Monday, 12 July 2021

Challenge Afterthoughts

If you have read the account of my TGOC21 here, you will know I suffered an unfortunate injury and had to retire from this year's event. It is not the first time this has happened to me, but I must remain positive and decided to make a few changes to try to ensure I can cross successfully next time.

The injury itself was caused by slipping as I tried to climb a boggy bank beside the Allt Innis na Larach. There is little that I could do to avoid that in itself, I did nothing wrong, it was just unfortunate. I did wonder though if my pack was lighter or less bulky if it would not have swung. And carrying a lighter pack is always preferable anyway, so I started to look through my spreadsheet of kit and examine it more closely.

I know the quickest way to save weight in a pack is to consider the biggest items first. I have already got a new down sleeping bag, it is super warm, doesn't leave my tent looking like I've been plucking chickens in the night and weighs less than a kg, so I am happy with that. I have an Exped Sunmat UL7, there is no need to replace that. I have a new tent, having replaced my Terra Nova Competition with a Tarptent Notch. I could have gone further and bought a Li version, but didn't like the idea of it being see through. I have changed my light Exos pack for a heavier Ariel 55 AG pack, I need the padding on the hipbelt and harness and will not be changing it. The next item to consider would be my Jetboil Flash.

I adore my Flash, I have carried it on all my Challenges so far bar one, when I borrowed David's Flash Lite. It has never let me down, I only boil water for rehydrating meals and making hot drinks and usually manage to cross using just the one 100g gas canister. However it isn't a particularly lightweight system, at 426g, as I have to carry a mug to drink from so that adds bulk and at least another 116g, so altogether about 737g. I could improve on that.

After some investigation and asking for recommendations, I decided an MSR Pocket Rocket was ideal, David persuaded me the Deluxe version was even better, so that is what I went for, at 83g. The Snowpeak pots I have would do the job, but the lid is a frying pan which I don't need and doesn't sit tight on the pot, so would probably be loose in my pack and annoying. I wanted a pot that was big enough to boil all the water I needed in one go, if necessary, and be used as my mug, to save taking a pot and a mug. After much thought and internet browsing, I suddenly remembered Alpkit and found they had the MytiPot 900 that fitted the bill, similar to the MSR Titan Kettle, but much cheaper.

Altogether, that would be a saving of 339g, if I took the same size gas. I would obviously need to be able to replace that as I crossed, so if I took a larger canister there would still be a saving of nearly 200g. I can make that decision nearer the time, depending on what the supply of gas is like next May.

The one thing that I worried about this year was my tent pegs. I didn't really consider these until the week of the Challenge, when it was too late to do anything. I realised that the MSR Mini Groundhog pegs that I love were perhaps not long enough to cope with the different forces on my new tent. There was nothing I could do, but I coped with the pegs I had , double pegging the main points and using the longest peg in my possession for the end into the wind. I don't know the origin or the composition of this peg, but I used it and survived. Mainly because there were no high winds. I can replace these pegs, I will take four MSR Groundhogs, four MSR Mini Groundhogs and six Terra Nova skewers to help pin the ends out and the inner. None of this will affect the weight I am carrying much.

I need to consider my washbag, there may be more in there than I really need to take.

If I can get nearer to the 11kg mark, or less, including food, I'll be happy.

And in the meantime. I am already back to running to maintain and improve my fitness and I will start back on the yoga and strength training as soon as I am completely happy with my shoulder.

All good.

Saturday, 10 July 2021

Adventures with Ellie - West Highlands 28th May '21

I had not run since my half marathon in the middle of April and in fact had done little walking, considering the Challenge was in a little over two weeks time, I thought a walk in my new boots would be a good idea. So we set off with Ellie to the North West Highlands and the car park for Beinn Eighe. There were quite a few vehicles when we arrived, we guessed a few of them were staying overnight, some with occupants, and some would have late returners from the hills.

We had a pleasant evening, a few vehicles came and went, and we had some very late, very noisy, very rude arrivals.

