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(18km / 510m ascent)
I arrived on a crowded noisy train at Mallaig and was glad to get away up the road to the West Highland Hotel to sign out and have a last civilised lunch, ‘no lunch today’ but was well fed and watered at the Chlachain Inn next door. The other Challengers from the train were rushing to catch the ferry to Knoydart leaving me to contemplate the journey ahead and enjoy another Guinness. I left at 14.30 heading for the wilds of North Morar which were rugged and trackless but relatively easy going over recently burnt heather.
The views out to Eigg, Rhum and Muck with glimpses of the Skye Cuillin compensated for the few showers and the route was made more interesting by the mass of rocky outcrops and small lochans that I had to work round on the higher ground before descending to a very boggy area around Lochan Stole. I had intended to camp here but having decided that the only dry site was not very exiting carried on over to Brinacory where I met a good path along the shore of Loch Morar.
This early in the Challenge I was being fussy and kept on walking expecting to find the perfect site, which I didn’t, eventually arriving in Tarbet as the sun sank into the west. As it became darker I luckily found a quite reasonable site high on Druim Chuilinn point overlooking Loch Nevis, stretching a planned 4 hour day to 7.5hours. My first dried evening meal was superb or was it just the view and the cuckoo accompaniment that made it seem that way?
(15.5km / 1160m ascent)
After a night of wind and rain the morning was bright and showery with the hills very white on top, but I did manage to leave with a dry tent at 8.30. A steep climb up with views down to the moored fishing boats at Tarbet brought me to another area of rocky outcrops and lochans with the showers getting closer together and turning to hail and snow as I went higher.
Visibility between the showers was good giving excellent views of Knoydart, Loch Morar and the ridge ahead, which becomes more defined the higher you go.
I eventually reached Bidein a’ Chabair in a snowstorm and was glad to drop down to the Finiskaig river over some very steep, wet and slippery rock to reach the path to Sourlies where I arrived at the bothy just ahead of a heavy rain shower and the first chance of a brew since starting 8.5 hours before. The bothy looked as if a Himalayan expedition was living in it and the occupants only slightly more sociable than yetis so that I was glad to pitch my tent nearby and settle down for a wet night.
(22km / 2240m ascent)
Pouring rain, soggy boots, low snow level, ‘oh what a beautiful morning!’ thank goodness for sealskin socks. Packed up and moved out by 7.45 no sign of life in the bothy.
A steep climb to Lochan na Craoibhe then eased off through rough ground to the snowline where Sgurr na Ciche appeared like a child’s drawing of a mountain giving some interesting scrambling up snowy, iced rock with my pack trying to pull me back down. There was a strong cold NW wind and showers all day, snow above 600m, the showers becoming more scattered as the day progressed but, typically, when I reached the summit the visibility had gone. The 11km ridge walk over the four Munros to Sgurr An Fuarain was hard work, particularly the descent to Feadan na Ciche and the climb back up to Garbh Chioch Mhor, but it was one of those wonderful days where you forget the weight of your pack, the struggle through virgin snow, the cold wind, the snow showers and just appreciate the beauty, peace and the feeling of being a part of this wilderness in all its various glories.
The visibility varied as the showers came through giving bright distant views one minute then misty outlines and veiled glimpses of the glens the next, as I went further inland the amount of snow underfoot decreased and looking around it was clear that the hills to the NW had considerably more than those to the south, giving me just the right amount.
I often find going down harder than up, the knees not being what they were, but the descent from Sgurr An Fuarain down a good stalkers path towards Loch Quoich made it relatively painless although my route vetter was proved right, there is no pitch in A Mhaingir; I carried on into Glen Kingie and waded across to Kinbreak bothy, a 12 hour day. The bothy was deserted allowing me to spread out wet tents etc to dry and have a good burn wash (I understand why brass monkeys don’t breed in the area) before turning in after a very memorable day; the only thing lacking was firewood.
(30.5km / 1380m ascent)
Moving again at 7.45, early starts were not encouraged by low temperatures in the mornings. Showers in the morning gave way to clearer weather later but still cold in the wind.
The walk back to A Mhaingir restored the circulation to the feet after wading back across the river and a good stalkers path took me up into cloud and deep snow on Gairich before descending through the peat hags to Glen Kingie again where the sunshine and shelter in the trees raised the temperature considerably. Here I met the first challenger since the start, who came past as I was having a snack by the track, unfortunately I forgot to ask his name. It was a great change to be walking on a forest track after the open hillsides of the previous days but there was little extra wildlife. I escaped from the forest after digging up the food parcel I had buried two weeks earlier, luckily undamaged by the animal that had tunnelled down for a look, and continued along a path with some badly rotted bridges to climb through the peat hags over Bealach Carn na h-Urchaire and down to Gleann Tarsuinn where I set up camp in a ideal spot to catch the morning sun.
