The Great Outdoors Challenge 2017 Lochailort to Inverbervie

I should probably start, for those who have not read or heard about the Challenge before, with an explanation of what it's all about.
The Great Outdoors Challenge is an annual event largely sponsored by The Great Outdoors Magazine and one or two other outdoor companies. Each September, over three hundred and fifty folk apply to take part and a draw for places is made around the end of October. Three hundred or so folk gain a place and an unlucky few will be placed on the Stand By List to fill the boots of those that have/choose to withdraw before the end of March. Each Challenger or group (of up to four) submits their own route, starting at one of the thirteen start points on the west coast, making their way unsupported across Scotland to finish anywhere on the east coast between Fraserburgh and Arbroath, then catch the train, bus or walk to Montrose to sign back in. The start points are Torridon, Strathcarron, Plockton, Dornie, Shiel Bridge, Glenelg, Mallaig, Morar, Lochailort, Acharacle, Oban, Ardrishaig and Kilchoan.
Four phone calls must be planned and made to Challenge Control to check up on progress, phone calls must also be made if major route changes occur, or if someone is unlucky enough to have to retire from the event (horrid, horrid phone call to make...) There are few rules, no running (why would you?!), no dogs, no unofficial crossings and no accompanying walkers to do an entire crossing (friends and family can join you for few days)
Yet again, I was lucky enough to gain a place in the draw and as I had a route I'd tinkered with previously, my route was ready, submitted and vetted by the end of November, earning me a gold star from the co-ordinators. Smug. But, the best laid plans of mice and men and all that...

Day 0 Thursday 11th May
To the start
Laura arrived in good time to leave the van on the drive and for David to take us through to Inverness. My bus was at 11:05, so in the meantime we had a cup of tea and used the facilities before Laura saw me safely to my bus and on my way. We saw no other Challengers...bit unnerving.
The first bus journey was about bearable, I managed not to sit in the sun so as to not get too hot, but I was still glad when we eventually arrived at Fort William and I could get off the bus. I could have caught a bus about half an hour later to Lochailort, but decided to lounge at the bus station for a while in the fresh air and take a break from the travelling! Glad I did, first I happened across first time Challenger, Ian I think (there may be a lack of or incorrect names throughout, or deliberately left out by request, so please refrain from publicly informing me, just incase...) then a bus arrived and Hugh and Barbara appeared! Really lovely to see them again. Another couple were there whose names I can't remember, but she was recovering from a broken knee, I hope it went well for them. They were there long enough to look after my pack while I went to powder my nose, then as quickly as they'd arrived, they were gone, and I was alone again. Well, apart from the drunken old man who told my his life story and then another, strange fella. I must have a neon sign.
As if by magic, another familiar face appeared from the direction of the station, Mr Ray Disson and his two companions. Geoff Tippler then made himself known. He knew my name. Always concerning. A bus arrived and we started to load packs and board, two other Challengers got off another newly arrived bus and ran to ours, Jim Anderson who said hello, but didn't get to chat, and Sandy Miller, who may not have recognised me. Then, we were on our way again. This was a school bus too, so it was a slightly interesting journey, lots of sullen teenagers and stopping and starting. Especially when an alarm sounded and the driver had to stop the bus to investigate, then move it further on to do a little remedial repair. I was dropped at my destination shortly after and found my way into the bar of the Lochailort Inn. I bought a pint of fresh orange and lemonade, having established dinner would be served from 17:00, and sat down to wait for some Challengers to arrive, hopefully Russ Manion and his companions. First to arrive was a lady and gentleman Challenger, I believe the lady was Brenda. Then Russ and crew and two other Challengers, whose names I didn't catch, but they gave us a recommendation of where to camp. The Gentleman Challenger, Brenda and I followed the directions given and found a suitable spot, not perfect, but acceptable. We pitched and then went back to the hotel to eat.
 Reasonable pitch

Doesn't count as the first pitch of the Challenge, I haven't started yet!
I had fish and chips and it was really nice! Angus Mckinnon also joined the crowd to chat. We didn't stay in the bar long and as we wondered back to the tents I decided to do the Toe Dip to get it done. I wrote up my notes in 'the Wrong Notebook', but was feeling much better about the start of the Challenge by the time I settled down at 21:00.

 The Toe Dip


Nice evening

So, onwards...

Day 1 Friday 12th May
Planned: Lochailort to Callop River
11.8 miles 2765 ft
19 km 843 m
Actual: Lochailort to Glenfinnan Church
11.2 miles 2458 ft
18 km 749 m (Viewranger only started to track me at NM 789 833...grrrr)

What goes up...

It had been a warm night, I slept without socks on! And I did actually sleep reasonably well. We packed up our tents and went up to the hotel for breakfast at around 08:00, along with the other two guys. Russ and his companions were there and a few other people, one or two of whom may have been Challengers. We used the facilities, filled water bottles, signed out, faffed with rucksacks and we were off! Three of us walked together at first, but were soon hunted down by the two Scots and Russ's companions. Russ caught us just as we left the road to head up the pass from Arieniskill alongside the Allt na Criche, we wished him well and he was off.

 The slowly



I did tell Brenda and the Gentleman Challenger that I was painfully slow, I think they were shocked by how slow I really was. I always am, first thing, first day. Another Challenger (Ian? He was very skinny and wearing running shorts...) caught us up and breezed passed us. He was going the same way as GC, Brenda was heading towards Glen Pean. Angus caught us up, we all stopped to chat (...breathe...) and he was going my way but making good speed so we let him go on ahead. I never saw him again. We were caught up by another Challenger, Alan Kay, who stopped to chat. He recognised my face and he looked familiar to me, but neither of us knew from where. Some Challenge, somewhere. It took about an hour and fifteen minutes from the hotel to reach the point at which I intended to leave the path heading off vaguely eastward along the broad ridge that runs south of Loch Beoraid. At this point, GC decided he'd like to join me as he saw sense in my reasoning for following this route, having gained all this height, why lose it to have to climb again at the end of the day?
My vetter, Peter Goddard (Mr Grumpy) had mentioned in his comments that this was 'harder than it looks on the map', and I had expected it to be, but it was rather more tussocky than I had thought! It was surprisingly good fun most of the way, with undulating ground, lochans, rockiness and views. At each rest, we revelled in our surroundings. At lunch stop, we were aware of smoke, slowly invading the glens below us. A bit concerning given the dry conditions, but we couldn't see where it was coming from, so we continued along the ridge. The further we got along, the tougher it got.