We were off for our walk at a good time, just gone 09:00, which is early for us, but there were already plenty of people and we had company all the way there and back. We walked to Loch Coire Mhic Fhearchair, far enough and rough enough to test the boots and the ankle. We were passed by many people as we walked, but we were just dawdling and pausing to take photos and practice my map and compass skills, as it had been two years since I'd used them and I can lack confidence.

We arrived at the loch after two and a half hours in time for lunch. There was a group already gathering on some handy rocks, so we found some more a little distance away on which to sit and enjoy our sandwiches. I sat watching a few people making their way up to the ridge, some took a more interesting route than others. I wasn't sure I'd like it.

Eventually it was time to return to Ellie, we arrived in good time to dither about where we would spend the night. Having decided we would return to The Fairy Lochs the following day, but that the car park would not be suitable to stay in. We investigated a perfect forestry parking spot by Loch Maree, but unsurprisingly there were signs asking people not stay overnight. I'm sure people do, but we don't want to be those kind of people. We investigated another forestry car park close by and there were no signs regarding overnight stays, and it was much quieter, so we decided to stop there. Once all the visitors to Victoria Falls had left, we were alone for the night. It was a nice spot, albeit without views.

Can you see Ellie?

Roughly 13.8km and 603m total ascent

In the morning, we visited the falls ourselves, another short walk. The path was well maintained, the waterfalls had a bit of water, there were nice views, and then we returned to Ellie. On arriving at the car park for the Fairy Lochs walk, I was dismayed to find the car park really busy. It had been a good idea not to stay there. A small group set off ahead of us, an older couple and a middle aged couple. Another young couple left the car park before us and we soon caught them dithering 100m from their car. The young lady asked us if they were going the right way for the walk, they'd left their 'map' in the car. I assured them they were and that if they got stuck there were markers to show them the way. They had been put off by the warning on the sign that they were heading in to dangerous country and that they should be prepared. They scurried off ahead of us. After about the first kilometre, we passed the first group, having a break. We exchanged pleasantries and continued. A short while later, I could see the young couple ahead of us, scrambling up beside what looked like a small waterfall. Now, we've been here before, many years ago when the children were small and we used to camp for two weeks at Gairloch, I did not remember such a scramble on this walk. I suddenly spotted a walk marker we were just about to walk passed and so corrected ourselves, taking us away from the approach to the scramble. It could be that the couple had every intention of going that way, but somehow, I doubt it. They were too far away to attract their attention. We continued on our way, greeting some walkers coming in the opposite direction, before reaching a gate in the deer fence.

From here, we left the path as I wanted to bag a nearby trig. We crossed some fairly rough ground and as we reached the foot of the lump we needed to climb, we stumbled across the small group, looking a little lost and confused. David spoke to them, showing them where they were on the map and suggesting how they could return themselves to the path. They had probably unwittingly followed the route the young couple had taken and must have climbed the deer fence, which would have been fun for them. The easiest thing to do was to return the way they had come but not climb the fence, just follow it to the left to meet the gate, return to the path and visit the lochans. They seemed to be taking the advice as we continued. 

It soon became abundantly obvious that I was not going to reach this trig, there was a small scrambly climb and I was so close, but I was very concerned I wouldn't get down again, so I returned to easier ground and waited for David. In doing so, I got to watch the group. They had ignored David's advice initially and tried to continue the way we had come, but with no obvious path they were unsure. There was much heated discussion and I'm sure some foot stomping, difficult in the soft ground they found themselves on, before they headed back the way they had come. We never saw them or the young couple again, the groups car was gone when we returned.

Once David returned, we returned to the gate and to the path and continued to see the memorial by the lochans. The route we know continues, but judging by the state of the path, most people (if they make it this far) turn around and go back. We were eventually caught up by two couples walking dogs.

It was nice to revisit, but far too busy for comfort. It was usually just ourselves on this walk.

We got back to Ellie in time for a late lunch, but decided to move on first, eventually stopping at the viewpoint overlooking Kinlochewe and Loch Maree. My goodness, a busy carpark! But we were only stopping for sandwiches, cake and coffee, so no worries. We were soon on our way home after a lovely weekend away.

