Saturday, 11 November 2017

Going for Gold

We only had one group to support at the Open Award Centre this year, a group that we supported through Silver last year and had previously done their Bronze through the centre too.

Over the last three years, with a little natural wastage and movement of participants, we ended up with a group of four, two girls and two boys. We were able to encourage one of the parents, Nick (ML and former MRT) to give additional support in an advisory role and he and David were able to take the group out for their practice expedition in June. I took on a role of taxi, I dropped David and Conall at the start of the walk at Blair Atholl and left them to it. The following day I drove down to Auchlean and parked the car, then walked in to meet the group and supervisors south of Glenfeshie Lodge, to join them for the second camp and then to play taxi again the next day while the group walked out to Ruthven Barracks. Because of their experience and skills, they were able to complete three full days walking and two overnight camps as a practice.

The practice was a success. They started the expedition in fine weather and had a good first night. The second day there was a change in conditions, but they coped really well, navigating superbly through low cloud and rain over rough terrain and really impressing Nick, especially when they ducked into a sheltered spot, cracked out the Jetboil and had hot drinks and snacks.

The qualifier was nearly cancelled. We couldn’t get support from our local Assessors, which was really frustrating, the group had to apply to the Assessor Network and pay for an Assessor, which I find really annoying. John from Kingussie agreed at the last minute to Assess for them, which was fantastic.

We set off to Spean Bridge early on the Saturday morning, in time to meet John and set off around 10am. I was able to support the entire expedition, which was exciting, I love supporting the groups out and this was such a good group. As they set off to make their way to Meannanach Bothy for their first camp (outside, not in the bothy!) we had a little car shuffle to do. We drove both cars to Tulloch, parked up and then caught the train back. We then in turn set off for the bothy. We really took our time on the way, this was a Gold group, perfectly capable and competent and we did not need to see them until camp. We dawdled along but eventually caught up with them along Lairig Leacach a couple of kilometres short of Leacach Bothy. It was about this time we noticed a few midgies. They left ahead of us and we caught up with them again at the Leacach. We didn’t see them again, other than in the distance, until we reached Meannanach. After reaching the high point of the Penny Path, I started to suffer pain in my right thigh and knee, as we progressed downhill, it got worse, despite having taken painkillers. We made painfully slow progress and Nick was there ahead of us, unaware I was suffering.

As we pitched our tent, it became abundantly clear that there were midgies. More midgies than I have ever seen in my life, and I’ve seen a few. David went into the bothy to prepare our evening meals and I sorted the inside of the tent. We all ate in the bothy, had a wee chat about the day and the route for tomorrow, then we all retired. Both bothies were busy, Nick opted to stay inside rather than camp.

The following morning, I lay in the tent listening to the midgies swarming. I’ve never heard that before. When a slight breeze blew, the midgies were blown against the side of the tent and tumbled down the fabric like snowflakes.

Horrific. And amazing.

Anyway, they were up and away in good time and we wasted some time so as to give them space. We sauntered along, obviously on the route I’d taken on my Challenge earlier in the year. It was still a bit boggy in places. We had a few breaks, including lunch at the head of Loch Trieg, before Nick got ahead of us and we just plodded on. As we reached Loch Ossian, we could see a small group of people ahead of us near the Youth Hostel and guessed it was probably the group and Nick, but just strolled on, there was no need to fret. We eventually caught up with them just before Corrour Lodge. They were in fine fettle and indeed had been speaking to Nick. He’d gone on ahead and they were just killing time, being slightly ahead of schedule. They were due to camp along Uisage Labhair and this was where we found Nick and the Assessor.

We had a pleasant enough evening, but the midgies were still a nagging problem so we all retired at a reasonable time. I seem to remember there being rain. And it was due to get breezy overnight.