A rare one

We pushed on, having to make decisions on how best to circumnavigate the numerous lochans, or the more cliff like edges we found that weren't quite illustrated on the map, the GC leaving it completely in my control as it was my route, but giving his thoughts if I asked him to. We were, after all, in this together. Having tried to maintain the northerly side of the ridge, we eventually decided to head around the southerly side of Glas-charn, before passing the northern edge of the final lochan and then picking up the Allt Feith a' Chatha to follow down to the glen below. We'd also agreed to stop should an idyllic spot present itself, as it was much later than I'd hoped to be getting off the hill on the first day. We could have stopped higher up, but as the weather was due to come in and the terrain was tricky, we wanted to be off the difficult ground before we camped. So we continued.

Yup, yet again, I find myself shimmying down a steep burn

This in itself was not initially straightforward, being quite steep, but we made our way down over rough ground again, and no camp spots presented themselves. We eventually met the track at NM 872 824, I knew at that point there would be no camping, so I mentioned that we would pass a hotel on the way into Glenfinnan, dangling the carrot of beer, as I had a real fancy for a pint of fresh orange and lemonade myself. We continued along the track until it dropped us on to the road, where we made good speed, the traffic was relatively quiet and we were entering the village by about 19:45 and finding there a hotel, as promised. We entered said hotel finding only two guests in the bar and GC bought said drinks. The barmaid and landlady were lovely and very friendly. They asked about what we were doing and where we had been, apparently a few Challengers had been in earlier, they then asked where we were heading to now, "The River Callop to camp, I hope" says I. "You can camp in the church field, no one will mind!" was the reply. Bonus! GC bought himself another pint as a third guest arrived, an Australian lady on holiday, and she struck up conversation. The hotel interlude was very pleasant and useful as the landlady also happily filled our water bottles with fresh water and we were able to use the facilities before we set off to find the church.
As usual, buildings confused me, and we did a complete circuit of the church before finding the obvious field to the left hand side. It was a little sloping and there was marsh grass in areas, but we chose our pitches and set about putting up our tents. It felt good to put the pack down, it was causing me some discomfort. As I started to pitch, I realised I had somehow managed to come away two good pegs short. I had some of the pins with me that I carry for the groundsheet and emergencies, so had enough to do, but would be in trouble on a windy night. GC offered me two pegs as he had spare, which was very kind of him. We were visited by deer as we pitched.

 Looking roughly NE

 Oh deer!

Looking up towards the church from my tent

I was a bit focussed pitching the Laser nicely, so was completely taken by surprise when a stranger's voice spoke to us, I jumped out of my skin and may have uttered something like, "Oh dear goodness!". The man who had spoken laughed, then explained he was the estate manager. "The landlady at the hotel said we could camp here for the night, is that okay?" "Well you've had divine intervention then!" he said. We chatted briefly, then he left us to go to the pub. We were being well and truly nibbled by midgies, the wind that had mithered us all day had now dropped completely. I thanked GC for his company and dived into my tent. I did fire up the Flash to have a simple supper of quick cook pasta from with a mushroom soup before settling down with Sir Ian McKellern reading Wolf Brother by Michelle Paver, one of my Challenge Traditions, whilst I wrote up my diary. A big day and a late finish, but enjoyable.

Day 2 Saturday 13th May
Planned: Callop River to Glensulaig
10.8 miles 1778 ft
17.4 km 542 m
Actual: Glenfinnan Church to Glensulaig
13 miles 2459 ft
20.8 km 749 m

Shelter at the end of the day...

The day dawned after what seemed like an extremely long nights. Someone needs to tell the local frogs it's the wrong time of year to be 'singing' and tell the little vole, or whatever it was scrabbling around, to leave people in tents to sleep. Especially those that don't deal with sleep deprivation well!
Anyway, I deflated my sleeping mat to make me get up and started to pack the contents of my tent. It was very still outside and judging by the previous evening, I suspected there would be the odd midge around. I was going to pack up, exit the tent, drop it, pack it and leave! The SNT Visitor Centre was just down the road at the head of the loch and might have a little breeze, therefore fewer midges, I would find a bench and breakfast there. As I exited the tent, GC was doing the Midge Walk, pacing around with pouch of porridge in hand, trying to avoid being eaten alive. "I'm having breakfast at the centre, there are toilets there too." I announced. "Okay." By the time I'd poured away my tent, there was a small amount of condensation, GC was ready to heft his pack and we were away by 08:00.
There were indeed fewer midges at the centre, but it doesn't open till 10:00, way too late for our purposes, so I sat on a bench and fired up the Flash to have a coffee with my breakfast. GC didn't, but he did enough faffing to keep me company. I briefly pottered off to take a peer at the Glenfinnan Viaduct, then we were off.
It was quite straightforward to find the boardwalk that wends its way along and then across the Callop River, together with its information boards and pretty views. We were efficiently deposited on the cycle/footpath on the south side of the river and made our way east, the best way, towards a small car park and junction. Here, GC and I parted company as he was heading for Glen Cona and the Corran Ferry, I was heading along the road for Gleann Fionnlighe and eventually Glensulaig Bothy. We shook hands, having agreed to meet for fish and chips in Blair Atholl and went our separate ways.

Spot the viaduct...

Across the car park to Loch Shiel

I walked about fifty feet to join the road and immediately found another walker. He was wearing flappy little running shorts yet carrying a decent sized backpack, I was momentarily confused but he spoke first, "TGO Challenge?" Here we go again. Paul was indeed a Challenger, an American who'd been living and working here in Stirling for about twenty years, on his second Challenge. He'd spent the night before at Corryhully Bothy but had eaten a meal that was possibly about eight years old that had resulted in him being very poorly overnight. He was now heading straight for Fort William, via the ferry, to perhaps find relief. We chatted as we walked along the road for about four kilometres together before the junction where Paul took the road heading south and I crossed the main road to take the track into the glen.

