Monday, 17 February 2014

TGO Challenge 2012 - Loch Callater Lodge to Shielin of Mark

Where was I?  Ah...   ...yes....   ...Loch Callater Lodge.

In spite of a terribly convivial and overly imbibed preceding evening, I awoke fresh.  Ok, well not fresh, but without any sort of pain.  I had already decided to be more relaxed for today's yomp over to the Shielin of Mark and really just wanted to let nature take it's course and so it was.

The natural progression of the morning movements (yes all of them) carried me along like a fluff of down on the lightest breeze.  The fabric of the tent was icy cold with a sugar-coating of frost which I disturbed unavoidably as I emerged from the opening.  It was a truly beautiful morning.
It was a beautiful morning.
Above Loch Callater.

It was around about this point that I bumped into Alan Sloman, Andy Walker and Ian Cotterill.  They were taking a break from the lung-busting climb out of Callater onto the slopes of Carn an t-Sagairt Mór.  It was a VERY warm day.  In spite of the heat I felt strong, and fitter than I ever had before.  Nevertheless, this was still a brutal ascent.  I paused for a while with the chaps before setting off with Andy up to the higher slopes.

Di Gerrard, 'Charles', Keith Leonard and Lynsey Pooler were leapfrogging us for a wee while up and around (but not over) 'Sagairt Mór,  There was plenty of snow about and given my footwear, I took the decision, after a brief chat with Andy, to follow his route over the bealach and down to Dubh Loch.  Lynsey, Keith, Di and Charles headed higher and up onto Cairn Bannoch and Broad Cairn.  I think Lynsey was headed over to the Waters of Unich.

This point was the highest point I would reach on my crossing, at 968m.  The views to the west across the Cairngorms were outstanding.

Oh, get me - high altitude mountaineering.

Lynsey, Keith, Di and Charles - not necessarily in that order.
 I think these photographs are a touch out of sequence, but I really don't think it matters.  You get the sense of the day quite nicely from them, don't you agree?

Rough ground between me and Dubh Loch.
As I mentioned, I headed down into Dubh Loch, which is rougly the way Andy was headed - well, it was 'roughly' east, which would do for him.  He loitered up high above Dubh Loch, waiting for Alan to follow on to join him.  He didn't, so Andy carried on and followed a few hundred metres behind me into this terrific area of landscape.

The White Mounth, Dubh Loch, and Broad Cairn.
Cairn Bannoch just out of shot to the right.

Eagles Rock, on the White Mounth above Dubh Loch
Taken from our 'rest slab'.
 The huge slabs at the top of the waterfall were the perfect place to stop for some chocolate, and a drink of water.  I scooped some up from the flow with my mug and drank it down.  Heavenly!

It wasn't all that long before Mr Walker arrived and we shared the sanctity of the slab and soaked up the sunshine and ancient surroundings.  He inflated his little pillow and got comfortable.  It became difficult to move on, not for any physical reason, there just wasn't a good enough reason to push on.

Andy remarked on the aircraft wreckage further up the Allt - "What wrkecage?" I replied - upon which comment he drew his camera and showed me the rather large chunks of aeroplane he had spotted further up the hill.  I had completely missed them!

Allt an Dubh-loch

The high falls at the western edge of Eagles Rock, on the southern flanks of the 

Creag an Dubh-loch

Another bloody picture of Dubh Loch
 Time came when it felt appropriate for me to hoist myself to my feet, so I left Andy (probably faffing) and set off at a skippity rhythm along the path above the loch, and headed for Loch Muick.  I had been at Loch Muick before, with Linda on a holiday before we had the kids.  I remembered the Black Grouse lek at on the moors just out from the visitor centre and hoped I might catch a glimpse again, although it was late in the day, and it was unlikely.
Looking back UP Allt an Dubh-loch
The first glimpse of Loch Muick
The path down from Dubh Loch to Glas Allt Shiel was high, narrow, rough and exposed, and incredibly beautiful into the bargain.