(24km / 1260m ascent)
A very cold night, frozen boots, ice on the flysheet and in the water but I had been warm enough. The morning sun flooded the east facing glen causing the ice to slide off the tent in sheets and it stayed bright and sunny all day, by evening even the socks I had washed on Sat were dry! I followed the river down to Gleann Cia-aig and crossed the deer fence by a fine new stile at the edge of the trees and went steeply up Meall Odhar beside an impressive series of waterfalls that cut deeply into the hillside, it was here that I saw the first of many mountain hares on my journey.
A steep path down from Meall Dubh met the Cam Bhealach path and soon after entering the South Laggan Forest a stream crossed the path, where I saw the first Peacock butterfly, making a perfect place for a good scrub and polish before getting to the metropolis of Laggan. I had convinced myself that it would be possible to buy a Mars Bar somewhere in Laggan but I was out of luck, even my last resort, the Youth Hostel, was shut, so I continued up through the forest after crossing the A82, using the directions I was given by Alvar, without which I would not have found the way out to the open hillside above.
The route continued up through amazingly dry peat hags to the bealach and then descended into Glen Turret through grassy sheep pastures in the glorious evening sunshine to camp by Turret Bridge where I was able to sit outside for the first time this trip without freezing, listening to the Curlews and later hearing Snipe drumming.
(30km / 1010m ascent)
A bright frosty morning saw me packing a cold damp tent before setting off towards the Burn of Agie where there are some very spectacular waterfalls but the vanishing path and boggy patches made for difficult walking.
I headed across the peat hags to the cairn at the northern end of Beinn a’ Chaorainn mainly to see why it was there, although I am still none the wiser! then climbed up the ridge for a pleasant walk over the tops, where it was warm enough to sit in the sun when sheltered from the cold wind. A selection of walkers appeared near the top, one explained that he had taken the day off work as the weather was so good and had not expected to see anybody, another passed head down having an urgent conversation into his mobile phone while a couple sat down near me and the wife started to tell me their life story since they retired not letting her husband get a word in edgeways and how he was over 70 now and still walking and I wondered how he had survived so long with a wife like that. A very steep descent with two deer fences to climb a boggy section to negotiate and another fence to climb took me to Moy (and all because I don’t like road walking) where I crossed the road and walked up the track to Lochan Na H-Earba overheating in the sunshine and was very glad to find a perfect camp site halfway down the north western loch.
Awoke to a beautiful clear calm frost free morning and was so enchanted walking down the path in the morning sunshine listening to the birds singing that I missed the intended path and arrived at Ardverikie, where I was able to dump my rubbish in the skip provided for the film crew, it is easy to see why it was chosen for Monarch of the Glen with its picturesque house and beautiful woodlands.
I was less pleased with the estate however when after a nice walk round the track past some usefully placed portaloos to the river Pattack I was forced to climb a deer fence beside a locked gate to get onto the path towards Dalwhinnie which climbs over to a delightful waterfall and wooded area by the river Mashie. My route then followed a line of poles up the open hillside and over to the Alt an t-Sluic where I tried to contour round to the Dirc Mhor but was stopped by the cliffs of the mini Dirc Mhor to the NE. This is a fascinating area and if you look closely you can still see the dragon’s scratches on the rock!
The route down the Alt an t-Sluic is spoilt by a new LRT where the path used to be beside the river and I made the mistake of following a sign that said footpath to Dalwhinnie just before the new house etc at ‘Alt-an-t-Sluic’, this goes up into the heather and then you have to find your own way down, no sign of a path anywhere! When I did get to Dalwhinnie the hospitality in the hotel was excellent with a number of other challengers arriving as I was devouring a large lunch followed by some interesting conversation at table and bar although there was a strong temptation to stay for the night, as some others were doing, I managed to drag myself away to camp by Loch Cuaich where to help digest my lunch I climbed Meall Chuaich before a light supper and bed. Many thanks are due to Peter Harrison, retiring due to blisters, who gave me a gas cartridge.
(22.5km / 940m ascent)
Woke to another bright morning and set off, leaving Jack Addison, who had also come up from Dalwhinnie, to his journey to Glen Feshie. At the end of the track by Allt Coire Chuaich there is an excellent path that zigzags up the side of the hill and with the mountain hares scampering about, the grouse grousing, the long views back to Dalwhinnie and beyond I reached the top before my legs had noticed they were going uphill. The peat hags were dry enough to take the direct line to Sgor Dearg and the amazing aerial views of Gaick but the descent to Gaick Lodge was hard on the knees.
