Wednesday, 16 November 2016
So that was that.
My first failure to complete, in 11 starts. I'm still ahead of the curve, but not by all that much. The important point, though, is that I got up and dusted myself down, and carried on ... and that before I was done I was back up in the hills.
Spiky mountains remain to be attempted again, but really I don't think I'll have too much difficulty there. I have beaten the demons, and the dreams have subsided. It takes more than a glissade to keep me away from the hills ...
We stayed a couple of nights at Cortachy House, then went to the Park for the Friday night dinner, before returning to Cortachy House for a couple more nights. Well, that was the plan, anyway. But on what was supposed to be the last day of our Scottish holiday we went to the Blair highland gathering, where we both picked up a dose of really violent food poisoning and had no option to stay a couple of nights longer than originally intended. Heather was absolutely brilliant, though. THANK YOU, Heather!!!
Well, that's not quite right. I needed to get to Cortachy, and that meant getting down the Glen. I either needed a lift, or I needed to walk. I took a leisurely breakfast, settled my bill, then set off down the Glen. I was still in the hotel car park when a builder who had been doing some work for the hotel came out and got into his van. I stuck my thumb out, and he welcomed me aboard.
I didn't need to be in Cortachy until late afternoon, so I asked him to take me into Kirrie. Then I texted my wife and asked her to reset her satnav for Kirrie rather than Cortachy and meet me there. This gave me a long day in Kirrie, a town I had never really had time to get to know before.
Now, Kirriemuir is particularly proud of its association with J. M. Barrie, the inventor of Peter Pan ... so my first port of call was Barrie's grave.
That was fine. My wife was coming up to join me at Cortachy House the following evening, and if there was no point in my spending the following two days tramping the roads to the East coast, we could have an extra two days' holiday together in the Angus Glens. I'd need to make the necessary arrangements with Heather (she thought she was getting just Kathy for a couple of nights ... ) but that would not be a problem.
And so I had a bath and dinner, and went to bed. I may have had a drink or two in the bar, as well, at some point.
I stopped for a breather and a glug at the Ranger Centre (and to use their flushing toilets), and Rob caught up with me there. We walked together from the Ranger Centre to Clova, and the miles soon sped past under our feet.
Anyway, Rob was sitting by the path, enjoying the sunshine, and taking the opportunity to dry off his kit. It was all spread out around him, and it included ... A WET SUIT!!!
Now this was very definitely a first for me. Most of us carry waterproofs, Rob, not wet suits ... but Rob explained to me that he carried this with him so that he could go for a swim in every suitable river and loch that he encountered on his way across.
I was impressed! I mean ... who wouldn't be?
I stopped at the top of Crow Cragies at 1.30, had my lunch and changed my socks, and then headed on to the descent of Jocks Road.
The photograph was taken off to my left as I came off Knaps of Fafernie and skirted round to Crown Cragies, and shows Loch Esk with the Craigs of Loch Esk behind it and Glen Moulzie beyond that.
And all of that information could only mean one thing.
I had just accidentally climbed a Munro I hadn't even been aiming for ... Cairn Bannoch! I hadn't recognized it because last time I had been up here the weather had been even closer and I hadn't really had a chance to clock it properly. But that was where I was ... and I now knew where I needed to go to get back to Fafernie.
Before long I encountered a cairn, and could see clear to the next cairn in what was, clearly, a marked trail across the plateau. So I followed the line of cairns, as they were substantially built and clearly meant business, and were heading in the right general direction.
After a while, though, they led me to a little rocky mount; and this bothered me a little because I wasn't SUPPOSED to come to any little rocky mounds. There were no rocky mounds at all on Fafernie or the Knaps of Fafernie. So if I was at a little rocky mount, I wasn't on Fafernie or Knaps of Fafernie (deductive reasoning always WAS one of my strong points) ... so where the deuce WAS I??
I decided to climb to the top of the little rocky mound (as there was, after all, a path which invited me to go that way), and then get out my GPS to see if it could shed any light on the problem. It had, after all, got nice fresh batteries in it.
Of course, the more eagle-eyed amongst my readers will have noted that the cloud base is looking rather low over Tolmount in the background of this photo; and more of that anon!
