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Wednesday, 22 June 2016

TGO Challenge 2016: Pt II: Day 1: A perfect route?

With over thirty Challenges between us, Lord Elpus and I think it's vital to start a Challenge well - in the right spirit, if you will. If you start well the chances are you'll get through the inevitable low points with more of a spring in your step.

You want adventure? Yes please, but we're not adrenaline junkies, so just a few sprinkles. Good views? Most definitely; Let's not get stuck in any trenches. Wild and off-piste? Oh yes! But again, not too much as we still have another thirteen days to struggle through. Away from it all? What, on the first day? Why not, Sir! 

Picky? Perhaps.

We had plumped for Dornie as a starting point back in October. Over the next few months half a dozen routes to the Great Glen were sketched but none was satisfactory. They were either too stretching, too dependent upon good weather or worse, a combination of the two. Finally, on a particularly unpleasant night in January, with time running out to submit our route and with sleety rain splattering against our study windows, we sat into the small hours, determined to solve the puzzle of the perfect first day. 

Fuelled by Highland Park in Lincolnshire and Talisker in Berkshire, with Ordnance Survey maps spread out over our desks, we finally cracked it. We settled on a route that should be fabulous in fine weather and do-able, if a little challenging, in foul. It also suggested that we might have this little piece of paradise all to ourselves. 

PHIL, DORNIE HOTEL

There are very few rules on the TGO Challenge, but one states participants should sign the register at the start points after 9:00am. Having breakfasted handsomely, we dutifully sign at just gone that magic hour and set out, noting that one very learned gentleman had signed before 1:30pm the previous day (Thursday) but had recorded his signing as 9:00am Friday. I'm sure he thinks he is jolly clever. 

And so to our route. Here it is, set out below. You can click on it to make it larger. [Indeed, if you right-click on any of the images on this blog you can open them in a new tab or window and blow them up to a very large size. Stick around; You can learn things here!] It's the actual map I printed out for the walk. The red dots show our planned route, the blue circle is where we thought we might camp and the green dots are the route we actually took after assessing things on the ground.

OUR ROUTE FOR DAY 1

The minor road south east from Dornie is a little minx, snaking her way upwards with some grand views. This is fortunate as it provides rest stops for the clinically unfit to fumble around for cameras in order to regain something approaching normal breathing. We have her company for about three miles.

LOOKING OUT TO SEA. EILEAN DONAN BOTTOM LEFT

ZOOMY ZOOMY TO THE SKYE HILLS

LOOKING ALONG LOCH DUICH, INLAND

ZOOMING IN ON MORDOR

And so we start our stroll into the heart of the Great Molar. If you have another look at the map, you'll see what I mean by that description. The starting track becomes a path which then becomes a trifle sketchy but by reading the ground carefully we follow the line well past that recorded by the Survey. We are definitely in "smug mode."

LOOKING WEST FROM ABOUT EASTING 942 IN COIRE DHUINNID 

NO CAPTION REQUIRED

Rather than following our route all the way up Coire Dhuinnid to the lochhan, we follow a little stream that gives easy progress, taking pictures of the fabulous views out to the west. They just get better and better. This is all trackless walking now, and a complete delight. Scotland has had dry weather for a couple of weeks prior to the Challenge and the ground has a dry crust overlying the bog beneath. 

PHIL, WITH SCENERY TO DIE FOR.

ZOOM ZOOM.

THE LIGHT IS FABULOUS

Magically, a new view springs up to the north east. The scenery shifters are now working over-time as mountain after mountain is raised into view.  Phil declares a lunch stop. The views out to the west are now history and we feast on 'Tuna with a Twist' sandwiches and the route ahead. Can you ever dig out the last of the tuna in the corner of the packet? 

A NEW VIEW! OUR FIRST GLIMPSE OF CARNAN CRUITHNEACHD TO THE EAST

VIEW FROM OUR LUNCH STOP.

Route-finding is a doddle in this weather, but with all the lumps and bumps I wonder how tricky it could be with the cloud around your ankles and pelting rain refilling the bogs. But that is not our problem today and we drink in the fabulous views in every direction. 

VIEW THROUGH THE LITTLE BEALACH AT EASTING 961

ACROSS COIRE NAN GALL TO CARNAN CRUITHNEACHD

THE SAME AS ABOVE, BUT BETTER OF COURSE, FROM PHIL.


I LOVE THIS PLACE!

Our next objective is to round the northern ridge of Beinn Bhreac to make the bealach. In an attempt to stay high I lead us into slightly tricky ground, but only for a short while as we make wonderful grippy-slabby rocks (not shown on 1:50s but do appear on 1:25s) that make progress a joy once more. You'll see this on the map at the start of this post.

