hostel, an oasis of Challenger hospitality along with food and drink. The big kitchen table was crowded with other Challengers and it was great to catch up with others after a crossing mostly undertaken in solitude. I was offered a bed for the night in the hostel and jumped at the chance of a room all to myself. Louise was offered a room with a young handsome Canadian chap as they were mistaken as a couple (I think Louise was flattered). She then managed to draw the attention of the obligatory weird and sexist Challenger………

I sorted out my room and then sat in the lounge for a while to drink beer and be sociable with various folk who I knew through blogs and Twitter, but had not met in real life. Chrissie was on a grand tour of Scotland and had come to Tarfside to meet me and sample the social side of the Challenge. I wandered with Robin down to her van which was parked up next to the village green where we passed another sociable couple of hours drinking coffee and eating cake. I had booked dinner at the hostel so walked back to fill myself with Carbs. A night in the Mason’s arms with plenty of beer saw me heading back to my bed in the dark a little ‘dehydrated’.

 

Day 13 – 22 kilometres with 520 metres ascent

Day 13

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A mixture of alcohol coursing through my veins, a hot room and numerous people who can’t close a door without slamming it meant that I slept badly. Coffee and an egg cob settled my grumbling stomach and I headed off to walk the road to the Retreat with Louise. A mile later and we were stopping for breakfast number two before continuing along the road to Edzell. We said our farewells after a few more miles as Louise crossed the river to walk along the south bank of the Esk. I continued a bit further before taking the track that heads up to the moorland summit of Craigancash.

On the horizon above I could make out Alan Sloman and Phil and I did my best to try to catch them up. The views to the west were lovely but the hills around me were covered in tracks leading in all directions, the heather scarred with a patchwork of Muirburn. This part of Scotland is an intensively farmed monoculture used for the raising and shooting of grouse.

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On the climb I was aware of a figure watching me, the strange thing being that it did not move at all. This became more unnerving as I got closer. A man in a blue boiler suit and red hat remained motionless in front of me, it was only at the last moment that I realised that it was a mannequin. It was pretty obvious but I really had not expected to see a shop dummy with a wooden pole shoved up its trouser leg on a Scottish hillside. The fact that its mouth was taped made it all the more creepy.

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I found Alan and Phil just finishing their lunch as I stopped for mine, so I was left alone to watch them grope another dummy of non specific gender that was hanging out further up the track. The coastal plains were far below my feet, green and yellow fields stretching to the sea which still looked a long way away. It was good to see it glinting on the horizon though, I was nearly at journey’s end.

Passing the dummy I could not help noticing that it was not suitably dressed for the hills, remember folks cotton kills.

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Progress was halted by a tall deer fence which fortunately was not electrified. It was a bit of a precarious climb to get over it though. It would be pretty much impossible with a dog, so perhaps not the best area to return with Reuben.

I caught up with Alan and Phil in a brand new shooting hut complete with comfy chairs and a functioning gas cooker. I soon left them to it as I was keen to get into Fettercairn and the hotel that I had booked for the night. It was a long descent down Herd Hill and through the Wood of Mon Duff. The final walk along tarmac left me feeling foot sore.

The Ramsey Arms was a real gem, by far the best place I have stayed in in Scotland. Friendly staff, bags of character and comfy rooms. Chrissie had motored over in the afternoon and parked up the van in the village. I was too tired to be sociable so headed straight to my room for a well needed shower and to rinse my filthy socks. It was a sociable evening in the bar though with Chrissie, Alan, Phil and another couple of Challengers whose names I have already forgotten. As well as Guinness they served up huge portions of excellent food. I wholly recommend the Ramsey Arms for food and lodgings and a final nights treat on the TGO Challenge.

 

Day 14 – 23 kilometres with 180 metres ascent

Day 14

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The last day of walking was not one I had been particularly looking forward to. Twenty three kilometres along tarmac is not really my idea of fun. After a decent breakfast I went and said good morning to Chrissie and the brown Lab Tilly and arranged for the van to become a mobile tea van around lunch time.

I headed off under leaden skies, a light rain falling for the long trudge to the east coast. Initially there was a nice path through beech trees but this soon deserted me and it was tarmac all the way. The crossing of the A90, which is a dual carriageway was a bit hair raising and I was glad to get across in one piece. Chrissie met me just to the north of the Hill of Garvock where I fortified myself with coffee, sandwiches and cookies. The timing was perfect as the rain got heavier whilst I was in the van.