Information board

From the board walk (...I seem to have been sloping...)

A good, well used track wends its way along the glen, heading for the hills. There has obviously been a busy life in the glen at some time, but now it is quiet, with a few abandoned and decaying buildings and pens left behind, the occasional high deer shooting seat the obvious evidence that hunting continues. I wondered along in complete solitude, not seeing a single soul. I found a suitable rock to take a break and eat lunch without being eaten by midges on this fairly still morning before continuing along the river. The glen broadened from a fairly wooded, enclosed track to a wide open space with expansive views, but my route from Na Socachan onwards was clear and navigation simple. I was glad I had decided to come along this glen and not the one before as I could see this would have been a tough option.
The track I was following headed sharply uphill before coming to an end according to my map and I intended to follow it part way up the hill but to leave it before it finished, just using it to gain some height more easily to then contour across the face of the hill, avoiding but following the deep gorge that Fionn Lighe flows along before dropping down to meet and cross it. The track has obviously been superseded by a baggers path, but I spotted this before it had led me too far astray and left it to start picking my way along the tussocky hillside. There were the usual deer trods crisscrossing the ground, but I picked one that was going in the right direction and used it to make good progress.

Fionn Lighe looking south from the bridge

Looking north from the bridge

Grim looking shed at Uachan

By now, the weather had changed and become blustery and damp, but it was blowing from behind me and didn't cause me any problems. I continued quite some way before gradually making my way down towards the river. The banks had widened slightly by this point and it seemed possible to drop down to the river and follow it quite easily, which I did until a sharp rise of the bank on my side forced me to choose either scrambling up and over about three metres of tricky ground or crossing the river about a kilometre sooner than I had planned. I crossed, then continued along the other bank until I could see the little lump on the hillside that I wanted to reach in the hope of finding a track to lead me over the watershed.
I wove my way up the hillside, it was tussocky again, but also boggy in places and quite steep, so it took a while and there may have been some breathing and glowing, but I was enjoying myself as I could see the little lump I was aiming for and I was sure I would find the track. I persevered with the climb and lo and behold, the track hove into view at NN 018 851, exactly where I had hoped. I am amazing. This eased my way considerably across the watershed, where I had read of others struggling through the bog. They need to do more research, this track is recorded on the up to date 1:25000 OS maps online, where I had found it.
I whizzed along, a smile on my face, and soon crossed the bridge at NN 028 841 where the track is finally shown on the 1:50000 map. Here I paused and collected water, as I thought it might be better to collect here than down in the glen, then continued along the track steeply downhill. The bothy I was heading for came into view below me, but the ground between me and it was rough and steep, I decided to stick to the Rolling Stones track regardless that it took me a slightly circuitous route. I was getting tired now after all the effort of the last few hours and from the lack of sleep last night, so this was the sensible option, although the loose surface of the track still took a high level of concentration.

Looking along Gleann Fionnlighe, Gulvain on the left

Looking ahead

Looking back along the glen

Looking up towards Gulvain

The Fionn Lighe

As I walked, I could see south along Gleann Suileag and the good track that lead all the way in from the road. I was slightly concerned that this easy access could lead to a busy bothy on a Saturday night, perhaps even of an undesirable nature, but even if I just sheltered in the bothy to eat my evening meal then moved on to find a pitch, it would give respite from the conditions. I could see two figures walking along the track towards the bothy. Darn. They walked to the gate in the deer fence at the end of my track, fiddled with the gate, then turned and walked away. At this point, I had thought I needed to go through the gate, so was now worried it might be locked, but as I approached it, I spotted a well used path off to my left, heading directly for the bothy. Bonus. The walkers had returned to their track and walked further along in the direction of the bothy, they paused opposite it, had a discussion, then turned and walked back the way they had come. Relief!
I made my way to the bothy and opened the door. It was a dark and gloomy place, I find all bothies are, in the centre room straight ahead there was a make shift washing line with a silver sheet of some sort hanging over it. I didn't investigate the room to the left beyond looking from the door, there was some kind of large contraption in there that looked like some sort of fisherman's bed with a huge bivy of some kind laid on it, but it looked like a shroud and I did not like it. The room on the right had a table, plenty of chairs and the usual bothy detritus, bags, jars and plastic boxes of food, gas cylinders, candles and various bits and pieces. I immediately set about removing the wet cover from my pack and taking out the bits I would need to make dinner. I started to treat my water, then went out to pick my pitch and set up the tent. This was relatively easy, I just had to pick the area with less sheep poo to flick! I soon had the tent pitched and went back to the bothy...there was a bang inside, then a movement caught my eye. I just about died. I may have sworn.

The track that took me over the watershed

These two wee ones kept following me...

I could see the col dropping away into the glen ahead

With Meall Onfhaidh behind

With Coille Mhor ahead

The figure was Ken Simpson and he was accompanied by his wife Nina. I apologised profusely for how I had expressed my fright, but they seemed friendly enough and we all continued to get ourselves sorted for the night. They had also decided to eat in the bothy but sleep in their tent outside. At around 19:00 I realised I was bushed, not exhausted, but tired and sore and ready for bed, so I explained that I was being a party pooper and heading for my bed. The Simpsons chuckled and bid me a good night, I toddled off to my tent to write up my diary and relax whilst Sir Ian read to me.
I was feeling very positive about having spent the day happily alone and doing my own route finding, although it wasn't difficult it had been a little physically challenging, especially after the exertions of the previous day. A good day.

Day 3 Sunday 14th May
Planned: Glensulaig to Fort William
13.3 miles 899 ft
21.4 km 274 m
Actual: As planned
17.67 miles 1052 ft
28.5 km 321 m

Heading east, then south west, then south east, then, what? South west, then south east again, make your mind up...

