TGO Challenge 2015: Day 6

Glen Markie to Dulnain Bothy No 1

Distance: 23.5km
Ascent: 706m

Day 6click to enlarge

Overnight the wind calmed down and in the morning I was treated to a bit of sunshine. However, it soon clouded over for a dull start to the day. I spotted several Challengers picking their way along the path up Glen Markie before I’d packed and left.

DSC02340 DSC02345 DSC02349 DSC02355 DSC02359Glen Markie

Although the weather had clouded over, the walk up Glen Markie was lovely. In places it was a little slow going but not difficult. There were loads of good places to camp almost to the top of the glen. Near the top, I caught up with Dave and Graham.

DSC02363 DSC02366 DSC02369 DSC02370Glen Markie and headwaters of the River Eskin

At the head of Glen Markie there’s a small lochan. The wet ground is largely bypassed the path, although some care was required over some rough ground. On the other side of the watershed, the headwaters of the River Eskin had an entirely different character, reminding me of a Dartmoor mire. However, were soon on a track above a narrowing valley. There were a couple of good waterfalls on the opposite bank from side streams.

DSC02372 DSC02375 DSC02377 DSC02378River Eskin and waterfalls

About a kilometre before Dalbeg, we spotted a sheltered grassy bank and took the opportunity for some lunch. This was the first time in four days that I’d actually had a proper lunch stop. Even the sun came out! We didn’t dally too long and pushed on to Dalbeg, where a number of Challengers had stopped for lunch.

DSC02381 DSC02385 DSC02387 DSC02388Dalbeg, River Findhorn and Coignafearn Lodge

After a quick chat, Dave, Graham and I pushed on down the Findhorn. Just before Coignafearn Lodge, it was time for our paths to part. I was headed up the Ellrick Burn, while Dave and Graham were headed further down the Findhorn. Over the bridge and a little way up the track, I spotted Bob and Rose crossing over so I decided to wait for them. We walked together up the Ellrick and over to the Dulnain.

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Ellrick Burn and across to the Dulnain

Although we had a track part of the way up the Ellrick Burn, it was surprisingly tough going. However, at the top and over to the Dulnain it got even trickier with snow banks and peat hags to negotiate. It took a lot longer than I had anticipated, but you just have to be patient, take your time and enjoy the experience.

It was just after five o’clock when we reached the bothy. At the bothy were Paul and Wayne, whom I’d met briefly at the B&B in Ft Augustus. They had decided to stay the night at the bothy. I decided to do likewise, while Bob and Rose elected to push on and camp.

After lighting the fire, we had a convivial evening. It’s amazing how you become instant best friends on the Challenge. It seemed like we had been pals all our lives. We had a good laugh and the evening was one of the highlights of the Challenge for me. We even managed to dry our socks!

TGO Challenge 2015: Day 5

Ft Augustus to Glen Markie

Distance: 25.3km
Ascent: 1,048m

Day 5

click to enlarge

Maybe today’s weather would be better? Er, no. I looked out the window. Disappointingly it was raining and looked blowy. At least I had a good breakfast. After settling my bill, I walked to the camp site where I met up with fellow nutters Challengers, Andy, Carl, Lyndsey and Gordon. While the others were going to the Chalybeate Spring, our routes coincided for most of the way until I turned off to Stronelairg.

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Road out of Ft Augustus and Glen Doe track

After two days of walking mainly on my own, it was good to have some company, especially when the weather was so miserable. Although the rain wasn’t as persistent as the previous two days, the wind was bitterly cold. Conversation kept our minds off the weather. Although the construction road is a bit of an eyesore, it did have the merit of making progress relativley quick and easy. A couple of kilometres up the track we all piled into a hut as a heavy shower hit us.

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Glen Doe reservoir track

As we climbed higher, drifts of snow covered parts of the track. In places a corridor had been driven through the snow. Eventually we reached the reservoir. The wind was still biting and we only stopped for a few minutes for a quick bite of lunch. At least, by this time, the rain had abated.

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Glen Doe reservoir and track beyond

At one of the sluice gates, I left the others to make my way to Stronelairg. Amazingly, within a couple of minutes, I met with Dave and Graham, who I’d met in the Lock Inn at Ft Augustus the previous evening. They were going the same way as me. Although there was a path marked on the map going down the Allt na Craigdhleig, it was quite elusive and we indulged in a bit of bog hopping. Further down the river opened out into an impressive wide gorge.

