So, it was that time of year again!
Do not expect a detailed route report, nor a gear review.
This is just my take on what I remember happening.
Others may well differ.
I had packed my kit in the trusty Gorilla (more of that in a short review of the pack coming to a screen near you maybe) and headed off to the Bree Louise in Londinium to meet up with my travelling Amigo’s Messrs Sloman & Lambert (cos Phil had all the rail tickets).
I was NOT to be walking with them this year, wanting to do my own route.
A fine time was had in the Bree Louise, that may have involved ALE.
I had met up with Phil at Cambridge Station.
All too soon, or maybe just in time, it was time for the train.
We were on the 9.15 Sleeper to Inverness, so we bundled on board in haste to enable us to bag a suitable seat in the lounge on the train. Interestingly, not much alcohol was consumed, and we finished with a nice cup of tea, before finally heading to bunks to sleep, waking the next morning for breakfast and the bus ride to Shiel Bridge, where there were to be many starting.
The weather for the first 2 days was looking good, but on thew way I had already decided by looking up the hills, that the real high ridge was not going to go. I only had spikes, and didn’t want to carry a ton of gear. There had been fresh snow up top, and the Five Sisters, along with the higher ridges looked like they would need a bit of technical gear. With a lighter pack I would have gone for it, but you can always come back at a later time, and I didn’t fancy an accident on my 10th.
|The South Shiel Ridge from the bus.
Still covered in snow
I met another lot of wonderful people this year, old and new faces.
I will probably not mention that many, because there are so many of you.
So, a very pleasant social evening was had in the bar, with many folk and since this was a solo walk by me (really), my soon to be walking partners Carl and Gordon. As it was to transpire, I would end up walking with them for the first 7 days, and a few beyond that as well. And I must say chaps. Thank you, for making it such a great time.
And so, it was time to head off.
Room bills paid, and just a couple of hundred miles of walking left over the next 2 weeks.
The weather was looking rather excellent.
We had decided to pop round to Beinn Fhada and see where it led us.
|Day 1 Profile
|Day 1 to 5 Profile
Better do a few starting photos then.
Most of the photos are mine, but I have pirated a few from Carl and Gordon as well, because they had me in them. I have not always said whose though.
But thanks boys for the piccies and just being there 🙂
|Looking Up Loch on Thursday Night|
|Same view in the morning just before leaving|
Day 1 – Shiel Bridge to Alltbeithe via some hills init
|Me with Gorilla Pack and 4 days food ready to set off|
|Picture courtesy Carl
|Amazing reflections of the water and the hills|
|Sloman & Lambert just before we parted in different directions|
|My walking buddies Carl & Gordon on the way up to attempt Beinn Fhada|
|Yes, I am wearing a string vest OK.
NOW MOVE ON!!!!!
|Time to head up the Stalkers Track then!|
The weather was rather excellent, and we were hoping to make it up and over the top.
Not to be for reasons of precaution.
The closer we got to the top, the steeper the ground, but more importantly the more snow there was.
This was also getting icier underfoot, and there was a bit of wind-slab too.
Carl and I had spikes and would have been OK.
Gordon had none, and was wearing Wildcat Trail shoes.
We all had trail shoes. They were not a problem.
Nor was the going up.
But coming down without any spikes could well have been an issue.
So as a team we decided that safety of all was more important, and a couple of hundred feet from the top, we headed back down.
It was a lovely day, and NOT worth buggering up with a rescue.
Anyway, we had a bunk booked at Alltbeithe SYHA, and a lot more days to go.
All that said, the views were excellent, and we had a rather nice lunch stop near the top on the way back down.
It was a lot colder up there than it looked from the photo’s though.
Once we decided to start to head down, it was time for a lunch stop.
The weather was glorious.
|Lunch Break at the top of the Stalkers Track|
I pondered on a more direct route, but it looked like an almighty bog at the bottom so we went back down the track and over the Bealach
|Descending to Loch an Bealach|
|Heading to Loch a Bealach|
From this point on, it was a goodly tab along the river.
