Martin in Gatineau Park

Martin in Gatineau Park

Saturday, 10 May 2008

Saturday 10 May - TGOC Day 2 - A 12.5 km Ridge - Ridge Camp to Cluanie Inn

Sue on the ridge - misty but warm

Actual: 18km, 1282 metres ascent
Again, the route was exactly as planned, time 8 hours 25 mins including 1 hour 55 mins stops.
No of Challengers seen: 2 - a Skipp and a Boston, both heading west. Scary!

Yesterday two folk passed by late on, as we were washing up. We assume they had done the whole ridge. They should have made it down just before dark.
We felt good to be high on the ridge in excellent camping weather - no wind, no midges, no ticks, no cuckoos, a blanket of cloud to keep us warm, and fine views. We didn't envy these people. Nor did we envy Robert Slade, who we met yesterday and who intended to do the whole ridge then. We had noticed him start by heading up the path to The Saddle, then he joined the correct path by a devious route, before thrutching up the steep hillside rather than follow the well graded stalkers path on which we encountered him for the last time.
More haste, less speed, is a phrase that comes to mind.
We wish Robert well and hope that his misplacements remain minor.

A short walk from camp last night revealed a spectacular gash in the hillside as we looked down towards the coast - brilliant.

Despite dire warnings about the possible lack of water on the ridge, I was always confident about our camping spot being well supplied. As it was, we pitched just close enough to the stream to be lulled to sleep, but not so close that it kept us awake.

The morning seemed bright, but closer inspection revealed that we were engulfed in a cloud. By the time we struck camp at 8am we were still in the cloud, but it was warm and windless so t-shirts were soon deployed.

As we approached the first Munro summit of the day two lads from Dunfermline caught us up and joined us for a chinwag with a ptarmigan on the summit. This seemed to disorientate them. After 20 minutes they set off in the direction from which they had arrived!
'Hang on, shouldn't you be going this way?' We pointed to our own line of departure.
We set off whilst they had a great debate, hunched over their map and compass. Ten minutes later they passed us again.
'You'll be pleased to learn that you're heading in the right direction', they informed us before disappearing into the mist in search of Dave Skipp (on our instructions, of course).

By the time we reached our third Munro of the day the mist was clearing and we had views towards both Cluanie and Glen Quoich. We spotted a figure coming towards us.

'Going to Montrose?' It asked.
'Yes, Roger, and you?'
'Of course!'
'Do you realise you're going the wrong way, Roger?'
'Oh'
'Yes!'
'Well I have this gadget' -points to big orange box called 'Spot' on his breast plate - 'All I have to do when I get lost is press this button and a helicopter will come and rescue me.'
'So it tells you where you are?'
'No, it tells someone in America where I am and they arrange for me to be rescued' - 'Don't be silly, if I knew where I was I wouldn't need to be rescued, would I?'
'No, why don't you get a GPS?'
'Good idea.'
And so, after accusations of Dave Skipp, who we had expected to meet, having 'nicked my route' this mutant form of Dave Skipp, known as Roger Boston, headed off happily towards the west coast.
(Scuse the poetic licence, Roger, we know you were in full control!)

The weather cleared further and we enjoyed a lunch with a view from the lofty vantage point of Aonach air Chrith.
A lone figure slowly toiled up the hill towards us from the east.

'Hello Dave'
'Yes I know, I'm going the wrong way, those lads from Dunfermline told me!'
'Good, Roger's also going the wrong way and he's just ahead of you.'
'Who's Roger?'
'He's that strange man from Elgin - he's just ahead of you.'
'I had a litre of whisky but I drank a lot of it last night.'
'That's probably why Roger's overtaken you then!'
'Who's Roger?'
...and so we left Dave to enjoy his 'wrong way round' skip to Montrose.

They were the only two Challengers seen today. After the encounter with Dave we saw a few day walkers, one group of whom obediently waited for us to exit a narrow section of the ridge, then politely doffed their caps as we went by.
Wow!

Then we passed an elaborately drawn arrow - the lads from Dunfermline later told us they had drawn it to save us from getting lost - and a carefully drawn message in the mud from Dave, imaginatively entitled 'Hi Martin'.

More pictures from the superb ridge - what a contrast between the 'phone camera and the Canon S70!