Roughly 6.19km and total ascent 264m

Adventures with Ellie - 12th December '20

Another opportunity for Adventures with Ellie and we set off towards Drumnadrochit and then continued to the forestry car park at Balnain, near to Lochletter, at the time part of the Forestry Stay the Night scheme. We had a nice quiet evening, at some point joined by a car, but we never saw the occupants, maybe they were fishing at the loch? Anyway, we woke to another damp day and set off to be tourists for a change.

First port of call was the chambered cairn at Corrimony. I have walked close by a few times, but never called in. I knew it was worth investigating though, and as my ankle was still healing, this was a short walk to test how it was feeling.

We parked Ellie and made the short stroll to take a look. It is a huge pile of stones. But if you read the sign there is a lot of information and it was obviously quite an interesting find. We walked around the cairn and then crawled through the tunnel to the centre and tried to imagine how it must have once looked.

After this little stroll, we returned to Ellie and continued our tourist travels, this time  to Plodda Falls. Again, we have been in the area so many times, but have never visited the falls. We had lunch before setting off, gingerly. This was quite a test for the ankle, as the path is a typical woodland path, undulating, rocky, tree roots, rutted and slippery and sloping. We took our time and really enjoyed ourselves. The falls were looking good after all the recent rain, there is a good viewing platform to see them from, but I wasn't keen to get too close. We continued the walk and met people that were taking the short walk from the car park, rather than the whole 2.66 km. We were taking this tourist nonsense to the extreme.

On our return to Ellie, we needed to find our next stopover. We headed to the southern shore of Loch Ness via Fort Augustus. We considered a few spots, including the forestry car park at Farigaig, also a part of the scheme, but it seemed a bit dark and damp and definitely no view. As the toilets were closed due to Covid, there was no advantage to us staying here, so were returned to the road just south of Whitebridge to park in a rather attractive layby.

We had a rather pleasant evening.

And then returned home the next day.

Roughly 2.66km and 120m total ascent

Adventures with Ellie - Cairngorms 11th November '20

We had an opportunity for a couple of days away with Ellie, and although I had badly sprained (or broken) my ankle out on my long run on Sunday, we decided to go anyway. We drove south to Newtonmore and parked at the end of the road near Allt a' Chaorainn. We had a lovely quiet night alone before heading to Garva Bridge, the plan was for David to bag himself a Munro, Geal Charn, in the mist and murk, and I would stay with Ellie.

I had a lovely quiet time, I pottered about and did some crochet and went for a little stroll over the bridge to take photos, had lunch and pottered some more. Just before David returned, some men in green appeared from the hills with a big radio, and disappeared along the road.

David returned, a little damp around the edges, and we headed off for our second night, this time at Uath Lochan. Here, we were not alone, but we still had a quiet enough evening and night before heading home the next day.

Sunday, 6 September 2020

Adventures with Ellie - West Highlands 28th August 2020

Friday afternoon saw us driving west with the intention of parking at Kinlochewe. We arrived to find an old VW campervan, what turned out to be an associated car and several cyclists camping already and a lady wearing PPE cleaning the toilets. There were a few vehicles that came and went early in the evening, the occupants mainly using the facilities but some using the recycling and bins. Another couple arrived and we watched as they prepared their new Range Rover to sleep in and then visited the pub to get hot water in takeaway cups to make their Pot Noodles. Clever, I thought. We had a relatively quiet, comfortable night, once the traffic eased. In the morning, we were in no hurry as we were waiting for the local shop to open (we went to the wrong one in the end, who knew Kinlochewe was big enough to boast two shops) in order to purchase lunch and breakfast items for the next two days. then we were off for a walk. The young couple and ourselves appeared to be the only ones to leave a donation in the box.

