Wednesday, 22 August 2012

TGO Challenge 2012 - Aultnagoire to Coignafearn

I woke in the morning to the sound of a magically played fiddle.  Alex Sutherland was stretching his bow arm.  The sound evoked all the things I think about the Highlands in a single, brief moment.
Filtered coffee, breakfast cereal, fruit.  A full English (yes, English) breakfast.  Fresh orange juice. I was fortified.  I dragged my heels a mite.  Got myself packed away between brief, light showers.  Bryan Waddington had suggested he was opting for a route change.  A bit of knee bother had him seeking a route with less UP.  He said he was thinking of "calling it in".  I gasped "you can't!".  I should have realised that he didn't mean he wanted to pack it in.  He phoned in his route change and set off.  Or maybe I set off first.  I can't remember.

I hit the road and was joined by the first off the MV Morag that day - Simon (Hutchinson - I think) and Iain Robinson were heading up the road and into the Monadhliath.  I walked with them for a while until my path whipped me into solitude again.  The sun was bright, strong.  I was blessed with the weather that day.

Loch Mhór
The LRT above Wester Abercalder
The road turned into lane, and the lane into a track and my route lay through the heather on the western flanks of the wild mountains and moors of the Monadhliath Mountains.  I kept checking my map, to be sure I was inserting myself at the right point.  The burnt sections of heath were the easiest going, and as a Common Lizard skipped through the vegetation beneath my feet I turned to look west.  The view floored me.
The distant, Western Highlands of Scotland.
All those snow-capped peaks and ridges were stretched out.  They filled the horizon.  Brilliant white, beneath a thin ribbon of darkened cloud and a huge tarpaulin of super-blue sky.  I was higher now, and I pivoted slowly casting my gaze south.  A Golden Eagle was cruising above the high moors.  To the north a lone, defunct turbine hung it's partially amputated head in shame.  I tried to ignore it, but it loitered in my peripheral vision.  The elephant in the room.  

The ribbon of darkened cloud grew wider.  Weather began to develop.  It was westerly, and thankfully so.  It arrived on my back, primarily as a determined group of gusts.  Strengthening, the flakes began to fall.  The warmth disappeared, instantly.  I layered up, and continued up, and through lovely, winding mini-glens.  Visibility came and went with the wannabe-blizzards.  
A wannabe-blizzard and the perfect mini-glen.
Burns crossed my path more regularly now.  I gave up tiptoeing on the rocks and stomped confidently through the flows of each.  I liked the way they cooled my feet.  I drank from every other burn.  I needn't have carried the litre of water I got at the Sutherland's croft.  Not knowing the Monadhliath I opted not to trust the map.  I won't worry so much the next time.  These hills are the perfect walking location.
The termination of the LRT beneath Carn na Saobhaidhe.
The track was vulgar, but useful.
The lovely Allt Odhar
The landrover track, which I presume was in place for the construction of more turbines helped me up to just beneath the summit of Carn na Saobhaidhe on the bealach where I took a bearing and selected to handrail using the tributary to the Allt Odhar.  This was fine, wet ground after a short period of heavy bog-hopping.  The lovely Allt became my tractor beam sucking me down toward the old bothy at Dalbeg.  A lone challenger was pitching his tent by the upper stretches of the Findhorn.  I was ready to stop, but I had a target to get as far up the Findhorn as I could before camping.  The weather was good, and I made for Coignafearn (old lodge).
First glimpses of the Findhorn valley

The new lodge of Coignafearn.  A mighty, and slightly oppressive building.
I struggled to cope with the loveliness of this glen.  It was there, for all to see and use, yet no-one, not even the wealthy freeholders of the Coignafearn structures seemed to be present.  It remained a place of solitude for some time until I happened upon two birdwatchers, looking for eagles and another lone backpacker.  Andy Howell was pitching his shelter by the bridge, south of the old lodge.  I stopped for a chat and decided to pitch nearby.  It was a good spot, and the company was welcome.

As I pitched, Alan Callow, Alistair and Eddy arrived - not necessarily in that order.  The light was perfect, if occasionally interrupted by snowy squalls.  A solitary Golden Eagle broke the skyline to our southeast, dashing into the glen before making way up a tree-filled re-entrant behind the lodge.  This was a moment to cherish.  
This is my favourite photo from the challenge.  My spot beside the Elrick Burn.
In Drumnadrochit I had the foresight to purchase two cans of Tennents Super (the superlighter's lager equivalent - four cans for the weight of two).  With my tent pitched, I cracked one open and soaked it up.  It took effect within moments and eased the edge from my stinging feet.  It was the first time I had noticed my feet hurting since day two on the road into Cannich.  Trainers really do add to the comfort, be them wet or dry.

I chatted with Al, Eddy and Alan - Andy Howell had ensconced himself in his tent proclaiming "I've got my shoes off, have applied my foot cream, and I am in my bag.  I ain't coming out for anyone." It was before 8pm!.  Alistair and I continued talking to the fabric of Andy's shelter for a short while before giving up and chatting until the cold air got the better of us.  We retired to our shelters by 8.30.  
A Findhorn Encampent
A Moment on the Elrick Burn
Look, it's waterproof.
I cooked up a great deal of my food, most of which was untouched.  I had bought and packed to excess.  Tomorrow I would get a re-supply of meals and a bar meal.  I scoffed two or three foil pouches of dried grub, and several oatcakes.  It was washed down with glugs of malt.  I was becoming warmer with every minute, despite plummeting temperatures.
Snr Waddington.  A veritable dude.  Look at him smile, like a pig in poo-poo!
Alan had retired by now so I was enjoying my stupor alone until I looked up and saw two beRonhill-ed legs standing strong, flanked by a pair of trekking poles.  Bryan Waddington.  I was delighted to see him.  He was doing great, despite running a little later than most.  It was 9.00 when he showed up.  We chin-wagged with gusto and as the light faded, and the mercury sunk we crawled back in our holes and slept.  Snow was falling in squalls once again, and through the night.  It was cold.  I was drunk, and coated with what felt like a ready-brek glow.