Mike took our FWA and omitted The Fara.
See http://www.topwalks.com/tgoc2011.html Day 7 for map
Distance: 25km (Cum 155) [Mike 23 - Cum 145]
Ascent: 840 metres (Cum 6355) [Mike 320 - Cum 4915]
Time taken: 9.2hrs including 2hrs stops [Mike 7.7hrs incl 1.2hrs stops]
Weather: showery morning, fine afternoon with occasional rain in the air, showery evening, breezy
Challengers encountered: we walked with Peter and Barbara beside Loch Pattack, and I walked with Stefan from Dalwhinnie to camp. Mike also saw Pete and Dave, and bumped into Bob and Rose, who appeared to be running behind schedule, at Dalwhinnie
Others encountered: several Estate workers
Flora and Fauna: a wildcat
Best bit: pretty obvious given the 'flora and fauna'
Worst bit: annoying morning showers
I've been coming to Scotland for many years and never expected to see a wildcat, but today, just after I left Mike to go up The Fara, I was enjoying a staring match with some red deer when a large stripey tabby cat with a long white-tipped tail ran across the steep grass separating one bit of woodland from another just above Ben Alder Lodge. Magic. The whole trip is worth it just for those five or ten seconds.
The night at Culra was the most comfortable I have spent in a bothy. It was clean and spacious for the five in our room, with raised sleeping platforms and plenty of space. It was also very sociable despite one of the earliest nights on record (8pm approx!). The other four Challengers occupied the main room, whilst four mountain bikers turned up and slept in a third room.
Every time I woke, rain seemed to be hammering at the windows and mice seemed to be chewing a supply of crisp packets, but by morning Stefan had taken charge of his rubbish bag and the skies seemed to have exhausted their supply of moisture.
They hadn't. Shortly after setting off. the first shower hit, and after a number of on/offs of waterproofs we eventually gave up and kept them on.
Meanwhile, the flooded track by the shore of Loch Pattack provided more problems. Barbara was the most sensible, donning her Crocs for the shore path whilst the rest of us plunged in and out of huge peat hags. We disturbed a mallard and its scurrying youngster, whilst a large lone goose sat questioningly on a high hag.
Then came the magic of my wildcat experience, before a leisurely slog over beds of creeping azalea to the end of The Fara's 6km ridge. Once up there it was fairly easy going despite an occasionally violent side wind, which was more than made up for by the huge views. Snow had fallen on many summits last night and was particularly prominent on Creag Meagaidh.
Reaching the summit at precisely 1pm, I soon found a sheltered spot in which to enjoy lunch, which was back to tea, mackerel and GORP after the excitement of Heather's sandwiches yesterday.
After the steep but easy descent to Loch Ericht a strange thing happened. Not only did the waterproofs come off, but so did my fleece. Hey, I've been walking in a t-shirt today!
I soon arrived at the petrol station, to find Stefan grinning over a fresh pastie. Apparently he only had supplies for a week and has been happy to stock up here, where Kevin has been very helpful in storing parcels and generally being kind to Challengers. Thank you Kevin.
An Estate man who knows about wildcats came in and confirmed that was indeed what I had seen. "You have been very lucky" he observed, as did Avril at TGO Control when I phoned in - she seemed nearly as thrilled as I was.
The hour and twenty minute walk up to our camping spot, where Mike had arrived much earlier at 3.30, passed quickly in the company of Stefan despite the extra weight of four days food. Stefan is from Essen in Germany and edits the video for a daily TV magazine programme along the same lines as our 'Look North'.
After dinner the Phreerunner tent hosted a small party during which serious inroads were made into a golden coloured liquid that Stefan had picked up during the course of his visit earlier to the Dalwhinnie distillery. So that explains why he is behind Peter, Barbara, Pete and Dave - who have headed on towards Gaick - and also his wide grin when I saw him at the petrol station.
That's all for now, we have a long day tomorrow, and above the patter of rain on the tent and the calls of the numerous resident red grouse, I can hear snoring - the tents are rather close as you can see from the picture, with Mike admiring his Power Lizard and Stefan his Soulo.
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