TGO Challenge 2013 Plockton to Lunan DNF

The planned route, Plockton to Lunan

I met Neale Lamond, Stephen and Veronica Foley at Inverness railway station but we sat separately once on the train as they had booked seats. In fact the whole train seemed to have been booked for a coach trip, but their kindly courier took pity on me and gave me a seat he had spare. I faced backwards all the way to Plockton and there was the smell of hot rubber, just to make sure I felt thoroughly sick all the way.

As I alighted the train at Plockton, I found a chap on the platform with a large rucksack. He was Gregory Doughty Davis. We bumped into each other several times on the Thursday night, including as we sought food. As I generally can't eat the night before the Challenge, I opted for a children's pop chicken supper from the  chippy. At just £3.50 I wouldn't feel so bad when I threw most of it away. I didn't meet any other Challengers at this time, not even Martin, but he was around. I returned to my B & B on the harbour for a night of restlessness and nerves.

Last year was a storming year, in more ways than one! I had hoped this year would be a vast improvement, but things don't always go to plan...
Day One
Plockton to Glen Ling
12.2 miles 2697 feet total ascent planned
12.5 miles 2661 feet total ascent actual

After the best breakfast I could manage, I packed up and made my way to the sign out point. Outside I met Jane, taking photographs. I signed out at 9.54 am and was on my way. I felt remarkably relaxed and calm at this point. I took the path along the beach that eventually takes you under the railway and up through pretty woodland to the road.

Toe dipping

We started with blue skies

I started as I meant to go on, by having a snack and water break after an hour's walking. I was not using my Platypus this year, so I needed to make the effort. I chose a suitable tree stump to perch on and not long after, three Challengers came into view, a threesome of Jane Asell, John and Sue Plume. We chatted briefly before they continued and I finished my snack.
Sue and John Plume

I strolled on and eventually caught up with them as they too rested. I joined them for a while and we got chatting. As we were doing an identical route, I stayed with them. It was quite a gentle route at this point before we crossed a busy road and into forestry. This was it, we were leaving civilisation behind. After a short while we found a spot with a view over some cleared forestry with one or two handy tree stumps on which to perch and enjoy our lunches. The spotting of rain at this point was getting progressively heavier and we were all glad to have donned our waterproofs.

Forestry is forestry, there was nothing much to see but we didn't get lost as we trudged and chatted, the time passed pleasantly. The path eventually became a little vague and somewhat more damp until we eventually broke free and were looking for a beer tent. I mean, deer fence, in which there would be a gate, or so we were promised. After crossing an amount of rough terrain, we found the fence, but no gate. It didn't matter which way we looked or wandered, there was no gate. We had to go that way, we needed to cross the fence. We formed a plan, but plans don't always go that way. John scaled the fence with ease and packs were passed over, then Sue made her way over with help and guidance from those of us on the ground. Unfortunately, she lost her hold and slipped and despite trying to hold on and John trying to catch her, she fell with a thud. I hadn't wanted to be pressed into action with my new Outdoor Activity First Aider qualification and I was on the wrong side of the fence...

John had a bleeding nose, but no pain, it didn't appear to be broken. Sue was sure she had just winded herself. Jane and I were soon both helped over the fence, packs back on and we were off, in search of a pitch.

As it turned out, neither the group nor I pitched where we had intended but by the Allt Loch Innis nan Seangan. It was a raging torrent and we were perhaps a shade too close for comfort. We threw up our tents and I was soon in mine, rehydrating my dinner and with every intention of going to bed. There are no photographs of this pitch. It was wet outside. I have solved the issue of being cold quite successfully. I carry two pairs of disposable handwarmers for each day, so I can have nearly 24 hours of continuous heat if I really need. I cracked a couple as I went to bed and was toasty all night, moving them around me body as I needed warmed. It works for me!
Day Two
Glen Ling to Iron Lodge
9.9 miles 993 feet total ascent planned
11.1 miles 1122 feet total ascent actual

I had an awful night. I never sleep well the first night in a tent, but I was not happy with the proximity of the raging torrent to my tent. The rain barely let up all night and I was, well, feeling a bit damp, but not downheartened.

