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Friday, 1 January 2010

The 2000 Challenge, Day 2: Finiskaig to Allt Cheanna Mhuir

Morning on the second day of my Challenge brought two surprises. The first, at about 5 a.m. (by which time the sky was already WAY too light to have any hope of getting back to sleep) was the call of a distant cuckoo, somewhere away on the North Morar peninsula. The damn thing was determined not to let me get back to sleep, so I roused myself and prepared a leisurely breakfast (beans and bacon). It was then that I found the second surprise. I had been expecting to wake with seriously stiff shoulders after a day of walking with all that weight on my back ... but I didn't! My shoulders felt easy and supple, and as I thought about it I realised that thanks must be due to the walking poles. Never mind what they did for my knees and hips - by keeping my arms moving throughout the day, they had ensured that my shoulder muscles never stopped working and so never had a chance to seize up.

The talk among my fellow challengers that morning was mostly about routes for the day ahead; and in particular, who was headed for Glen Kingie and who was not. Most of the others, I gathered, were - and were comparing notes about which of the various route options they were taking to get there. I was in the minority, in that my route took me down Glendessary to Strathan, and then along Loch Arkaig to a wild camp somewhere soon after leaving Landranger Sheet 33 in favour of Sheet 34. It was another blisteringly hot day, during the course of which I drank more than 5 litres of water (and this despite that, after the initial stiff haul up to Lochan a' Mhaim, there was precious little ascent to be done) and so I opted for the track through the woods to the south of the River Dessary in order to spend as much time in the shade as possible. Emerging from the first block of trees and looking across to Upper Glendessary, it appeared that the majority of my fellow Challengers had opted for the northern path; but then, if they were planning to get into Glen Kingie by the track from Glendessary up the Allt na Feithe to Kinbreack, they would have had no alternative.

From Strathan, the walk along the north shore of Loch Arkaig is road work all the way and a bit of a trudge, and I quickly concluded that those who had headed for Glen Kingie had probably planned a better route. But this was only day 2. There was plenty more walking - and stunning scenery - in the days ahead. Moreover, I'd deliberately planned a conservative, low level route for my first crossing. The routes into Kingie looked pretty hard going, all of them. Heroic efforts like that could wait for another year. This year was just about getting across, and proving that I could do it.

That night I camped just off the road, among the trees in a little reentrant beside a stream which came gurgling and chattering down off the mountains to the north. I cannot now be absolutely sure, but I am pretty certain that it was the Allt Cheanna Mhuir - which would make the grid reference of my camping site NN 105914. I had two other challengers for company, who pitched their tent not far from mine; and although it was mightily tempting, we resisted the urge to gather up fallen wood and have a proper camp fire. Wasn't that good of us?

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