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Allt na Craigdhleig and Allt Odhar

Eventually we reached a track, by which time the weather had started to brighten, although it was still very windy. After the rough stuff, a good track was very welcome. It was not long before Stronelairg Lodge came into view, looking like a prop for a horror movie.

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Allt Odhar and Stronelairg Lodge

Some Challengers were pitching tents, some behind the shelter of the trees, some down by the river. Bob and Rose swung by for a chat. Dave and Graham decided to camp here, but I wanted to push on a bit further to Glen Markie, partly for some extra mileage and partly in the hope of a more sheltered pitch. Bob and Rose had a the same idea, so we all set off up the glen. Although the wind hardly abated, there were some decent places to pitch. Bob and Rose decided to pitch a bit further downstream, while I chose a spot not far from some ruins.

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Glen Markie

The high winds made me glad I’d chosen the Scarp for my shelter. It was absolutely rock solid despite the howling wind. At least the day was ending in sunshine. I was looking forward to the next day walking up Glen Markie and over to the Dulnain.

TGO Challenge 2015: Day 4

Cul Dubh to Ft Augustus

Distance: 26.9km
Ascent: 499m

Day 4click to enlarge

DSC02334 DSC02335Cul Dubh

As I was having breakfast, the overnight rain started to clear, giving the promise of a better day. I was able to pack with no rain, although the tent was still wet.  However, as I set off, the clouds gathered again and it started to spot with rain. Away from the shelter of my camping spot, the wind reasserted itself.

IMG_1284 IMG_1285 IMG_1286 IMG_1288 IMG_1289 IMG_1292Track to Tomchrasky

The track contoured around the hill side, following a large water pipe for some of the way. There were a couple of spots by the track where you could camp, but they were very exposed to the wind. I was glad that I had stopped at Cul Dubh the previous night. I had to cross a couple of fords, one of which was deep enough for me to use my waders (which I had decided to bring after all).

IMG_1293 IMG_1294 IMG_1295 IMG_1296Tomchrasky to Torgyle Bridge

On reaching the farm at Tomchrasky, the rain commenced in earnest. I now faced a road walk to Torgyle Bridge before a forest walk up and over the ridge to Ft Augustus. The good news was that it was more sheltered on the road, so I could use my umbrella. This turned a dismal walk into a more bearable one.

Along the road I encountered a herd of cows with calves grazing. I approached slowly but they decided to stampede for a field with an open gate, leaving one poor little fellow behind. The walk was pretty boring, only notable for large number of properties with For Sale signs.

IMG_1297 IMG_1298 IMG_1328 IMG_1330Torgyle Bridge and track to Ft Augustus

At Torgyle Bridge, I crossed the river and headed into the forest. Although it was still raining and forest walking is a bit boring, at least I was sheltered and could still use my umbrella. Occasionally, the forest would open up for some views, although they were curtailed by curtains of cloud.

IMG_1332 IMG_1333 IMG_1335 IMG_1336Old Military Road to Ft Augustus

Instead of taking the construction road, I followed the old military road. Because of all the rain, the streams crossing the road were swollen, making detours necessary to cross them. Just as I was beginning to despair of the weather, as I reached the top, the rain stopped and the weather brightened. In the distance I spotted two figures in ponchos.

IMG_1344 IMG_1346 IMG_1347 IMG_1349Old Military Road to Ft Augustus and ford

I caught up with fellow Challengers, Richard and Rosemary, at the ford. They were assessing whether it was passable or not. It didn’t look promising so we decided to explore upstream. Poor Rosemary had blisters. The ground was very rough upstream and nowhere was fordable. Eventually we reached an impassable ravine and deer fence. We gave up and headed downstream, figuring there must be a bridge for the construction traffic somewhere. Indeed there was, only a few hundred yards away. If only we had known!

IMG_1350 IMG_1361 IMG_1363 IMG_1366Track down to Fort Augustus

Richard urged me to push on as Rosemary’s blisters were making them go slowly. The construction track made for fast walking, although the surrounding devastation wasn’t very attractive. Soon the military road peeled away to a very pleasant path descending into Ft William. Increasing bursts of sunshine made the surroundings more cheerful.

Just as I reached Ft Augustus, it started to rain again. I was delighted to find a well-stocked Londis with a Chemist and was able to do an extensive re-supply for the next few days. Next stop was my B&B, the Bank House. This turned out to be an excellent choice, with a nice room. Best of all they did some washing for me.

