Martin

Martin

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Saturday 24 April 2010 - Markus's Caledonian Trail - Day 11 - Annat to Fort Augustus

My fears were unfounded. A couple of j-cloths to empty every three or four hours hardly constitutes a disturbed night's sleep. The Phreerunner's seepage was minimal. Everything that wasn't already rain affected remained dry.

By contrast, Markus described his night in the TN Laser Competition as 'horrendous'. His new tent doesn't seem to have been designed for wet and windy Scottish nights, and his gear is soggy from condensation. He also worried that the river (pictured - this morning - Markus must be a 'worrier' as well as a light sleeper!)) would burst its banks (that didn't occur to me).

The rain stopped before we got up. My tent dried out, Markus's didn't. We started walking at 9am as usual, along the pleasant tracks of Glen Roy and Glen Turret. After a brief encounter with the ghost of an erstwhile TGO Challenger we embarked up the pathless slopes of Teanga Mhor. Markus said he'd never backpacked up such a steep slope. I said he must have chosen some pretty poncey routes in the past. It was warmer than of late. T-shirt weather! Though sadly a greyish haze enveloped the high snow laden peaks that surrounded us.

We made it to the top, across peat haggs that I found more taxing than the initial steep grassy slope. The peak was called. Carn na Larach (745 metres). There was nobody else there. It's an exclusive spot!

More haggs and an exceptionally boggy track led us to Glenbuck Bothy. I'm not a fan of bothies, but this one was spacious and spotless, if colder inside than outside. An empty pair of Crocs lay on the hearth. Lord Elpus? Did he make it this far?

Easy paths led down to the Caledonian Canal, where I actually applied sun tan cream for the first time on this trip. Swallows and Pied Wagtails replaced the Curlews and Meadow Pipits that we'd got used to in the mountains.

At Cullochy Lock the keeper was letting a boat through. "That's 12 today" he said, adding that he expected to log over 1000 boats during July and August.

Two hours later, after encountering the first backpackers seen by Markus on his entire trip (they were doing the Great Glen Way), we reached Fort Augustus. It was 5pm, after 24 km, 660 metres ascent, and 8 hours' walking. Plenty of time to set up camp at the new campsite (a lovely flat lawn), freshen up, and enjoy a celebratory meal at The Bothy restaurant.

That ends my 'mobile' postings for the time being, as I have to return home after this most enjoyable six day stint with Markus, whose progress you can continue to follow via the link from the home page of www.topwalks.com.

Will he get to Cape Wrath? He's nearly half way. But quite tired...

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Wh* St*l* My S*f*?

The disemvoweled voice of the ghost of Alan Sloman wafted maltily across the landscape.

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Friday 23 April 2010 - Markus's Caledonian Trail - Day 10 - Lochan na h-Earba to Annat

The wind finally subsided during the night. It was replaced by a soggy blanket that hovered over us. We woke to drippy trees and surprisingly chirpy birds.

From our 360 metre camp, whilst Binnein Shuas was clear (pictured), there was fresh snow from about 500 metres, and thick cloud over the bits of Creag Meagaidh that we could see. So the Foul Weather Alternative (FWA) was the obvious choice of route for today. A shame, but Markus is well aware that Creag Meagaidh is in the heart of TGO Challenge country, and perhaps he will return to gain the satisfaction of walking the entire ridge.

We were off again at 9, in waterproofs that stayed on all day. Dawn to dusk rain, and beyond. Dreich, I think some Scots describe days like today.

After an hour along a good track we reached last night's planned camp site. A magnificent spot by a beach at the head of Lochan na h-Earba (which actually seems to be two sizable lochs) - it would have been a bit breezy last night.

We pressed on down to the main road, pausing under some trees to take advantage of a mobile phone signal. The weather forecast confirmed the wisdom of our FWA route.

After a less than pleasant 6km along the road, we lunched at a wet picnic bench before starting the long ascent to the cairned col that separates Beinn a' Chaorainn from Beinn Teallach. After joking with two blokes descending the former (they very kindly offered us a lift to Fort Augustus), we continued on up this boggy ascent - only about 300 metres height gain, but it's hard won.

By the time we reached the cairn it was 3.40. Ahead of us was the trackless descent to join a thin path to Glen Roy.

