Tuesday, 29 May 2012

TGO Challenge 2012 - Strathcarron to Allt Riabhachain

So here it is, the culmination of nearly two years of hopeful impatience, planning, fretting, whittling and blogging.  I finally, actually, really set off on my first coast to coast crossing of Scotland on the RAB TGO Challenge.  This is my report....

Day 1 - Strathcarron Hotel to Allt Riabhachain (above Pait Lodge) 0900h start

I had a worried, and nervously tense breakfast at the hotel.  Despite the nice people I leapfrogged along the first ascents, I really wanted to start alone.  With that in mind, I really ought not have picked Strathcarron as more than thirty challengers were due to set off from there and most of those were to do so on the Friday morning.  I need not have worried as I pushed a little bit harder than I originally intended to get a bit of distance between me and the small groups before settling into my normal pace.  I had forgotten to set a start beacon with Viewranger, and had lost signal by the time I remembered.
Somewhere in the hills above Strathcarron
I bounced along, a little uncertain of the exact placement on my thin blue line, but the compass had me going East South-east and there was a track, so I could care less.  The larger terrain around me was exactly as the map in my mind recalled, and the wilderness began to suck me in.  A Raven flew over head, kronking - a start claxon maybe?

The Lochs - nan Chreada and an Fheóir gave me a gigantic sense of presence in what seemed a tiny world of oceans, islands and peninsula.  I could have spent hours up there, within just a square mile of landscape - one day I fancy doing just that.  I peered down into the deep, water carved valley of Eas Ban as it swept up to meet me and this confirmed my position, and by just after 11am I had been visited by the first Cuckoo of the trip.  In hot pursuit, a Meadow Pipit - intent on seeing off the parasitic monster bird following its unceremonious plopping of it's oversized egg in the little one's nest.

Bendronaig Lodge, or rather Lodges - a First-class (locked) shooting lodge plus its smaller, Steerage-class (unlocked) sibling - offered my first taste of shelter.  The Steerage option was fine, if typically dirty.  I positioned my (wet) self in the unusually bright 'kitchen' area where I made a snack and a couple of brews.  I hadn't really noticed it was raining, but my drippyness brought me to my senses, as did the bedraggled appearance of my followers.  A while had passed before I was joined by any of my co-starters.  Maybe I was rushing things, but I was happy.
Bendronaig Lodge, above and left of centre
Eddy, and his son, Alistair were the first to arrive and set up their fayre in one of the side rooms.  Others came in, among them were Mike, Alan & Andy - three Scots, Colin - a solo Scot, David, Heather and Sue - a terrific Challenge trio who I had met the day before at Inverness.  Tony Bennett got a brew going in the main room, nearest to me.  Conversation was scant, and a little forced.  David A took a few photos, as I recall.

The flushing bothy toilet proved too much of a pull for one of the trio so off she popped for a bucket of water before diving in, so to speak.  We closed our ears and later she emerged smiling and giggling, but only after exit from the WC was permitted by the lifting of the loo seat.  With the seat in the down position, exit was impossible.

Gradually and at a similar rate to their arrival, the comrades left the bothy and I  too eschewed myself from the Lodge into the weather.  Loch Calavie passed me by and many kinds of weather made busy as I trampled along the path by it's side - a diver was snorkelling in the shallows.

I lost the path-cum-land rover track somewhere above An Gead Loch on the way to Pait Lodge.  The path appeared clear on mapping and aerial photograph alike.  In reality it was not.  In spite of this, the going was good but it was a lot slower.  I felt a might self-conscious, as most of the folk behind were now above me.  I assumed they were on the path and could clearly see my off-piste bog-trotting antics.  Oh, well.

The visibility was excellent, and the weather improving, so navigation to my goal was not a problem.  I set about my plan to find a spot to camp by the shores of Loch Monar, out of sight of the lodge itself and to it's North north-west.  I felt a tad lonely, and pined for a little company.  I headed directly to the lodge avoiding the barking canines and circumnavigated the lodge rather than heading through the grounds.  Those of you that have been in the area will know the state of the ground to the immediate North of the lodge.  It is rough, and at the end of the day, the myriad peat hags were a sting in the tail of what, for me, had been a long and really great day in the depths of the North-western Highlands.
Rainbow, and improving weather over Loch Monar
The sun broke through for the final throes of the day and I splodged myself down on a rock just above the lodge.  Here I waited to be joined by another challenger, or group thereof.  I was grateful when I saw Tony Bennett coming around the lodge looking dog-tired, just as I felt.  We rested briefly here, and both agreed that a tramp up the Allt Riabhachain would be most wise in terms of finding a good spot to make camp.  We were right.  A fine, if slightly moist spot was located without too much fuss, and as we became established two Golden Eagles performed for us above Meallan Bhuidhe.