I met with soon-to-be legend Andy. He declined to go out to eat as he had to lighten his pack by eating one of his unused freeze-dried meals. I went down to the Lock Inn, where I met several Challengers (Lee, Tony, Dave, Graham, Fred, Bob and Rose) and had a very fine burger and chips!

Day four was never going to be and exciting day. It was a link between the West and the Monadhlith. My umbrella and staying at a B&B made it much more bearable than it might have been otherwise. Now I had the Monadhliath to look forward to. I just hoped the weather would improve.

 

TGO Challenge 2015: Day 3

Loch Affric to Cul Dubh

Distance: 20.2km
Ascent: 611m

Day 3click to enlarge

Dawn brought the gentle pitter-patter of rain on the flysheet. My reading of the clouds the previous evening had been correct: the weather was changing for the worse. However, it was only light rain and it almost stopped when I packed.

IMG_1223 IMG_1224 IMG_1225 IMG_1227Views around Loch Affric

All of today’s photos were taken on my iPhone, which was in a waterproof Lifeproof Fre case, hence the lower quality, for which I apologise. Indeed, it was so wet later in the day, that the touch screen ceased to function, so I couldn’t take as many photos as I wanted.

Mick was going to Cougie, while I was heading for the Allt Garbh. However, our paths coincided for the first part of the day’s walk. As we walked along the shore of Loch Affric, the rain stopped and we had a pleasant stroll, chatting away.

IMG_1229 IMG_1231 IMG_1232 IMG_1233Views from path along Loch Affric

We reached the Allt Garbh and Cougie path and turned south. In places it was decidedly boggy, but the surroundings were pleasant. As we climbed higher, the rain started in earnest. By the time we reached the turn off to Cougie, there was a strong wind and driving rain. Mick turned off to Cougie and I continued up the track following the Allt Garbh.

IMG_1235 IMG_1236 IMG_1238 IMG_1239 IMG_1243Path to Cougie along Allt Garbh

Although the weather was increasingly grim, the conditions underfoot were made easy by the well maintained track. To my relief there was a substantial bridge over the Allt Garbh. I was hoping that the shooting hut shown on the map might be open to provide some shelter. However, it was locked and I wasn’t even able to shelter behind it from the wind.

IMG_1245 IMG_1246Allt Garbh

Beyond the shooting hut, the floor of the Allt Garbh opens out into a lochan fed by a sinuous stream and a boggy morass. I continued westwards along the 450m contour, following a faint track some of the way. The wind was driving the rain into my face and things were starting to turn unpleasant! I looked for a crossing point but the boggy floor of the glen meant I had to go further west than I wanted. In the end I found a decent place to cross.

IMG_1249 IMG_1250Allt Garbh

The next task was to climb up to the Bealach an Amais and into Glen Fada. There was no track. It was steep and tussocky with extensive snow patches near the top. As I climbed, the wind became ferocious with driving rain which felt like ball bearings firing at my face. Fortunately, my back was facing the wind most of the time. At the top I was almost blown over a couple of times. My decision to take my FWA rather than go high seemed a wise one. The good news at the top was that I found a LRT going down Gleann Fada, which made the walk down considerably easier.

IMG_1255 IMG_1256 IMG_1260 IMG_1264Gleann Fada

As I descended into the glen, the wind and rain lessened. The scenery was bleak but in its own way, beautiful. The LRT was not marked on my map, so I had no idea where it led. Further down, the rain stopped for a while, although the wind was still ferocious in places. Eventually, the LRT led to a ford where the foaming river looked tricky to cross. Instead I decided to head for a bridge marked on the map lower down. I picked up a stalkers path which led me to the bridge.

IMG_1265 IMG_1269 IMG_1270Gleann Fada

With some relief, I crossed the bridge and regained the track winding its way down Glen Doe. My intended stopping point was Cul Dubh. However, I was on the look out for other places if they presented themselves. Frustratingly, there were quite a few good spots on the other side of the river, but none on my side. The rain started again and I resigned myself to the trudge down to the dam marked on the map.

IMG_1272 IMG_1275 IMG_1277 IMG_1279River Doe

I reached Cul Dubh just before 4 o’clock. There was a decision to be made: should I camp here or go on, as it was still early? I decided not to pass up the opportunity of a certain good spot for the uncertain prospect of a pitch further on. IMG_1280Cul Dubh

I was extremely glad I did stop a bit early as about an hour later, it absolutely hammered down with rain. Not only that, but, as I found the next day, there weren’t any decent camping spots for a long way.

