Martin in Gatineau Park

Martin in Gatineau Park

Friday, 20 May 2011

Carn Dearg Mòr (CDM)

Here's Mike on the summit of CDM this afternoon.

Jamie, you are correct. There was a storm this morning that dumped snow above 500 metres. I went over Meall Chuaich in it. That snow has now virtually gone, but the wind has strengthened.

Given the dodgy forecast and the strong wind, although the Cairngorm plateau looks enticing from CDM, with very little snow, it could be quite unpleasant. So we will take our Glen Feshie foul weather route tomorrow. This probably puts us away from a phone signal for up to three days, so sorry about that - I'll do my best...

Peter and Barbara are from the Burnley area btw, Alan.

Bye for now
.
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Thursday 19 May 2011 - TGO Challenge Day 7 - Culra Bothy to By Loch Cuaich (NN 690 872 - 400 metres)

Route: almost as planned, subject to 3km that we did yesterday to Culra Bothy - plus we took the track past Loch Pattack rather than the path by Allt a Chaoil-rèidhe.
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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Thursday, 19 May 2011

Wednesday 18 May 2011 - TGO Challenge Day 6 - Bridge of Gaur Guest House (NN 501 471) to Culra Bothy (NN 523 761)

Route: Foul Weather Alternative, exactly as planned, subject to an extra 3km to Culra Bothy - ie via Benalder Cottage instead of an 8km ridge walk.
See http://www.topwalks.com/tgoc2011.html Day 6 for map of planned route - we took an easier option. Again! Again!!

Distance: 27km (Cum 130) [Mike 27 - Cum 122]
Ascent: 840 metres (Cum 5515) [Mike 840 - Cum 4595]
Time taken: 8.2hrs including 1.4hrs stops
Weather: wet morning, wet windy and squally afternoon, wet evening
Challengers encountered: Stefan Latzel, Bob Tucker, Pete Lee, Dave Handley, Markus and Silke Petter, Barbara Saunders and Peter Kenyon
Others not encountered: Mike Knipe, the Pie Man, was apparently nearby operating a microcafè from a small blue tent with (allegedly) holes in it, but we didn't see him
Flora and Fauna: lots of small white flowers (pictured)
Best bit: meeting up with Markus and Silke
Worst bit: the weather

Mike and I 'don't do bothies'. Nor do Markus and Silke, nor do various others who passed by this place this afternoon in atrocious weather with no sheltered camping spots. So here we are, holed up in Culra bothy with the rain still lashing down outside. Mike and I have quite a smart room that we are sharing with Markus, Silke and Stefan. We are having an early night. All those seen apart from Bob, who was heading south west from Benalder Cottage, are here in one room or another.

The day started well with an excellent breakfast on a fine morning. Unfortunately, about 50 metres after setting off, the rain came and waterproofs were deployed for the rest of the day.

After an hour or so we caught up with Stefan, who has carried his supplies for the whole trip from Oban, starting with 24 kilos. He's tough, and after Benalder Cottage he went over a Munro, Beinn Bheoil, taking the short route to Culra. But he should be calling TGO Control from Dalwhinnie tonight, so is presumably 'missing'.

Stefan reports that the wind on the Munro was worse than the wind he experienced at the North Cape, perhaps justifying my marginal decision to bale out of an 8km ridge walk. That wouldn't have been pleasant.

Bob Tucker had only seen two Challengers all trip before bumping into us. He showed me his route. I don't think he'll be seeing many more!

The path between Benalder Cottage and Culra is superb, but that between the end of Loch Ericht and the Cottage seems to be in the process of being made into a road and is ankle deep in a sandy slurry in places.

Pete and Dave were very jolly when we met them on their way down to Culra, with Dave on chefing duties and producing a tasty looking soup.

We could see a very shallow rainbow in the east for ages, but even when the sun was shining on the bothy it seemed to continue to rain.

Two bedraggled cyclists arrived with fresh food to cook, but the Challengers had long since consumed their dehydrated meals and were ready for a long sleep.

