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Sunday, 23 July 2017

TGO Challenge 2017 Day 3: River Meig to Glen Orrin

As a rule, I don't bang on a lot about gear here. These days I buy new stuff when the old tried and trusted stuff falls to bits. But I will take a moment to tell of the wonders of Trinnie Trailstar. This is Trinnie's fourth TGO Challenge.

First, the bad stuff.

  • She takes a while to put up. Not Trinnie herself; no, you are under cover quite quickly but the combined package of Trinnie, my wonderful Oooknest and my porch groundsheet. 
  • Occasionally the wind can shift a hundred and eighty degrees but I've never found that a problem as the porch is so huge no weather makes its way to the inner. If a big storm's coming you'll know all about it when you're pitching, so you won't make a mistake with her orientation.
LOOKING BACK UP GLEANN FHIODHAIG AFTER BREAKFAST

  • Then of course there's the infamous 'Trailstar crawl' that can result in wet knees and condensation on your back. I've never found this a problem, but perhaps I'm more agile than most and more tolerant of minor inconveniences.

However, the good stuff far outweighs any of these niggles:
  • Trinnie can comfortably accommodate party-goers. 
  • She's a great place to discuss the day's plans when it's peeing down with rain, or pass whisky flasks to each other. 
  • Sopping gear can be dumped in the cavernous porch out of the way to be dealt with after you're all dry and snugly after dinner. 
  • There's so much room in my Oookstar (that's an inner-tent designed specifically for the Trailstar) that organisation is a piece of cake. 
  • There are no zips to get iced up, and she is incredibly stable in ferocious wind and rain. You're guaranteed a good night's sleep. 
  • In the morning, when it's chucking it down outside it's an absolute doddle to pack away all your gear apart from Trinie herself, undercover. There's loads of room to put on your boots, change into your waterproofs in a dry spacious interior.

****

This morning Trinnie is soaking from overnight rain but I pack away a virtually dry Trailstar. I fly her, rather like a kite, and shake and shake and shake all the water from her flanks until she's virtually dry. Then it's simply a case of bundling her into her stuff sack and popping her under the lid of my rucsac. 

DAVID

And so to today's route. It's Sunday and Mrs May is apparently living in 10 Downing Street. 

It promises to be a very good day indeed, following 'FWA1' on the maps below, with just a 20km stroll and 430 RouteBuddy metres of ascent. That's about 800 of your MemoryMap or Anquet metres... As you can see from the first map, designing all the foul weather alternatives for this section proved to be an interesting experience. Having taken our FWA yesterday it means that today we continue on FWA1 until we rejoin our fine weather route at Luipmaldrig.

MORNING MAP. CLICK TO ENLARGE: FOLLOWING ROUTE FWA1

We are walking together today and surprisingly for a large-ish group we set off more or less on time. I would be hard pressed to find lovelier people to spend a day in the hills with.
   
AFTERNOON MAP. CLICK TO ENLARGE. FOLLOWING ROUTE FWA1 TO 'FINE CAMP'

It looks to be one of those open and shut days - lovely warm sunshine followed by brisk frisky showers, repeated at hourly intervals. I adore this sort of hill weather. Photographs are infinitely more interesting with huge piles of dramatic cloud, showers draping themselves across layers of hills and freshening wind heralding another brief downpour. It makes you feel alive again. 

THE RIVER MEIG

The Meig rewards with every twist and turn, and then the glen gradually opens as Scardroy approaches.

PASSING SHOWER, GLEANN FHIODHAIG


DAVID, HMP3 & EMMA, HEADING FOR SCARDROY

SCARDROY

Scardroy must rank as one of the most beautiful locations for a house in Scotland. This is my second visit - Lord Elpus had sent me this way years ago when he was recovering from having the first set of innards removed - and I would happily come this way again and again. The grass and wall just past the red rhododendrons make a wonderful spot for elevenses in the sunshine.

HMP3 & EMMA

EMMA.