1. There's a hole in my route card, Jean Turner, Jean Turner, there's a hole in my route card, Jean Turner, a hole!
2. Then FILL it dear Jeremy, dear Jeremy, dear Jeremy, then FILL it dear Jeremy, dear Jeremy, FILL IT!
3. But with what should I fill it, Jean Turner, Jean Turner? With what should I fill it, Jean Turner, with what?
4. With some HILLS should you fill it, dear Jeremy, dear Jeremy, with some HILLS should you fill it, dear Jeremy, with HILLS!
5. But all these hills look to steep for me, Jean Turner, Jean Turner, all these hills look to steep for me, Jean Turner, too steep!
6. Then go AROUND them dear Jeremy, dear Jeremy, dear Jeremy, go around them dear Jeremy, dear Jeremy, GO ROUND!
7. By what route should I go round, Jean Turner, Jean Turner? By what route should I go round, Jean Turner, what route?
8. By your FWA dear Jeremy, dear Jeremy, dear Jeremy, by your FWA dear Jeremy, dear Jeremy, FOXTROT WHISKY ALPHA!
9. And pray how shall I find that route, Jean Turner, Jean Turner? Pray how shall I find that router, Jean Turner, pay how?
10. It's on your route card dear Jeremy, dear Jeremy, dear Jeremy, it's on your route card dear Jeremy, dear Jeremy, YOUR ROUTE CARD!
11. But there's a hole in my route card, Jean Turner, Jean Turner, there's a hole in my route card, Jean Turner, a hole!
And having performed my song, I made a quick exit and resumed my walk ...
It was obvious, really. So obvious that I couldn't think why I hadn't thought of it the night before. So I texted Challenge control to say that I WAS going to walk to Clova today after all, then re-jettisoned all my surplus food, and left the Youth Hostel at about 5 to 9. The road south from Braemar into Glen Clunie looked strangely familiar, as I tramped it for the second time this crossing ...
Monday, 14 November 2016
At 6.30 I had signal for my mobile phone, so I phoned Challenge Control and told them that I was retreating from the hill and withdrawing from the Challenge. At 6.45, I reached the ski centre.
It took me the best part of an hour to get a lift down to Braemar, but when I did it was with a really lovely couple who were touring Scotland. He knew it of old, she was seeing it all for the first time, and her enthusiasm for what she saw was infectious. They did much to lift my spirits, that lovely couple.
So I booked back into the Youth Hostel, and they kindly phoned the Invercauld Arms for me to see if the kitchen was still open. No, it wasn't. Last food orders are at 8. Never mind ... there was all my jettisoned gluten free food in the Youth Hostel kitchen. I went and retrieved it from the free food box and cooked myself a meal. The Youth Hostel is licensed now, so I was able to have some wine with it as well. But it was still with a deep sense of disappointment that I retired to my room to ponder my next move. I had a room booked at the Glen Clova Hotel for the following night. It was too late to cancel it. So if I was going to have to pay for it anyway, I may as well use it. But what, I wondered, was the best way to get from Braemar to Clova in a day, using only public transport and my thumb?
I thought it best to sleep on that one, and figure out the answer in the morning.
I wavered this way and that, briefly considereing the possibility of pushing on anyway, just for the sake of ticking off this troublesome Munro which has something of a habit of turning me back. And then common sense prevailed. pressing on to that summit in the weather I could see ahead of me would be dumb. So I turned about, and retreated to the summit of Glas Maol. I sat at the summit shelter contemplating my options, and THAT was when the bad weather reached the summit of Glas Maol.
As the rain came beating down, I reached into my rucksack and pulled out my emergency bothy shelter. I have carried it on every single Challenge I have been on, but I have never before needed to deploy it. I needed to deploy it now, however.