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Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Tuesday 17 May 2011 - TGO Challenge Day 5 - Meadow beside Allt Coire a' Bhuic to Bridge of Gaur Guest House

Route: Foul Weather Alternative, exactly as planned, subject to the ascent of Meall Chomraidh by me - ie down towards the railway line then along the old drove road through Rannoch Forest to Bridge of Gaur.
See http://www.topwalks.com/tgoc2011.html Day 5 for map of planned route - we took an easier option. Again!

Distance: 16km (Cum 103) [Mike 15 - Cum 95]
Ascent: 340 metres (Cum 4675) [Mike 135 - Cum 3755]
Time taken: 5.2hrs including 1.2hrs stops [Mike - 1.7hrs stops]
Weather: fine with sunny periods
Challengers encountered: at Bridge of Gaur Guest House - Lou and Phyllis La Borwit, the Fowkes quartet - Bernard, Margaret, Jackie and Emily, and camping outside (but eating in) - Dentally challenged [he says I got the 'D' wrong] Des Horan and sleeping expert Koos Schellevis
Others encountered: only Heather and Eddie at their splendid Guest House
Flora and Fauna: cuckoos are seen as well as heard, and a sparrowhawk catching its lunch, as well as lots of wild flowers on the ascent of Meall Chomraidh - butterwort, tormentil, wood anemone, dog violets, etc
Best bit: a brew stop in the sun on a windless day/the great hospitality here
Worst bit: can't think of one, other than the paucity of summits on a fine day

We slept early and woke late on a calm, rainless night. After a good lie in we eventually set off before 9.30 on a boggy quest to join the old drove road through Rannoch Forest. We saw four people behind us but they didn't catch us. It later transpired that they included the La Borwits, who are nearly 20 years older than us, so can be justified in being slower.

The route through the forest was scenically challenging, unless you like pine forests, but was pleasant enough on a good track.

Mid morning brew stops should feature highly on any Challenge, but today's (pictured) was only our second in five days. A record. It was a highlight of today's walk.

Readers may be aware of my predilection to higher ground. Mike is not so afflicted. So when we exited the forest, Mike was happy to linger over his lunch (and to be fair, I did lend him some bird-watching binoculars to occupy the time) whilst I strolled to the summit of Meall Chomraidh. The views to the east were excellent, with Loch Rannoch and Schiehallion dominant, whilst an ominous belt of low cloud and rain appeared to be racing in from the west. After a chat with Sue and the despatch of Sunday's posting (sorry, but this was the first phone signal since Bridge of Orchy), and loads of photos, I enjoyed a time trial against the rain and descended back to Mike in ten minutes.

Bridge of Gaur was only 45 minutes down the good track, and we were there by 2.45pm, which turned out to be several hours before the rain eventually arrived. Better to arrive dry than wet, though, albeit very early, as we were sure that Heather and Eddie would have been inundated with wet Challengers yesterday. (They were, Ron Reynolds, a man with just a few Challenges - 20+ - under his belt taking the prize for not having a single item of dry clothing.)

Perhaps I had time to pop up Leagag, but the day was better spent in the sociable company of the above-mentioned fellow guests and campers - there is no room at the inn for Des and Koos (who for the sake of pronunciation prefers to go by the name of Dick), who are camped on the lawn but eating here. The Fowkes quartet unfortunately failed to notice the guest house sign and carried out a misdirected tour of Bridge of Gaur before finally landing at this Shangri La.

We had a lovely evening with fine food and wine as well as the excellent company of our fellow guests and our hosts. I was flattered to learn that Phyllis occasionally tunes in to these ramblings. Hello Phyllis - I do sincerely hope that your adjusted route proved to be a success.

Thanks for your messages - Aussie Mike, the weather is certainly not up to its usual standard, with an obnoxious low pressure sitting stubbornly off the north of Scotland.

That's all for now. Normal service (ie rain, hills) may be resumed tomorrow, after these very easy two 'half days'.

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Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Monday 16 May 2011 - TGO Challenge Day 4 - Col at head of Coire an Dothaidh to Meadow beside Allt Coire a' Bhuic (NN 408 485 - 380 metres)

Route: Foul Weather Alternative, exactly as planned, subject to a convenient camping spot 500 metres earlier than planned - ie a walk down Gleann Cailliche, then north up Gleann Meran, continuing to near the railway line at the edge of Rannoch Forest.
See http://www.topwalks.com/tgoc2011.html Day 4 for map of planned route - we took an easier option.

