Woohoo! I've discovered how to add a few little tick boxes at the bottom of each post, to enable readers to record their reactions. Do please use them. I think I've identified the four most likely responses ...

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

The 2015 Challenge: preparing for the off

Well, I didn't get back to Scotland in Spring 2015. An absurd performance appraisal at work had me marked down for "time management issues". There's absolutely nothing wrong with my time management: what I have is work overload issues. I had been trying to limit my working hours to something vaguely approximating the hours I am paid for; but now in order to prove I had addressed me "time management issues" I had to put in absolutely obscene hours (nearly 9 hours a day, on average, plus a commute that is 100 minutes door to door at normal travelling times; somewhat longer if I don't leave the office until 8 pm). And was it worth it? Here's the sickening part. After slaving my arse off (and I've got the statistics to show that this was BY FAR my most productive year ever, in terms of output) I was STILL marked down ("because the marking has to reflect your performance for the year as a whole, and you had time management issues in the first part of the year"). So why did I bother??

And my employer wonders why their staff engagement scores are consistently off the bottom of the scale? Wake up and smell the coffee, guys!

Anyway, the net effect of this was that I needed my weekends simply to recover from the strain of the week, and the chances of finding time to head off up to Scotland for a mountain or two were remote. Plus, the weather in Scotland has remained consistently poor. Even as I write, on the eve of my departure for the 2015 Challenge, most of the mountains in the Challenge area are still snowbound, and it looks as though it will be another crossing made up almost entirely of FWAs. Which is a shame, because for my tenth crossing I had planned something really rather special. A High Level crossing filled with some of the things I most want to do on a Challenge, and have been saving up specially.

This being my tenth Challenge, I knew I would be on - so I began planning early and had a route ready to submit as soon as my entry went in. Alas, I couldn't have my Torridon start (I did plan a corker of a route from Torridon; but when I broke it down into days, there were 16 of them. I tried reworking it as a 15 day routes but none of the days made sense, and the overnight stops were just horrendous. So I changed to a Dornie start, which would enable me to cut it down to 14 days. Ideal! It is a high level route, including the Drumnadrichit boat crossing, the Lairig Ghru, the ridge South West of Morrone and a Lunan Bay finish. It was vetted by Colin Crawford, who concluded his vetter's comments as follows:

"Jeremy, I have to compliment you. You always, without fail, submit an interesting route and I've much enjoyed following your wanderings. Obviously, you're aiming for over twelve tops to mark your tenth Challenge and you've given yourself sufficient additional tops to offer you a sporting chance of success. All we need now is the weather."

Alas! It is looking as though the one thing we need may not be there, and I may not achieve a High Level crossing this time, either.

Well, it is now half past 8 on Wednesday 6 May. I shall shortly go and post my resupply parcels at the village post office, and then I shall walk into Bedford for a (slightly later than usual) train to London. I shall then work until about 7pm, and wander up to the Bree Louise for something to eat and maybe a drop or two of something with a little alcohol in it. Then it will be on to the Inverness Sleeper, and away to the North.


Monadhliath Munros (11)

The bridge over the Markie Burn was there, just as Ali had promised it would be, and before long I was striding out towards the Spey Dam. There's not really all that much more to tell about this expedition. I gained the road to Laggan, and made it as far as Cluny Castle before the daylight got too poor to continue. I tried to hitch a lift, but nobody was interested (how ironic is that? When I walked this road on the Challenge, I was positively beating off uninvited offers of lifts!!) so I rang Ali for a lift back to Newtonmore. I was invited to join the family for dinner that evening; so I bought a bottle of champagne to celebrate 50 Munros and we had a very pleasant time of it. Then, the next morning, it was back South to England. Until the next time ...

Monadhliath Munros (10)

The summit Cairn of Geal Charn was no place to linger! I paused briefly to reflect on 50 Munros ascended (234 to go); but after a quick celebratory pull on my hip flask, I pressed on, keen to get to conditions where I was happy to take my gloves off so I could eat my lunch.

THe landforms were clear and obvious, even in this murk, so I didn't make much use of my compass or GPS (don't think I made any use of 'em, actually!) - I just followed the ridge, taking care to avoid getting to close to the cliffs, and began my descent. As I gradually emerged from the cloud, it became clear that I had actually drifted onto the little spur to the North of Lochan a' Choire, but this was no biggie. I sat and ate my lunch, then headed across the head of the corrie to the Bruach nam Biodag and began my descent in earnest.

Monadhliath Munros (9)

The ascent was wild and rugged - as you expect from the Monadhliath; but the cloud was also well below the tops. I was clearly in for another cold, wet and muggy topping-out. But, hey, this was about the mountain, and you have to tackle the mountain in whatever conditions you find it. So I set out on a slow, steady ascent.

Monadhliath Munros (8)

On the morning of 20 October, Ali drove me out to Garva Bridge, and I set off to "bag" Geal Charn. My route was to ascend the Fieth Talagain to the confluence of the Allt Coire nan Dearcag, then ascend more or less due North East until the summit of Geal Charn was reached. From there, I would continue North East then down the Bruach nam Biodag to a bridge in Glen Markie which isn't shown on the map, but which Ali assured me is there. I could then follow the track to the West of the Markie Burn to the Spey Dam, and the road to Laggan. Ali told me that if I ran out of daylight I was welcome to phone for a lift. I hoped not to need this; but Laggan to Newtonmore by road is a long way.

I was, perhaps, a little disappointed that the wwekend would not give me all four Monadhliath Munros; especially since the one I was missing out - Carn Dearg - was potentially the most difficult to incorporate into a Challenge route (ascend from Stronelairg Lodge to Chalybeate Spring, I guess - then Carn Donnachaidh Beag - Carn Odhar - Beinn Odhar - Sneachdach Slinnean - Carn Ban - Carn Dearg - South South East to the Col - descend more or less West to Loch Dubh and the path down Gleann Lochain looks like the best bet); but it had been the right decision to come in out of the storm; and Geal CHarn would be my 50th Munro, which was cause enough for celebration.