The descent to Cluanie was tedious but direct, and thankfully uneventful.

We dutifully checked in with Roger Smith at TGO Control before sinking into a hot bath, a sumptuous meal, and a comfy bed, in roughly that order.

We head into Affric tomorrow, probably outside the great Orange empire, so you may not hear from us for a while (apart from our automated route plans, which may get out of phase with our daily reports).

Bye for now!

Next day: Day 3
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Saturday 10 May 2008 - TGO Challenge Day 2 - Plan - Creag nan Damh to Cluanie Inn

Today’s report is here; the planned route and statistics are shown below:

1 Wild camp
2 Sgurr an Lochain
3 Sgurr an Doire Leathain
4 Maol Chinn-dearg
5 Aonach air Chrith
6 Druim Shionnach
7 Creag a’ Mhaim
8 Coirean an Eich Bhric
9 A87 main road
10 Cluanie Inn

Statistics
18 km
1300 metres ascent
8.6 hours
(6 Munros)

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Friday, 9 May 2008

Friday 9 May - TGOC Day 1 - Life After Denis - Shiel Bridge to Ridge Camp

Actual: 16km, 1287 metres ascent
Route was exactly as planned, time 6 hours 50 mins including 1 hour 20 mins stops.
No of Pidgeons seen: one staggeringly large one.


Setting off

There are 66 people starting from Shiel Bridge. This made it a busy place last night, so I can't mention everyone. It was good to chat to John (former 'Deputy Dawg') and Stef; it was nice to see Doug Bruce again, and Bernie and Pauline Marshall, and Dave Skipp (to be congratulated on imminent parenthood) was in great form - he had a long day in prospect and would be having an early night. Denis saw to it that Dave was still going strong in the pub at 11.30. Dave doesn't drink in halves.

Today we met some more Challengers, and Sue tried to entice them with her Chocolate Caramel Shortbread (CCS), a batch of which was placed next to the signing out sheets.

'Hello' said one charmer 'I'm Lilo Lil'.
'Where's your lilo?'
'I'll show it you later...'

Anyway, back to last night. Some of us managed to escape from the alcoholic haze generated by Denis, to view a lovely, if cloudless, sunset in lovely clear evening light. The Kintail Lodge Hotel did us proud with some good food, and everyone got to bed 'happy'.

So dragging ourselves out of bed this morning may have been a problem but for a timely good luck message from Weird Darren that doubled as an alarm call. Darren dropped out in style through illness last year and is nervous. But he has a more sensible route this year, and a more reliable companion, and I'm sure he will be fine.

If Darren's call hadn't got us up, Bernie's sizzling bacon (we were staying in the Trekkers Lodge where you can self cater) would have done.

The hotel breakfast was adequate, and by 9am we were ready to leave.

Since then we have met just one Challenger, Robert Slade, a first timer who found last night's spirit of camaraderie in the bar just a little daunting.

We have spent the day in t-shirts. It was hot. An 8 km road walk, despite the pretty carpet of violets and lousewort, isn't the best way to start the Challenge, but it did get us efficiently to the point where we could stroll easily up the stalkers path to Bealach Duibh Leac, breaking the 700 metre climb with long elevenses and lunch stops.

From there it was an easy stroll to our first summit - the Corbett - Sgurr a' Bhac Chaolais. On the way down we saw two other Challenger like people approaching from a strange direction around the side of the hill over very rough ground. We left them to it and they didn't follow us along the ridge, preferring to descend into Glen Quoich.

By now it had clouded over, with spots of rain, but the weather held for long enough to allow us over our first Munro summit of the South Cluanie Ridge, including a bit of easy scrambling.

Ten minutes later we were down at 755 metres, setting up camp on a sward of flat grass beside a babbling brook exactly where we had planned to be.

We were fully installed by 5 o clock, so tonight we have plenty of time to cook, read and write. Hence the verbosity of this entry! They may be shorter in future.

Sue admires her first batch of Angel Delight, our delicious camp dessert...