We made our way to the car park further up the road in order to walk the Beinn Eighe Mountain Trail. We did this walk 14 years ago with young children (ranging 5 to 10 yrs old) and whilst we'd had a nice walk with good weather, fine views and a Palmate Newt, I had had a little trouble with a short section of the walk making me extremely anxious. David's plan was for me to do this walk again in the knowledge that, having done it before, I would know I could do it again... On arrival at the car park, it was quite busy with people that had obviously stayed over the night before, most of them having canoes or kayaks with them. Their vehicles seemed to be stuffed full of all manner of equipment.

We set off on a path that took us underneath the A832 and through pretty woodlands, making our way steadily uphill. Views were snatched through trees until we crossed a bridge and then broke through the treeline and the ground became steeper and more rocky.

On a bridge we crossed

Views towards Slioch

There were a few of these really useful, informative signs

Fionn Bheinn

Looking towards Beinn Eighe

The troublesome stretch was, in reality, relatively short, gaining around 800ft over half a mile, but I found the path to be somewhat exposed. Where David could walk up, maybe occasionally resting a hand on a rock to lever himself up a high step, I found myself making three points of contact on most of this section. Towards the top, I had to give myself a serious talking to, I'd done it before, I could do it again, that sort of thing, but I did not enjoy the experience. I was happy to pause and rest whilst the two couples walking together passed by, we had a brief chat. There were two separate couples and a family that also passed by as I rested further up, but they weren't being drawn into any kind of a conversation.

 It was over soon enough (seemed like an eternity...) and the walking became much easier again as we finally approached the viewpoint. Which was quite busy. It was also quite chilly in the wind, so I said I'd prefer to walk on a little further to drop down and perhaps find a little shelter, the group of four having nicked the best spot at the top. The path levels out for a while, winding around little lochans and with great views of the surrounding hills. At the first point we would have stopped, a young couple started to fly a drone. The whining was very irritating. We walked on. The group of four caught us up and passed us again, complimenting us on our shiny boots. I had cleaned and waxed mine the day before and did David's at the same time, I told them I don't normally and wouldn't be making a habit of it.

We found a place with enough shelter and somewhere to sit a little further on and stopped for lunch, enjoying the views, but we didn't stop long. I had been looking forward to heading downhill and returning to the warmth of Ellie, but the downhill became tedious and somewhat wearing. Nice views, but really went on a bit. We talked about how it might be a good route up, but I felt the scrambly bits would not be pleasant to go down. Shortly after, as we were getting closer to the Woodland Trail walk, we met a couple coming towards us, dressed for urban walking and carrying shoulder bags. They weren't chatty. Then a middle aged couple passed us, the next couple however joined the path ahead of us just passed the viewpoint (no view now the trees have grown) they sat on a convenient bench to let us pass, they spoke and we shared a joke. I looked back and the second couple had turned back and joined our path, I believe the first couple had also missed their turn and were making their way up hill further than they had intended, their tourist leaflet clutched in their hands. Oh dear. I hoped they realised in time.

Looking back

Loch Maree

We arrived at the car park to find it was very, very busy. Our friendly group were there and David managed to get into a conversation about Ellie. I had been sitting inside in the warm, but felt I should go out and join them. We chatted for quite some time, the women were travelling in a car, the two gents were riding Harley Davidsons. One of the women had never been in Scotland before. She was so curious about Ellie and how we managed with her, we persuaded her it's a fab life and I think she was sold!

We left the car park heading back towards Kinlochewe and then headed off towards Torridon, the plan was to park beneath Beinn Eighe in order to walk to Loch Coire Mhic Fhearchair in the morning. The single track road was incredibly busy and I began to think we might be making a mistake. We arrived at a car park and drove in. It was nicely away from the road and would have been quiet, but it sloped quite badly. We thought we could wait a while and see if any of the cars left and we could get a flatter pitch, but this wasn't the car park for the start of our walk, so we moved on to the next one. It wasn't far a long the road, but as soon as it came into view, I knew we would not be stopping there. It was full, there were cars parked along the verge and in passing places, and there was a stag standing in the entrance, drawing quite a lot of attention (NB. I would not stand that close to a wild stag with large antlers) We passed by and managed to get turned, then returned the we way we had come. We returned to the first car park, but I was not happy. There were one or two spot we could have parked as we got neared to Kinlochewe, but they weren't far off the road and we decided we might just as well return to the previous night spot.

