Monday morning at Stan & Bill’s is a civilised affair. You wake at your leisure and by the time you stumble bleary-eyed into the kitchen, there’s tea on the go, and bacon rolls being served at impressive speed and quantity. It’s a well-oiled operation and folk are happy to sit by the fireside relaxing into the day after perhaps a difficult evening’s celebrations.
But the time comes when you really must drag yourself away as there’s the walk to be done. I always have a
cuddle manly hug with Bill. You just do. We’ll meet up again at the Park Hotel in Montrose.
[MARTIN RYE'S PIC: CHEERIOS]
The weather was fine, but it looked likely that a front was due later in the day, so we decided that we would ‘suck it and see.’ This meant struggling up to the top of Carn an t-Sagairt Mor (a Munro!) and then taking a good look at things to see what was coming our way, as the view’s pretty good from there.
[TGO2013 DAY 11 THE RED ROUTE – CLICK TO ENLARGE]
On the way, we caught up with Morpeth (Pete Shepherd). I must have been up this hill with Pete almost a dozen times over the years, but this year neither of us was in that good a shape. When we had met Pete at Oban he was suffering from shortness of breath, from what he thought was a bad cold. He still had it seven days later when we bumped into him again at the weir in Glen Tromie, in fact, if anything it was worse and he was struggling.
Today Pete really was having difficulties and so I stayed with him, which suited me down to the ground, as the slower pace up the hill was fine by me. Andy, Phil and me were actually quite worried by his condition and we had this queasy feeling that perhaps this was a bit more than a chest infection. His walking partner, Croydon, had gone on ahead and we wondered whether or not he was aware just what a state Pete was in.
[LOCH CALLATER & TOLMOUNT – CLICK TO ENLARGE]
Fortunately, by the time we reached the iron ‘Gate to Nowhere’ Mick was there, waiting for Pete. We had a quiet word with Mick to let him know our concerns. They both toddled off on the path around the hill and down to Glass allt Shiel, as we headed up to the top.
[PHIL, CARN AN T-SAGAIRT MOR – CLICK TO ENLARGE]
We came across this little fellow hopping across our path. As soon as he saw us he froze, and stayed there until we had taken our pictures and moved away. His camouflage is pretty damn good!
[PHIL'S PIC, LEVERET]
The tops of these hills are wonderful underfoot, almost crunchy. We got to the top where it was quite windy but not too cold. Phil took the picture below with a tiny tripod and the time delayed shutter.
[PHIL'S PIC, CARN AN T-SAGAIRT MOR – CLICK TO ENLARGE]
And now it was decision time. The clouds were building quite a bit, as expected, to the southwest and already tails of mist were dragging over the tops all around us. But it didn’t look too bad – well – not to us rufty-tufty southerners! Phil looked at me and asked me how I was feeling. I felt okay. I reasoned that if it did get shitty when we were up on the next high bit, we could always bale out down to Glas-allt-Shiel before we got to Lochnagar as there’s an excellent path down that way.
Decision made then: We were up for it.
[ANDY'S PIC, PHIL & ME, CARN AN T-SAGAIRT MOR – CLICK TO ENLARGE]
We slid off down the side of Carn an t-Sagairt Mor and headed for the track up to Carn a’ Choire Bhoidheach. I had a bit of a clothes faff at the stream at the bealach and made sure I had a good drink and filled my water bottle to the brim as there wouldn’t be much up there for quite a while.
[DUBH LOCH & BROAD CAIRN – CLICK TO ENLARGE]
Before too long we hit the huge snow patches so at last we broke out the microspikes we had been carrying since Tulloch. To be honest, I thought they added bugger-all to the traction, as the snow was quite soft. I’ll not be taking them again.
I’ll let the pictures tell the story of the next part; They’ll do it far better than I can describe!