We made it down to this sheltered riverside spot (NN 357 917) just before Annat, by 6.30. I'm partly responsible for the long time to cover a short distance as I faltered for some time at a river crossing. It looked awkward for Crocs due to depth and current issues. The way to cross was to keep the boots on and move quickly over submerged rocks with the aid of walking poles. One slip and you would be soaked. Dally on the rocks and the water would certainly fill your boots. I didn't want wet feet. I had no spare socks. Markus was using them as gloves. I eventually made it across,

I've had enough now, after another lovely meal it's time for bed. It'll be a disturbed night as, whilst condensation free, the old tent does 'seep' a little in a downpour!

It has been a Wet Day. Sorting the photos won't be difficult. There are two.

We walked 29 km, with 620 metres ascent, in 9.5 hours, to reach this stony but sheltered riverside camp at 250 metres.

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Friday, 23 April 2010

Thursday 22 April 2010 - Markus's Caledonian Trail - Day 9 - Dalwhinnie to Lochan na h-Earba

We are residents of 'Knipe Copse' at NN 495 845, by the wave lapped shore of Lochan na h-Earba. Why Markus has thus named this Des Res I don't know, but hey - it's his route, and his choice to stop about 5km short of his planned camping spot at the head of the lochan, which is really quite a sizable loch.
The rain is pattering against the tent, so it was perhaps a wise move to halt at 5.15.

It has been another good day. We were launched in splendid fashion by an excellent Scottish breakfast ("that's just one sausage, Full English is two" [HA!]) provided in the immaculate breakfast room of Eagle View Guest House. All guests breakfast around one large table - I like such places.

A dash to the bus stop, and a chat with a lady who confirmed that none of my (English) pensioner's concessions would apply in Scotland, preceded the 12 mile ride (£6.90!) back to Dalwhinnie.

So much for devolution. This Scottish lady has the same problem in England.

Markus, who had failed to pack his rucksack at the B+B, then enjoyed a 15 minute faff in the comfort of the bus shelter. He was laden with the ballast of new provisions today. So was I, but I've left the food mountain at the B+B for collection on Sunday, so my pack is lighter than when I started out on Monday.

The 10 o' clock departure was an hour later than usual. Not really a problem, we agreed as we sauntered past the Dalwhinnie Inn, which now claims to be opening on 3 May. The date changes to some random date in the future every time I pass the place. Markus had originally booked it for last night, and had struggled to get a refund when he discovered it was closed.

Leaving the road, we didn't have the bottle to venture along the old route of the Drovers Track through Allt an t-Sluic. Dogs barked wildly as we passed down the waymarked diversion beyond an angry red flag. Not good.

All that was soon left far behind, and we haven't seen a soul since leaving Dalwhinnie. Meall nan Eagan shone brightly in the sun (pictured, with Markus bottom right), before another shower arrived. We had a few of them today. I was reminded of the rough nature of that hill as we passed through the narrow defile that leads to Lochan na Doire-uaine, a forbidding place surrounded by lumpy tussocks and edged by the skeleton-like bleached corpses of prehistoric trees.

We had emerged from the defile to fine views of Geal Charn, ahead, and of the entire Creag Meagaidh ridge. Markus was impressed. He had never seen it laden with snow.

A little further on we lunched under a cold shower. Bad timing. Then it was on to increasingly sound Land Rover tracks, including one of motorway proportions, for the rest of the afternoon. We disturbed four young stags - the smallest of many herds of deer that we've seen over the past few days. A chorus of curlews joined that of the ubiquitous golden plover today, and lapwings flapped lazily over the lower slopes.

Our camp, reached in 7.25 hours after our 23 km trek with ascent of 420 metres, has a fine view of a very interesting hill, Binnein Shuas (746 metres). It looks impregnable from here.

Well, it did before it went dark.

In the meantime I've enjoyed the culinary delights of Tesco's best:

Mulligatawny soup
Pasta with mushroom and chicken flavour sauce, with added
Seared tuna fillets in a sweet marinade of red chillies, coriander and lemongrass
Banana flavoured Angel Delight
Hot chocolate

Markus, meanwhile, claims to have enjoyed his Norwegian cod and mash - all apparently rehydrated from the same packet!

