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Wednesday, 16 November 2016

The 2016 Challenge, Retrospective

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 ...

The 2016 Challenge, day 13: it's all over now! (8)

We then drove back to Cortachy, where Bob and Heather made us as welcome as ever.

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!!!

The 2016 Challenge, day 13: it's all over now! (7)

After a pleasant afternoon enjoying the sunshine in Kirriemuir, I met my wife at the statute of Bon Scott, the lead singer of AC/DC (Kirrie's other famous scion).

The 2016 Challenge, day 13: it's all over now! (6)

... and one who was still going strong.

The 2016 Challenge, day 13: it's all over now! (5)

I shared a table and some chips with a couple of other Challengers who had not completed the crossing ...

The 2016 Challenge, day 13: it's all over now! (4)

Bby the time I had moved on to Barrie's birthplace, I began to realize that maybe this little town was a bit of a one-trick pony! I was also beginning to feel a bit peckish, so I headed into the centre of town to see what the cafes had to offer.

The 2016 Challenge, day 13: it's all over now! (3)

There was also a rather fabulous Peter Pan-themes children's play area. Oh to be 7 again!!!

The 2016 Challenge, day 13: it's all over now! (2)

I then went up to the cricket pavilion which Barrie gave to the town. There is a camera obscura in that little turret, and this is marked on the OS maps ... but it is only open at weekends so I couldn't go inside.

The 2016 Challenge, day 13: it's all over now! (1)

It was a strange feeling, waking up the following morning, nowhere near the East coast, but knowing that I didn't have to walk if I didn't want to.

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.

The 2016 Challenge, day 12: Over to Clova (14)

We reached the Clova hotel, and I checked in. I rang Challenge Control to confirm safe arrival, and Ally confirmed (as if it was necessary) that because I had not gone back and walked the section of road that I had travelled by car after my glissade, this would not be counted as a crossing even if I continued all the way to the coast.

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.

The 2016 Challenge, day 12: Over to Clova (13)

And beyond the woods, it was road all the way.

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.

The 2016 Challenge, day 12: Over to Clova (12)

Once on the valley floor, I entered the woods.

The 2016 Challenge, day 12: Over to Clova (11)

Soon enough the worst of the descent was over, and I was on the gentle slopes down into the valley floor.

The 2016 Challenge, day 12: Over to Clova (10)

Half way down, I caught up with Rob. Now Rob is a really interesting character. This was only his second Challenge, but his first was all the way back in 1991! Try not to leave it another quarter of a century before doing your third, won't you Rob? I don't think you'll be able to sustain that pace for very long!

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?

The 2016 Challenge, day 12: Over to Clova (9)

The descent of Jock's Road was as stunning as ever. There's not all that much to say about it, really , that hasn't been said on this blog previously - so I shall just leave the picture to speak for itself.

The 2016 Challenge, day 12: Over to Clova (8)

Once I was back on the right track (and following a fresh line of cairns) the clouds kindly lifted, and gave me some visibility that I no longer needed. It was nice to have it, though.

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.

The 2016 Challenge, day 12: Over to Clova (7)

The little rocky mound had a really rather impressive cairn at the top of it ... the sort that people build at the top of Munros ... and my GPS fix suggested that I was only just off the bit of map I had and at an altitude of about 1010 metres.

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.

The 2016 Challenge, day 12: Over to Clova (6)

I passed the flank of Cairn an t-Sagairt Mor, and then aimed off towards Fafernie. As I did so, the cloud closed in around me and visibility was quickly down to no more than 20 - 50 metres. I wasn't too concerned, though, for despite my lack of map I knew that all I needed to do was head broadly South East, stay on the high ground, and avoid drifting too far to the right (because that way lay the rocky cliffs of Creag Leachdach, and danger).

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.

The 2016 Challenge, day 12: Over to Clova (5)

I climbed awat from Lochcallater Lodge on the Cairn an t-Sagairt Mor path. I was missing a small section of the map here, because I had been planning to go through the hills to the south of Loch Callater not those to the north. But I knew there was a clear path which I could follow round then cut across to Fafernie and Crow Cragies. As long as the visibility up there was good I should have no problems - just lift my head and read the landforms, then point myself at the right one. What could be easier.

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!

The 2016 Challenge, day 12: Over to Clova (4)

To say that this fella was a bit surprised to see me walk through the door was a bit of an understatement! He mad some witty comment about how quickly the Challenge rolls around again these days, and I explained my repeated presence at the Lodge. I also mentioned that Jean Turner had suggested that we should maybe sing a duet together, if I could come up with a suitable one for us to sing. Well, I had written something, but I didn't think that I'd have an opportunity to sing it with Jean any time soon. So with a little goading, I was persuaded to give it a solo performance instead. So here are the words ... I am sure you will know the tune. It's called "There's a hole in my route card"

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 ...

