Sunday, 30 November 2014
Leaving the summit behind, I did not attempt any sophisticated navigation. I simply pointed myself something approximating to East South East (erring in favour of East rather than South East, on account of the rather scary looking outcrops on the map) until I hit the streams. Then I crossed over, and turned South, looking for a way down into the valley. There are no paths shown on the map this high up, and there were none on the ground. It was all rough, wet, tussocky grass with occasional boggy patches to relieve the monotony; but in time the going got better and eventually I found something worthy of the name of "path"; and somewhat higher up the valley than it is shown on the map, too.
In the bealach I found an easy point to cross the All Cuil na Caillich right near its source, and then I started the easy ascent of the ridge leading up to hill 908 and then on to Carn Sgulain, my second Munro of the day.
As I headed up, I soon entered the cloud, and visibility rapidly deteriorated. I could still see which way was "up", though, so that was all good. In due course I managed to cross the stream and angle across the face of Geal Charn, and then I was on the final ascent of A' Chailleach - my first Munro of the day.
My plan was to do a two day expedition heading up over A'Chailleach and Carn Sgulain, then along the ridge to Carn Dearg, before heading down to a wild camp by Lochan Uisge. On the second day I'd make my way along the ridge to Geal Charn, then down Glen Markie to the Spey Dam and out by road to Laggan. However, Ali kindly left the mountain weather forecast outside my door on Sunday morning, and it was VERY clear that this was NOT going to be a night when one would want to be wild camping out on the hills. So after a hurried conflab with Ali I recast my plans: I would do an out-and-back to A'Chailleach and Carn Sgulain, then come back in for a night in the hostel. On Monday, Ali offered to drive me to Garva Bridge, from where I could make the ascent of Geal Charn, then drop into Glen Markie and out by road through Laggan as planned. It would leave Carn Dearg to attempt on another occasion (probably on a Challenge, approaching up the River Fechlin and past Loch Killin); but it would give me the three Munros I needed to get my total to 50.
And it wouldn't leave me camped out on a wild and stormy night.
So off I set, up the beautiful road beside the River Calder in lower Glen Banchor, with the beautiful autumn colours bathing the hillsides, and a gentle rainfall spattering my camera lens (oh I'm SO glad I invested in the weatherproof camera ...)
Saturday, 27 September 2014
I have just received an e-mail from Ali and Sue. They have received my entry ... and since I shall be a 10-timer next year (I really can't believe I am typing this!!) my acceptance is guaranteed. I have a route more or less ready to go. Just some finishing touches to add. All being well, I should have completed that and measured all distances, and counted all squiggles, by the time the route card arrive, so I can just fill one in and return it immediately. Now THAT'S what I call being organized.
For those uncharitable types who might be tempted to ask why Mrs B didn't accompany me for the entire expedition, I would point out that after she broke her ankle in 2006 the doctors said she would never walk without a stick again. It was a bad break. That she was able to walk from Coylumbridge well up into the Lairig Ghru, to a point less than 5km from Pools of Dee, and back in an afternoon is a very creditable achievement. Besides, if she'd come with me for the whole expedition, I wouldn't have got my cake, would I????
In any event, it turned out that my companion had been in Corrour Bothy last night, and would be heading back down there before walking back out to Linn of Dee, so we decided to stay in company until the bothy. Our paces were well matched, and the attraction for me was that as he had already come up the Coire Odhar path, he'd be able to point me the correct way in the event of any ambiguity as to the path (although, in fact, when it came t it there was none).
"This is Cairn Toul", I corrected him.
"No," he insisted, pointing to the unnamed hill 1213, "that's Cairn Toul 1291. This is Sgor an Lochan Uaine, 1258."
"It's not," I said. "I've already been over Sgor an Lochain Uaine today. This is Cairn Toul."
"Are you a geographer?" he asked, somewhat aggressively.
"No," I said, "I'm a navigator. But if you doubt it, we can always ask my yellow box of tricks" and so saying, I fetched out my GPS unit.
"Ah," he sneered. "When all else fails, turn to technology."
"All else hasn't failed," I countered, "and I am not in the least doubt where we are. But since you question it, I thought this the best way to prove it."
There were, in truth, no end of other ways in which I could have proved it. I could have suggested taking bearings (there is a near enough 90 degree deviation between the bearing from Sgor an Lochain Uaine to Cairn Toul and that from Cairn Toul to hill 1213). I could have invited him to contemplate the fact that the top he was calling Cairn Toul was clearly somewhat lower than the top on which we were discussing our location, whereas if we were on Sgor an Lochain Uaine and it was Cairn Toul, it would be visible higher. Or I could have asked him whether he had observed Lochan Uaine below him, and shown him my photograph to prove that I had. However, I was dealing with somebody whose map reading and navigation skills were such that he had completely failed to notice that there was a 1213 metre top to be ascended and descended before he got to Cairn Toul, and I suspect that any of these proofs would have been just a wee bit too sophisticated for him. So I used the GPS, and he did not argue with it when he saw the grid reference (which shows that he did, at least, know how to read a grid reference ... which is something I suppose).
We then went our separate ways, he to Sgor an Lochain Uaine (the real one ... I wonder what he would have called it when he got there if I had not corrected him on his location?) and I to Hill 1213 and then down to the top of Coire Odhar. Shortly before the bottom o fthis slope I came to a spring, and was able to refill my water bottles from the stream just a few metres below it. I drank my fill, and continued with three bottles of lovely fresh, clear spring water in my pack.
I had packed six assorted cereal bars (of the kind that I CAN eat) by way of breakfast, but I only felt like eating two of them. Then I packed, put my sodden tent back into its bag, and set off upstream. As I did so, the sun was just rising ...