The walk from there into Inverbervie passed without too much excitement, the towering turbines of a wind farm being a bit overwhelming at one point. I could not believe just how noisy they were even from a mile away.

Inverbervie itself is a pleasant place to finish, a functional Scottish seaside town. I met Chrissie and Tilly for a celebratory dip of my toe in the sea. I had decided the day before that I could not face the Challenge meal in Montrose. I really did not fancy camping at the busy Montrose campsite (not particularly pleasant) and all accommodation in the town had been booked up. Instead I secured a cheap room at the Star Inn in Inverbervie which was actually very pleasant and excellent value for money. I met Chrissie that evening at the Bervie Chippy for a celebratory meal. A pleasantly understated way to finish my third TGO Challenge.

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July 9, 2015

TGO Challenge 2015 – Days 10 and 11

by backpackingbongos

Days 1 to 3 can be found here.

Days 4 to 6 can be found here.

Days 7 to 9 can be found here.

 

Day 10 – 22.5 kilometres with 880 metres ascent

Day 10

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Harmonicas should be banned from public spaces unless the user is a trained professional. A merry band of Challengers were enjoying a beer or two right below my room in the Moorfield Hotel. That was ok by me as I knew that would be the case when I booked. I had not taken into account a drunk man with a harmonica though.

The day started off with some very heavy showers as I left Braemar and walked along the road past the golf course. The way to Callater Lodge is straightforward, and I was happy to see what I hoped would be the last of the showers head swiftly east.

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The hospitality for Challengers at Callater Lodge is legendary. Before I had even managed to remove my pack Bill popped his head out the door and offered me a cup of tea. I entered the warm kitchen full of Challengers swapping tales in front of a roaring fire. I was kindly offered a bed for the night by Bill but I had plans to climb some Munro’s whilst the weather was fine. After half an hour I said my goodbyes and headed up the path at the back of the lodge and bothy.

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After ten days of bog and moor the path that leads up to and over the shoulder of Carn an t-Sagairt Mor was a thing of beauty. It is brilliantly constructed at an angle that makes the ascent nice and easy. I took my time though, frequently stopping to take in the views which were extensive due to the cold and crisp air.

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Carn an t-Sagairt Mor was an easy bag, a short stroll off the path. On the way up a passing shower gave me a good battering and I had to bury my face in my hood as protection from the stinging hail. One hefty gust saw my pack cover take off at great speed. It was last seen heading for Lochnagar with great enthusiasm.

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Some hill days are as close to perfect as it is possible to be. After the rucksack cover blasting shower the weather remained benign for a while and I enjoyed a high level promenade over two more Munros, these being Cairn Bannoch and Broad Cairn. I remained above 900 metres and there was a great feeling of space and solitude up there. I did not see a soul, the hills were all mine. This is perfect hands in pockets yomping country, distance and ascent effortless. In this case a few pictures can say more than words.

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The path down the east of Broad Cairn soon turns into an ugly eroded track, a bit of a disgrace for the Cairngorms National Park. However it was much easier than the extensive boulder field that preceded it. I could see that bad weather was rapidly coming in, a big wall of cloud and grey heading my way. It was time to look for a place to pitch for the night before the forecast wind and rain hit. I spotted a tin hut and a patch of green on the high plateau below me and decided to go and investigate. The hut itself was a midden of animal excrement, whilst outside shit stained toilet paper blew in the wind like soiled streamers.

The weather arrived in a misery of wet. I was high and exposed and indecisive whether or not to drop down to Loch Muick or continue ahead. In the end I decided to try the headwaters of the Black Burn. This initially was a disappointment of rough heather and peaty pools. I was very pleased to find a tent sized patch of flat, reasonably lump free grass. I wasted no time in setting up. Thankfully a window of dry weather that evening gave me an opportunity to dry out some of my kit before the rain returned for the rest of the night.

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Day 11 – 12.5 kilometres with 320 metres ascent

Day 11

Waking to a world of grey murk is never conducive to getting out of a warm sleeping bag with much enthusiasm. Especially when that day involves miles of rough ground without a hint of path. In the end the walk across the barren wastes of the catchment area for the Black Burn was not too bad. Years of hiking in the Dark Peak toughen your resolve for this type of walking. Lochnagar remained scowling under a blanket of cloud all day.