The next morning was wet. Somewhat unpleasantly wet. We packed up inside the tent completely before finally leaving the warm and dry and striking camp. The guys were ready to go and we all headed off, but in opposite directions. They were headed over the Bealach Dubh and down to Loch Pattack, we were headed to Corrour Station, to have coffee, cake, a pee and catch the train to Tulloch. There we retrieved the cars and drove towards Dalwhinnie. Nick opted to park near Inverpattack Lodge, we drove to Dalwhinnie station and walked in from there along Loch Ericht. In retrospect, we took the long route, possibly unnecessarily, but actually I quite enjoyed it. We found them all, along with Nick, at Loch Pattack, bang on time. They had had quite a wet, miserable day, but were still in reasonably good spirits and keen to get in to camp, but Nick suggested walking on a little further to get a sheltered spot. We walked in as a loose group, pitched, had dinner and retired. Midgies!

The last day dawned. We continued along the path behind them for a while, but they peeled off to make their way via Allt an t-Sluic to the quarry on the A889 to meet us, we strolled out to Nick’s car, he gave us a lift to collect ours before we had breakfast at the Dalwhinnie greasy spoon cafe. Mid afternoon, we met John at the quarry, closely followed by the group.

Not surprisingly, they passed. But they are an exceptional group and fully deserved to. Love ‘em to bits and am so proud of them.

I have no photographs of either expedition sadly as Conall had my camera in order to photograph and film their activities as part of their aim.

Sunday, 7 May 2017

An Unexpected Munro

As we walked with the boys to shooting early Friday evening, David asked if I’d like to do Meall a’ Bhuachaille the next day. Well yes! My favourite little hill, but I would have liked more warning, I had a birthday cake to bake. That saw me baking a Chocolate Fruit Mince Brownie at 21:00 on Friday night, in order to be prepared for Saturday.

We were up at a reasonable time yesterday as David planned to take Conall to work for 09:00 and we would the leave for the drive to Glenmore soon after. Bags were packed, kit and boots thrown in to the car and we were off by about 09;15. We’d driven through Grantown on Spey before David casually mentioned that if Meall a’ Bhuachaille went well, we could do Ben Macdui today (Sunday). I thought about this for a minute or two, “I think we should do Ben Macdui today.” David did not question this, “It’s up to you!” was all he said. So after a comfort stop and picking up lunch supplies in Aviemore, we made our way to the ski car park at Cairngorm. “Sure?” said David, “Yes!” said I, and we were off.

I’ve been up the first part of the path twice before, both times heading for Cairn Gorm, but the first time we abandoned as there was too much snow for my liking as we had three of the children with us, much younger at the time, and I thought it unwise. This time I found the climb much easier and good progress was made. We passed the herd of reindeer, but didn’t stop for photographs with the tourists, we’ve seen them before. We had a photograph stop further on and a first lunch stop before we made it up onto the plateau.


Meall a’ Bhuachaille, where had planned to be!


Looking towards Cairn Lochan


Crossing the first patch of snow before we got to the plateau

There was a moment before first lunch that it had briefly crossed my mind we had not seen anyone David knew yet, but there was time. Just after first lunch, instead of the usual “Morning!” or “Afternoon!”, David greeted a man approaching us with “Hi Chris!”. There he was, someone David knew. bound to happen. I took a couple of photographs while they chatted.


Looking north, across and along Lairig Ghru


Looking across to Braeriach

We chatted for a few minutes, then continued on our way, up and over to the plateau and the gentle stroll across boulders and snow and boulders and snow…and boulders and snow. We had seen a half a dozen folk or so as we’d climbed up, once on the plateau we could see hoards of folk that had presumably come across from Cairn Gorm, possibly from the funicular. We joined the end of the caterpillar making our way up to the summit, chatting briefly with a few folk we passed (I know, me passing folk on the way up!!) Once there, we politely queued to take photographs, a kind lady offered to take ours, but I declined. I don’t know where I think a stranger is going to run to with my camera… Obligatory selfie was taken, David took a few of me, then I took one of David (I don’t faff, click done!) then we vacated the trig for others to enjoy as we popped behind a handy wall to shelter for second lunch. It actually was quite sheltered too, which was a change! I took a few photographs of the views, then change my power stretch fleece and wind shirt for my Paramo Velez. I know I’m not working so hard on the way off a hill, and there would be a stiff chilled breeze in our faces on the way across the plateau as it had been at our backs on the way up, so the Velez to me was perfect.