A river that actually goes on and on and on.
There is a track?????
“But not one as we know it Jim”
It seemed like forever before we finally arrived at the SYHA at Alltbeithe
But all that said, it was a glorious day, and a pretty beautiful walk.
The evening was good.
Marianne Hannah (thanks Carl) was an absolute joy and made us feel at home like old friends.
Many a challenger was already there, and we had a jolly good evening, finishing up with a chat & whisky with some Scottish chaps just doing some hills. OK it was their mates whisky, and we had already done a bit before we even got to that point.
Did I mention the soup?
Hannah made soup. Excellent soup.
Did I mention the Scones and Jam.
Time passed on into the darkness, and eventually it was decided that maybe sleep would be useful.
We tip toed back to the shared bunk and went to sleep.
All went well, until I decided I needed a pee and would very very very quietly leave the bunkhouse.
Which I did.
Only problem being, that as I carefully tried to shut the dooor without a noise, I stepped back and my right leg plunged down between the rungs of the steps.
|My footprint looking down from top rung|
Could have been NASTY!
I was OK.
I bruise and scuff.
It could have been far far worse had I not managed to hang on to the door handle.
A backwards tumble with leg trapped would have ended in a broken leg just below the knee.
And that would have been a bit of a bastard.
But all was good and the next morning we had tea and a chat and then ready to head off to tonight’s bivouac, which was Cougie and so another bed.
Why was I carrying a Tent?
As it happens I could have posted it to Fort Augustus from the start….
|As we left I filed away the memory! :-O
OK, I’ll get my coat
Day 2 – Alltbeithe to Cougie
The walk along the track to Loch Affric is easy going and the weather was excellent yet again.
It wouldn’t last! Would It???
So we could chat as we walked and ponder on the next set of route variations.
The top ridges looked good, but it would have been potentially foolish.
Anyway, there were a lot more hills to come.
|Looking back on way from Alltbeithe|
|Me on route|
|Lunch stop by the Allt Garbh|
|My 2 NEW amigos 🙂|
It would have been so so easy to just stay here, the weather was so good.
But we had a date at Cougie and I wanted to meet up with them there.
Also, it was lovely walking weather, so we headed up through the trees towards Cougie.
A nice track up the Allt Garbh, apart from the bits that are BOG..
|Heading up the Allt Garbh|
|Looking out towards the new planting.
Going to be rather fine.
Eventually we came out onto the large track at the top and headed down towards Loch nan Gillean.
|Loch nan Gillean|
|Another View Back|
And then we were at Cougie.
Mike was there.
Gordon and I had rooms.
Carl put his tent up in the horse field.
And we had tea and scones and cakes and Mel showed me the picture of John and Val they had had made from the photo I sent them.
It was lovely to see that Cougie had not changed.
Still an Oasis of Joy and Friendliness.
Still embracing life!
|John & Val back in 2006|
We had a wonderful evening although we could see that the glorious weather was on the change, and tomorrow may NOT be quite so pleasant.
We popped over to Gordon’s Cabin after food for a chat.
They had the boiler alight and it was more like a cross between a Sauna and a Smokery.
Below are some phone pictures that show the delight that is Cougie.
|The room where many years ago the wonderful Margaret Brocklehurst saved my little toe with wonder tape 🙂|
Another fine night and then it was time to head off into an intermittent rain filled day.
Day 3 – Cougie to Fort Augustus
We had intended originally to head up through the forest and go over Carn a Choire Ghlais and Carn a Choire Leith then onto Beinn Bhan but this was NOT the day for a boggy heather bash.
It was going to be wet enough as it is.
The string vest.
Not a picture you really want to see.
Luckily it rained for the rest of the day so I had to wear a coat.
Yep… It is warm and doesn’t soak out.
|For a brief moment we thought it might not rain.