I took a few photos of my first camp of the challenge.  I should probably point out that I used a mobile phone as my camera.  I left the memory card for my compact camera at home in Suffolk, so the camera itself was dead weight for the next hundred miles until I lost it somewhere between Feshie and Braemar.
My house is to the left, and Tony's to the right

Meallan Buidhe - snowcapped, behind our camp
The Allt Riabhachain
Tony and I discussed our route for the next day, and I decided to adjust my intended route (over Meallan Buidhe) to go around to the beallach between it, and Meallan Odhar.  I was glad to have Tony nearby for my first TGO camp.  I was a touch homesick, and his company was most welcome.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Carl's "Live" RAB TGO Challenge 2012 Map

Below is a link to a live map which I hope will be dynamically following my progress as I walk across Scotland over the next couple of weeks.  Please don't go calling mountain rescue if the little line doesn't move very far.  It doesn't mean I have come a cropper, it just means I have not been able to get signal, couldn't get a beacon out, have no battery, or couldn't be arsed to drop a beacon anyway.

I hope the wiggly line keeps you amused, and if you see it wobble after Braemar as Phil says in the comments below, raise a glass with me, I'll be on my second!


Friday, 4 May 2012

The Stuff of 177 Miles

I know there have been many posts about challenge kit, and several probably for this year.  I may not be adding anything new, anything interesting, but I wanted to illustrate here how my kit choice has changed since my first post about my kit here.  I haven't put weights in because I am bored with weights and measures.  This is the stuff I have decided I will need.

This is Kitlist v2.0

So a list it is - I'll go roughly left to right as though following text in a book:

One pair of trekmates liner gloves (silk) 
One pair of karrimor outer gloves (synthetic)
One midgie headnet
Two standard buffs
Drybag with loo kit
Bag of tablets (various)
First Aid Kit
Spoon (long handled)
Stove/Pot combined
2 x 100g gas canisters
Brew kit
Silicon collapsible cup
Waterproof Overtrousers
Down Jacket
Little stow-away sil-nylon bag
Maps (all of them - the whole way across)
Contact lens kit (including mirror)
Tub of smash
Bag of muesli
Small folding knife
Small headtorch
Small tentpeg (should be in the tent bag)
Compass & spare (not in case it breaks, in case I lose it!)
Simple GPS Unit
Hygiene kit
 - Small bar of soap
 - Tea Tree Oil
 - Small anti-perspirant (I know everyone will smell at the end, but I will smell slightly different)
 - Midge repellent
 - Sunscreen
 - Toothpaste & toothbrush
Gadget charger
Nokia mobile (with a seemingly endless battery life)
1 x Nokia battery (lord knows why, the original will never run out)
Food (4 days worth)
Bubblewrap toner bags (one for a meal cosy, the other for my kindle)
Tiny backup stove - for woodburning
Toilet trowel
Wiping sponge (condensation control and spillages)
Stuff sacks (for segregating kit - like you need to have that explained)
Notepad & pen
Sleeping quilt
Sleeping pad
Water bottles
Whisky bottle
One Balaclava
Two pairs pants
Two pairs of thin day socks
One pair warm night socks
Pair of windproof bottoms - lightweight
Two baselayer-tees
One windproof jacket - lightweight
Trekking poles
Not in the photo
Waterproof jacket (old XCR one)
TGO Fleece (hasn't arrived yet)
Camera (I was using it)
Smartphone (it was charging - like they all probably are, most of the time)
Smartphone batteries (x3)
Rucksack - 44l
Chest pack - 4l

So that's it.  Everything I need - apart from what I will be wearing which will be a pair of trousers, underpants, socks, tee-shirt - and probably all the warm and wet weather gear from the above!

Go on, slate me for taking too much, and leaving stuff out - whatever, but most of all....