I woke up feeling remarkably rested, except for a niggle in the right shoulder, but this is nothing new. Ignore it, it'll go away.
It looked as though the weather might be reasonable, although it had rained in the night and Ken and I chuckled together as we each tried to dry off our respective tents as much as we could before dropping them and packing them away. I ate my breakfast and was ready to leave at around 08:30, not long after the Simpsons fair sprinted away from the bothy. I have learnt never to believe anyone that claims to be a slow walker. Trust me, I am slow, nobody else is! Anyway, we returned to the track the way we had come and went through the gate in the deer fence, which was not locked, and took the new hydro track opposite the bothy. There was another gated deer fence, this time it was locked. Ken wasted no time scaling the gate, pack and all, Nina and I pushed our packs over for Ken to catch and then we both climbed. I then had to have a boot lace faff and the Stimpsons disappeared from view. I eventually pottered after them, but they were mere dots in the distance. I plunged ever onwards over what was distinctly boggy ground, weaving my way through the tussocks and round the soggy bits for what seemed like an eternity, only getting one or two further glimpses of the Simpsons ahead of me, but at least I knew I was going in the right direction. I was reasonably happy though, having realised I would probably never catch them, and the bog trotting distracted me from the pain in my shoulder.

 Looking across to the bothy

Ahead a short distance I had spotted an ATV track, heading in the right direction, so I made for it in the hope of escaping the bog. Until I made that one careless decision, that moment of horror as I realised that that step was a mistake and in a flash I was up to my right knee in gloop with that creeping cold feeling of peaty bog water seeping into my boot. Bum. I muttered something rude under my breath as I pulled my leg out of the stinking hole I'd just made, staggered two more steps, then had that moment of horror again as this time I plunged first my right, then my left leg, both up to the knee, into stinking, horrid, peaty bogginess. Bum!! I'd also jarred my shoulder as the my pack swung on my shoulder, ouch.
There were more rude words uttered as I dragged both feet onto dry ground and gave myself a good talking to. Such carelessness is unnecessary, concentrate woman!
I continued on a short way with greater care before reaching the ATV track which was a great help in speeding me onwards, with just the occasional wet area to cross. Suddenly, I saw a line through the grass over to my left, could that be the real track? Checking on the map, it certainly should have been in that general area and there was just a short distance of tussocky, boggy ground between me and it. Worth a punt? Why not, my day couldn't get much worse.

Looking back along the ATV

Looking ahead to Glen Loy

I took quite some care crossing that ground I might tell you and was delighted to find that line was in fact the track and a really good one at that. I could see the Simpsons again, a distance ahead still but no further than before, they were just hefting packs as if having had a break. I was just thinking about taking one, now there was more likelihood of finding a rock to sit on and dry surface to rest the pack on. I took that rest when a good rock eventually showed itself, I took my boots off to inspect how wet the insides of my boots and my socks actually were and I had a snack and a drink of water, aswell as a couple of painkillers for the shoulder. Hmm.
Boots replaced, I hefted the pack and continued along the track. I had to pause to re-tie the laces, again, but soon had them right and I was off. The track leads passed a new lambing shed and then on through a couple of gates before turning to a good road. The road leads through some beautiful gardens, it felt a bit strange wandering between manicured lawns and flowering rhododendrons, but it was definitely the road. It was gated again the other end, obviously keeping out the deer. I walked for what seemed like miles along that road, with a clear view of it ahead most of the way and no sign of the Simpsons.

Sign pointing back to the beginning of the track in Gleann Suileag

Looking back along Glen Loy

Looking ahead along Glen Loy

The sun came out

My lunch was calling to me, so I was looking for that idyllic spot, you know the one, a beautiful swathe of grass, a few shady trees, a bubbling burn...I had to walk quite some way but eventually I found exactly that, and the Simpsons had found it too! They didn't appear to have been there for long as they were only just brewing their tea and weren't yet eating, so I asked if I could join them as I had myself been looking for such a lovely spot. We enjoyed a very pleasant break together and chatted away for about an hour I'd guess before we decided it was time to pack up and move on, we just needed to reach the end of the glen, cross the road and take a farm track to an underpass to take us beneath the Caledonian Canal, before the track turned ninety degrees and slightly uphill to meet the Great Glen Way. The walk under the aqueduct was a bit unnerving. The path was cobbled, it was also wet in places and although there was light at the end of the tunnel it was quite a long way and very dark, exacerbated by the fact I was wearing sunglasses. We survived and gained the Way.

Boot rest at the idyllic lunch stop

Ken, heading bravely into the dark

Looking over to Stob an Chu-Choire, Carn Mor Dearg and Ben Nevis

This is not a particularly exciting walk, there were plenty of people up and down the way on cycle and on foot, but it was done in very pleasant company and after an hour or so we reached the outskirts of Fort William. It took a surprisingly long time even taking the more direct route from Netptune's Staircase into town rather than continuing on the Way, but eventually it was time to go our separate paths, the Simpsons to a hostel in town and me to the Glen Nevis campsite.

The Caledonian Canal

Neptune's Staircase

I made my first phone call to Challenge Control and spoke to a very cheery Sue, then I eventually got hold of David to have a quick chat and catch up with family life. I walked as we chatted, but it still took an age to get to the campsite.
I would have liked to get a pod here, to give me a chance of drying out my kit, but the prices were ridiculous so I stuck to camping. I visited the shop first to resupply for the next three days. The website had promised me a well-stocked shop, another lie I should not believe, but I was able to get some good rolls and some Leerdammer cheese which would be a God send over the next few days. There were also some breakfast bars, Stoats porridge bars, Nature Valley bars and salted nuts.
I went off and found a pitch, although it wasn't exactly brilliant, and pitched the tent. Suddenly I realised I'd left my walking poles outside reception! I virtually (although not quite) ran back, fearing the worst, but they were exactly where I'd left them. Muppet.

Next job, shower. Yeah, not great showers, but better than nothing. Then off to the laundry with my washing. Washing machines were easy and I found a spin dryer, so I thought it would be wise to rinse the acid bog water out of my Paramo trousers and give them a spin, they would then dry quickly enough. Wish I had ascertained that the spinner was functioning first, as it was not helpful to find it wasn't after I'd rinsed the trousers. There were however several plugs to enable me to charge my phone and Fitbit whilst I waited for the washing machine to finish, then it was back to the tent to find a way to drip dry my trousers.
By this time, I was hungry, so off I went to the restaurant. I must have appeared to be a lonely little waif and stray as the lovely waitress took pity on me when I asked for a single table with a power point nearby. She kindly gave me a table for four all to myself, just so I could charge my spare battery. I ordered and ate my dinner and then ordered sorbet for pudding, but the waitress returned with a small bowl to tell me it was the last portion left and only tiny, so she would remove it from the bill. The food was okay, the service was pretty good.
After paying my bill and having a chat with the elderly couple sitting on the table next to me, I went back to my tent and got ready for bed. I then rang David again while I could, wrote up my diary and listened to Sir Ian. Unfortunately, as is often the case with campsites, some of my neighbours were of the ignorant type and were quite noisy until late into the evening, I had to deploy the earplugs. I was not going to get the restful sleep I'd been hoping for.
A long day, but most of it had been spent in excellent company.