Blogger sets off, looking for a signal before dusk

Next day: Day 2 - Plan Report Index

Friday 9 May 2008 - TGO Challenge Day 1 - Plan - Shiel Bridge to Creag nan Damh

Today's report is here; the planned route and statistics are shown below:

1 Kintail Lodge Hotel – Shiel Bridge
2 leave road to ascend by Allt Mhàlagain
3 Bealach Duibh Leac
4 Sgurr a' Bhac Chaolais
3 Bealach Duibh Leac
5 Creag nan Damh
6 Wild camp by stream at NG 986 111

Statistics:
16 km
1300 metres ascent
7.8 hours
(1 Corbett)(1 Munro)


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Thursday, 8 May 2008

Thursday 8 May - Coast to Coast in 7 Hours

It's 6.30 am and ScotRail's smart new bicycle friendly train is whisking us on time to Aberdeen under a blue sky tinged with haze, with early morning mist blanketing the fields.

The yellow of the rape has been replaced by the less vibrant yellow of fields of daffodils. It looks like a fine crop.

Not a Challenger in sight until we reach Elgin, where more heavy rucksacks appear.

Bright yellow gorse flashes past, stunningly beautiful against the deep blue sky. Pigeons and crows peck the freshly ploughed fields. Cherry blossom and bright white blackthorn provide a welcome contrast with the predominant yellows.

Reaching Inverness, gravitating to the café a number of Challengers exchange greetings. We are suddenly in the company of hallowed names:
Colin Tock - in his breeches and red socks, looking more than ever like Walter Poucher without the perfume;



Fowkes and Towers clans feature here

the Towers twins from Settle - still going strong at 75;
Bernard and Margaret Fowkes, on their 16th crossing - Bernard is this year's oldest male Challenger, he is 80 in June;
Moray Allan and David Lynch, very jolly chaps on just their second crossing;
Markus Petter, from Austria, who is going to spend a couple of days in Applecross before reaching his starting point.
Geoff Reed, on his 5th crossing after a 10 year gap. The airline he travelled up on gave him a bottle of champagne on arrival at Inverness. He was already carrying 18 kilos. So he drank it. All of it. Geoff likes a drink. He retired yesterday.
Nearly everyone we have met seems to like a drink actually...

Nallo Lady had time to make an unscheduled distribution of CCS (Chocolate Caramel Shortbread) to this fine band of people before we boarded the Kyle train.

Passing lagoons with eider ducks, our transport now determinedly tried to leave the east coast. Buzzards and other birds of prey hovered hungrily above new born lambs.

But we steadily lost our new found friends as they disembarked at Achnasheen and all stations to Kyle.

Then we were alone again, with only the cuckoos and Bob Phillips for company.

Compared with three weeks ago everything is very green, and free from its white blanket. Primroses line the hedgerows.
The Cuillins shimmer in the heat as we take the short bus journey to Kintail Lodge Hotel to bag a bed for the night.

A lazy afternoon ensues.

Then Denis Pidgeon arrives. He is writing a book about his escapades with another blogger, Alan Sloman.

Blogs are allergic to Pidgeons!

But we did escape briefly to capture the Kintail Lodge Hotel in the evening light, before a fine sunset, marred only by the total absence of any cloud.


Next day: Day 1
Plan
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Wednesday 7 May - Blue Skies

Blue Skies and a blazing sun kept us company all day as we sped up to Scotland. We diverted briefly to the Lake District for coffee with Judy and Andy at their wonderful house above Grange over Sands. On a clear day they can see the summit of Snowdon, nearly 100 miles away, from their living room.

Then we lunched in the company of Tebay's greedy mallards and gulls, before continuing in the heat past comatose cows and siesta loving sheep along the increasingly quiet motorway.

Bright yellow gorse and even brighter rape were our companions for the latter part of the journey.

The Little Mermaid provided an excellent fish supper whilst Old + St Andrews Church glistened in the evening sun behind the Guildhall, which dates from 1763.

Then we enjoyed a stroll on the beach in the evening sun, before adjourning to Alison's immaculate flat in Bents Road and the comfort of her excellent Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.

Well, we've reached Montrose. Where next?

Next Day
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Wednesday, 7 May 2008

Tuesday 6 May 2008 - Long Distance Walkers and Orion Marches

Daryl May finished his JOGLE walk at the end of April. This true gentleman contacted me immediately to let me know and thank me for taking the trouble to seek him out. It was my pleasure, Daryl. Alan Sloman did likewise, was treated likewise, and has recorded his feelings here. I completely agree with Alan’s thoughts.