We were all soon up, fed and packed ready to go. We appeared at first to all be looking for the same bridge and as we walked (clambered over the rough stuff) we found another burn. Further down it would be harder to cross, so now we had our first wade of the Challenge. Over in a flash, we continued up, but it soon became clear that they no longer needed to find the bridge, so I headed off on my own again. I crossed another burn, dry shod this time, after checking the map and realising it would only make my life more difficult if I didn't, then I headed up and round a bit to follow the line of the river without dropping down too quickly. I could soon see where this river joined the River Ling and now was the time to make my way towards a small line of birch trees and lo and behold, there it was!
We like
Soggy and raging
Along Glen Ling

 It would be straight forward from here. I stopped and got some water before following the soggy path towards Nonach Lodge. I stopped from time to time to admire the raging River Ling. I carefully picked my way at times as the path was very wet and the stones slippery. The path was also at times a little close to the edge. There was a tall, narrow stile to climb over the deer fence and I'm sure it afforded some cracking views of the river from the top, but I wasn't about to turn and look as this was not my kind of stile.
We're not keen

River Ling

I soon found myself heading towards some buildings at Nonach Lodge and there I found a couple having lunch, seated on a handy fallen tree, Graham and Tina Lewis. They had apparently come the way through the forestry I had intended but I'm glad I hadn't. They'd pitched quite high in the boggy land and had a damp night. They were also heading for Iron Lodge. I walked on to a car park where there was a handy bench on which to perch and a grassy bank on which to spread my tent to dry out a bit. As I perched and nibbled, the couple passed by again. After a decent break and before I got too chilled I was off again and the nice weather we'd been having for the last couple of hours began to deteriorate and become more showery again. Joy.

The road to Iron Lodge is quite long. It goes on for quite a while with not much to look at, but eventually, as it began to rain in earnest, I reached the Lodge, along with Stefan Latzel, Shenia Dziaszyk and Andreas Becker. It turned out the Lodge is open! Graham and Tina had already bagged a room upstairs and Graham happily pointed me to the next useable room where there was some evidence of previous but not recent animal habitation, which may in the end have been my downfall. I chose to stay indoors out of the rain. The threesome had decided to continue on their route, to Camban bothy.

We were all fed and watered, noses powdered and I was ready for bed by about 8pm. Too early, but it had to be done.


Day Three
Iron Lodge to Loch Mullardoch
11.4 miles 2190 feet total ascent planned
Iron Lodge to Athnamulloch
11.3 miles 3216 feet total ascent actual

So, I had another bad night, listening to the rain and mulling over my plans. I had already (foolishly) made a decision and told John I would be doing Loch Mullardoch, but...

I didn't want to struggle 9 miles along a pathless, boggy lochside in grim weather with several possible tricky fordings. I decided in reality I'd rather struggle along a discernable path with one major fording and over the Bealach Coire Ghaidheil in wet but not windy conditions. Lesson learnt. Plan the route, plan the FWAs, know desperate alternatives and DON'T DECIDE UNTIL YOU ARE THERE! I thought deciding in advance was a good idea as I knew I would have no one to discuss it with. No. Won't do that again!

So after rising early and having breakfast of sorts, off I set, just after Graham and Tina. They sped off up the zig zag path and I didn't see them again before Athnamulloch other than a brief glimpse of them ahead of me at Gobh-alltan. I took my time up the zig zag path and was soon caught by Trevor Brewster who'd been having fun with illness and was making up time. I saw no one else this side of the Bealach.
We don't like

Loch Mullardoch this way

I plodded along quite happily in slightly breezy and damp conditions, but never too bad. I didn't miss my turn off, although I did lose the path briefly off a bend somehow, but realised within a few metres and yomped back onto it quite easily. I found a huge rock by the path big enough to huddle behind with my Flash for a spot of lunch. It didn't take too long before I had to ford a small but full burn, before the Choillich. Boots off for a practice then! No problems, not surprisingly. I plodded on. I could hear the Choillich from quite a distance and it soon came into view. The track neatly dumps you at the ford and I inspected it carefully. I could see the bed all across it's 8 metre width. There were no large rocks churning the water. I could see it was a strong current at about knee deep. I didn't dither. Boots off and I tried to remember all I'd learnt, facing upstream, steady steps, well placed feet and keep calm.

I made it. And cheered! After I'd dried my feet and replaced my boots I celebrated with a packet of mini jelly babies my little treasures had given to me. Then it was onwards and steadily upwards as it rained in varying amounts but was never very windy. It was however a cold wind and stops were brief to snaffle a snack and then on again. I could see the bealach clearly and knew it was quite easily within reach. Which I soon did. Then it's just a case of scrambling down onto the path the other side and striding down hill. Carefully. Well, if I'd done it carefully I perhaps wouldn't have slithered to the ground on two or three occasions, but nevermind! This track goes on forever, and ever and ever, but it eventually drops you on the track through Glen Affric just west of Cnoc Fada. I met a couple of fellas at this point, asking if I'd come from the hostel. One was wearing jeans and hoody with a trendy Berghaus jacket. I couldn't help but comment, given the weather, "Jeans? Seriously?" Off they went on their long and wet way.