BEINN BHREAC SKYLINE

PHIL'S PICTURE OF AN ENORMOUS ERRATIC, AND A BOULDER ON THE RIDGE LEADING UP TO BEINN BHREAC

BEALACH BETWEEN BEINN BHREAC & CARNAN CRUITHNEACHD, WITH DISTANT NORTH WESTERN CORRIES OF BEN FHADA

And now we have new views through the bealach to the south. And what views! This is top-drawer stuff and we are both grinning like Cheshire Cats! 

LOOKING BACK TO THE ERRATIC & CARN LOCH NAN EUN. PRIMORDIAL BONES PUSHING THROUGH SCOTLAND'S SKIN

We are just half a day out of a busy start point and we have this all to ourselves. The walking has been fabulous - easy strolls along a road, followed by a straight-forward climb up a track and path, and then a careful but progressing walk on the wild stuff. There are mountains and mountains in every direction, blue skies and fluffy white clouds. This is Scotland at its most ridiculous best.

BEALACH BOULDERS AND BEYOND

There follows a bit of a grunty climb up an open hillside to the south of Carnan Cruithneachd that reminds us both that we are indeed softy southerners. There are quad bike tracks to assist, but generally the going is firm and the slope eases as we near the top. We both take a lot of stops, with no pretence of taking pictures, as by now it's warm work and we're getting quite tired. I've led us slightly too high so as to stay on easier ground, and once at the top we pick out a great spot a little nearer Bealach na Sroine than we had planned, with a stream fed from a small lochan, which promises good running water and great views.

THE MOST PERFECT CAMP AND THE VIEW NORTH EAST

And my God! What views! We have the tents up in a jiffy and we spend the next hour passing our flasks to each other. Phil has a Speyside number that is quite delightful, whereas I've stuck with Talisker for the full lung inflation experience. 

180 DEGREE PANORAMA

A VERY LONG HAND-HELD ZOOM NORTH EASTWARDS TO,  I THINK, AN SOCACH & AN RIABHACHAN

The views are to the north west, and we spend a while trying to work out which hill is which, but come to the conclusion that it really doesn't matter. We are here, right now, in a fabulous place. The weather is kind, the views fabulous and we have completed one of the most magical first days we can remember on any of our Challenges. 

This is as good as it gets.

THE LAST OF THE MAGICAL EVENING LIGHT

Friday, 17 June 2016

TGO Challenge 2016. Part I: Transitioning

It takes nineteen hours to travel from my front door to a hotel on the north west coast of Scotland. With each passing hour there is a subtle shedding of an urban life in Southeast England. 

CLOUDBURST, THE M4 HEADING INTO LONDON FROM THE TOP OF A BUS 

In torrential rain, I travel a congested computer-controlled urban motorway. I'm aware of overhead gantries, tarmacadam, crash barriers, trucks and cars. People are invisible. Then there are the huge monoliths of the city - temples to retail, and buses & taxis. There are people on pavements but the predominant impression is of colossal urban mass. Pedestrians are abstract figures.

KENSINGTON

A stroll from Hyde Park, up Piccadilly, Shaftesbury Avenue and though gentle Bloomsbury invites contact at street level with tourists from the world over, the very well-heeled and then the manicured modern-day students. All seem happy, most are smiling, but eye contact is rare. Yet none are more happy than this Challenger, laden down with a rucksack, heading for the Bree Louise, Euston, for a pie and a few pints, to meet up with old friends. 

BREE LOUISE, EUSTON: RAY & PHIL

BREE LOUISE, EUSTON: GORDON

Leaving the pub perilously close to the Caledonian Sleeper's departure time, we scramble aboard, dump our packs in our berth and head to the bar. All the seats are taken but at the far end of the carriage we are invited by a very smiley chap to sample Tomatin whisky. Six bottles of whisky. It is to be a long night. 

TOMATIN WHISKY TASTING ON THE CALEDONIAN SLEEPER

Halfway through we leave the crush of the bar and find seats with Vic & Nic Slawski, and Thom Sandberg from Minneapolis, USA.

THOM SANDBERG & PHIL

Thom has come prepared for the Challenge; His jacket's red silk lining is actually a map of the world, featuring Minneapolis and his route across Scotland. However, there is a problem; Thom's boots are in Oxford. He could well be the first Challenger to stroll across Scotland in his sneakers.

THOM MAY WELL BE WALKING ACROSS SCOTLAND IN THESE SHOES...

Somewhere in the proceedings we lose count, and when finally the excellent free Tomatin stops flowing we resort to buying our whisky. 

The early morning bus ride from Inverness to Dornie is hellish. My scalp hurts and Phil complains of a mysteriously injured leg. The friendly staff at our hotel sort out soft drinks, and after an alfresco gentle lunch we retire for a recovering afternoon snooze and cups of restorative tea.

5:00 AM VIEW FROM OUR DORNIE HOTEL BEDROOM WINDOW

This is our view from the hotel at 5:00am the next morning. A soft mackerel sky, a sea loch and complete silence. The contrast between the first and last images of this post could not be more complete.