Neither David nor I realise that at this point Emma is feeling quite unwell, and after our very relaxed stop, we scamper along the road together, with HMP3 and Emma walking as a pair behind us. We reach the farmstead at Inverchoran just as a very feisty shower hits, with some menace. David and I are in our base layers and make a dash for the shelter of the trees where the track begins to take us up through the wood. We stooge about for a while, but there's no sign of Humph or Emma, so we carry on up the hill, thinking they'll catch us when we stop for lunch at the top.

LOOKING BACK TOWARDS SCARDROY ALONG LOCH BEANNACHARAIN

I remember this track from last time. It's a grunty swine. About 750 Imperial Feet of up, in very steep indeed sections that make my legs go to jelly. I've no idea how David's jellylegs are coping with this, but the Bounder seems to be doing well enough. You really have to squint at the map with a very hard squint to see all the stacked brown squiggly lines hiding in the pretty green colouring of the woodland. 

LOOKING BACK TO SCARDROY AFTER A GRUNTY CLIMB UP A TRACK IN THE WOODS IN THE RAIN

Eventually, gasping for oxygen, we break the shelter of the trees and the sun is belting down once again. We struggle along up the track, promising ourselves that at the next rise we'll stop for a spot of lunch, until at that rise we see another better looking spot a few hundred yards further on. And then the same again. 

RUFTY-TUFTY DAVID AT OUR LUNCH SPOT

I determine to make savage inroads into my still gargantuan food bag. Pork pies are despatched with the last of the mustard. Three Mr Kipling Cherry Bakewells are swallowed whole. The honey-roasted cashews and cranberries are devoured. Just as I am about to start on my Lion Bars the wind freshen alarmingly and we look up to see the view in the picture below below.

'How far do you think that is away?' asks the VeryVeryNiceMan.

In a frenzy I'm stuffing away my food bag and pulling out all my waterproofs and  reply 'About thirty seconds' as the first penny size drops bounce smartly and very wetly on my bald patch. 

-An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy jackets just in time
But David was still yelling out and stumbling
And flound'ring like a man on fire or in lime...

INCOMING! VIRTUALLY NO SOONER THAN WE HAD SAT DOWN...

It's a belter of a shower, lasting quite some time. If you were of a pedantic nature you may wish to call it a summer storm, but this is the Western Highlands of Scotland, so it's just a passing shower. Either way, it great to have some real weather chucked in our general direction. This is not the time to wait for Emma and Humph and so we carry on in the fabulous downpour. On a happy note it's coming ever so slightly from behind as we follow the delightful hill path over the top of the bealach and then down towards Glen Orrin.

ANOTHER PASSING SHOWER. LOOKING SOUTH ACROSS GLEN ORRIN

Even in this weather of fierce stormlets followed by blazing sunshine this walk is utterly fabulous. We follow the wonderful little gorge, swapping banks occasionally, down to Luipmaldrig and fall inside, grateful to be out of the hot sunshine.

A BELTER OF A PASSING SHOWER AT LUIPMALDRIG, LOOKING EAST DOWN GLEN ORRIN

Chairs. Tables. Civilization. A settling cup of Horlicks with a large dash of Bowmore. Criminal, I know, but quite perfect with shortcake and a slice of fruitcake. But I don't have any shortcake, or fruitcake for that matter, and so I'm making do with Tuna-with-a-Twist in pitta bread, followed by six slices of Leerdammer in pitta bread. And another Horlicks with a larger slug of Bowmore.

This is life as it should be lived.

As we're packing up to leave, who should stumble through the door than our old mate Humphrey. We stare at him quizzically. 

'Ah. Yes... I didn't burn her!' the Brute blurts...

Where is she? What have you done with Emma?

And so Humph explains that poor Emma had been feeling ghastly for days, if not weeks and had come to the end of her tether at Inverchoran and decided to walk down the public road to civilisation, call Challenge Control and go home to bed.

We're stunned. We honestly had no idea. From my overview maps I know it's a long walk down that road. 

DAVID, LEAVING LUIPMALDRIG

Seeing as we're Ruft-Tufties and Well 'Ard, we forsake the luxury of the bridge back upstream and David walks through in his plimmies and I tip-toe across the very low River Orrin dry-shod. Pleased as punch to have saved all of half a mile, at best, we saunter down the right bank of the River Orrin in gorgeous sunshine.