The 2016 Challenge, day 12: Over to Clova (3)

I didn't bother diverting to go over any Corbetts this time, and it took me just 90 minutes to reach Lochcallater Lodge.

The 2016 Challenge, day 12: Over to Clova (2)

As I walked up beside the Callater Burn, I had a second attempt at artistic composition ...

The 2016 Challenge, day 12: Over to Clova (1)

I got up the next morning and had some Ambronite for breakfast, and tried to figure out the best way of getting to Clova. The think was, no matter how I tried to turn the problem, I remained convinced that there was a serious risk of being stranded overnight somewhere like Kirriemuir, having to take alternative accommodation, yet still end up having to pay for a room in the Clova Hotel which I wasn't going to use. And that seemed sill, because I was still walking fit, and I knew that Clova was only a day's walk away. So why didn't I just do what I'd come here to do, and walk to Clova?

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

The 2016 Challenge, day 11: Once More Into the Hills (20)

In the storm that swirled about me, the descent to the ski centre was none too easy. Once I had dropped out of the cloud, though, it was considerably less uncomfortable.

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.

The 2016 Challenge, day 11: Once More Into the Hills (19)

As I dropped off Glas Maol and headed for Creag Leacach, it quickly became apparent that the bad weather was going to beat me to the summit ... and boy did that bad weather look bad!

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.

The 2016 Challenge, day 11: Once More Into the Hills (18)

My target for reaching the summit of Glas Maol had been 5 o'clock, and I was there at 4.50. With deteriorating weather all around me, I didn't want to hang about. So I took a photo and pressed on. If I wanted to get out to the summit of Creag Leacach and back again, then I needed to do so before the weather turned against me.

The 2016 Challenge, day 11: Once More Into the Hills (17)

The closer I got to it, the more ominous that weather appeared.

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 ...

The 2016 Challenge, day 11: Once More Into the Hills (16)

The ascent of Glas Maol from the North presented no great difficulties. It is a grassy, rounded hill with a vehicle track all the way. But beyond the summit the weather was beginning to look increasingly ominous ...

The 2016 Challenge, day 11: Once More Into the Hills (15)

As I descended from Cairn of Claise towards Glas Maol, I encountered the two hillwalkers who could not possibly, according to Colin Crawford, be fellow Challengers ... and they were fellow Challengers! They explained their erratic zig-sagging as the results of an effort to follow a path on the ground, which had seemed to give out, and then they thought they saw a better path off to the side and so headed for it, only to find it wasn't really a path after all, and then ...

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.

The 2016 Challenge, day 11: Once More Into the Hills (14)

Colin and I sat together at the summit awhile, passing the time of day, as one does. Colin had vetted a couple of my routes and was interested in hearing what I was doing this year. His own target for today was a high level wild camp below the summit of Tolmount - which sounded idyllic, so long as the weather held. But with the clouds gathering ominously, this was looking increasingly unlikely. Unfortunately, the same held true for my intended high level camp between Glas Maol and Little Glas Maol - and didn't I just know it!

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.

The 2016 Challenge, day 11: Once More Into the Hills (13)

Barely three minutes after my arrival, I was joined at the summit by Colin Crawford, who arrived from the direction I was heading in.

The 2016 Challenge, day 11: Once More Into the Hills (12)

My target for reaching the summit of Cairn of Claise had been 4 o'clock, and I was actually there half an hour ahead of schedule. In the background of this photo of the summit cairn are the north-facing cliffs of Little Glas Maol.

The 2016 Challenge, day 11: Once More Into the Hills (11)

Well, what can I say about the ascent of Carn an Tuirc which hasn't been said on this blog already? Not a lot, really. I've described it and I've photographed it, and that last kilometer across the broken boulder field of the summit plateau is just as much of a penance as it ever was. But I reached the summit cairn at 2.45 (my target had been 3 o'clock), and promptly turned about to make the further ascent of Cairn of Claise.

The 2016 Challenge, day 11: Once More Into the Hills (10)

The descent from Creag nan Gabhar to the Bealach Buidhe was straightforward enough, as descents over open hillsides with no tracks or other waymarks go. Visibility was good and I was able to navigate with my head up. Crossing the stream presented no great difficulty, and eventually I had Lochcallater Lodge in view. All I had to do now was drop down onto the track (actually easier said than done, as the ground is very broken here and it kept disappearing from view!) and follow it back to the lodge.

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.

The 2016 Challenge, day 11: Once More Into the Hills (9)

I reached the summit cairn of Creag nan Gabhar at 11 o'clock - exactly two and a half hours after setting out from Braemar Youth Hostel. Considering that it was a little over 9 kilometres, with nearly 500 metres of ascent, I was pretty pleased with that!