[PHIL'S PIC, ANDY, CARN A' CHOIRE BHOIDHEACH – CLICK TO ENLARGE]
[PHIL'S PIC, ANDY, CARN A' CHOIRE BHOIDHEACH, RED SHOES – CLICK TO ENLARGE]
[ANDY'S PIC, CARN A' CHOIRE BHOIDHEACH, PHIL & ME – CLICK TO ENLARGE]
[ANDY, CARN A' CHOIRE BHOIDHEACH – CLICK TO ENLARGE]
[ANDY, CARN A' CHOIRE BHOIDHEACH – CLICK TO ENLARGE]
[LOOKING BACK TO CARN AN T-SAGAIRT MOR – CLICK TO ENLARGE]
[WILLEM FOX'S PIC: PHIL, ME & ANDY CLIMBING UP CARN A' CHOIRE BHOIDHEACH – CLICK TO ENLARGE]
We eventually made the big bald top – well to within about a hundred yards of the top, as it looked to be a bit of a lump, really. Phil & I both shrugged, (we’re not baggers) and we headed off instead over to what looked far more interesting to the north: The Stuic.
On the way over, we met this little fellow – a dunlin, I believe, who was perfectly happy to let us snap away at a reasonable distance, until she got bored by the whole affair and darted off to another clump a little way off.
[DUNLIN? ANY OFFERS? – CLICK TO ENLARGE]
Yes. The Stuic was far more interesting. The views are quite wonderful all the way to the Cairngorms to the north and the Atholl hills to the south west.
[ANDY, THE STUIC – CLICK TO ENLARGE]
We had a spot of lunch on top of the Stuic and bumped into Willem & Marianne who had been chasing us up the hill. Willem took this picture of us – you’ll note that Andy has his evil twin with him!
[YOU’LL NOTE THAT ANDY IS WITH HIS EVIL TWIN!!! – CLICK TO ENLARGE]
[PHIL'S PIC: LOCH NAN EUN & LOCHNAGAR FROM THE STUIC – CLICK TO ENLARGE]
[FROM THE STUIC – CLICK TO ENLARGE}
Then it was time to set off again, but first we had to make a decision; Were we going to go all the way over to Lochnagar and do it justice with Cac Carn Beag or do we drop down via Glass Allt? The weather certainly seemed to be closing in now but it still seemed a little way off. We might just get away with it.
Lochnagar it was then!
[LOCHNAGAR FROM JUST BELOW THE STUIC. WEATHER BEGINNING TO CLOSE IN – CLICK TO ENLARGE]
It’s glorious underfoot up here, with a well-blazed track to follow and soon we were grunting our way up to the huge cairn of Cac Carn Mor. Andy was going like a train again, so Phil & I just bimbled along at our own pace.
In no time at all we had clambered up to the trig point on Cac Carn Beag at the northern end of Lochnagar That’s another Munro! Ooo Err! That’s three today, if you count Carn a’ Choire Bhoidheach (which we didn’t quite get to the top of, because, well it was a bit boring)
[PHIL'S PIC, CAC CARN BEAG – CLICK TO ENLARGE]
After a little while Willem & Marianne joined us on top. They had been a bit smarter than us and had left their packs at Cac Carn Mor, which they would retrieve later on the way back down.
[MARIANNE & WILLEM, CAC CARN BEAG, WITH CARN A’ CHOIRE BHOIDHEACH & THE STUIC – CLICK TO ENLARGE]
Looking back to Cac Carn Mor we saw that thick cloud was now spilling up the cliffs and onto the plateau. Time to get a wiggle on, then. We might just make it off before we got covered.
[CLOUDS ABOUT TO OBLITERATE THE VIEWS, CAC CARN MOR – CLICK TO ENLARGE]
On the way back we met Toby & Vicky. We liked them instantly. They were belting along, I think having arrived here from Braemar. Vicky had had a bit of a mauling on the Challenge Message Board after asking a perfectly reasonable question and getting chapter and verse with very little humour in return. However, she’s a feisty lass and gave far better than she received in a firm but polite manner. We knew we would like her before even meeting.
We were losing our race with the cloud, and before too long we were nicely wrapped in the stuff. Route finding’s not difficult though; we were following the cliff-edge path rather than the main drag as it was going to be more interesting. After that, there’s a well cairned route to follow up and over the eastern end of Lochnagar.