DAVID CROSSING RIVER ORRIN, SAVING A PLOD BAG UP TO THE FOOTBRIDGE

DAVID'S PICTURE OF ME CROSSING THE ORRIN

DAVID, HEADING DOWNSTREAM, EAST ALONG THE ORRIN 

If you take the trouble to scroll up to the second map in this post you'll notice that we're due to camp alongside the Orrin Reservoir. That's what the Ordnance Survey would have you think. But it is not so. In fact, walking down Glen Orrin, you will not find the reservoir for quite another few miles further on than those Cartographic Cads would have you believe. Quite why they show the reservoir where it is I do not know! If any readers can cast any light on this mystery, perhaps they could pen a reply in the comments section. As it is, we saunter through some lovely grassland apparently deep under water.

DAY 3: CAMP. CLICK TO ENLARGE

You'll see, if you look closely at the picture above, that hefty little showers continue their games after we have flipped up our shelters. 

I'll let the pictures speak for themselves for a while. They're all taken at our perfect campsite.

BEASTIE HEADING FOR MY OOOKNEST

LONG ZOOM BACK TO LUIPMALDRIG, SOMEONE HAS THE FIRE GOING

HMP3 MAKING HIS WAY TO MEET UP WITH US

LOOKING SW FROM OUR CAMP

HMP3'S LASER COMP, DAVID'S SCARP 1 & TRINNIE TRAILSTAR, BETWEEN SHOWERS

Today has been another belter of a day. I adore this weather. Scotland becomes a live beast, the air is cleaner, fresher and the hills have structure and strength as sunlight streaks and slices through ragged skies. This is the TGO Challenge at its glorious best.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

TGOC2017 Day 2: Baobh-bhacan Dubha to River Meig

What does our VeryVeryNiceMan Mr Williams and the Leaderene have in common? (I do like Leaderene. The term was invented by Norman Singeing Sideburns) As I can hear David choking on his kedgeree, I'll supply the answer immediately. Both enjoy/enjoyed perishingly few hours of nighttime sleep.

With this valuable knowledge stored away, just before lights out last night, I asked David to call me at a quarter to six so that we can be away by eight. This routine is normally performed by Lord Elpus who is also an early riser but now the blighter has absconded this duty has transferred to my remaining companion, along with opening plastic packaging and letting me know the name of the present incumbent of Number Ten, just in case of accidents. I wouldn't want them to think I had lost my marbles.

CLICK TO ENLARGE

CLICK TO ENLARGE

David is no slouch in matters mathematical and within a split-second came back with 'That's two and a quarter hours!' and  'David Cameron.'

But this is a holiday! I enjoy a lazy stretch, two or three drinks and a decent breakfast by the pool in the sunshine. I suppose the morning routine could be performed at a slicker pace, and on occasion it has, but that way the day gets off to a poor start.

However, this morning doesn't start well. I wake to rain spattering on Trinnie's flanks and a decidedly cool brisk breeze. Of our yesterday evening's sparklingly clear blue pool, barely twenty yards away, there is no sign. We are in the clouds.

The weather forecast of a couple of days ago has turned out to be correct. This morning is supposed to be 'Cloudy, Windy and Heavy Showers' and we have a very steep descent from Sgurr na Feartaig to contend with on a very long wet grassy slope to Bealach Bhearnais. A few years back, a very experienced Challenger had taken a life-flashing-before-his-eyes hurtle down such a grassy slope, resulting in substantial injury. He was wearing trail shoes. His experience has lodged in my grey matter. David's in shoes. You can't dig your heels in to get bite in grass, wearing shoes.

David and I talk today's route through and happily we agree quickly to continue on our lower Foul Weather Alternative. Same distance, less ascent, no steep descents on wet grass but a lot more off-piste rambling up to Bealach Bhearnais. Our Fine Weather Route, over the top of Sgurr na Feartaig would actually be a far less demanding day. Choosing our FWA today also means the next day's route is a less onerous walk. But you'll gather this from the maps when you take a look.