Distance: 14km (Cum 87) [Mike 14 - Cum 80]
Ascent: 200 metres (Cum 4335) [Mike 200 - Cum 3620]
Time taken: 5.1hrs including 0.5hrs stops
Weather: incessant rain after a vile night
Challengers encountered: None
Others encountered: we saw one man preparing some ground for forestry in Gleann Meran
Flora and Fauna: lots of deer; dog violets and skylarks seem to like the rain
Best bit: relaxing in a warm, dry tent
Worst bit: having to wear waterproofs continuously for three successive days, with more to come

We both had bad nights. It was quite windy and very wet. My tent seemed to fill quickly with water, so I had to lie very straight on the Thermarest in order to stay vaguely dry. Mike suffered more - his new tent appears to have leaked, and his pegs kept leaping out of the ground during the night, resulting in Mike having to leap out of his tent to carry out maintenance work. The inconvenience to me of his noisy flappy tent keeping me awake was, in comparison, a minor irritation.

We got our usual pre 8 o'clock start, and having rejected thoughts of going up Beinn an Dothaidh in the driving rain, we dropped down to 650 metres and contoured across a slope to eventually reach the col at the head of Gleann Cailliche. It was slow going. Mike isn't good at slopes.

Eventually the steepness of the ground eased and we quickly reached a walled area in the middle of nowhere - Tigh nam Bodach - an antiquity that now seems to be a graveyard for sheep and, judging by the droppings, a place where they shelter in bad weather. They were all on the hill today; I suppose that makes us wimps. Pictured above - a wimp at Tigh nam Bodach.

The rest of the morning was spent admiring the view down Loch Lyon (in our imaginations) and strolling up to another col, (from where we could have continued our planned route, but Mike declined and I decided it was best to stay together today), then down to camp, with just a few peat hags to complicate matters in a minor sort of way.

We have a nice flat grassy pitch beside Allt Coire 'a Bhuic, which should be easily crossed tomorrow despite the rain, which continues to patter on the tent as I write. No leaks are evident today, and the only legacies of last night's torrential driving rain are a few wet bags and a damp sleeping bag.

Unsurprisingly, my old Scarpa boots have started to seep a little, but thanks to Sealskinz socks my feet have remained warm and dry. My Sealskinz gloves are sodden and will take time to dry (Mike's have the same problem), otherwise our waterproofs have worked perfectly apart from a leak through the zip of Mike's jacket.

Lunch was again taken indoors - tea and tinned fish in the Phreerunner, which has a bit more headroom than Mike's Vaude Power Lizard.

Camp routine:
Usually arrive between 5 and 7pm
Tent up
Brew up
Soup
Pasta and sauce with added John West seared tuna fillets
Angel Delight (butterscotch is best)
Hot chocolate
Asleep by 10pm
6.30 alarm
Tea and muesli
Leave by 8am
But some days, like today, you get extra time, which is very nice, especially if it's not raining.
Today it's raining...

Later, much later, the rain has stopped - for a while!

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Sunday 15 May 2011 - TGO Challenge Day 3 - Meall nan Uan to Col at head of Coire an Dothaidh (NN 328 398 - 705 metres)

Route: exactly as planned, subject to dropping down a few metres to a sheltered spot (famous last words) to camp.
See http://www.topwalks.com/tgoc2011.html Day 3 for map

Distance: 21km (Cum 73) [Mike 21 - Cum 66]
Ascent: 1100 metres (Cum 4135) [Mike 1100 - Cum 3420]
Time taken: 9.8hrs including 2.7hrs stops
Weather: drizzly rain all morning with a brief respite this afternoon before we entered a zone of cloud at around 500 metres.
Challengers encountered: after rejoining the 'trade route' on the track by Loch Dochart, we met first timers but experienced Munroists Frank Kelly and Jim Martin and walked with them to Lunch No 1 - at the Inveroran Hotel, from where we walked to Bridge of Orchy with Nik Lawcock, on her seventh Challenge for Lunch No 2.
Others encountered: lots of people on the West Highland Way, which appears to be a principal source of income for the above establishments. Some looked quite miserable. Mike tried to cheer them up by offering them packets of muesli that make feel sick.
Flora and Fauna: lousewort, creeping azalea, flitting meadow pipits (but Frank and Jim reckoned they'd seen two golden eagles.
Best bit: all three lunches.
Worst bit: looking at the weather forecast at Bridge of Orchy.