Day 4 Monday 15th May
Planned: Fort William to Meannanach (Meannach)
15.5 miles 2235 ft
24.9 km 681 m
Actual: As planned
12.5 miles 2809 ft
20.1 km 856 m

Another we hoose...

It had rained during the night and was wet and windy when I woke. I did not feel inspired to walk, I was tired from a disturbed night, the neighbours had been a nuisance and my shoulder was sore. More pills were popped after breakfast, then I had to get dressed. I could cope with the idea of damp undies, merino t-shirt and Rab Lunar top, but wet Paramo trousers were not going to be easy. After a bit of thought I came up with a plan. I put on my spare leggings, Paramo top and grabbed the Paramo trousers, got out of the tent and trotted back to the laundry. I popped the trousers in the tumble drier, popped my pound coin in the slot, closed the door, whispered a prayer and, turning the heat to low, turned on the machine. Scary moment. Twenty minutes later, I had warm, dry trousers that had not melted. Relief! I trotted back to the toilet block, changed from leggings to trousers and returned to the tent to finish the packing, drop and pack the tent, fill my water bottle at the tap and heft the pack. I was off.
It was hard going! I was walking straight into the wind and rain and it was not fun. Just as I passed the youth hostel, I was hit head on by a gust so strong I couldn't take a step forward. This was only the start of the day, was this the worst of it? Was it forecast to get worse or improve? Was this wise? I know I can walk in these conditions, I've done it several times before on the Challenge after all and in some pretty inhospitable places, but not on my own. I didn't want to be walking into trouble only to be told I shouldn't have gone, so I rang control to be sure. I spoke to Bernie this time, "Well, that's up to you lass!" Helpful, thanks.
Actually, Bernie was helpful in the end, he reassured me that once in Glen Nevis, I would be protected by the mountains on either side of the glen and it wouldn't be a wind tunnel. "Oh well, I'll just grit my teeth and get on with it then!" "That's what Sue just said." Sigh.
So, teeth duly gritted, I continued.
It wasn't fun and if the wind caught me it hurt my shoulder, but I made good speed along the road, simply to make my way as quickly as possible into the glen and hopefully shelter. After a while, I became aware of two people behind me. A peek over my shoulder and they weren't familiar to me, I wasn't even sure if they were Challengers, although I could think of no other idiots who would be out in this weather. I kept going. Once or twice I thought I heard someone call my name, but that made no sense. I kept going. But then, yes! Definitely my name. I stopped and turned.
"You must be Louise!"
"We're your rescue team!"
I didn't order one of those...
"Pete and Nick, Sue sent us to rescue you, she said you were feeling a bit down and needed cheering up!"
And I quote from another's blog: "...asked to help a woman in distress - AKA The Bid...the 50+ mph winds were causing her distress and it was our cheer her up and bring hope."
...Not quite how I remember it, but hey, they wanted to be heroes.
Anyway, we walked on together, getting to know each other. I did warn them I am a slow walker, they didn't seem to mind. At the car park at Achriabhach we left the road and took a path along the south bank of the River Nevis, for a break from the tarmac. It was a well maintained path and pleasant enough, if a little steep in places. They Boys were speeding ahead of me, I plodded on at my speed till eventually we found the bridge back across the river. Here, Nick gave me chocolate, dark chocolate mints. Yummy! Onwards and upwards, we were making our way along the road towards Steall Falls. The car park t the end of the road was quite busy with a few small groups of walkers. One group set off ahead of us, another just seemed to climb straight up Allt Coire Eoghainn, which seemed to be an interesting route. The Steall Falls path from the car park was well engineered if a little rocky in places and with quite a steep drop on the right, but we continued. There were plenty of people passing us, coming towards us and from behind, but eventually we were walking along the banks of the Water of Nevis. I suggested we should stop and have lunch whilst we could still find some rocks on which to perch and before we turned the corner and lost the last bit of shelter for a while, so we did. Pete fetched water and put his stove on to make the brew, Nick and I sat and chatted and ate cake. Then I started on my cheese butty which made me incredibly happy. Pete returned and made tea, then spotted the cake had been nibbled. He had some too. Then we all had another piece and a cup of tea. As we sat eating, Ken and Nina appeared! They just paused to chat, but were soon persuaded to have cake and it seemed a good idea to have their lunch soon after that, so packs were dropped, perches found and sandwiches appeared.
The Boys went off to explore the wire bridge whilst the Simpsons and I chatted, then they returned and we all packed away, lifted packs and we were off. The Boys just disappeared into the distance, but the Simpsons and I were far more evenly matched and stayed together for the rest of the day. It was good to have their company.
Not far after Steall Ruins, Nina and I heard bird cries above us and looked up to see a pair of Golden Eagles being mobbed by a pair of corvids. I was absolutely certain they were eagles, they were large birds and there were 'fingers' at the tips of their wings. As we were watching them, there was a voice from beside me. I died, again. A lycra clad gentleman had joined us and was also admiring the display above. He did however confirm my suspicions, and the corvids doing the mobbing were Hooded Crows. This made sense, I hadn't thought they were Ravens, but couldn't think what else. Lycra man was soon off to bag a Munro and we continued on our way. It was interesting ground, with a fairly clear path most of the way although wet in places with the odd watercourse to cross without difficulty. We occasionally fell off the path, as you do, but it was usually quite easy to regain. After the little knoll Tom an Eite, we found the river we had to cross that the Simpsons had been warned might be difficult in spate, but it was relatively benign today. We picked our way across, then had a short break for water and a snack, we only had about three kilometres left before we made the bothy.
I was definitely getting tired now, so it should really be of no surprise that a small lack of concentration saw me choose the weakest point of peat bank to climb and I found myself suddenly on my back on soft, luckily not wet, peat as the bank collapsed beneath me. Oh, and I landed on That Shoulder.
Nina and Ken kindly didn't laugh, they made sure I wasn't hurt before Ken offered to haul my pack onto the bank for me and I climbed out. I swore them to secrecy.
We had a few glimpses of Meananach Bothy then Luibeilt on the other side of the river before we actually got there, we arrived about 17:45, there were two tents pitched in front of the bothy and someone was down at the river collecting water.  We took our packs into the bothy and started to sort out where we would pitch. We both opted to try and take shelter behind the building, I did not find a pitch with as much shelter as I would have liked and I paid the price for it in the night. The Boys had been expecting a friend, Pongo, and she arrived as we sorted ourselves. Tents pitched, we fetched water and rehydrated our meals. I was shattered again, so I'm afraid I was party pooper and took my dinner to my bed. I was soon cosied in my sleeping bag, writing my diary and listening to Sir Ian. The wind, however, was blowing a hoolie and I wasn't expecting a good night.
There are few photographs taken today, my camera was safely buried in my pack.