It's then a quick toddle east to the buildings at Athnamulloch. These are locked of course, but the out buildings could at least afford some shelter. I found Graham and Tina in one of those buildings, not suitable to stop in as the floor was strewn with wood chips, but sheltered enough to chat and prepare food. I felt quite tired although not exhausted. I could not believe I had done the walk in, the ford and the bealach all by myself and with apparent ease and confidence. I could never have done this before and I didn't once have a feeling of panic or anxiety that I couldn't do this. Of course I could! But now I needed to pitch, eat and sleep.

Tina may have been a bit worried about me. She got water for me as she got theirs, checked I hadn't forgotten my dinner and in the morning, checked I'd eaten before leaving. She did apologise for mothering me but I found the concern touching. Or maybe I looked bedraggled and forlorn? I didn't feel it. There are no photographs of this pitch, another wet day.

So bed it was then.
Day Four
Loch Mullardoch to Bearnock
15.5 miles 1410 feet total ascent planned
Athnamulloch to Bearnock
21.3 miles 2346 feet total ascent actual

I knew I had a step to go as I know Glen Affric well, but I managed to slightly miscalculate the distance! Still, that private en suite room at the 5* hostel at Bearnock was calling to me and I was on my way by about 9.30am, although it had been another unsettled night. I'd heard the precipitation on the tent and knew it didn't sound right. It was snow. Joy. Wet and wet. I'd also woken with a raging allergic reaction. I'd had a minor one the previous morning, but this was a serious humdinger. I knew things would improve as I got up and about, but the swelling to my eyes and face was uncomfortable. I didn't want to take anti-histamine at this point as it makes me so grotty and I needed to by fully functioning. I needed to walk.

The last time I tackled the south shore of the loch heading in this direction had been on my first Challenge when I'd burst into tears after someone asked how my day was going. This time, I was on form. I just strolled up that hill and kept going. I briefly took shelter from the chill breeze in the disabled toilets at NH 200 233, not the sort of place I'd normally snack, but it was clean, dry and out of the cold! Then I was off again and although I stopped from time to time to snack or sip (and I found a large bin for my rubbish, that lightened my load!) I just kept going, quite happily and comfortably. I was at Cannich for 4pm and I stopped at the Slaters Arms for a meal and a couple of cans of coke. Whilst I was there (it was deathly quiet) Maria Norris staggered dripping through the door. She was immediately welcomed in and offered food, drink and a place by the fire to dry out her stuff. I think she'd been having a bit of a rough time on top of a Munro before opting for a safer route.

After a good break of an hour and a half (longer than intended but I wasn't going out there in that!) I set off for my next intended stop, the hostel. I covered those last six miles in 2 hours and still had walking in my legs, I was feeling on top form! No real aches and pains, no rubs or blisters and tired, but not exhausted. On reaching the hostel the very lovely lady showed me my room, including a bath! She was perhaps a little taken aback by my rather excited response to this, but a bath! I was delighted. She then showed me the kitchen area and offered me some milk for tea. After doing my usual kit explosion, washing clothes and pots, draping the tent over the shower and getting everything else out to air, I had a hot bath with a cup of tea. Bliss!
Burgled? Or kit explosion...

I was soon catching up on texts and telephoned TTS to get the gossip. Everything was fine with everyone except mum, who had been taken into hospital unexpectedly at the weekend and David was expecting news to give me. We chatted a while before I realised I needed to eat again, two main meals in one day! Unheard of, but needed today. David later sent a text to tell me how far I'd walked. Gosh, good effort. I fell into my lovely cosy bed.
Day Five
Bearnock to Ault-na-Goire
10.38 miles 1454 feet total ascent planned
1.42 miles 104 feet total ascent actually

So last night did not go well. To start with I was having feverish nightmares about The Coordinator throwing me off the Challenge for breaking the rules. I'd eventually settled, but my sleep was soon disturbed again, this time by coughing and spluttering and as I gradually came to I realised I was gasping desperately for breath between bouts of coughing. An asthma attack.

This never happens to me. I have been asthmatic since I was 17 years old, but I rarely have a problem. It's usually due to a heavy cold or an allergic reaction, in the main to furry creatures. This was not good. I fumbled for my inhaler and thankfully the medicine soon worked and I had things under control. I was exhausted and soon slept again.

I woke early still feeing a bit 'tight', but well in all other ways. I sent David a text to discuss this new turn of events, but really I already knew what had to be done and David agreed wholeheartedly. It would be unwise, if not reckless and irresponsible to continue into the wild alone, as I surely would be, bringing up the rear as I now was. I had to retire. Despite feeling fighting fit in all other respects, asthma is not to be messed with and more so when it is an unusual event like this. I suspect whatever allergen was picked up, it is in my kit. It needs to be dealt with carefully and will take more than a day or two, I would not be able to recover, rejoin and continue.