Sunday, 12 June 2016

TGO Challenge 2016: The pictures

Having been back home for a fortnight or so, Lord Elpus has shamed me into assembling a photo gallery of the least poor pictures of the walk.


CLICK TO ENLARGE

You can find them by clicking on the link below, which will take you to Google Photos.

https://goo.gl/photos/vzZJkE1wFAu1wUAM9


I'll add some words in a week or so's time in the usual fashion on here, as a permanent reminder of the hell of it all.
posted from Bloggeroid

Sunday, 1 May 2016

TGO Challenge 2016 - Pre-Walk-Daunder - Part III or "We few, we happy few, we band of brothers!"

There's something odd in the water in Maize Beck. My water bag's first draught had a mosquito flying about inside and a tadpole swimming widths. Phil very kindly scooped me a fresh bag. Since then I've been having very strange dreams. 

MILES & MILES OF IRON COLD STRETCHING TO INFINITY AND BEYOND

The previous evening we very nearly witnessed a schism. The alcoholics fit young things in our party were on the point of mutiny and making a dash for the pub in Dufton. It was only their weak minds and a total lack of leadership that held them back. So they chose to remain, and suffer the rigours of hypothermia, frostbite and slide into a welcomed death with their companions. I would prefer to believe that their forge-hardened decency and ingrained moral code held them back, to remain true to the team. And this is what I shall record in the expedition diary.

I'll let the pictures tell their own ghastly story for a while. 
  
ICE COLD IN ALEX

SIR ANTONY GORMLEY, IN ANOTHER PLACE

THE HERBS AND SHREDS OF PLASTIC AT THE BOTTOM OF THE FREEZER DRAWER

WITH FUEL EXHAUSTED, LORD ELPUS CHUCKED IN SOME YORKSHIRE TEA AND CHEWED THE ICE CUBES.

Leaving the the break-away faction to fill in their shallow grave, the slower set set out for the final push to the last of the supply dumps. Rescue was out of the question and it was with Courage and True British Grit that we headed out off for the edge of the ice shelf.

IT WAS THE CLOSEST I COULD GET TO PUTTING THEM BEHIND BARS.

Pressure was taking its toll. Grown men, explorers of the highest calibre, were cracking under the strain.

ANDY WEEPS WITH FRUSTRATION. PHIL, CORRECTLY, AVOIDS EYE CONTACT.

Imperceptibly, the roar grew louder. And yet louder still. We could sense a mighty drop ahead of us, hidden in the mist and spray. Could it be? Dare we believe it? But more importantly, will it go?

OUR FIRST SIGHTING OF THE MIGHTY NIAGARA. 

ANDY & JAYME ARGUE OVER WHO HAS FIRST GO IN THE BARREL

There is a short and unseemly tussle over who should have first go in the barrel. The Pieman, experienced in such matters, settled the issue by kicking it, empty, over the edge of the yawning abyss. 

CRUELLY, LAS VEGAS HAS STOLEN ALL THE WATER AND THE 'MAID OF THE MIST' IS AGROUND ON THE ROCKS BELOW

In the years since my last visit it transpires that Las Vegas has siphoned off the water that used to leap majestically into wild freefall, for its pulchritudinous vice dens hundreds of miles away on the far side of the vast Gobi Desert. Today Niagara is but a sad trickle, dripping down onto the beached, bleached bones of the broken 'Maid of the Mist' far, far below.

THE AFTERMATH OF EATING YOUR DOWN PILLOW AND FARTING. IT'S NO LAUGHING MATTER

"Last night, I dreamed I ate a ten pound marshmallow. I woke up, and my pillow was gone."

THE CLOUDS OF DOWN SLOWLY CLEAR TO REVEAL YET MORE BLEAKNESS

With the bit firmly between their teeth, the Splitters hurtled down the long icy slope to civilisation and the tea shop at the Stromness Whaling Station. The more measured of our ranks strolled with dignity down the hill, now certain of the team's safety, and revelling in the satisfaction of a mission accomplished with fortitude, against startling odds. I made a note to mention Gerry in dispatches, for his unflinching attention to duty, logging the expedition's progress through thick and thin. Special mention should also be made of Lucky the Dog, whose boundless enthusiasm saw us all home safely. Lucky made it home, replete with all four legs.   

HOLE IN THE WALL PASS, JOHNSON COUNTY, WYOMING

Infamous landmarks came and went as we descended, down and down to the scattered huts, battered by year-round Antarctic blasts that made up the whaling station. The Norwegians were surprised to see us, the world having given us up for dead,  but set-to and provided fried breakfasts fit for kings.

DECORATED REMNANTS OF THE BERLIN WALL. 

Eventually we all made it back home to our loved ones. However, sadly, the story does not end here. The call of duty is strong, and The Challenge is calling once again. In less than a fortnight, we few, we happy few, we band of brothers, will be setting off once again. 

I will leave you with Lord Elpus's rousing speech in the carpark in Dufton.





And for Mr Williams' delight, here's Lord Elpus's rousing encore!