I managed to spread the shelter sufficiently to keep both myself and my rucksack dry, and I curled myself into a vaguely comfortable posture, wondering how long I should need to sit it out at the summit of this mountain. Broadly speaking, my options seemed to be to sit here at the summit, curled up in my bothy shelter, my bum getting numb from the rocks beneath it, until the rain let up - which might be who knows how long? Or to cut and run. If I cut and run, where would I run to? I could run to my intended overnight camp, pitch in the howling wind and rain, and spend a miserable, cold, and quite possibly wet night camped out at high altitude. Or I could yomp my way back to Tolmount and join Colin at his wild pitch, if the daylight lasted long enough. If it didn't, I could always stop short at any promising looking spot. But either alternative would still be a high level camp in the howling wind and rain, getting cold and possibly soaked through, and all for ... what, exactly?
My crossing had already been interrupted. I wasn't going to complete this Challenge because I already hadn't. I had spent a day solo in the hills, and not got freaked out by it, so I had clearly conquered any remaining mental demons from my glissade 6 days before. Now that I hadn't reached Creag Leacach, I was not going to make 12 Munros and Corbetts (unless the weather celared sufficiently to do Ben Tirran ... which it wasn't forecast to do). So why, exactly, was I sitting here shivering at the summit shelter of Glas Maol, in the howling wind and rain, contemplating an uncomfortable high level camp??
At 5.30 I decided this made no sense at all. There are times when it is best just to retreat from the hill. If I were to retreat now, I could be at the Glenshee Ski Centre in an hour, and then thumb a lift back into Braemar. The Youth Hostel was bound to have a bed or two going spare, because the last of the Challengers would surely have passed through. If I left it much longer, though, the light might not be sufficient to get down to the ski centre - particularly in this storm.
And so my mind was made up. I stood up and packed my bothy shelter away, hefted my pack once again, and strode Westwards across the summit plateau, towards the path down to Glenshee Ski Centre.
And then ... as I neared the summit ... this snow field appeared, across the track I was following. Now, I know the snow was probably not all that deep, and the angle wasn't sufficient for there to be any risk of a further glissade. And even if I WERE to go for a slide on this particular snow field, it would just deliver me back to the grass at the bottom where I had started out. But ... I ... DIDN'T ... WANT ... TO ... KNOW!!!
So I went around the side ...
Well, I sympathized. We've all done that on an uphill stretch, have we not? In descent, with the advantage of height, you can usually look along the rival path lines and be sure which appears to be the best. But uphill it's a different matter altogether.
We exchanged a few pleasantries, and then carried on in our different directions.
We turned to look towards Glas Maol, and followed the erratic zigzagging progress of a couple of hill walkers who seemed to be heading our way but by the most peculiar of routes. Why didn't they just lift their heads, look at the peak they were heading for, and head for it? Colin opined that they could not possibly be fellow Challengers, and with that we both hefted our packs and headed off in opposite directions.
I reached the lodge at noon, half an hour ahead of schedule, and found a large gathering of Challengers and others enjoying the hospitality on offer. Amongst them was John Dingwall, who said that he is no longer fit enough for the Challenge but, on hearing that I was heading for Cortachy House, asked me to remember him to Bob and Heather. I said that I would. And then, at 12.30 (again, half an hour ahead of schedule) I shouldered my pack and headed out again for the ascent of Carn an Tuirc.
What lay ahead, however, was an interesting descent into the Bealach Buidhe and then down to Lochallater Lodge. I hoped to be at the Lodge by 12.30 and then, after taking some lunch, away again by 1.
As I headed out of Braemar, I observed the cloud formation up ahead of me and thought of Dennis Frederick Oswald Doyle, my top class junior school teacher (we used to call him "Dodd"; and he was still alive and in his 90s the last I heard) who had taught us weather studies from his RAF meteorology manual. There was a classis cumulus cloud, with its tower (which could be the breeding ground of many a hailstone), apt to be pulled into a distinctive "anvil" by any passing high-level wind. And, indeed, its "rabbit's head" appearance suggested that this might be happening right now!
At Braemar I said goodbye to my two companions as they wished to press on, whilst I went for a late lunch at Gordon's Tea Rooms (a burger which I was able to eat in a gluten-free bun with chips and salad). The Dunsires came into the tearooms while I was there, and came across to speak to me as I was planning to camp in their garden on the last night of the crossing. "We hear you've had a slip," they said. So I told them the whole story of my glissade, trying to play it down as far as I could. But Graham and Marion are thorough-going mountain folk who do not need to have explained to them the potential seriousness of an event like that, particularly when you are walking solo.