Friday, 26 September 2014
On the North East flank of Carn Ban Mor, close to the Fuaran Diotach, I encountered this little sheltered lochan with an old stone shelter. This looked to me like a good wild pitch, and the place to head for if ever caught up on this part of the plateau in deteriorating weather. There is nothing on either the 1 : 50,000 or the 1 : 25 000 map to identify it, although the 1 : 25 000 map does show a little round feature at NN 901977 and I suspect that this may be it. I did not, however, have the 1 : 25 000 map with me at the time. What I did have with me was my GPS unit, however ... so I took a location reading, and copied the grid reference into a text message on my mobile phone. I had no signal to send it, but I didn't need to. I simply saved it to drafts, intending to take a note and mark it off on the map when I got home.
Before I could do this, however, I began encountering difficulties with the functioning of my mobile phone. Suspecting it may be because of the 600 or so old text messages still stored in its poor, overworked memory banks, I told it to delete everything ... and there went my note of the grid reference of this delightful location. Oops!
I'd brought all my expedition gear with me just in case the weather was fair, and as it was more than fair Mrs B sent me off into the Cairngorms by myself for a two day expedition to test my new trail shoes, while she set about enjoying the delights (such as they are) of Aviemore. I mentioned the cake shop which does gluten-free cakes, and advised her where to find it, in the hope that some cake might have found its way into the van by the time I returned, and then I set off. My plan was a simple one ... knock off Sgor Gaoith and Monadh Mor on day 1, camp by Loch nan Stuirteag, head up Sgor and Lochain Uaine, Cairn Toul and The Devil's Point on the morning of day 2, then head down to Corrour Bothy for lunch and return through the Lairig Ghru.
So off I went ... following the track into Gleann Eanaich. The Am Beanaidh (pictured) is a beautiful river, and I followed it as far as the Allt Ruigh na Sroine, where I had a good glug and refilled my water bottles, before back-tracking to the path junction and heading up the open hillside which is the Cadha Mor. This is a bit of a horrible heathery hillside; but it doesn't last for long, and soon I was on the ridge line and heading on up Greag Dhubh.
Saturday, 14 June 2014
Looking back on the 2014 Challenge, we had without a doubt the most benevolent weather I have ever experienced on a Challenge. It was largely overcast rather than sunny; but the cloud base was generally high (with a few notable exceptions); the air was generally still; and there was no really heavy rain. In short, just about ideal walking weather. In view of this, it is perhaps disappointing that I only managed two Munros (out of the 17 on my route card; and none of my 4 Corbetts) and this needs some explaining. I think there are four things here. First, there was the snow on Stob Ban, which meant I had to miss out 8 of my Munros in the Mamores. Then there was the descent of Beinn na Lap, when I twisted my left knee in a couple of slithering falls. This made me cautious of going high again until I was sure my knee would take it. Thirdly, there was the news of Dave Albon's fall on Streap. I don't mind admitting that this spooked me. And finally, there was the fact that, as a solo walker, it is necessary to put caution first in all cases of doubt. I think the decisions I took at all stages were the responsible ones ... and the bottom line is, I got across again, in yet another year when the attrition rate was high.
Well, that's nine crossings under my belt, and guaranteed acceptance for next year as I make my bid to become a Leg End. Andy Desmond said he was confident I would ... and now I am just one crossing away from it. I booked my room at the Park before I left Montrose, and I already have a working route planned and ready to go. It has 9 Munros on it. So not a High Level route ... but I might just end up doing more high level stuff than on any of my other Challenges to date. It will also take me through the Lairig Ghru ... unless foul weather keeps me low, and forces me into Feshie - Geldie yet again! And it's got a few other nice surprises and unusual twists and turns, which I'll tell you about in a future post.
So that's it. 2014 done and dusted ... and 2015, here I come!! It's less than 11 months away now, and will come about sooner than you might think.
I thanked the two for this news and, as there was no longer any good reason for hanging about in St Cyrus, I returned to the main road and caught a bus into Montrose. I signed in at Challenge Control, and I renewed a number of acquaintances. Then I collected my antler and went to my room to make myself presentable.
The Friday night dinner was most enjoyable; and I retired for the night feeling well refreshed and in good spirits.
I watched the road like a hawk while I was eating, but Alan and Lucy did not pass by. Then I returned to my clifftop vigil, until a light breeze began to blow off the sea. Finally, I returned to the church and sat in the sunshine on the grass outside, looking back along the road towards St Cyrus. At playtime the children gathered by the playground fence and called to me ... telling me it wasn't summer yet (so? I was enjoying my sunbathing!) ... but still there was no sign of Alan and Lucy.
I got to the hotel in St Cyrus and enquired about rooms. They were full. Oh well, I said, never mind: I'll have a meal and a few drinks, then I'll wander down towards the beach and camp there. No need, said one of the other drinkers at the bar: I've a back lawn where you're welcome to put your tent up. Come to that, says the landlord, I've got a beer garden out back. So I ended up camped in the beer garden of the St Cyrus hotel; and very pleasant it was too.
I woke up at about 5 in the morning and knew I wouldn't get back to sleep. So I packed everything away and wondered what to do. I knew Alan and Lucy were due to finish at St Cyrus today, and I thought it might be nice to welcome them to the finish. It would also be possible that I would then be able to cadge a lift to Montrose - always assuming that a Panda 4x4 has enough room for three adult passengers and their rucksacks. So I headed out up the beach road and waited for them at the top of the cliffs, where the early morning light allowed for some wonderful photography.