While I wouldn’t have chosen the weather, it was a good experience, especially as my Paramo Velez didn’t wet out at all. Considering the conditions, I stayed reasonably comfortable. I knew that the next night I would be staying in a B&B in Ft Augustus, making any privations more bearable.

TGO Challenge 2015: Day 2

Falls of Glomach to Loch Affric

Distance: 17.8km
Ascent: 269m

Day 2Click to enlarge

The weather forecast for Saturday was for good weather and we weren’t disappointed. The main decision for me was whether to stick with my intended route over the north Affric ridge or take my FWA along Gleann Gaorsaic. There was still quite a lot of snow up high. It seemed a bit of a risk to attempt the ridge without an ice axe or crampons, so I decided to take the low road.

DSC02292 DSC02293Allt a Ghlomaich

The morning sunshine dried off our tents. Before leaving our pitch I wandered a hundred metres downstream to take a photo of a waterfall. We followed the Allt Coire lochain for about 500m then struck south down Gleann Gaorsaic.

DSC02294Allt Coire-lochain

Gleann Gaorsaic has a bad reputation as a boggy hell. However, on a sunny day, it was no worse (or more boggy) than many other glens. Following the 400m contour and occasional faint tracks seemed to avoid the worst of the bogs. The glen itself is a picture of bleakness with the view to the south dominated by a snowy Beinn Fhada.

DSC02298 DSC02301 DSC02302 DSC02303 DSC02304Gleann Gaorsaic

Just before we turned into Gleann Gniomhaidh, we stopped for something to eat. We lazed for a bit in the sunshine. Later in the evening, I found a tick on my arm, which I guess I picked up here. After lunch, it was a wonderful walk down the glen and into Glen Affric.         DSC02305DSC02307DSC02309DSC02310DSC02311DSC02312DSC02313DSC02315DSC02316Gleann Gniomhaidh and Glen Affric

When we reached Alltbeithe Youth Hostel, we decided to pop in for a cup of tea. Thank you to Hannah (?) the warden for your hospitality. In the kitchen, we met Rev. Dave and Croydon, together with a group of four other Challengers (whose names I’ve forgotten!).

DSC02317 IMG_1219Alltbeithe Youth Hostel

Leaving Alltbeithe, Croydon decided to join Emma and me to walk down Glen Affric. Again, it was a super walk down the glen in glorious sunshine.

DSC02320 DSC02321 DSC02323 DSC02326 DSC02327 DSC02330Glen Affric

We passed some other Challengers who were camping at Athnamulloch, but we pushed on to Loch Affric. At the western end of Loch Affric there is a good expanse of fairly flat ground to camp on. Croydon and I decided to stop there, but Emma pushed on as she had a big day on the next day.

DSC02331 DSC02332 DSC02333West end of Loch Affric

It was a fabulous place to camp and even had a private beach! All in all, it had been a great day with wonderful scenery and weather. However, the evening sky gave a clue that the weather might change on the next day and how it did!

TGO Challenge 2015: Day 1

Dornie to Falls of Glomach

Distance: 17.3 km
Ascent: 740m

Day 1

click to enlarge

DSC02209The motley crew

After a good breakfast at the Dornie Hotel, our motley crew of Challengers gathered outside for a group photo. It was a beautiful day with barely a cloud in the sky and no breeze. This gave an opportunity for some lovely photos of Loch Long.

DSC02213 DSC02213aaLoch Long

After a short walk along the shore of Loch Long, our cavalcade turned east to walk up the River Glennan. Some people have been quite disparaging about the Glennan, but in good weather, I thought it was a lovely walk. After a stretch of mildly boggy ground in the lower reaches, there were attractive stands of dwarf birch, giving it a slightly Scandinavian feel. Higher up, the path wound through heather and boulders to reach an incongruous patch of grass near the bealach.

DSC02219DSC02226DSC02230DSC02231DSC02237River Glennan

Inevitably our group spread out as we climbed up the valley. Martin and Sue forged ahead. Emma and I followed some distance behind. Once over the bealach, we descended on an indistinct path above Camas-lunie. Part way down we met with Martin and Sue having a brew. As we were under no time pressure, Emma and I joined them for a spot of refreshment.

