I'd been allocated a shared room with Tim Wood, but as he failed to start the Challenge despite arriving at Mallaig, Alistair P was promoted to the room with a view at Newtonmore's premier bunkhouse. Alistair's post awaited his (rather late and tired) arrival - one of a series of letter/paintings from his three year old daughter. Very sweet.
There was no rush this morning as Alistair had a short day and I needed to wait for the 9.20 bus to Dalwhinnie. Breakfast at the transport café, where David Wishart was also taking advantage of some proper food, and chats with various folk soon whiled the time away, then I was joined on the bus by Markus and Philipp, like me returning to the serious business of the Challenge after enjoying tourism in Newtonmore. £8.20 for a ten mile bus ride - a bit steep!
Markus and Philipp decided to take the 'aqueduct' route to Gaick, whilst I took the more direct way over Carn na Caim. Both are good routes, but mine proved to be rather quicker.
Mountain hares featured strongly today. They could be seen silhouetted on the horizon, and were bobbing about with their white tails, vestiges of their winter coats, looking like bobble hats stuck to their bottoms.
The easy ascent was followed by a broad grassy ridge with occasional peat hags. Some of these were still under a layer of snow, at least one of which layers was just a thin crust above a deep hole. Luckily only one leg went through, so I was able to slither out of the uncomfortable predicament.
A huge herd of deer passed as I made my way over Meall Buidhe for lunch with fine views down to Gaick and the deep cleft leading to it, as well as to Loch an Duin. There was then a lovely zigzag path down to a welcome bridge over Allt Loch an Duin.
I thought a couple of folk on the valley path would catch up when I enjoyed a brew at the stand of pines that Sue and I camped by in 2009, but after the river crossing beyond Loch Bhrodainn they headed north towards the lodge. My Saucony Hattori shoes had come in handy for the river crossing.
The next section to my fine camping spot near the waterfalls at Bruach Gharbh Ghaig was a delight. It had been raining when Sue and I walked it, but in today's fine weather the narrow path above the waterfall laden gorge was a highlight of the trip.
On the way I passed a small grass covered bridge - 'Marco's Leap - cross at your own risk'. How quaint!
There were no obvious footprints so I assumed M and P were behind and would welcome a camp at the first good spot. This appeared almost 2 km before our planned camp, but the shortfall can be easily made up tomorrow.
I therefore stopped here before 5 pm. A Challenger claiming to be 'Mole' and his non-Challenger mate Ed soon arrived, the first people I'd met since leaving Dalwhinnie. We chatted before they moved on, eschewing the early halt.
At 6.15 the Austrians finally showed up, in a very jolly mood when they took in the excellence of the site. Their tents were soon up, pictured above beyond mine, and a typical evening in camp ensued. That involves everyone very much doing their own thing, cooking, washing, etc.
It's a lovely warm, calm evening up here at about 650 metres. No rain is expected so my tent will stay open tonight.