I look quite happy to be there!




On top of the world










…more views


Busy summit

And off we went again.

There actually seemed to be far more snow and boulder fields on the way back and so many more cairns than I remembered, when I checked our track on Viewranger later, we had indeed taken a slightly different line off the summit, but it really didn’t matter, the going down always takes far less time than the going up, we really only paused for the odd mitt or water faff. And painkillers part way down, my right knee was beginning to whinge.

What an absolutely fabulous day out!! Loved it. And I think we can safely say I am healed.

Roughly 10.2 miles and 2,673 ft total ascent 6 hours and 14 mins including pauses and rests.

Will I walk today? …I promised to do David’s ironing, soooo…

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

An Easy Stroll on a Lovely Day

It’s such lovely weather at the moment, so it was no hardship to go for a longer stroll. Going passed the quarry it was good to see dozens of sand martins swooping and chattering around a good many nest holes. I continued along my usual route through woodland and around the loch before taking the track behind the Big House before taking the track straight ahead.




A different view of the loch


Another different view of the loch


Through the trees


Jurassic Lane, not going that way today


Onwards track


Blue skies



After passing by the pheasant pens I took the right hand track over the ford and up the little hill. There was a moment of disquiet when I could hear chainsaws working nearby and I was concerned I would get up to the High Road and not be able to continue, but it became clear they were working in the small copse below, so I was able to continue as planned.

As I walked along the High Road, I became aware of a tractor, trundling towards me. I took evasive action and headed for the undergrowth. Shortly after this had passed me, another came trundling along. I have only seen one other vehicle on this track, so was a little miffed to find myself heading for the undergrowth again, but the driver was one I see regularly around the estate and he gave me a big wave and a cheery smile. As I wondered further along, it occurred to me the next 100m section of track had no escape should another tractor happen along, but none did and I continued on across the bridge and then down the little quiet green lane to bring me out just before the farm yard. At this point, I rejoined my usual track to cross the little bridge, go behind the cottages and then up passed the nest site to check on the birds – they’re still there, which is good.


Continuing through the trees


Through the trees some more


And a little more


Big blue skies!


Trying out my boots at a ‘ford’ (we all know a proper ford is boots off up to your knees in water!)


Yup, we’re good


Roughly centre pic you can see the green lane I’m headed for


Over the bridge


Moss and ivy on the bridge


Cows in the distance


Dead tree


Another dead tree


Just above centre you can see the track I came down


Altyre Burn


Green Lane


Little hills in the distance




Mossy tree trunk


The sand martins on my way back

As I approached my usual turn off, I was disappointed to see a dog walker take me track and I didn’t want to walk behind them, so I took an unintended longer route and went up through the woods and on to the Dava Way to come out the Dallas Dhu Distillery. From there, I briefly joined the road before nipping into the woods to come back to the quarry and the road home.

The furthest I’ve walked to date, post surgery, albeit without a pack, roughly 10.1 miles and 615 ft and on an utterly beautiful day.

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Testing, Testing…

Laura and I had an opportunity, the last opportunity before the Challenge, to walk together, so we took it.

We originally planned to meet in Aberlour, but as the weather was not playing ball, plans changed and I drove to Laura’s. On arrival, we chatted a while. After quite some time, we looked out of the window and decided to carry on chatting. After some more time, we decided we were just taking advantage and that the weather was in fact improving, if we didn’t get out and walk it would be too late! We left the house.

