Friday, 30 May 2014

Reflections of The Great Outdoors Challenge 2014


Here we are, a week after my return home from the Challenge and I’ve posted my write up, washed all my kit, cleaned and waxed my beautiful boots and aired my tent and sleeping bag. What’s left to do?

Well, there has to be a few thoughts on how it all went and a bit of planning for next time of course!

So, how did it go?

I really enjoyed the route. It was, essentially, quite simple and I was familiar with quite a bit of it, but it was testing enough at times and certainly beautiful. I loved it. We loved it!

How did my gear perform?

Splendidly as expected, on the whole.

As food has become a bit of a Challenge issue for me, I tried different food this time, from Mountain Trails. I chose two of each of Minced Beef Dinner, Chicken in Cream and Mushroom Sauce, Four Cheese Pasta and Mushrooms, Creamy Mushroom and Tomato Pasta and Vegetarian Rainbow Couscous, Hot Chocolate Pudding and Hot Apple and Custard Dessert. I inadvertently found out that the apple pudding is still actually quite nice when cold, but then, I am known to eat cold apple pie or crumble with cold custard for breakfast, so this is no surprise.

I wasn’t keen on the couscous, too spicy for me whilst backpacking, but the rest was very good. I also thought it was very good value for money, there are two portion sizes available and the small size was perfect for me. They all rehydrated well. I’ve previously had problems with meat, mushrooms and pasta with rehydration, but these were good. I only accidentally made one pasta soup, but it was still very tasty! I do like my food, but I don’t like paying over £10 for a dried meal that I may not finish or that there aren’t enough that appeal to me to give a bit of variety. These meals ranged between £2.99-£5.99 in the size I chose. Over all, I intend to use them again, but as always, I would note that each to their own.

I also discovered that if I buy four crusty rolls for a £1 and two small camembert from Co-op they will last me four days and do lunch admirably or dinner if I have a tomato soup too. Sorted.

My new Paramo Quito trousers. I initially found them very comfortable and it was great to just wear the trousers with no need to stop and pull on over trousers. They were very quiet too, which is a pleasant change. I would say I found them a little warm towards the end of the Challenge and opted not to wear them for the long, warm stroll to North Water Bridge, (wearing my Ronhills instead) although I did not walk with them vented as I could have done. At that point, I just wanted them OFF! I also found them to be a little too delicate…


This is a little rip in my bottom, about 1.5” across

I didn’t rip my trousers during the gracefully controlled slide down the waterfall. This was probably done just sitting on a rock as we did the Lairig and Laoigh. Just sitting. No slipping, sliding or wriggling, just sat right down. On a rock. I also grazed the knee slightly as I threw myself gently at the ground on the way to Glenmuick and there may be one or two other nicks around the ankles caused by the heather we trudged through.

I do like them, but I don’t think they are rugged enough to cope with the Challenge. I shall save up and get them repaired, they will be useful for day walks or D of E.

My new camera, an Olympus Tough, is excellent. Easy to use, produced photographs good enough for me and was certainly waterproof as it got a good drenching in the two downpours we had.

My little Laser is my darling. I love it! I do need to do a bit of repair work though as some of the stitching is coming loose on the pegging point at the tail end. Nothing major, I just need to get my needle and thread out.


Just a stitch or two

I also love my Osprey Exos 58. Everything fits, there’s rummage room and it’s comfy to carry. This also needs a bit of repair however. On its first Challenge, I carried a tube of sun cream in the hip pocket. Now, these tubes have a sharp bottom and this one managed to wear a hole in the side of the mesh hip pocket and then also in the mesh on the frame. I don’t think I want to repair this myself, so I shall save up and send this away too. I know carry a handy pocket size bottle with no sharp edges. And I used it this year!


Not a brilliant illustration of the problem

My Meindl Burma boots are the dogs doodahs! My feet were dry the whole way across, although that had something to do with the almost complete lack of rain and the fact that the paths and tracks we used were not doing a good impression of a river bed! My feet were comfortable. Apart from the days when we had substantial or unexpected road walking at the end of the day. Then the soles of my feet felt a bit sore and bruised and a little pounded but nothing that wasn’t recovered by the next day after changing into my sandals and giving them a rest.

The only other issue I had were the joints of my left foot which felt sore and inflamed at the end of a long day. I’m not sure if it was due to the change in my footbeds, my right foot which usually has the problems was fine. We’ll see what happens.

My new fleece, whilst a bit chunkier and heavier than I would have liked, was comfy and cosy and really useful.

I found it easy enough to use my filter bottle to drink during the day and then treated my water as usual for my night meal and breakfast. Yes, yes, I know, it’s Scotland, I don’t need to do that, blah blah, but it’s what I’m drinking and cooking with and what I choose to do.

I think everything else did what I wanted it to do, so I’m happy.

As to next time? I have a route. And I’m very excited!