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.

The 2016 Challenge, day 11: Once More Into the Hills (8)

Away down on my right, as I strode along the ridge, I could see Loch Callater sitting in its little hollow in the hills.

The 2016 Challenge, day 11: Once More Into the Hills (7)

Looking back the way I had come, the views to Braemar were really rather spectacular, and I really couldn't imagine why I had never come this way before. Perhaps I had always been in too much of a hurry to get to Lochcallater Lodge and, in my haste, had simply scurried up the track beside the Callater Burn ...

The 2016 Challenge, day 11: Once More Into the Hills (6)

Creag nan Gabhar is a Corbett which, I am sure,  is visited by very few Challengers. In their haste to be at Lochcallater Lodge, the majority of them simply pass it by, scurrying up the track beside the Callater Burn; and this is a pity, because it is a very pleasant hill indeed. Round-topped, swathed in heather, but with a good track all the way up. This was exactly the hill I needed to get my head back in gear!

The 2016 Challenge, day 11: Once More Into the Hills (5)

As I turned off the track and began the long, slow ascent of Creag nan Gobhar (well, it was slow the way I was going to ascend it ... ), Graham and Marion Dunsire came striding along the track. They were both on their tenth crossing this year, and they looked as if they meant business. They evidently felt the need to make it up to Lochallater Lodge before all of the refreshments had been gobbled up by other greedy Challengers ...

The 2016 Challenge, day 11: Once More Into the Hills (4)

At Auchallater I turned left, and enjoyed composing some "artistic" pictures of the Callater Burn as I tried to prepare myself mentally for heading up into the hills again.

The 2016 Challenge, day 11: Once More Into the Hills (3)

As I headed up towards Auchallater, the familiar views of the Clunie Water down below me to the right had lost none of their charm.

The 2016 Challenge, day 11: Once More Into the Hills (2)

A little further up the road, and the high level wind had done its stuff - creating a classic "anvil" out of the tower on that cumulus cloud. Old Dodd would be so proud to know that, almost 40 years after he taught me all this stuff, I still remember it and can illustrate it online on my blog!

The 2016 Challenge, day 11: Once More Into the Hills (1)

Today was a big day for me - my first day solo in the hills (as opposed to the glens!) since the glissade. I was anxious, of course I was ... but I had chosen some good round-top hills. There were no scrambles, no spiky bits, and nothing that ought to be able to trigger any more panic attacks. I had slept well, no more disturbing dreams, so all seemed well. I had some Ambronite for breakfast, and was away from the Youth Hostel by 8.30.

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!

The 2016 Challenge, day 10: The Well-Trod Trail to Braemar (6)

We walked into Braemar on the road, and the views of the upper Dee valley were as gorgeous as ever. It began to rain a little before we got there, so I just threw on my waterproofs over my shorts and T-shirt, but stayed in my walking sandals.

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!

The 2016 Challenge, day 10: The Well-Trod Trail to Braemar (5)

From White Bridge we followed the well-trod trail to Linn of Dee, and from Linn of Dee we took the delightful forest road on the north bank of the Dee to Mar Lodge.

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.

The 2016 Challenge, day 10: The Well-Trod Trail to Braemar (4)

In no time we were at White Bridge. There's not all that much to say about this bridge, really, other than that I'm glad it's there! It has featured in this blog before, and no doubt it will feature again.

The 2016 Challenge, day 10: The Well-Trod Trail to Braemar (3)

Here's another picture of the Geldie Burn at our crossing point. Such magnificent scenery! In my humble and thoroughly biased opinion, there is nothing to equal the spendour of the Scottish Highlands anywhere else in the world!

The 2016 Challenge, day 10: The Well-Trod Trail to Braemar (2)

Jean and I pushed on a little ahead of the D of E group, so by the time we were at the Geldie they were far enough behind that I was able to change into my shorts for the river crossing without alarming them. Jean simply rolled up her trousers a little; and by picking her way carefully that was all that was needed. At no point was the water deeper than mid-calf to either of us.

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.

The 2016 Challenge, day 10: The Well-Trod Trail to Braemar (1)

After another good night's sleep, with no more disturbing dreams, I didn't particularly feel like breakfast so I went without. Jean and I struck camp and hit the train at about 8 o'clock. The weather was find and the going was good.

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.

Sunday, 13 November 2016

The 2016 Challenge, day 9: Right Up Yer Tilt! (11)

And THIS, surely, is what the Challenge is all about!!!

The 2016 Challenge, day 9: Right Up Yer Tilt! (10)

The views from our camp site, back towards Glen Tilt in the evening light, were simply stupendous!