The only food we had for today was lunch. The planned big meal at Bridge of Orchy was scuppered by lunch at Inveroran, so we had another lunch at B of O before scooting up here to eat the goodies we'd been carrying since Oban, before picking up fresh supplies at B of O.

I'd like to say we are on an airy verandah. (Today's picture shows Mike making the finishing touches to his perfectly pitched tent on the verandah.) We are, I suspect, on an airy verandah if we were brave enough to look outside and could see through clouds. However, we are beside a gently burbling stream that will no doubt lull us to sleep.

Today's walk started with the long, rough plod up Beinn Suidhe. Nobody else was up there today; it was cloudy.

Back on the main track, Crocs were used to cross Allt Ghabhar - not really necessary if you crossed with care, I concluded. "I crossed with care" commented Nik later, adding that she got a wet foot.

That's all for now. Normally I would scoot back up to the col and look for a signal to send this tonight, but it's dry and warm in here and just a little inclement out there!

Thanks for the messages btw; we are sorry to hear that it has been raining in Manchester...

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Sunday, 15 May 2011

Saturday 14 May 2011 - TGO Challenge Day 2 - Creag an Fhithich to below Meall nan Uan (NN 190 365 - 504 metres)

Route: virtually as planned, with Mike omitting Meall Garbh.
See http://www.topwalks.com/tgoc2011.html Day 2 for map

Distance: 19km (Cum 52) [Mike 15 - Cum 45]
Ascent: 1815 metres (Cum 3035) [Mike 1395 - Cum 2320]
Time taken: 10.4hrs including 2hrs stops [Mike 7.8hrs, 1.3hrs stops]
Weather: Cool, with a few blustery showers. Cloud base around 800 to 900 metres but occasionally higher. The sort of day when you keep your waterproofs on all day.
Challengers encountered: None
Others encountered: None
[That was easy!]
Flora and Fauna: last night's camp was on a bed of Milkwort, which is probably today's most seen flower. Herds of deer roam this area, and startled ground nesting birds scurry away from under your feet.
Best bit: good views and dry feet.
Worst bit: setting off from Beinn Eunaich in the wrong direction!
Strangest bit: doing a restaurant review on the top of a Munro.

Another relatively easy day in fine (ish) weather, with an enjoyable sting in the tail - Meall Garbh - for me. A long haul up to the first Munro, but we were rewarded with occasional views from the ridge.

This after the restaurant review of Light of India, apparently needed urgently for Stockport Walking Group!
"Average sort of curry house. Fine for a hungry group.
Others enjoyed the fish restaurant that did nice lobster etc" - that was enough, my hands were cooling down...

We could see that someone with small feet had walked ahead of us - probably Ali and Sue - and we wondered how they were doing on Ben Cruachan. Then we heard from Heather, who after bottling out of her 'high route' was regretting the decision as she was now sloshing up the north shore of Loch Etive.

Mike did fine today, managing to maintain the planned pace, though the cool weather meant fewer stops than usual as he chills easily. He kept muttering something like "M'i duggereb"; I'll have to consult someone intelligent like Alan Sloman or Mike Knipe for a translation and then take appropriate measures such as increasing the daily distance.

Today's picture was taken on the descent from Beinn Eunaich; Meall Garbh is prominent on the left.

We are camped on some ledges below the summit, facing east, in the shelter of any breeze, but this evening it's dead calm. Very quiet as the water is a few minutes away, but my pitch is pretty much perfect, Mike's is further up the hill.
Strange that after the buzz of excitement and expectation on the train, then yesterday's sociable string of ants, we should see absolutely nobody today!

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