So we headed along the track to Hilton Lodge and then up and over the track to Glen Moriston, bumping into several folk and Ken Proudler again.
As we got higher it got wetter and windier and nastier.
By the top of the track it had become pretty bloody miserable and that is why there are NO pictures today hardly.
Eventually we took a brief and wet sanctuary in the small hut on the left as you head up, about 1 km from Beinn Bhan. It was much needed.
A bit to cramped to cook and anyway no seats at all, but at least it was sheltered from the wind.
We stopped here for about 20 minutes, leaving just as Ken arrived.
The wind had died briefly and the rain not as bad. In fact it was going to briefly clear on the way down, but come back with a vengeance later on.
We made our way bedraggled down to Glen Morriston, arriving on the road for a short walk to the bridge and then up through the forest.
This was my lowest point of the Challenge.
But as I got a brief Signal at the bottom, I got a message from my son Ollie.
He is off playing Rugby in Australia and had just got back playing for the last 4 weeks having had a broken leg in training earlier in the year.
“Hi Dad! They think I have done my ACL.
Getting a scan tomorrow.”
Your kids are everything.
And I mean EVERYTHING!!!!
My heart felt like a stone, a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye.
And I mean a real one!
“Please GOD give my boy a break (not that sort)”
Dreams and careers can be ended in a second in a Rugby game.
I could not do anything.
But I just wanted to give the great lump a BLOODY GREAT HUG!
|He’s the enormous unit with the ball.
And I love him!
I plodded along the road to console myself by telling Carl.
Seeing this reminder of the STUPIDITY of some of the GREEN save the bloody planet policies.
And it was about to FUCKING RAIN again too.
We were meant to be camping near here.
It was about 10km to Fort Augustus, and we could be there by about 6.15 pm.
And have a beer and a bed.
No fucking argument there then.
We headed up through the forest.
Carl had already rung ahead and left a message at Morag’s Lodge.
3 beds in bunkhouse please.
It was OK on the way up.
We didn’t follow the old military road the whole way.
That way lies madness and a river crossing.
Nope up the track.
OK, a small navigational error by myself.
I will take full blame, meant a bit of a bog and heather bash for about ½ a K.
The carnage to the hill by industrialisation, and building pylons, and the huge pipe is horrific.
We trudged over the top and began the descent.
The wind and rain picked up.
It was bleeding WET!
Luckily towards the end we managed to get into the forest and take the zig-zag track down.
My foot was aching.
No idea why.
And we headed into Fort Augustus a day early.
Arrived at Morag’s Lodge (a bloody fine hostel).
We were wet.
OK.I was very wet.
My coat was a bit leaky.
I would resolve that the following day.
They had a room.
We bundled in and got sorted out and had showers and put stuff into the drying room (cupboard)
We had a plan for the evening.
It involved The Loch Inn, Food and Beer.
It was a plan that worked on all levels!
Carl consuming as far as I can tell enough food to last him for another 4 nights out.
Except they ran out of Skye Red and we had to go down the road to The Bothy.
And so, the next day being now a day off, since I was booked into a B&B up the road, because a doss day.
One of sunshine and showers and doing pretty much bugger all.
We left the lodge late, and then went off to our separate B&B’s, well, except Carl who was booked into the lodge.
|Gordon’s Picture Fort Augustus Lochs|
I went and got s few supplies.
OK, none since I had a bleeding great box at the B&B.
BUT I did go and buy a whole spray can of NikWax.
And to the confusion of passers by, I stood outside by the lochs
and sprayed my coat (wearing it much of the time) with wax spray.
After which I went back into the loch and dried myself by the fire.
Actually, the 2 days blur into one.
Many new people arrived on Day 4 inc Robin and Lynsey.
I didn’t do much…
But we had a good time not doing it.
Had a bloody great bath though.
Just in case you are thinking!!!!!!
And then it was Tuesday and time to head to Challyebeate Springs.
