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.