The way ahead, beyond the bothy

Looking across to Luibeilt

Looks a bit windy

Day 5 Tuesday 16th May
Planned: Meannanach (Meannach) to Allt Eigheach
14.7 miles 1625 ft
23.7 km 495 m
Actual: As planned
15.6 miles 2059 ft
25.1 km 628 m

A babbling burn...

Well, that was an absolutely rubbish night. I'd pitched sideways on to the wind and the tent was as solid as a rock, but even knowing it would flap like a flappy thing, it still disturbed me enormously through the night and I got little peace until the early hours of the morning when the wind began to drop. My shoulder was also less than comfortable. It rained quite a bit in the night too. I'd woken again at 04:00 but managed to go back to sleep. I was up around 07:00 and packed away, dropped the tent and went into the bothy for breakfast. The Simpsons were way ahead of me and left first, I never saw them again. I was ready to leave at the same time as The Boys and Pongo, but I made absolutely no effort to keep up with them, I knew I couldn't and was happy in my own company. After a short while, by some waterfalls, I stopped to take off a layer of clothing and retrieve my camera from its hiding place as the weather was currently fine, I returned to the path and continued. The path was mostly good, just a little vague around the wettest bits, but easy enough. I soon found myself at Creaguaineach Lodge by the bridge at the head of Loch Treig. It didn't take long to cross the second bridge and then the third, where I found The Boys and Pongo having lunch. I joined them, but they were already finished and making to leave. I ate my cheese butty which made me happy.


 Tiny Sundew
 First glimpse of Loch Treig
 Creaguaineach Lodge through the gloomy trees
 Along Abhainn Rath to the loch

 Across the end of the loch towards the Grey Corries

Looking along the loch towards Fersit

I didn't sit for long as I didn't think it was the most pleasant of places so I was soon on my way again. And it was soon raining again. And the wind was getting up again. The track went on and up, it was now a well engineered track as part of the hydro works in the area and I was on this well engineered track till the end of the day.
As I toiled uphill, I met a man coming down. He was clean and dry and smiling, so was evidently not a Challenger, despite his large pack. He was friendly and asked if I was heading for Corrour Station, no, so the hostel, no, blank look. I explained I was going towards the Rannoch road and camping somewhere on the way. He wished me luck with the rain and bade me farewell.
I got into my stride and actually quite enjoyed the walking again after a while, except for the pain in my shoulder. I was soon at a junction in the track by an underpass. I paused to consider the map. Pongo had been insistent that I should visit the station tea room, but looking at the map it would add distance to my route, and today cake was not worth it, even for me. As I paused, a man on a mountain bike came towards me from the station path. "Are you okay my dear?"
"Fine thanks, I'm not lost."
"Well I might be!" and cycled off.
Okay, so maybe my mood wasn't that good after all!
The weather was pretty grim, but I walked under the train tracks and continued on the track towards the hostel. It took surprisingly little time for it to come into view and it was easy to pick out my path over to Peter's Rock. I fumbled finding it a little when I got there as I somehow missed the junction, but a little off path of about ten metres saw me reach it with ease. From here I just had to walk, there were no decisions, no picking my way through tussocks or around bog, just walking. Uphill at first, then a bit of contouring before eventually making my way down to meet the Allt Eigheach. I caught up with two pairs of walkers on the way, the first pair he was carrying a huge rucksack and his companion a tiny day sack. He was a first time Challenger who'd started at Oban, but I didn't catch his name. He'd suffered a knee injury while crossing a river and taken shelter in a bothy, Loch Chiarain Bothy would be my guess from his route description. He'd left at 05.00 in order to meet his wife at Corrour Station who was joining him for the day. I wished him well and left them slowly making their way along the track.
The second couple were wondering along somewhat aimlessly. I thought at first they were a young love-struck couple, they each carried a small day pack, an ordinary sleeping bag slung over a shoulder by the string and she carried a pop up tent. They were holding hands from time to time, gazing at the views and kissing. As I gained on them and then passed them, she turned out to be my age, he was much younger. Young love.
 And the weather changes
 Loch Ossian
 Peter's Rock
The views and various weather conditions across the stunning and atmospheric Rannoch Moor

In no time at all I was passing the small plantation marked on the map and crossing the bridge over the Allt Eigheach. I had taken a grid reference from Judith as she had pitched here last year and as it happens, I found the same pitch without difficulty as there wasn't much else available! I dithered slightly as to which bit of sloping, narrow bank to choose, pitched, collected water, and set about sorting my tent before I found I had a visitor. After a squeak, I calmly worked out how I was going to rescue myself from the black spider that was running around the corner of my inner, but with clever use of my sit mat and a packet of disposable handwarmers, I evicted the tricky little critter and did a quick check there were no more.

 Allt Eigheach
 Not a bad spot
...I was sloping, not the pitch!