In some respects I'm quite obviously gutted, but this is the only option. However, I've had an amazing time, just think what I can do next time, knowing how accomplished I've been so far this year! There will be a next time.

I organised my stuff, repacked and walked down the road a while before David, who'd left earlier, arrived by the roadside to collect me. A little admin, contacting various people with whom I'd made bookings, collecting a parcel (we bumped into Denis Pidgeon at this point and had a chat) and then we returned home and I formally retired from this year's Challenge.


Anonymous said...

Sorry to hear that you've had to give up. I know how disappointing it is, but sounds like the right decision. Hope you get well soon.

Louise said...

Thank you. In a way it was an easy decision, I really had no choice. Feeling better today and cleaning my gear is getting me down, but I'm alive to walk the Challenge another time, there's no need to take risks.

Carl Mynott @GBWildlifeTales said...

Oh bloody bugger! What a shame! But... you have finished your 2013 report before my 2012 report has reached Braemar.

Seriously, I'm glad you took the decision to retire as it could well have been foolhardy to carry on.

Don't let the gremlins trouble you. They aren't real. ;-)

See you on the trail.


Louise said...

Thank you Carl, you're very sweet. My sensible head knows it was the only thing to do, but my heart is aching and the gremlins are laughing at me around the corner.

I'm safe and well and the hills will still be there next time. See you out there!


Phreerunner said...

Sorry to hear your news Louise, and to miss you in Plockton. Pleased to hear you are on the mend and hope to see you in Montrose next Thursday.
(Sent from a bog near Inverness)

Louise said...

Thank you Martin, I'm certainly feeling better than I was! But gutted.
I do still have my train ticket home from Montrose.

John Manning said...

What a fine report Louise. Really sorry that you had to cut this year's walk short, especially after all the serious preparation, but appreciate the sensible thinking behind it. A more serious recurrence could have been much more troublesome and would have posed a genuine potential danger.

I'm sure you'll be back to fight another day!

Many thanks again for the cake by the way - it is bloomin' absolutely marvellous. Cake perfection. And how did you know – ginger is my favourite Spice Gir… I mean, favourite cake flavour!

Hope to see you in '14.

Louise said...

Hello John! Thank you for taking the time to pop by (00.36, killing time?) and I'm glad you like the cake, although I hope you're sharing like a good boy...
Asthma is a pain in the proverbial and so often underestimated, especially in folk like myself whose condition is usually mild and controlled. To have been at my fittest and most confident and been forced to retire by something so outwith my control and a few days later be fully fit again is incredibly frustrating and upsetting, but I'll be back next year. I have a cunning plan!!

Tony Bennett said...

What a bummer! Commiserations. It sounded like you were going so well. I remember how I felt when I had to make a similar decision last year. You need to come up with another 'adventure' to see you through this year :)

Louise said...

Thank you Tony, I was going the best yet! Next time...
Not sure what I have planned next, one or two bits of family stuff to do this summer. I'll think of something :-)

Nick Bramhall said...

Ah, very sorry to hear you had to drop out Louise! It sounds like it was the right decision based on what you knew at the time though. Just a shame as it looked like it was going really well up until then. I recognise many of the spots from your early photos as I was doing a similar route for the first few days with some variations here and there! I'm glad to see from the other post that you did indeed get to the east coast so congratulations for picking it back up again!

Louise said...

Thank you Nick. I was so gutted to have to retire, as you say, mt Challenge was going brilliantly well and it was so unfair to have the decision forced upon me. It was great to meet up with friends at Braemar and to keep my bestest buddy Laura company as she completed her Challenge, but I did feel slightly separated from it all and very emotional at the end. And no t-shirt!
Still, I have next time. And a cunning plan...

JB said...

Oh Louise! What a terrible shame! And after you were making such a good start, too.

Still, you were absolutely right. Asthma is NOT to be messed with. I had an asthma attack on my ML assessment, at 3,000 feet and 5 miles from the nearest road ... and yeah, that was scary!!! Although I went on to complete the assessment and qualify, I immediately declared myself unfit for solo walking, or for leading others who might be relying upon me in wild country, until I was confident that it was genuinely a one-off occurrence and not likely to happen again. I left it 3 years before attempting another Challenge ...

Louise said...

Hi Jeremy. Thank you, it was really gutting, and although I really hated having to do it, I didn't hesitate in withdrawing, I had no choice. I am perhaps a little rash in Challenging this year, but such is my addiction and there will be two of us. It is most reassuring to know that Laura will be there. I don't foresee any issues, it'll be fine...
I'll have to start out of Plockton again sometime though.