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Thursday, 22 April 2010

Wednesday 21 April 2010 - Markus's Caledonian Trail - Day 8 - Allt Feith Gharuiareagan to Dalwhinnie

Showering tonight, I was puzzled to look down at sunburnt legs. Were they really mine?

Ah yes - from the North Yorks Moors.

Some time ago.

Today we woke to frozen water bottles and a fairly wintry scene. Winter gear stayed on all the way over two Munros, Beinn Udlamain and A' Mharconaich, and down to Balsporran Cottages. We met just two people (none yesterday), on the broad snowy ridge separating the Munros.

"Is it any less windy ahead?" they asked, warning us of strong winds ahead in our direction. It actually became calmer, and we were jealous that they had the wind behind them.

Conditions today were dry and firm, even where it may normally be very boggy. We spent several hours tramping across what I pictured as an Arctic tundra landscape (pictured above - with Markus demonstrating his superior fitness), with stunted frozen heather scraping a living off a bed of shale.

A short cut meant that we just got a view of Loch Monaidh rather than camping next to it as planned. It looked boggy from a distance; perhaps we chose wisely last night.

Then a long battle with the keen north wind took us over various summits to the west of Drumochter before leading us down towards the A9 and Dalwhinnie.

We lunched in calmer conditions on the lower slopes. My tinned fish blew away from the spork.

An easy river crossing led to Balsporran Cottages and the cycle track that runs beside the A9. We zoomed along here to reach a bus stop in time for the 15.59 to Newtonmore. We'd covered 19 km, with 760 metres ascent, in somewhat less than 7 hours.

Eagle View Guest House is very comfortable, and the Glen Hotel next door has provided succour by way of food and beer. Our food parcels/mountains are intact and our batteries are re-charging (or will be when I've finished this).

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Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Tuesday 20 April 2010 - Markus's Caledonian Trail - Day 7 - Glen Sassunn to Allt Feith Gharuiareagan

After settling down at 9.30 pm, I slept well again, and was woken only by a shot blasting machine and a full bladder at 2.30am. Thank goodness for the en-suite. The shot blasting had kept Markus awake until 2.30, but he seemed quite chirpy today and even composed a blog posting for me whilst we brewed up in Duinish Bothy.

Markus's tent fabric is 'flappier' than the thick single skin of goretex that I prefer despite the extra weight, so it was probably quite noisy in there. Tonight we both have the crashing of Petter Falls, where Allt Feith Gharuiareagan pours into the outflow from Loch Monaidh, to lull us to sleep (or in Markus's case, keep him awake).

After a lie in until 7.30, the dynamic duo had packed up and were off down the hill by 9 o' clock. It was a good track on a cold morning with fine views.

After passing a lovely lawn full of daffodils at Innerhadden, we fancied stopping for a coffee at Kinloch Rannoch. Then, after Markus had raided the local store, he remembered that the hotel was not 'backpacker friendly'. 'Under New Management' proclaimed a large sign outside the Dunalastair Hotel. We entered; the interior was even more opulent than the exterior. "Sloman country" muttered Markus, and asked for breakfast.

All except Markus agreed that 10.30 was a little late for breakfast.

"Will a piece of toast, with perhaps a bit of bacon be ok", asked the waitress.

A few minutes later, after they had killed the pig, its meaty bits arrived, sandwiched between the best part of a loaf of bread. We didn't need to eat again until we reached camp. My food mountain of uneaten supplies is growing steadily.

"So the new owners don't mind grubby backpackers?" I tested the waitress. "Not at all" responded the waitress "I AM the new owner!"

It turns out that TGO Challengers will be most welcome here in May, either calling in for refreshments, or staying in one of their 28 rooms. It is a posh hotel, though, and is priced accordingly - B+B from £120, B+B+Dinner from £180. I didn't ask about camping.

After an hour or so in the hotel lounge's comfy armchairs earwiging the witterings of a conference breakout group (oh, the memories!) we felt obliged to continue.

Waves were breaking on the eastern shore of Loch Rannoch, but the strong, icy wind was forecast to subside, and the tops were clear, so there seemed no good reason to adopt a Foul Weather Alternative.

We headed on up the elderly Land Rover Track that leads to Loch Garry and the A9, pausing frequently to admire the views in the crisp light. The prominent prow of Schiehallion was a highlight.