Saturday, 3 May 2014

The importance of not overtraining

As soon as Laura returned home after her most recent travels, we arranged a meet at Ls Belles HQ for a stroll and a chat and a coffee.

And so it was I found myself dropping David off at work so that I could pinch the car, again. As I drove in a vaguely south westerly direction, the slight dampness of the weather became more of a persistent wetness, which was not overly inspiring. I soon found myself parking the car behind the Old Firestation Tea Rooms in Tomintoul but in a break with tradition, I was early and Laura was late. As I waited patiently, however, the persistent dampness eased and the skies began to lift, things were looking up. Laura arrived and we immediately went into the tea rooms to order cups of tea and take our usual seats in the window by the toy fire engine, ahhhh.

After our second cups, the weather had improved dramatically. We’d decided that any of the hills in the surrounding area were likely to be a bit damp underfoot, given their nature of being so and the recent persistent wetness, so we opted for a walk from Brig’ o’ Brown which I’ve done on a couple of occasions. We didn’t have the relevant map, but aided by two devices loaded with Viewranger and my reasonable memory of the route, we were quite happy to trundle without one.

I decided against my usual parking spot this time and instead we opted for the first car park with the information board, that neither of us photographed…


From the car park, towards the Cromdale Hills

The walk began with a quick trot along the slightly busy road before taking a track that leads steeply away from the road and becomes a bit, er, damp, underfoot. I’ve seen it worse. The track follows Glen Brown for roughly a mile until reaching the ruins at Tombrek, then it heads away from the Glen slightly uphill and joins the Dorback Lodge to Tomintoul track as it enters the trees.


Looking south west along the glen


Looking the other way

There’s a lot of history in this area and in this area alone, you can see the ruins of many abandoned steadings, a shame in such an idyllic setting, even with the sometimes harsh winters.

We were already looking for a lunch stop, but I thought the bench I remembered was too far ahead. We looked at every grassy bank, every fallen tree trunk, every rock, but to no avail. After wandering along this quiet track through the trees for a while, we headed out in to the open where there has been clear-felling since I was last here. The views are opened up brilliantly, but further along the track the remaining huge trees had suffered great losses during the recent storms. The devastation was astounding.

I found and we took the little soft, mossy path that leads up into the trees, still looking for a place to perch, nothing was forthcoming. Up through the tall, ancient pine trees which eventually give way to silver birch and a more open woodland, eventually leading to a couple of stiles. There was also quite a bit of barbed wire fencing running closely along the path, which is disappointing on what is generally and well run and welcoming estate.

After climbing the second stile and heading uphill towards more open moorland, it occurred to me that we were close to the bench and sure enough, it hove into view just in time to save us from starvation. Bums were swiftly parked and sandwiches made short work of and today, we had a view!


Looking along Strath Avon (A’an) towards the Cromdale Hills


Not taking a photograph of Laura…

Shortly after leaving our lunch bench, there was a second. It must be The Spot for lunch. We also met the only two other walkers we saw here. They weren’t overly chatty. We walked on. I wouldn’t let Laura take ‘the shortcut’, in case it wasn’t one, so instead, I made her follow the path along and down the moorland and into the trench, which is really an ancient and therefore very worn track. It runs along the edge of yet more woodland before suddenly dumping us at the car park where we left our vehicles. The weather was so lovely, we utilised the sun chairs Laura has in the van and enjoyed a few rays before we once again set off in our own vehicles and Laura followed me to Grantown-on-Spey in order to re-fuel and I headed home.

A remarkably pleasant day despite it’s rather inauspicious start, roughly 4.62 miles, 884 ft of upness, two cups of tea each but no cake…

So then, about a week later, we thought we should have one more training session and arranged to meet at the alternative Ls Belles HQ. I set off in reasonably cloudy weather but at Brig’ o’ Brown I could see that I couldn’t see the hills beyond Tomintoul. Sure enough, it was a bit cloudier and a bit more damp over The Lecht and decidedly more damp in Ballater than it had been in Tomintoul. I parked the car in my usual spot and headed off to find Laura, already ensconced with a cappuccino in The Bothy. So I purchased myself a latte with an extra shot and joined her at the table in the window.


A table in the window

We chatted a while whilst it dampened a bit more outside and then decided we should have a second coffee, this time I only had a single shot. We chatted quite a bit more and took it in turns to queue for the toilet without leaving our seats. Eventually we decided we should make a move and went to the van to collect Laura’s day pack. We then went to my car and as I rummaged in the boot of the car, Laura decided it was too wet to walk and that we should have our sandwiches seated in the car, so we did.

We ate our sandwiches and chatted quite a lot more before we decided that the day was a dead loss, we both needed the powder room and that we should retire once more to The Bothy for a cup of tea and some cake.

We have now completed our training, quite fully.

0 miles, 0 feet upness, 2 Cappuccinos, 2 Lattes, a cherry and almond scone and a millionaires slice, yum!!