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A large cairn on the summit of Ferrowie gave some shelter for a quick snack, the cloud remaining high enough to enable me to plan the ascent of the Lair of Aldararie. There are some great names on the map within this part of the eastern Cairngorms.

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I was dropping down into the headwaters of the Water of Unich when the temperature suddenly plummeted. It literally fell several degrees in a matter of a couple of minutes. A cold rain started and became heavier before finally turning into large wet snow flakes. This quickly began to settle into a slippery slush, my toes wet and cold within mesh trailshoes. It was an unpleasant walk down by the river, the hills hidden from view under cloud and swirling snow.

I cut a corner off the long twisting glen by climbing and descending along the Burn of Longshank. As soon as the snow stopped it melted away under the strong May sunshine. A reasonable pitch was found alongside a ruin next to the river. Another snow shower blew in whilst I was pitching but quickly passed allowing me to once again dry out my kit before getting comfortable for the night.

Sadly it would be my final camp on this years Challenge. However it was a good one.

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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

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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.

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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May 24, 2015

TGO Challenge 2015 – Days 1 to 3

by backpackingbongos

I initially felt pretty smug sitting alone in the first class train carriage. It had only cost a few quid more than standard and I was enjoying the extra space along with the complimentary food and drink. I made sure that I got my money’s worth. The smile however was wiped off my face just outside Penrith when there was a points failure. We sat without moving for over an hour and I became anxious that I would miss my connection at Glasgow for the Oban train. The hour and a half I had given myself in Glasgow shrank to twenty minutes and it was a frantic dash between the two stations.

It was a tight squeeze on the Oban train and it was difficult to avoid playing footsie with the young woman sitting across the table from me. There were a few Challengers in the carriage and the journey passed quickly with chat whilst enjoying the scenery as the train slowly chugged its way towards the west coast.

I had picked a hotel pretty much next door to the signing out point at the Oban Youth Hostel, a fair distance from the train station. As is usual in the Highlands my room was overpriced for what I got (I was in the Oban Best Western) and I slept badly to a cacophony of slamming doors and the sound of snoring from next door. I had the usual pre Challenge nerves mixed with excitement. I couldn’t wait to set off the following morning and head towards the east coast.

 

Day 1 – 27 kilometres with 550 metres ascent

Day 1

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It was nearly 10am by the time I signed out, well behind the main pack of Oban starters, most of whom appeared to sign out bang on 9am. This mean that I spent much of the day walking on my own. One thing that always surprises me is just how early other Challengers manage to be hiking by. I do like a lie-in in the morning and throughout the whole Challenge I was rarely walking before 9.30am.

I quickly dipped a toe in the water opposite the Youth Hostel and set off along the road.

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A significant part of the day was spent walking through Glen Lonan along a minor road. Road walking is something that I usually try to avoid at all costs. However the road was quiet and the scenery pleasant. Best of all it headed in an easterly direction and the climbing was minimal. Gorse perfumed the verges and Highland coo’s grazed the fields. I caught up with a couple of Challengers I had chatted with the evening before, eating lunch with them on a bridge. Otherwise it was a solo yomp.

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The cafe in Taynuilt provided a second lunch before I set off to find the track to the swing bridge across the River Awe. This is a great structure, providing a bit of bounce as you walk across the middle section.

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I have to admit that I was tiring as I started along the track on the east side of Loch Etive. My pack was heavy with five days food and enough fuel to last me for two weeks. With very little fitness training before setting off my body was complaining. However the scenery more than compensated, the eye being drawn down the loch to the mountains in the distance.

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The spot that I had chosen to camp was already occupied by several tents, one of the disadvantages of being a late starter. Instead I carried on for a mile or so and climbed up onto a wooded hill as recommended by Robin from Blogpackinglight. It turned out to be a superb spot, flat, dry and sheltered. I avoided camping close to any trees that looked like they were close to retirement, tough as they all looked ancient and were covered in moss and lichen.

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I finally felt that I could relax, the travelling and first day were behind me. It was now simply a case of putting one foot in front of the other for thirteen more days without falling over.