It was busy. There were motorbikers with tents, a couple of backpackers and the campervan and associated car were still there initially. We parked up and later were joined by a (hired) motorhome and at least two other cars and another old VW campervan. The first one and the car left and their places were taken. It was so busy!

We had already had a gin by this point, so had dinner, put the blinds up, pulled the boards over (it's warmer on a chilly night with the roof popped) and settled down.

Roughly 6.4 km 602 m total ascent

Most people left before us in the morning. Noone else had made a donation. They had, however, left the men's toilet in a state (David said) and someone had nicked all the toilet paper from the ladies toilets...and I only saw one other lady...(I don't think it was her)

I was not happy with the idea of adding to the problem at Beinn Eighe. It was crowded and it just seemed silly going there, the mountains aren't going anywhere, so we made another plan, heading first to Achnasheen, then north to Ullapool and on towards Knockan Crag. We stopped for lunch and to see the state of the toilets (one user at a time, lock yourself in at the main door, suited me!) which were good, so we decided after our walk we'd spend the night here again. After lunch we continued north, passing Elphin, Inchnadamph and onward to reach a walk to Britain's highest waterfall, Eas a Chual Aluinn.

There were a couple of vehicles at the overflow car park but only one motorhome in the main car park where we parked. It was midgey, so there was very little messing about as we got ready and set off, picking up the old A894 briefly before taking a vague, boggy path away from the road. We met and crossed the outflow from Loch nan Gainmich. Here we found another vague path, boggy in places, and followed it till we crossed Allt Loch Bealach a' Bhuirich. We soon realised we'd been on the wrong path, which explained the couple we'd seen shortly before walking above us on the hillside, and crossed it back to pick up the correct path heading up hill, following the burn. The path left the side of the burn just before reaching Loch Bealach a' Bhuirich, where we met another couple, before reaching the bealach and heading downhill. The landscape was rocky and almost lunar in nature. We followed the river that had a series of waterfalls before leading to the main one. The ground varied, there was mostly a clear, well made path, sometimes it was boggy, and there were some big steps to negotiate. Towards the end there were peat hags, where we met another couple and their dog.

Looking towards Quinag

Looking up towards Glas Bheinn

Striding towards the bealach

Sedum acre

Towards Quinag

Lunar landscape

Cliffs above Abhainn an Loch Bhig

View south east

Towards Glas Bheinn

Lovely waterfalls

It felt as if we were walking off a cliff edge. I did not like it. David tried to coax me further, I was less than happy, but eventually screwed up my courage and managed to clamber down a little further to a flat area where I felt safe enough to enjoy the views. I didn't want to stay long, however, and we had to make our way back. There seemed to be an unfair amount of climbing, but we reached the bealach in good time, passed the loch and headed downhill. This time, we had no intention of taking the wrong path and found it quite easily, it was a good path all the way. A bit boggy in places. Like the bit David plunged into up to his knees. Whoops! We walked on until we reached the outflow again where he took off his boots and socks to wash them out. Then his trousers.

River leading to Eas a Chual Aluinn

Loch Beag

David looking over the edge (he couldn't see the waterfall)

Abhainn an Loch Bhig, a long way down

David stepped into my panorama 

I think it was at this point I got bitten by midgies, although not as bad as two weeks previously the night we spent by Quinag. We made it back to Ellie, quickly sorted our boots and packs and then headed back to Knockan Crag. There were just three other vans when we arrived, one of which was parked in a very territorial fashion, side on and awning pitched. We were joined by at least two other vehicles overnight, one of which was a Volvo car and they made much noise with slamming of doors late at night and early in the morning, but we had another good night here before making our way home the next morning, without another walk as we had originally intended.

Roughly 10.4 km and 531 m total ascent