After a few deep breaths I got back to my routine, rehydrated my dinner and once again, found myself in bed before 19:00 listening to Sir Ian as I wrote my diary. Painkillers were required, but I lay quietly just relaxing for a couple of hours before I really settled down. I was however finding things hard. Pain now all day and all night. There was no respite. I couldn't bear lifting and carrying the pack, it hurt. I dreaded the nights, it hurt.
At this point, I realised this was my first ever truly solo wild camp. And I felt fine about that.
Not a bad day. But painful.

Day 6 Wednesday 17th May
Allt Eigheach to Kinloch Rannoch

16.8 miles 955 ft
27 km 291 m
Actual: As planned
17.2 miles 1288 t
27.6 km 392 m

A bed!!

Another dreadful night. I had obviously chosen a very lumpy pitch and this did not help me get my shoulder comfortable at all. I woke around 03:00, not feeling frightened or with nightmares, but really cold so had a scrabble in the dark to find some disposable handwarmers, my woolly hat and my insulated jacket. I warmed up quickly and nodded off to sleep again, but was awake normal time and persuaded myself to get up and on. I packed up everything and dropped the tent, but left that to dry as much as possible while I ate breakfast. I got the tent packed away inside my pack rather than on the outside and was also able to leave the pack cover off, I was on my way by 08:15 and it was looking like a lovely day. Possibly too lovely, it was quite hot making my way to the end of the track and then along the road, all the way to Kinloch Rannoch. I'm not bothered by road walking, but I don't normally choose to do a lot of it. Today had been simply to serve the purpose of getting to civilisation, re-supply and a bed for the night. I walked on and there were cars. And cars. And cars!

Looking SW across Rannoch Moor

The southern end of the Road to the Isles

As I walked, I was being nagged and nagged by the pain and it was beginning to get into my head. I was alternately planning the next few days, what I had to buy for lunches, posting maps home and wondering how I was going to continue at all, missing my family and just feeling utterly miserable with the pain. My feet were not blistered, but feeling bruised. They were manageable with rest stops and boot breaks. The collar bone pain was excruciating.
I formed a plan. I would get to Kinloch Rannoch, buy a lunch to get me to Blair Atholl and a pizza to take to my B&B, (the lovely lady had messaged me say I must use her kitchen, she would not have me starve!) I would phone Control and David and then head to Blair Atholl next day. My route was to take four days to reach Tarfside, via Loch Moraig, Gleann Fearnach, Cateran Trail, Loch Beanie, Glen Beanie, Mid Hill, Acharn, Clova, Loch Brandy, Water of Unich and Gleneffock. I then planned three days to the coast. In my head, I thought I could probably make Tarfside in five days instead, shorter days might be more manageable, then take the usual route from Tarfside over two days, a little disappointing but practical. It made me feel better having a plan.
Once I reached the loch side, I had some shade from the trees which made it more comfortable to walk. It also helped me feel a little more positive, I could be out of view of the loch or surrounding views for half an hour or so at a time and when it came back into sight I could tell I'd made progress. This was good.
There are camping spots along the side of the loch along with signs from the local council detailing what they consider to be sensible and reasonable use. They have also provided bins, so there is no excuse for any littering. I think on the whole, this system could work well, it has obviously been in use for quite some time, but I think campers like myself could find the caravans and cars parked up and obviously pitched long term a little intimidating and I'm not sure that's their intended use. These were obviously fisherman intending to be there for a period of time. Anyway, it didn't affect me today and I was able to find a little spot just about good enough for lunch, even if the man from the coonsil did park his van nearby. Felt like I was being watched, but I think it was just his lunch break too. He gave me a friendly enough wave when I left and another as he drove passed a little later. Could have offered me a lift...

 Weary feet

Looking south towards Meall Chomraidh

The view from my lunch stop south towards Leagag and Cross Crags

...not far to civilisation...

I made Kinloch Rannoch about an hour earlier than I'd expected, which cheered me, I went straight to the Post Office with a parcel I prepared on the bench outside only to discover they only open for two hours each morning. The chap behind the counter stood like a statue when I whimpered slightly, parcel in hand. I didn't even bother asking if he could make an exception for someone who obviously was not likely to be hanging around for long, and I didn't think he was going to help when I asked if he could at least weigh it and give me a price so that I could perhaps ask someone to post it for me, but begrudgingly he did.
Finding lunch for the next day was tricky. Rolls all in packs of four, no small cheeses or cheese slices. I ended up with an egg sandwich, two bottles of fresh orange and a frozen pizza for tea.
I left him in his gloomy little shop.
I knew I would get a tiny phone signal across the road from the cafรฉ, unfortunately every man and his dog drove passed as I tried to make my phone calls, in cars, buses, tractors. It was suddenly Picadilly Circus! I spoke to Bernie, again, he was pleased to hear I was where I should be, and intrigued when I said I would be ringing again from Blair Atholl with a new plan to help me cope with the pain I was suffering. I received a text from David to say the home phone was not working properly, if I texted him he'd phone me back.
The strangest thing. As I was explaining my situation to David, the stark fact hit me that I couldn't cope any longer with pain. A few probing questions from him and it became utterly clear that I was in constant pain and discomfort. My collar bone during the day was torture as I lifted the pack and carried it. I dreaded camping at night as getting comfortable was almost impossible and my shoulder was painful, not to mention the throbbing, bruised soles of my feet. I was taking painkillers but it was barely taking the edge off the pain. This was the end of the first week, I couldn't bear the thought of another week of this and it was getting worse each day. The pain was detracting from the views I should have been enjoying and the sense of achievement was more to do with surviving the pain rather than having negotiated my route.

It was time to go home.


Emma said...

Thank you for posting your very brave account. A great read and some lovely photos. At least you had half a Challenge’s worth on a really interesting route.
Strength, sister - we will both be back!

Louise said...

Thank you Emma, you're very kind. Here's hoping ๐Ÿ˜Š

Elpus said...

Hi Louise,

You're not alone - except I dropped out after three hours on day one. Clearly I lack your grit and determination!

But half a challenge is better than none - well done, and the next one is less than a year away ;-)

Ray Disson said...