The rugged descent
For some reason I failed to take any photos when I reached Glas Allt Shiel, which was a shame as I remember having a lovely old time there too.  Andy arrived a short while after I did and Eddy and Alistair Hunt joined us whilst we made a brew and set about getting some food together.  I've said it before that these two chaps really are great people to get to know.  I had really found a couple of good friends here.  I am still in touch with them, from time to time - although Eddy has vowed never to cross Scotland on foot ever again!
We'll see!
As we sat, a chaffinch shat on one of our shoulders, I can't remember if it was mine - it was so long ago - right Louise? ;-)

Andy showed me to the facilities and to the bothy which secretes itself within the bowels of Glas Allt Shiel itself.  Not a bad little setting, actually, and on a foul weather day, I don't doubt this would be an ideal place to hunker down.  Google it and I am sure you will find some images of it.
I made use of the facilities whilst Andy sourced some water, upstream of the outlet - naturally.

Alistair and Eddy had set off a while before me and I felt that it was time to make progress again so headed through the woods and around the loch to the spittal and the visitor centre.  

Loch Muick - as stunning as I remember it.

Several more challengers and day walkers were gathered at the spittal, and I had passed a few folk on the loch path too.  I nattered a bit with some of them before making an energetic dash up Allt Darrarie. I was once again feeling super fit and was generally loving life.  I caught up with Eddy and Alistair and slowed my pace for a time so I could chat some more.  I naturally began to gain ground on them so I bade a temporary farewell and yomped on ahead.  I was around about the point where the Darrarie darts off to the right when I remembered the bearing that Andy had confidently given me to assist in locating the bothy.  I duly set my compass and stuck to the bearing - it was simple enough given the weather.  The hags posed some challenge whilst crossing this high moor but I was actually beginning to like solving the problems that the peat presented.  It was quite absorbing, and I was becoming better at it that I had ever been.

I popped out at the burn that I presume from the map is one of the source burns for the Water of Mark.  No bothy.  

I checked the bearing, and looked back from where I had come, yep - spot on.  Of course, I checked again, and then worked out the actual bearing I should have taken, and it was 5 degrees out.  I headed upstream and sure enough after a hundred steps or so, into view came the bothy at Shielin of Mark.  I made a mental note to release a couple of guylines from Andy's shelter that night - such was the vitriol that coursed through my veins.  Or perhaps I exaggerate.  Either way - I won't ever admit that I should have checked the bearing myself before plodding across the hags.

I was not the first to arrive. A couple of chaps were already pitched whose faces I remember well, but names have escaped me now.  In fairness, I only really met the legs of one of the chaps, for he was snoring like a drain with his pins poking out of his tent.

I popped my head in the bothy and popped it speedily out again.  It is not a place to spend the night, especially with the weather as good as it was that day.  Up went the tent in no time on a bit of damp ground and I set about making myself comfortable.

The hoards gathered one by one, and by the end of the evening there were alot of people camped at the Shielin.   
Just a Moment.

...and another.

Eddy and Alistair trumped camped next door
Lindsay Jones arrived and chose a spot not far from me, after what seemed like an hour of faff and a modicum of banter among us, she got her tent up.  Pete Molenaar was there, and I recall spending a good time chatting to him, although what we discussed escapes me completely.  Andy arrived too, and I don't remember berating him at all, but I feel sure I must have done.  And I definitely don't remember taking any of his tent stakes out.  I do remember having some of Alistair's coffee, though.  It was very nice stuff.  I remember chatting to one lady who had crossed on a mammoth route, and she was really lovely, and utterly unaware of the magnitude of her route - she just kind of oozed adventure and experience.  She was in a green Laser Comp, and had a very youthful but weathered look about her.  Her hair was greying, and tightly curled.  She was very dainty.  I have absolutely no idea what her name was.  No hope of remembering it either.  Such is the peril of writing up a trip report after almost 2 years, and having not take any notes since Braemar.  I was doing so well with noting the people I met, even as far across as Ruigh Aiteachain.  There's something about Braemar.  It does something to you.

I don't remember drifting off, either.  But I must have done.  Because when I woke up, it was another beautiful day.  A day about which you will be able to read in a few months time.