We start the day heading west, not the natural bearing for Challengers, before dropping down to the bothy to have a nose-about. Then it's a delightful stroll following the Abhainn Bhearnais upstream to the bealach. Occasional rest stops are taken where food bags are nibbled, to no apparent reduction in their size.  

VIEW FROM BEALACH BHEARNAIS, BACK TO YESTERDAY'S CREAG A' CHACRAINN

The bealach arrives in surprisingly good time and we pause in the decidedly nippy wind to look back and congratulate ourselves on progress to date. On the climb up we had spotted a couple of backpackers in the distance. We amble over the top for some shelter and come across them - a young couple from Austria. They are flying a small drone with a camera to record their walk. It is very light and with the charger they also carry it has enough juice for over an hour's flight - plenty enough between stops where it can be recharged, It isn't noisy and folds away to a small size. The whole caboodle weighs a couple of pounds at most.

AUSTRIAN COUPLE ON THE CAPE WRATH TRAIL

The rivers are very low so we follow the path all the way down to the wire bridge as it looks considerably easier walking than the route we had mapped out for ourselves. We watch as the first, and then the second Austrian attempts the wires, Both now have wet backsides. We rock-hop across the very low water, dryshod and wave goodbye as they are heading west.

It's a dull four km on a track to Glenuiag Lodge (a holiday home) and the hut, but a milestone is reached as we cross Scotland's East-West watershed. This means, surely, it's all downhill from here? 

HUGE RUFTY-TUFTY DAVID AT THE TINY GLENUIAG HUT

More inroads are made into the still gargantuan food bags, still to no apparent effect. Ahead of us is a distant lone walker, in pale blue strolling at a leisurely pace. The walk down Gleann Fhiodhaig is a delight, following the River Meig. Occasional smartish showers sweep through to keep us on our toes.

VIEW EAST FROM THE GLENUAIG HUT DOWN GLEANN FHIODHAIG

The path, sketchy at times, is a delight and we are overhauling the pale blue lone walker remarkably quickly.

TWO RUINS: BORED WITH POSING FOR PHOTOS, THE BOUNDER ATTEMPTS TO ESCAPE FROM THE PICTURE

It's Humphrey in his pale blue cashmere sweater, of course. He tells us of a 'difficult' morning on the tops in tricky crosswinds, very little visibility, heavy rain and alarming drops. He gave it up as a bad job and dropped down to the glens. I'm sure he won't mind me saying this, but he looks about done in. So, with true Challenge Camaraderie, we leave him for dust when he makes the mistake of telling us that Emma can only be a few steps ahead. Emma or Humphrey? Humphrey or Emma? I mean... Come on!

A few steps? We bump into Wonderful Emma. Her tent is pitched, she's finishing a brew and yes, she's been here ages. She is a darling and in the matter of a moment she's made us cups of tea before we even start putting up our shelters.  

RUFTY-TUFTY BOUNDER NOW HAPPY TO POSE WITH A PERFECT MODEL AT OUR CAMP SPOT

And now, a few campsite pictures. 

HMP3, SETTLING INTO HIS OVERNIGHT ACCOMMODATION

TWO IDLERS WITH NOTHING TO DO WHILST EMMA DINES

HMP3 TALKS PROUST. EMMA POLITELY FEIGNS INTEREST

We're here at a very reasonable hour. I feel in great shape and it's been a cracking day. That's two bloody good days on the trot. Some showers rake the glen as I drift off to sleep, a happy chap.

THE VIEW BACK WEST

Sunday, 16 July 2017

TGOC2017 Day 1: Strathcarron to Baobh-bhacan Dubha

It's nine o'clock on Friday morning. A queue of intrepid Challengers are signing the register in reception to officially start the 2017 TGO Challenge. Some have a very big day ahead and are keen to be off. Others, on the other hand, are still at breakfast.

More toast, Al? 
Don't mind if I do, ta, Phil. Have we any more butter and marmalade? Ooh - thank you.