Also ‘on the road’ at present are Gayle and Mick, heading north on their LEJOG. For a bit of daily entertainment I recommend Gayle’s humorous entries. They are doing well, already having reached the Offa’s Dyke path.

Thomas, another American acquaintance, called me from York last week. It was good to hear from him (I still have to report on our travels together last year). By now he should be progressing smoothly along the West Highland Way in his inimitable septuagenarian fashion. Good on you Thomas, I hope the sun is shining and you are making lots of new friends.

That brings me to ‘Orion Marches’. That Michael Roberts’ book of poetry referred to in my blog of 30 November.
Jim Perrin’s article in June’s TGO magazine brought it back to me. The lines he quotes from ‘The Green Lake’ are favourites of mine:

The mountain lake mirrors the hills, and the white clouds
Move in a blue depth, the hut stands empty:
No one appears all day, nothing disturbs
The symphony of ice and yellow rock and the blue shadow.
And at dusk the familiar sequence: the light
Lingering on the peak; and near the horizon
Apricot-coloured skies, then purple; and the first stars;
An hour of bustle in the hut, and then silence.

But Jim is trying to relate the poem to the remote bothies found in the UK. Like me, he would often prefer to camp outside rather than endure the dark, hovel-like interiors. But the poem is not about those sorts of places. It’s about Alpine Huts, with guardians, where climbers rise early and return late; where it’s too rocky and icy to camp outside. These are great places of companionship, with huge ‘mountain meals’ prepared by the guardian and his family.
Great places.
I met Thomas at one of them – Lagazuoi – in the Dolomites. The character is often provided by the people who run them; that’s why we stay there, we are made to feel welcome. Unlike the hovels that masquerade as bothies in the UK. I don’t like them (how did you guess), but some hostels in the UK are wonderful. You need go no further than Gerry’s, in Achnashellach, to discover this fact.
As for Alpine refuges, it’s not quite the type Michael Roberts wrote about in ‘The Green Lake’, but the Marialles Refuge below Mt Canigou in the Pyrenees is one of many that hold wonderful memories – five of us staying, speaking three different languages, but with common interests and goals. The evening featured a wonderful stew from the lady guardian, who then embarked on a reading from a book about a Buddhist priest in Thailand. “Très philosophique” she said!

Today’s postcard is the early morning view from that Refuge prior to our ascent of Canigou the following day (13 September 2004).

Sunday, 4 May 2008

Sunday 4 May 2008 - The Pyrenees Revisited

This afternoon we had the pleasure of meeting Andy and Jan.
This summer Andy is planning to walk the Pyrenees High Level Route (HRP) with his friend Gaz. They intend to blog about it here. Andy is an experienced backpacker and well up to the challenge, but he still needs to finalise his maps and gear. We hope he benefited from the visit to see what we took with us in 2004, listen to our reminiscences, and view the 79 images that Sue made into a slide show for her colleagues at the time (that alone took an hour!). They only have Ton Joosten’s Cicerone guide at present, and are aware that despite containing much useful information this guide does not endear Mr Joosten to others. We strongly recommended that Andy and Gaz obtain a copy of Georges Véron’s ‘Pyrenees High Level Route’ book – the latest English translation of which is a 1991 Gastons-West Col Publication. This is a superb guide book, by the man who devised the HRP, that includes much alternative and wet weather route advice; the Cicerone guide is twice the weight and describes a single route with variable accuracy and little mention of alternatives.
We will be happy to help Andy and Gaz further should they need that, but at present we have them to thank for helping us to re-live a wonderful couple of months in 2004.
I do intend to put more on the web about that trip, probably within this blog. Meanwhile, see here for details of our planned and actual routes, blogged to the spreadsheet at the time, together with reports on a couple of the more interesting days.
The ‘postcard’ for today was taken at our wild campsite beside Lac d’Ansabère on 6 August 2004. The sun was on the tent until 8.30, eagles nested above us, vultures were feeding on an unseen carcass in the valley below. There was no sign or trace of any other humans as we lazed in the sun, transfixed by the lovely reflections in the lake.
Happy Days indeed.