DSC02238 DSC02240Glen Elchaig

Not long after, Jeremy and Greg caught up with us, but they decided to continue down to Glen Elchaig. At a distance, Jeremy amused us with a totally unnecessary climb over a deer fence, ignoring a gate only 50 metres away. All good things come to an end and we had to make a move. The farm track along Glen Elchaig was unpleasantly muddy. When we reached the bridge crossing the river, we spied John and Norma sunning themselves on pleasant grassy bank. It seemed rude not to join them!

DSC02244R&R in Glen Elchaig

A few minutes later, Ian joined us for a bit of R&R. However, time was getting on and we had to get to the Falls of Glomach. We spent a pleasant hour or so walking with John, Norma and Ian before we had to turn south to the Falls.

DSC02247 DSC02249 DSC02252DSC02257Glen Elchaig

Emma and I said our goodbyes to the others, and crossed the bridge for the path to the Falls of Glomach. The path up the ravine has a bit of a reputation for being tricky. However, in good weather, it held no terrors. While there is an element of exposure and some minor scrambles, the path is well-defined and easy. The ravine and the Falls themselves were one of the highlights of the trip and I highly recommend visiting them if you can.

DSC02264 DSC02267 DSC02271 DSC02272 DSC02277 DSC02278 DSC02279 DSC02280Falls of Glomach

At the top we followed the Allt a Ghlomaich for a while. I was a bit concerned that we might not find a suitable place to camp. However, just before a stream confluence we saw a reasonable spot. We had to go further upstream before we found a place to cross.

DSC02283 DSC02284 DSC02285 DSC02287Allt a Ghlomaich

We found a good patch of dry ground suitable for two tents. It was a wonderful place to camp. The icing on the cake was the setting sun set the flank of Creag nan Clachan Geala aglow with a wonderful orange and red light.

DSC02289 DSC02290 DSC02291Creag nan Clachan Geala

A fitting end to a glorious start to the Challenge!

TGO Challenge 2015: Getting to the start

And so it begins! Finally all the planning and anticipation had come to an end and I was off to get the sleeper from Euston to Inverness. Alan Sloman had bagged a table at the Bree Louise near Euston station as a meeting point for the many Challengers heading north that evening. Many of the usual suspects were there.

IMG_1199Most of us were catching the early sleeper, so we left the pub before 9 o’clock. After dumping my pack in the sleeper cabin, I made my way to the dining lounge car, where Mr Sloman was ensconced. Jeremy was feigning interest in Alan’s conversational repartee.

IMG_1208Earlier there had been much merriment when it transpired that Jeremy had left his maps behind in the pub. He was only reunited with them by some quick thinking by another Challenger who ran down the platform and banged on the carriage window, waving Jeremy’s maps furiously.

IMG_1205Further amusement was supplied by Ray’s inability to locate his coffee cup with a milk sachet. None of us laughed (much). I retired to my berth at a relatively sensible hour. I can’t vouch for some of the others.

IMG_1209I can’t say I slept very well, but at least I had a reasonable breakfast.

IMG_1210We arrived at Inverness on time. Ray, Andy and Jeremy posed for a quick photo, before it was off to the bus station to have second breakfast. Alan, Andy and Phil were off to Shiel Bridge via bus. At the bus station, we bumped into Laura before we all had a scoff in the cafe. Alan, Andy and Phil boarded the bus leaving Ray and I to have some more breakfast, before we went back to the station via Craigdon Mountain Sports, so I could get a gas canister.

There were quite a few Challengers taking the midday train to Kyle of Lochalsh. I sat with Emma, Ray and Skippy. Emma was starting at Dornie and our routes coincided for the first two days, so we had arranged to walk together. The journey whizzed by as we chatted. Various other Challengers popped by to say hello, including Sue Banfield with some chocolate caramel shortbread. Well, you’ve got to keep your strength up!

Ray and Skippy got off at Strathcarron, where they were starting. We went all the way through to Kyle, where I had booked a taxi to take Emma and me to the Dornie Hotel.

DSC02207After depositing our packs in our bedrooms, we went down to the famous Eilean Donnan castle for a few pictures.

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DSC02201I dipped my boot in the sea (well rock pool, as it was difficult to reach the actual sea).

DSC02199After a potter about, we went back to the hotel. After a well-earned bath (!), I went down to the bar, where Emma and I met with Ian Cotterill (Challenge photographer extraordinaire). Beverages and food were consumed before an early night to prepare for the next day’s exertions.

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