The south of Great Britain doesn't really do mountain ranges and peat bogs. Not like oop north. Oop there Challengers have honed physiques: The result of days on end racing whippets across the bleak moors. Reflected in the blighters' bathroom mirrors are images of muscular masculinity. It's the same for the girls. Whereas Lord Elpus and I see only saggy sadness in ours. 

No. We prepare for our first day's march with a full British Breakfast. Followed shortly after by a lie down, to ready ourselves for the rigours of the day.

START PHOTOS DON'T GET BETTER THAN THIS...

That VeryVeryNiceMan, Mr Williams, (this will be abbreviated to VVNM in future, as it takes far too many keystrokes to describe the blighter) stares incredulously as Lord Elpus and I climb the hotel staircase as I lob Right then - Off to pack. Down in about an hour? in his general direction.

With a minute to the allotted deadline, a tap at the door heralds David's entrance. I'm in my shreddies, trying to fight a foodbag the size of a three year old child into my rucsac. I'll be down in a jiffy, Sir! I smile, as I continue the unequal struggle.

As you can see, the start photo didn't go quite to plan. I was rushed.

CLICK TO ENLARGE. IT SHOULD OPEN IN A NEW WINDOW

Discerning members of the congregation will recall that Lord E and I prefer a realistic first day. Realistic for soft, saggy and sad Southerners, that is. You'll see from the map (Click on it to make it handsomely huge and beautiful) that today we have merely twelve glorious kilometers and 740m of uppishness. That's proper Routebuddy uppishness, not those other dud software packages' estimates of nigh-on 2,000m, to torment our pathetic frames. 

The scanned map, presented here in all its glory, has journeyed right the way across the barren wastes of Scotland. It's seen a few things. There are handwritten notes to jog my memory and help you relate more to the awful trudge we endure on your behalf. With it and this blog you won't need to go to all the fuss and bother of actually doing the damn TGO Challenge. No. With this fabulous pairing you can lower your lids for a few seconds and imagine yourself all the way across. So much easier, and no dirty washing to deal with afterwards. 

THAT VERYVERYNICEMAN MR WILLIAMS

I've described the physical characteristics of both me and Lord Elpus. However (drawing a deep breath and bracing himself) that VVNM Mr Williams, even with his jelly legs, is an altogether different kettle of fish. This man is a giant. See the top photograph for proof. Not only in stature but in stamina, strength and sheer northern grittiness. For yes, we are walking with a Shropshire Lad, who trains in the borders, legging up the Long Mynd and clambering over Clee Hill. The bounder has a hideaway in the mountains where he spends long winter nights alone, amongst the shrieking wind and tussock. He can be best described as a right hard bastard.

RUFTY-TUFTY MR WILLIAMS AND THE AWFUL NEW HYDRO TRACK

Having established that today's stroll holds no terrors for our rufty-tufty companion, you should be aware that our food bags are filled with four and a half days of rations. Food is heavy. Very heavy. I usually carry about a kilogram for every day. So today we are setting off with four and a half bags of Tate & Lyle crammed tightly. bulging all over the shop in our packs, from sea level up and over some high lumpy bits and then slightly down to our camping spot. This spot has been selected for the magnificent views it promises.

Our party sets off up the hill, as they call bloody great mountains in Scotland, in a contemplative state. Each is wondering how they are going to cope this time. None is any younger and each has health issues that could stymie the whole affair. Fortunately, me being a bear with very little brain, these thoughts are fleeting. However, I know that David and Phil, who are far brighter and wiser, will be turning these thoughts over and over. 

PHIL POINTS BACK TO STRATHCARRON

Surprisingly, we catch up with Croydon, Paddy & Gillian on one of those new Hydro Scheme roads that are currently being blazed throughout the length and breadth of the Highlands, destroying yet more of the wild quality that has been such a magnet for so many years. After a bit of a dither where the new road has obliterated the old stalkers path, we clamber up the side of the cutting and carry on our way, deeper and higher into the hill. 

Another hour or so passes and Phil calls a halt, with 'Al, I'm going to stop now.' I wonder if it's to let the others carry on, as neither Phil nor I like walking in a column. I drop my heavy pack readily and ease myself down for a good rest and a few nibbles. But there was something unusual in the way he said that. 