Hi Louise
Sorry to see that you have had an opportunity to write up your blog so soon.
A great read that has helped me while away the time on the train from Montrose to London.
We must have been only half a day apart as we passed Meanach Bothy on the way to Loch Ossian hostel.
No I did not finish either having had to bail out at Glendora Lodge with bruised and battered feet.
I went home on Sunday but decided to return to Montrose as I had not met any of the friends I had hoped meet on the trail.
Sad to see that both you and Emma had joined me on the DNF list.
Well there is always next year!
Bsrt wishes

Louise said...

I think not Phil! Sometimes things are just 'not right'.
I did actually enjoy the first two days, the first day particularly was quite different for me to choose/plan to do and was tough, but good fun.
Thank you, and I guess it is. Just, to Challenge or not to Challenge, that is the question...
Hope you're feeling more yourself now, take care ๐Ÿ˜Š

Louise said...

I was sorry to hear you'd bailed aswell, it just wasn't meant to be! The sunbaked ground was very hard on the feet.
You were following me eh? Never a wise move, always ends in pain and tears ๐Ÿ˜
I'm sure there'll be other Challenges ๐Ÿ˜Š
Take care

Vanessa said...

A good read. I liked your route and also found the process of coming to a decision to stop very interesting. I think we are do inured to pushing through pain on the Challenge that it can take someone from outside to make us realise how bad things are.

Incidentally I have been unable to do anything today. I put one load in the washing machine but it was David who hung it out and brought it in. I have been mainly whimpering about the pain!

Louise said...

Thank you Vanessa.
It was strange, I hadn't realised I couldn't go on until I talked about it all out loud.
Oh dear! I have noticed before that I can get to the sea, but the moment my toe touches the water, I'm in agony and can't take another step, it's psychological!
I'm sure David will relish the chance to look after you, until the whimpering gets too annoying! ๐Ÿ˜

Vanessa said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Sorry that you did not make it to the end, I know how you feel as I pulled out at KLR under almost the same circumstances , 2011 I think.
Constant pain is no joke and it takes the edge off any enjoyment you may have from the walk. Thanks for the feed back and nice to know that Grumpy can get it right sometimes. ATB for next year.

blogpackinglight said...

Sorry to hear your Challenge was cut short. TBH, there are things you can't just walk off and it's better to call it a day than do serious damage. Best wishes for a speedy recovery and hope to see you on the Challenge again.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry you had to finish early this year, Louise. I must have had a little bit of dust in my eye when I reached the end of your account; my eyes started to feel a little leaky. You've prompted me to recall some awful days on my crossings. Sore back; sore wrists; miserable as sin. Somehow I kept going but in 2012 it was purely the kindness of a campsite warden and the very welcome return of the sun that gave me the mental strength to carry on.
I hope your shoulder is feeling better and I hope you'll be Challenging again soon.

Louise said...

Thank you Judith, I like the idea of finishing early ๐Ÿ˜Š
I've had struggles and dark moments before on the Challenge, this time it just got the better of me.
The shoulder is generally okay now, just need to work on pack weight and suitable extra padding for shoulder straps.
I'll probably be back.
It has to be done.

Phreerunner said...

That's a very nicely composed report, Louise, as always. Such a shame you had to call it a day.

I sympathise with the shoulder problem. I had one a few years ago that would have forced a retirement (Dales High Way) if I hadn't been able to gain relief by not using the chest strap. I haven't used one since, but the frozen shoulder took a good year to repair. This year (currently) I have a damaged shoulder after a fall on ice, but luckily the Challenge didn't make it any worse! I hope your shoulder problem resolves more quickly.
Very best wishes

Louise said...

Thank you Martin ๐Ÿ˜Š
The shoulder is settling, an overnighter supporting a Gold DofE group made it ache a little, but really not much. I am working on some suitable extra padding for the strap and been ruthless with my spreadsheet to cut some weight, so now I hope the trend for slightly warmer weather continues...

Phreerunner said...

It may be that the strap padding completely solves your shoulder problem once the existing damage has repaired itself. Just stopping using the chest strap did that for me, and for the last few years I've gone back to the comfort of an ancient but wonderful Karrimor Jaguar, and more recently a supremely well engineered and comfortable Deuter sack - quite a big one as I've gone back to using a Karrimat, which goes inside the rucksack. For Challenge country I find it hugs the ground and finds the optimum sleeping position much better than a NeoAir. And I'm back to a 30 year old tent, having tried and failed to find a better current model (though I haven't tried the Hilleberg Soulo).
I still have a lighter tent in reserve for short trips in good weather - the Karrimor Marathon, bought for £14 in about 1972 - J-cloth essential, but not too much condensation if you leave the door open!
Have fun.

Louise said...

I'm hoping so Martin.
Must admit, I have been tempted to use David's Jaguar pack, it is a really comfy pack to carry and better than my women's Wildcat. But I will persevere with adding shoulder padding as I do like my Exos.
Usually love my Exped Synmat, think I just managed to pitch on ground that hadn't appeared to be lumpy or slope until I settled down.
Still chuffed with my Laser, just thinking about the bargain it was (£89 ๐Ÿ˜†) makes me so happy.

Phreerunner said...

Good. Do you test your sleeping position before putting up the tent? I'm amazed at how many people don't bother to do that, then they complain about 'lumps'!

Louise said...

Well yes, I often peg out my ground sheet and have a lie down, but sometimes I obviously ignore the lumps!

Alan Sloman said...

Well then.
I'm extraordinarily late to the party, Missy, but I'm so glad I'm here now.
What a complete bummer. I had been nursing a shoulder for quite a few weeks before the Challenge (Martin was sympathetic when I told him about it, and he was right - eventually with a lot of painkillers it finally dropped away in time for the walk.)
The pain and its effects on your morale is unutterably miserable.
Your walk and route so far was lovely - I might just nick a few chunks in the future.
A good move to go home. The Challenge is supposed to be a holiday.
Here's hoping for better luck next time, for you, Phil, Ray and all those who DNF.

Louise said...

Thank you Alan.
I was so 'happy' to get away from the pain, I was initially okay about going home. Since more and more folk have been publishing their photos and reports, I've been finding it increasingly difficult to engage with it. It's a bit like grieving at the moment, I can only bear so much.
Oo! Which bits did you like? Days 1 and 2 were my favourite bits. I have planned the second half, again, for next time. Third time lucky! (If I don't do that bit next time, it'll be binned!!)
Thank you xx