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Thursday, 14 January 2010

The 2004 Challenge, Day 10: Never Say No To A Tuna Salad

The tenth day started overcast, but soon cleared and turned into another gloriously hot day. I gave the shorts a miss; and I gave the summit of Big Garvoun a miss too, although I had planned to go there. Instead, however, not feeling like asacent so early in the day, I contoured round the top of the Coire Grealach and then dropped down the south shoulder of Big Garvoun and followed the track to the bridge over the River Avon. Here I joined up with another couple of Challengers who were making their way down Glen Avon towards the Linn, possibly after an early start from Faindouran bothy.

We walked together as far as Inchrory, where they turned onto the track east to Inchmore. I, however, was heading back up - up Carn Bad a Ghuail, and then all the way along the ridge to Beinn a' Chruinnich. There are no water sources on that ridge, so I drained my water bottles at Inchroroy, refilled them, waited for the purification tablets to do their bit, and drained them again. Then I refilled them, dropped purification tablets into each, and set off up the hill. I was only carrying two water bottles this year - so I had a litre of water to keep me hydrated for the whole of the ascent, the ridge walk, and the descent at the far end. That's twelve kilometres of walking with some 670 metres of ascent.

It is a delightful ridge walk, especially on a clear day such as this. I enjoyed it immensely; and at the end of the challenge, when I met my companions from the morning again at Montrose, they said they'd watched me up on the skyline and I'd been going at a cracking pace. But needless to say, a litre of water was hopelessly insufficient for my needs no mater how carefully I tried to steward it. It was all gone before I topped out on Tolm Buirich; and the two kilometres from Carn Ealasaid to Beinn a' Chruinnich was really tough.

But worst of all was the descent from Beinn a' Chruinnich, down the northern ridge and then on the track to the road. Walking across the south flank of Tom Garhb-bheinne, absolutely gasping, I could hear the stream away to my left, chattering and burbling, mocking me as it cascaded down the mountainside at the bottom of a deep defile. But I couldn't reach that stream to refill my bottles until I was practically at the road!

When, finally, the path levelled out and I could get to the desperately needed water, there was a couple in their early thirties sitting enjoying a picnic in the afternoon sun. As I gulped down great quantities of water (not, on this occasion, troubling to purify it first) they greeted me, and asked if I would like some pastries. They offered me a great tupperware box full of toothsome treats and told me to have as many as I wished. I thanked them, and took a modest two or three. They were very fine pastries, and most welcome.

"We've got some more leftovers here if you'd like," they said, and proffered another tupperware box full of tuna salad.

I looked at it for a moment or two. It looked very appetising. But then again, I was looking forward to a Wayfarer chicken hotpot when I finally reached my campsite in the Ladder Hills; but in order to get to it, I'd need to ascend Carn Dulack. I didn't fancy doing that on a full stomach, so I thanked them but declined their kind offer.

I walked up the road to Well of the Lecht, then turned left onto the path up Carn Dulack (after a suitable pause at the rather fine picnic site, reading the fascinating information boards and just generally soaking up the late evening rays). When I reached the ridge I turned right and followed it round and off the edge of the map. It's a somewhat peaty ridge, and you have to take care where you're treading. But it's easy walking apart from the occasional boggy bits.

My plan had been to follow the ridge to Carn Liath, then drop a little way down the eastern flank and pitch beside the streams at or about NJ258160. But in the early evening, with the sun slowly sinking far away in the western sky, I didn't feel like doing that final kilometre of peaty ridge with its 50 odd metres of climb, and all for the sake of a 792 metre top that wasn't even a Corbett. So I just pointed myself straight for NJ259165 and an early appointment with my chicken hotpot.

I arrived at my planned campsite, and found to my horror that the stream was dry. I could hear running water somewhere down below. But it was far, FAR below. I estimated at least a hundred metres below. The hillside was steep, and I was aiming to regain the ridge first thing the following morning. Wainwright's rule again ... don't drop that hundred metres if you don't have to. I still had a little over half a litre of water, which was plenty. I could cook my hotpot and leave the pan unwashed, dealing with it some time the next day when I had a suitable source of washing up water. OK, so it's not ideal - but it's hardly a disaster.

So I pitched my tent, then looked around for a suitable flat rock to put my stove on.

There wasn't one.

And the hillside was all heather.

DRY heather.

TINDER dry heather.

I stroked my chin, sucked my teeth, and decided that maybe the stove had beeter stay in my rucksack. I didn't want to go setting the mountain on fire, after all.

Now one of the joys of Wayfarer meals is, of course, that you don't actually HAVE to heat them up. They are pre-cooked and CAN be eaten cold if you absolutely have to. But I didn't fancy cold chicken hotpot. Really I didn't. So I just curled up in my sleeping bag, nibbled my way through a slab of Kendal mint cake, and went to sleep wishing I hadn't turned down that tuna salad.

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