Day 5 – Fort Augustus to Challybeate Springs
This was of course NOT completely my original plan.
I had planned to go up Glen Doe and then left to Stronelairg Lodge.
However, the forecast for Wed was GOOD!
This meant less wind and clear skies and a chance to go up the ridge rather than up the Dulnain.
Been up the Dulnain!
Been up the ridge too.
But the ridge was high and had a Monro on it.
So, we all headed off up the road and then up Glen Doe track.
At first the weather was OK (ish),
|Yep.. It was wet.
Yep.. That is a Rain cover on my pack.
Yep.. They do work.
But by the time we got to the small bothy building and got inside it was pissing down again.
Time to shelter from the wind.
Weather a bit different from the heat the last time here.
Couldn’t stay there all day.
We headed off.
Then I realised the bothy door wasn’t shut so went back and shut it.
And back up the road again.
It was going to be a blustery and showery day.
Getting less rain as the day went on, but bloody windy.
That was going to be windy all day.
Wind with a cold biting edge to it.
Luckily, the track is easy going after the first haul up.
As we neared the reservoir, it was apparent that nature had been at work.
The access road was churned to bits in places.
And the snow was across it.
|And another 40 feet further on, it was solid wall.
Even the Bulldozer had given up
We carried on up and over the top by the reservoir and then began the drop down.
It was still just as windy.
Robin departed a way up the track to head to the Markie and we all bundled on with the odd stop to rest feet.
Tracks are easy going, but they can beat your feet up like tarmac does.
You need to give them some TLC to make them feel loved.
Because, if they get snotty, they are going to give you grief.
Or maybe worse!
|A wonderful expanse of BOG.
Sadly this is exactly the type of wonderful land the SSE and the Scottish Govt want to cover in bloody pointless Wind Turbines in their insane attempt to save the planet.
Find a SOLUTION that works!!!!
|Me Heading to Challybeate|
Eventually we arrived at Challybeate Springs, leaving the track.
The best camping spot is a nice green sward the other side of the river.
Which we were NOT going to get across.
Far to deep and moving far too fast tonight.
We carried on up the left bank to find a place.
It was NOT the best place.
But good enough for half a dozen tents.
The ground was ok, but very damp.
Pegs struggled to really stay in.
Especially as it was blowing an absolute gale (ok not a real gale, but bloody hard)
|It was a bit bloody windy|
See Carl’s Video in a minute, and the shape of some of the tents.
|Me and Lynsey getting blown about|
As I baton mine down with rocks.
I had been going to bring my excellent Sil hexPeak V4 that I got from Bob & Rose at Backpacking Light. But to save a bit of weight, and because it fitted in the side pocket of the Gorilla more easily, (The hex needed the Mariposa Side Pocket) I had bought the MLD Solomid XL & mesh inner I had acquired from Martin.
As I was putting this up while the wind lashed into me, I was beginning to regret not going with the hexPeak. That would have gone up in no time and been absolutely bomber.
I admit I was just getting the hang of the Solomid, but although smaller and lighter. The inner is full mesh, and it just isn’t as roomy or solid as the hex.
Not saying I wouldn’t take it again, or that it didn’t do the job, because it did, and was a great tent.
But I could have cooked inside the porch of the hex. It would have been like a rock. And fundamentally for me, at the £159 it costs it is a bloody marvel.
Yes you do get the penalty of another 500g, but …..
As it happens, I ended up overall, only camping for 4 of my expected 8 camping nights, so I was glad I cartried a lighter tent I didn’t use.
The hexPeak however will be going to Fisherfields in Oct. No contest!!
Well, that is the plug for the tent over.
|Looking out from my tent in the morning.
The river had gone down a lot.
As had the wind
It was a blustery night.
We cooked some food and then Lynsey and I ended up with MOST of us in Carl’s Tarp tent consuming things like Whisky.
A windy but comfortable night was to follow.