We parked in Aberlour, not where we had originally planned, had the obligatory faff, and set off uphill (why?!!) We continued round and uphill on this road until it eventually turned into a track. We stayed on this track until it turned into a path having an identity crises, it definitely thought it was a burn. Or a river. But all this was good practice and felt remarkably Challenge like, except for the lightness of our packs


Metalled lane


View across farmland to Ben Rinnes, with a little bit of remaining snow


Winding track through the birch trees, before its identity crisis…

We continued up through forestry and birch woods until we popped out the other side and downhill, through a gate and stopped by the bench that Laura had promised me, where we sat and ate lunch gazing towards Dufftown and the hills of Glenfiddich Forest beyond.


The Lunch Bench


Laura, poised for lunch


The view over Dufftown and the Glenfiddich Forrest hills.

We enjoyed a pleasant lunch, sheltered from the cool breeze by the birch woods behind us, then we set off on the return leg. Once we hit the tarmac, we became aware of the weather, slowly tracking us down. We were glad to be heading downhill and therefore at a good pace. The rain started just as we reached the van and piled in.


…let’s get back to the van!!

What a great little walk, thanks Laura, thoroughly enjoyed some ‘proper’ walking for the first time in a few weeks, and I think we’re both ‘fit’ and ready for the Challenge. Bring it on!

Roughly 6.52 miles and 1,135 ft total ascent, a good ‘test’.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Preparation for The Great Outdoors Challenge 2017

I had no intention of applying for this year’s Challenge, or indeed for any future Challenge. It was just the decision I had reached. However, a week or so before the deadline for entries, I had a complete change of heart and with David’s agreement, entered. A couple of weeks later I heard that I had, yet again, been lucky and gained a place on the Challenge. Whoops!

As luck would have it, I did have a route planned that just required a bit of minor tweaking to be ready to submit and was fully vetted by the end of November. For the last four months, it would normally just have been a matter of research and details, but I had the added excitement of having found I’d developed an Inguinal Hernia. I saw my surgeon in January who hoped to be able to operate in time for me to go ‘on my holiday’ (…he really did not understand the concept of ‘backpacking’…) but the date came through for my repair as 23rd March. This meant I would be 7 weeks post-op at the start of the Challenge, cutting things a little fine I thought. However, I had left my name on the short notice cancellation list and as luck would have it, that was the phone call I received the day I was walking with Mick and Gayle. The new date for my operation was 9th March, meaning I am currently 5 weeks post-op and I will be 9 weeks post-op when I leave home for my start point. As the advised recovery period is 6 to 8 weeks, I should be fully recuperated and raring to go by then.

I am making a good, steady recovery. I now have no pain to speak of (if I poke the scar hard enough, I can still feel a little bruising, but I don’t tend to do that) the general swelling, of which there was more than I was expecting, has gone, with just a small amount remaining under the scar itself. I am beginning to gradually phase back into the things I haven’t been allowed to do, I am driving short journeys now, emptying the dishwasher a couple of plates at a time, taking smaller items from the shelf at the supermarket and contemplating doing a little light housework, although I wouldn’t hoover or cook a family meal for all six of us yet. I’m quite sure in four weeks time I’ll be ready to heft that 12.5kg rucksack…as I ever am.

I left the house for the first time nine days after the operation, just for a little trip to the supermarket, but built up from there and two weeks later I was back to my normal length walk, although not up to my usual speed. That doesn’t worry me, I’m walking at Challenge speed, so this is a good thing!

I have my Challenge main meals from as usual, the main snack items are stashed in the cupboard, I have all my maps, new socks and new Meindl Bhutan boots being gradually worn in (gradually ‘cos I don’t want to get them dirty, they don’t really need worn in!) I’ve done all my print outs, laminated my route sheet, booked the only B&B of the trip and booked my seat on the bus.

All I need to do is pack.

So, on the whole, preparation for the Challenge is going well, all things considered.