Soon after 1pm the angry roar of two RAF jets appeared to declare UK airspace open for business after a five day shut down (I never did get a photo of the 'All Scottish Airports Closed - Volcanic Ash' sign on the M74 gantrys), though we still haven't seen any commercial planes and the red sunset did indicate high level air pollution...

Loch Garry came into view (pictured), as did a plethora of wildlife - mountain hares, a huge herd of deer, wheatears, chaffinches, golden plover, black grouse, and many more.

Duinish bothy provided a brief respite from the icy headwind, before we left the main track and headed up towards Loch Monaidh along a boggy, haggy rudimentary LRT beside Allt Shallainn.

It was hard going.

Imagine our delight when we turned into the valley that houses the outflow from Loch Monaidh to find a Rivendell. The river trundles down a wide canyon, with flat grassy banks on either side where the water hasn't dredged its way into the mountainside. It was cold, with sleety showers, so we halted here, opposite the waterfall named after my companion, in this secret wonderland (for backpackers, anyway) rather than continue to our planned destination. We can easily pick up the time tomorrow.

The sun came out and we have enjoyed a most pleasant evening here at about 580 metres, after a day of 24 km and 580 metres of ascent, taking 8 hours including two long stops..

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Duinish Bothy and The Ghost of Mike Knipe

Safely reached here at 3pm on 20 April.

We were shocked to find the lifeless form of a Pie Man already in situ.

For once in his life, the Pie Man did not appear to be yearning for Kylie!

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Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Monday 19 April 2010 - Markus's Caledonian Trail - Day 6 - Aberfeldy to Glen Sassunn

We are now (7.30pm) camped at about 550 metres at NN 652 540, as planned. We are on schedule. It's snowing. We can hear no aircraft.

We awoke this morning to snow at 200 metres and the generous offer of coffee from our 'Trail Daddy'. Markus had slept better than previously whilst I had impersonated a log.

The rain had ceased by the time we set off at 8.30 on a 10 km road walk to Keltneyburn. We missed a trick here. Or should that read 'track'? There's a new riverside path from Aberfeldy's fine Tay Bridge to Kenmore, which you can exit near Keltneyburn. We should have taken it.

Anyway, after finally leaving the road we enjoyed a brew then set off up easy slopes. Tracks took us up to 500 metres or so, after which it was a yomp over snow covered heather.

After lunch in a sheltered spot with views of Schiehallion between cool showers, we laboured on up to Meall Liath and Carn Mairg, at 1042 metres our high point of the day. Two people seen from afar had gone by the time we arrived via a steep bank of snow. We saw no other hillwalkers today.

Time was getting on, so we strolled along the ridge for a while with a keen NW wind in our faces and soft snow into which we both plunged from time to time.

There were both deer and mountain hares high on the hill, so perhaps spring isn't so far away?

By the time we'd descended from Meall a' Bharr, Markus's left leg - injured on a steep descent in Glen Almond - was troubling him, so he took a short cut down to Glen Sassunn in increasingly gloomy weather. Meanwhile, I plodded up the final hill of the day, Meal Garbh (968 metres), catching some final rays of sun that somehow managed to negotiate their way through the leaden clouds, before descending carefully past agitated Golden Plovers into the glen to join Markus here (pictured) just as he had finished assembling the rather flimsy looking Terra Nova Laser Competition tent that he'd bought a few days earlier in Blackford. It's very light - part of the reason that he's carrying 13kg compared to my 16kg. I have too much food.

Today's 28km and 1365 metres ascent (just a bit less for Markus) took 10.25 hours (half an hour less for M) - over an hour quicker than my estimate.

Snow continues to blast the tent as I try to arrange things in the dark to secure maximum insulation and comfort for the back I ricked packing up this morning.

And so, it's goodnight from Markus and me in Glen Sassunn.

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Sunday, 18 April 2010

Another Trip

Hotfoot from Martin's final Corbett, I paused this morning to admire the view from Sligachan (above), before cruising over to Fort Augustus, the planned terminus of my next trip, in bright sunny weather. It really is a pleasure to be in Scotland at this time of year. The gorse is in full bloom, the skies are bright (albeit sometimes with rainbows), and the birds are singing, circling or swooping, according to preference.