 

Day 2 – 25.5 kilometres with 550 metres ascent

Day 2

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Something visited my tent at some point near dawn, there was the sound of snuffling coming from the side that my food was stored. I shouted ‘go away’ and whatever it was did.

My original route plan was to climb a couple of Munros to the south of Glen Kinglass. However it was evident that the ridges were still covered by snow. I did not fancy tackling them in trailshoes and without ice axe and crampons. My low-level alternative was just as attractive in the warm sunshine anyway. It would also give me the opportunity to build up some fitness (and lighten my pack by eating some of the food).

Loch Etive was splendid and I took my time on the roller coaster of a track as it rose and fell and twisted along the loch shore. I’m going to have to return for a hill bagging expedition of the pointy peaks on either side.

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Glen Kinglass was also beautiful but it went on and on and on. Walking for hours it felt like I was not getting any closer to the lodge. The feeling of remoteness was rather spoilt by the solid track and the wooden electricity pylons marching their way up the glen. The warmth along with the hard surface soon led to hot spots on my feet, despite wearing trailshoes.

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Finally the lodge was passed and the track started to climb towards the watershed. The views over the Black Mount hills were spectacular as the path gained height. Patches of snow on the higher slopes shone bright under the blue sky.

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I had planned to camp next to Loch Dochard but everywhere I looked was either tussocks or bog. However it was good to sit for a while by the still waters and gaze out over the mountains.

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I soon passed a Golite SL3 pitched in a spectacular spot on a bluff looking out over the glen. However it was being buffeted by a strong wind and I was aware that the weather was due to change for the worse during the night. I decided not to join what was likely to be another Challenger and continued down the glen.

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Finally a flat and well drained spot was found close to where the Allt Ghabhar bridge used to be. With the early evening sun and a gentle breeze it was a delightful pitch. I was glad to get my shoes off and tend to my feet that felt battered after another long day mostly on hard surfaces. They were looking forward to getting stuck into the wet bogs later in the trip.

The first part of the night was spent with the door open, looking out to the hills to the west as I lay comfortable in my down bag.

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Day 3 – 18.5 kilometres with 190 metres ascent

Day 3

(Click map to enlarge)

The rain came as forecast in the night, a thick drizzle that sounded worse than it was. In the grey morning whilst still laying in my bag I heard a ‘Good morning’ being shouted from close by, possibly the occupant of a red Hilleberg that had been pitched next to the Allt Suil na Curra the night before.

There is nothing worse than getting up in the rain to find the en-suite for the morning ablutions. I set off into the forest and bumped into the Challenger who had been occupying the SL3 the evening before. He confirmed that it had been an exposed spot (it was nice and still when he had pitched in the afternoon). Back at my tent I had a couple of coffees and breakfast before forcing myself to pack up and head out for a day in the rain.

To start with the rain was soft as I made my way towards Victoria Bridge. I was due to phone in when I crossed the A82 but was unsure if there would be a good enough signal. Luckily I came across John and Sue who I had first met at Mar Lodge during the 2013 Challenge. They were heading to the Bridge of Orchy Hotel to pick up a parcel. They kindly offered to let control know that all was ok when they phoned in there.

The rain stopped for a while as I walked along the north shore of Loch Tulla, a wood at its eastern end giving shelter for lunch. A kilometre walk south along the A82 was probably one of the most dangerous stretches of the whole two weeks. It’s a fast stretch of road and vehicles thundered past.

The rain returned with a vengeance along the track to Gorton bothy. The wind picked up and my world shrank to a small window through my hood as water fell from the sky in great gusty sheets. The last hour to the bothy was endured rather than enjoyed.

The occupant of the red Hilleberg from the night before was already at the bothy and we were soon joined by another Challenger who I had passed on the track. It was tempting to stay the night in the bothy as conditions outside were pretty horrendous. However I am a solitary creature, especially at night and it was clear that many others would be heading the same way. I therefore decided to go out and pitch close to the bothy. I got the Scarp up, fetched water and was quickly inside stripping off soaking clothing. I was soon dry and warm and decided that I would not venture out until morning. I watched another challenger pitch some ultralight contraption that simply flapped around in the wind. I was glad that I had the solid walls of the Scarp between myself and the weather.

The rain hammered upon silnylon all night.