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.