Leaving the car at the campsite I gathered a few meagre possessions and ambled over to the main road, where chance had it that I came upon a Proud Scotsman.

"Would you like a lift to Aberfeldy?"

"Yes please, kind sir."

So that's where I am. By coincidence, The Mad Austrian, Markus Petter, arrived shortly afterwards. He has spotted a restaurant.

We will trail in his wake...

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Saturday 17 April 2010 - Martin Scoular's Final Corbett - Garbh-bheinn


"Crazy" muttered Jon M, who with 1118 Relative Summits (Marilyns) to his name knows about these things.
"I agree" added Peter, who with 1152 summits to his name should know even better.
"I remember when you led a party of 20 novices over Aonach Eagach" countered Martin, fresh from today's traverse of Garbh-bheinn, a Grade 1 scramble, with an assortment of novices and more experienced folk.
"I don't" concluded Peter, after conceding that Martin may have been recalling an event from over 20 years earlier. Peter is now rather elderly, forgetful, and safety conscious.

There was just enough room on the summit to create the traditional tunnel of walking poles for Martin to celebrate his coming of Corbett'age (pictured). Not the best picture, I agree, but the conditions were less than perfect.

Over 20 folk had converged on the summit at around 2pm, after getting there by a variety of different routes and speeds. I had followed Martin; not necessarily a good idea as anyone who had followed him to his final Munro would know. So, in keeping with that historic event, the eight of us who were designated as the 'A' Team, duly arrived at the foot of the Wrong Hill soon after 10am.

The Wrong Hill turned out, unlike previously, to be a deliberate ploy to 'warm up' on the grassy slopes of Glas Bheinn Mhor (570 metres), which we summited at 11.30, in fine weather and without incident.

It was now obvious that a further obstacle lay between our group of eight and Martin's objective. It was called Belig, a 700 metre pimple with a steep looking belly.

"We'll go up the right hand ridge" declared Martin, and promptly headed off up the steep left hand ridge, which admittedly did look easier from closer quarters.

"I've never been here before" he explained, tetchily, to the doubting onlookers.

Anyway, it wasn't too difficult, and the now disparate group arrived on the summit over quite a long period some time before 1pm. By now we were a little damp as rain forecast to start at 12noon had indeed behaved as if some sort of heavenly alarm had turned on a tap at exactly that time. The rain was due to last for an hour, so Martin had planned his timings accordingly, to reach the summit of his final Corbett, now hidden under a soggy blanket above a steep black precipice, on a lovely sunny spring day.

Sadly, him up there forgot to turn the tap off, as can be seen from the picture. But we did make it up the north east ridge of Garbh-bheinn, only a little late, to join others who had been there for nearly an hour, and wait for stragglers from the 'C' team, whose 'novices' all made it up, with only a couple of more sensible people having turned around at an exposed point only about 50 metres from the 806 metre summit. We knew that the 'B' team of Alison and Peter had already retreated, having satisfied themselves with the summit of Belig, so summit celebrations were held, then resumed, with alcohol now available, lower down the hill above Coire na Seilg.

Well over 20 folk had made the summit. Very commendable as it was not that easy on the ridge. A fine hill, and in my opinion Martin, a great choice.

There had been a further team, 'Jerry's', that had set out to ascend Marsco as an alternative 'warm up', but they had finished up traversing that hill to avoid being late for the party. This was good news for me as Jerry still fancied going up Marsco, which is a lovely hill with fine views. It's the shapely hill you can see on the left as you look up Glen Sligachan from outside the hotel.

So, Jerry and I ambled up to the 736 metre summit, chatted to some friendly locals, and then strolled back down to reach the fleshpots of the bunkhouse before 7pm.

Though the rain had thickened towards the end of the day, it had been a fine trip into the Cuillins, with views (of sorts) from all four summits.

The evening was a culinary delight, not to say somewhat alcoholic. Later on, Steve appeared to die, with only Margriet able to revive him - by whispering in his ear "wouldn't you be more comfortable in bed"! before leading him away. The tenor of the evening then subsided into murky tales from the XXL Club archives (I had wondered how it got that name), mostly from Angus, on the subject of 'pants'.

Time for bed!

[Later] A slide show for the weekend is available here.