There was one brief break in the clouds before they finally sealed us in for good, when there was a wonderful view to the south east across the huge trench of Glen Muick to the hills beyond:
[FLEETING VIEW S.E. OVER THE TRENCH OF LOCH MUICK – CLICK TO ENLARGE]
[ANDY'S PIC: LOCHNAGAR ABYSS – CLICK TO ENLARGE]
Then it all got quite interesting for a short while. At this point we were in a group of Challengers that included Willem & Marianne. The well slabbed path takes you nicely down the first section quite steeply and then you are abandoned in a boulder field with the boulders the size of small family cars. We were in thick cloud and could only see down about ten metres or so and couldn’t see the bottom end of the boulder field or the path afterwards. There didn’t seem to be any well worn route and so, conscious of the bloomin’ great cliffs to the left of us we steered a right-ish course down.
With full packs this was quite a tricky do at times, with quite big stretches and awkward handholds. Far easier to clamber up, i would imagine, especially if you could see where you were aiming for. However, we all made it down and onto a path once again, still in thick cloud and mightily relieved that that was over.
Time was ticking on at this point, and aware that things usually went pear-shaped for me at around this time in the day I called a halt just beneath the clouds and we snacked and finished off what little drinks we had. It did the trick as for the rest of the day everything went well.
On the long rubbly track that takes you down to the Spittal, Toby and Vicky went flying past us, with Vicky complaining about her blisters. It did strike me that if they went a bit steadier, she might not have those blisters in the first place, but in a rare moment of self control I thought it wise to keep quiet. There’s a first, eh?
Glen Muick was incredibly gloomy with the cloud sealing it off like a huge pressure cooker lid. Andy had gone off like a terrier chasing cars, (well, Willem & Marianne, actually) and so Phil and I strolled down to the Spittal together and came across the resident deer and managed to get a few shots, but in the poor light and with flighty deer this was the best I could manage.
[SPITTAL OF GLENMUICK DEER – CLICK TO ENLARGE]
We stopped off at the Visitor Centre, looking forward to hot soup and hot chocolates from the vending machine, but by the time we arrived all those lovely things had gone!
Woe, woe and thrice woe!
All these bastard Challengers that had got there before us had emptied the machine of all the precious things! I drank my “hot orange” a tad grumpily and then main-lined hot black coffees to give me the necessary “oomph” to get up the next bit of the day.This was supplemented by Marathon and Mars bars.
I love the stroll up the Allt Darrarie. It’s a gentle plod that if taken at a measured pace is an absolute delight. It’s a bit gloopy in places, but never “over the top of your boots” stuff. We passed Willem & Marianne putting up their shelter and then I noticed a Scarp 1. I just sort of knew it was James inside so a few “hellos” brought his head out of the tent. He was doing well and his twisted ankle was now a whole lot better.
We plodded on and then came across a green Akto – that I recognised instantly as Pete Shepherd’s (it’s the peculiar way he pitches it). Sure enough, inside tucking in to some mashed potato was the man himself. There was no sign of Mick. Pete had had a very hard day and looked bloody glad to have stopped, so I decided there and then that tomorrow he would be walking with me.
Earlier in the day (on top of The Stuic) Phil and I had decided that our day would be quite long and so the Shieling of Mark would in all likelihood be rammed by the time we were to arrive, with few decent pitches left. So we had settled on the caochan just before the hop over the peat hags as a good stopping point. We let Pete know that we would be just half a mile further on, and that we would be setting off abut 8:00am next morning and that we would be expecting him. Pete was happy with this; It looked like he needed a bit of moral support.
[CAMP ON THE CAOCHAN WITH INCOMING WEATHER – CLICK TO ENLARGE]
By now the weather was really closing in and the wind was getting up to “quite blowy really” so we got our shelters up quickly to get out of the worst of it. Sally went up a treat and soon I was munching on another pasta with mushrooms in cheese sauce from Adventure Foods c/o “Outdoors Grub.” My favourite meal of the Challenge. Andy and Phil popped over with flasks and it was all quite jolly.
Just a little further up the way there was a little Laser pitched up and we could see someone moving about, but to be honest, I was all snug and settled and couldn’t be arsed to go and have a chat in the gloom and blustery weather.
I slept like a log, totally pleased as punch that I had managed quite a big day – a brilliant Challenge Day.