Are okay, mate?

Well, actually no, I'm not. I mean I am going to stop here. I'm not carrying on. I can't put my finger on it, but something's not right. Just not right. I can't risk walking into the middle of sod all for another day if things aren't right... 

I've known Phil for some thirty years. There are times when we can josh each other out of an odd mood or bout of self doubt but it was the way he said this. His whole demeanor is different. I know that it is absolutely pointless trying to talk him round. I'm worried about him and I need to know that he's okay about this and okay to make the trip back down to Strathcarron. It's not far at all, but still...

We rest for half an hour, and with a magnificent show of cheer, he's back up on his feet and we're saying goodbye to each other. It's all a bit emotional. And Phil walks back down the hill.

TWO RIGHT HARD BASTARDS

For the next half hour as we're climbing into the hill, I'm looking back constantly to catch sight of him; thankfully he's making good progress. I finally lose him as he nears the road. 

THE VIEW NORTH UNENCUMBERED BY FOREGROUND CLUTTER

We're an oddly quiet group as David, Mick and I make the lochan at the bealach over to Bearnais. I try to persuade Mick that he should come along the ridge with us, but he sticks to his plan to try and get as far as possible toward Bealach Bhearnais. The views hereabouts are pretty good, so from the ridge they should be superb.

LOOKING WEST TO SKYE

CROYDON & ME C/O DAVID


DAVID & CROYDON AT THE PARTING OF OUR WAYS

As we clamber up the side of the Creag a' Chacrainn we watch Croydon stroll jauntily down the path to Bearnais. Our clamber is wonderfully rewarding, with views to the north and west to die for. It's all off-piste stuff, but the ground is dry and the rock grippy. The ridge has lots of shaggy up and downs to keep life interesting. I'll let the pictures do the talking for a while.



DAVID, WITH BEALACH BHEARNAIS CENTRE LEFT.





LONG ZOOM TO BEINN LIATH MHOR


VIEW DOWN THE RIVER TAODHAIL


LOCH AN LAOIGH


DAVID ON EAGAN


STUNNING STUFF


FUAR THOLL AND BEINN LIATH MHOR


ROCKY

THE SHOULDERS OF SGURR NA FEARTAIG FROM EAGAN


DROPPING TO OUR CAMP SITE, BAOBH BHACHAN DUBHA

We make good time along the ridge and it's a great scamper down to the lochan. There are a few good places to pitch but the ground is very stony and it takes a while to get Trinnie anchored down securely. There's good running water just to the north and before long we're relaxing in the sunshine with coffee and a few snifters.

OUR LOCHAN ON BAOBH BHACAN DUBHA




WITH HIS KNICKERS AROUND HIS ANKLES DAVID LOOKS FORWARD TO A BREW


THE VIEW SOUTH


ZOOMY ZOOMY SOUTH

THE VIEW NORTH

I make the most of the balmy evening for photographs as the forecast for tomorrow is not so good. I'm quite tickled with our efforts today as we have made excellent progress, and have pitched up at an early hour, to have a relaxing evening. I'm feeling in great shape and demolish one of my larger evening meals, as it's the heaviest. It doesn't seem to make a scrap of difference to the size of the food bag.

TRINNIE TRAILSTAR, IN HER ELEMENT


RUFTY-TUFTY DAVID, WITH CYNTHIA SCARP.

IN SHOCK, DAVID STUDIES THE MAP FOR THE FIRST TIME AND ASKS ABOUT THE BROWN SQUIGGLY LINES

With Phil not being here, there's now an odd feeling of being on a completely different walk. I think I know David reasonably well, but there's going to have to be a lot more discussion about route selection. With Phil and me, we understand pretty much how the other chap is thinking about the day and the likely decision process going on in the other's head. This makes joint decisions a reasonably quick affair. David isn't so vocal, so I'm going to have to watch how he's doing, and also be clear and make sure to let him know if I'm feeling radgered.

Still, I'm a very happy camper as I drift off to Audrey's bosom in the magical fading Highland summer light. It's just a bloody shame Phil isn't here.