By the time I had finished lunch, the rain was much heavier, and I stepped out of Gordon's Tearoom into the phenomenon known as "bouncing rain". I made my way quickly to the Youth Hostel, where I picked up my resupply parcel. It was only when I opened it that I remembered that due to a moment of imbecility when purchasing my resupply supplies, I had been one razor, one toothbrush and one tube of toothpaste short of requirements, and that this was the parcel without. I had been supposed to bring the ones from the previous resupply parcel with me, but had forgotten to do so. Still, this was why I chose the Braemar parcel as the one that was short of supplies - as resupply in Braemar is not exactly difficult. So I stepped out into the bouncing rain once again, and went down to the co-op to buy what was needful.
After returning to the Youth Hostel I showered and shaved, put my laundry on and hung everything to dry. I just heated up a packet of game bird soup for supper, and then I took a long, hard look at the weather forecast and considered my options. The forecast was for two good days followed by deteriorating weather, and it dawned on me that, amazingly, although I had only done three Munros so far this crossing, I could still salvage a High Lever crossing (albeit an interrupted one). All I had to do was go over Creag Nan Gobhar, Carn an Tuirc, Cairn of Claise and Glas Maol tomorrow, then do an out-and-back to Creag Leacach and return to a high level pitch between Glas Maol and Little Glas Maol. The following day I would return over Cairn of Claise and take in Tolmount, Tom Buidhe, Mayar and Dreish before dropping down to Clova where I had a room booked in the Clova Hotel. That would make 11 Munros and 1 Corbett ... so I shouldn't even need to head up Ben Tirran the following day ... which was good, given the weather forecast. So that was a plan!
I texted Challenge Control to let them know where I would be over the next couple of days, then sorted out my supplies. AS ever I had provided far more food than I had actually eaten, so I set about jettisoning unnecessary food to lighten the load. Away went 3 pre-prepared meals, 3 sachets of Ambronite (sorry, guys!) and various food bars. Oh well! I hope whoever found them in the free food box at the Youth Hostel was grateful for them!
At Mar Lodge, Jean and I separated. I was only going as far as Braemar today, but she was pressing on to Lochcallater Lodge, so she teamed up with some others who were headed for Lochcallater and we said our goodbyes. I lingered a little longer, and linked up with a couple of first time Challengers for the stroll into Braemar.
Having arrived at the north bank, we spent a little while dring our feet and preparing to continue. By this time the D of E group were fording, so I decided to stay in my shorts for now. (Had it be throwing rain down at us, or threatening to do so, then I may have gone to the ruined building to change back into my normal walking trousers; but it was doing neither of those things.) I dug out a packet of energy beans and shared them with Jean and the D of E group - who had evidently never been warned not to take sweets from strange men - and they were most gratefully received. Then we set off along the trail for White Bridge and Linn of Dee, with the D of E group quickly outpacing us two oldies. We didn't mind that at all. They probably had a long journey home once they got to Linn of Dee, to parents who were anxiously waiting as they were already 12 hours overdue. We simply had an easy stroll into Braemar.
There was no lonely Challenger at Bynack Lodge waiting for an escort across the Geldie Burn; but there were four D of E Gold expeditioners, along with four instructors, who had been stranded overnight on this side of the Geldie.
Well, to be fair, if the instructors from Glenmore Lodge could ford with their mountain bikes at 5 o'clock, then this group probably could have made it across some time in the late afternoon / early evening; but they were at the end of a 4-day expedition and had probably been expecting to be picked up at Linn of Dee at about 5.30 or thereabouts. That means they were probably planning to cross the Geldie at about 3, at which time they would have looked and said "no way"; having said which, they would have set about cancelling their transport and made emergency overnight plans. Having cancelled their transport, what point was there in attempting a marginal evening crossing, with four tired youngsters, when they could be reasonably confident that the water level would have dropped considerably by the next morning? This was sensible dynamic risk assessment on the part of the instructors, and I am all with them on the decisions they made, assuming that the situation which confronted them was as I have described.