The mass of stone and boulders combined with the missing bridge made me glad the river was not in spate when I imagine it would be very tricky to cross, I was impressed by the number of apparently good stalkers paths climbing the steep east side of the glen. Where the LRT by the Allt Gharbh Ghaig ends is a perfect camp site and I was tempted to extend my lunch stop until the next day but it was really too early to stop so continued up the river where higher up I took advantage of the dry conditions to have fun scrambling up beside the waterfalls to reach the plateau.
The journey was then a mixture of path, deep heather, rocky river, more heather then down to the infant Tarf where there was an excellent campsite and I was able to wash myself and some clothes in the evening sunshine (the river helped as well).
(31km / 1180m ascent)
Extract from notes; ‘V cold night, heavy frost, end of nose froze!’
As it was such a nice morning I decided to go up the river and round to Carn an Fhidhleir where I met Bill and Mark Gorin at the summit cairn and after sitting in the sunshine admiring the views of the Cairngorms for a while we all headed for An Sgarsoch where after another session in the sun I left them and walked down the ridge towards the Tarf. The path beside the river was very difficult to follow as there were so many deer and human tracks it was impossible to know which the best was until it was too late. There is another idyllic campsite by the bridge at the Falls of Tarf but once again I was here at the wrong time and had to settle for a lunch stop.
This area of deep cut river valleys is especially beautiful and to make it truly memorable a Golden Eagle flew down the Allt a’ Ghlinne Mhoir almost level with me on the high path on its way to the gorge at the Falls of Tarf. I knew I was getting closer to ‘civilization’ when I was nearly run down by a mountain bike when approaching Fealar Lodge. The path on towards Loch Nan Eun is good but becomes wide and boggy when it reaches the main Munro routes but the extra traffic does not seem to have affected the mountain hares as I have never seen so many. Loch Nan Eun was a popular spot with two other tents to be seen and I set up camp on the peninsula on the SE shore. I did not see the occupants of the other tents were they Challengers?
(22km / 1350m ascent)
A calm morning after a night of wind and rain showers with a few midges around to share the breakfast but I left with a dry tent and the promise of another beautiful day. I watched from the top of Carn a’ Chlarsaich as a huge herd of deer came up from the glen and vanished into the peat hags, you do not realise how many deer there are in the hills until you see a herd like this looking like wildebeest on the African plains, unfortunately without the predators. My route took me down through some enormous peat hags before climbing up to Carn Bhinnein and round to The Cairnwell in glorious sunshine although there was still a cold wind.
The Ski Centre toilets were open even though everything else was shut and I was able to have a luxury wash in hot water before picking up the parcel I had left the week before. After liberal applications of sun cream and wishing I had a sun hat I carried the extra weight up to Glas Maol and on round by Carn an Tuirc to descend by the extended LRT to the tented city at Lochcallater Lodge.
I had been told that Stan and Bill were very hospitable but found out how much of an understatement that was as the Lodge filled with Challengers that night.
(20.5km / 995m ascent)
Getting breakfast and breaking camp was not easy this morning and I realised that more training was necessary for this event in order to keep up with those with more experienced and practice!
I eventually got away with many thanks to Stan and Bill for a memorable night and struggled up Carn an t-Sagairt Mor accompanied by hail and snow showers blown along by an icy north wind.
The walk to Broad Cairn was bitterly cold and felt more like the Arctic than springtime in Scotland but improved at lower levels where I took an interesting route to the Shielin of Mark that I would not recommend by following the county boundary through all the swamps and peat hags along the flat ridge to the Black hill of Mark before descending a fine heathery slope to the river and bothy where there were a dozen Challengers already suffering from the cold and lack of firewood. We all retired early!
(36km / 1310m ascent)
The day started bitterly cold and I headed north from the bothy to follow the county boundary, this was rather a struggle around and through numerous peat hags and patches of deep heather with Mount Keen appearing between the hail and snow showers to lead me on. After Mount Keen the going becomes easier with navigation by fence post and some paths and tracks to follow.
I had intended to end the day after Hill of Cat but realised there was nowhere to camp without descending a long way north or south off the ridge and as my next target was Mount Battock I decided to keep going. The steep climb up Mount Battock was very hard towards the end of this long day and I was very glad to collapse at the summit especially as the showers had cleared and the evening sunshine was breaking through.
Descending to the Water of Dye I found that the path marked as a continuation of the LRT up Glen Dye does not exist and you have to find your own way through the deer fences at the top of the Glen. I walked on down the glen in the evening sunshine and by the time I reached the old barn at the Burn of Badymicks I had had enough and pitched by the barn.
(41km / 310m ascent)
Another fine frosty morning and a very pleasant walk down glen Dye past Charr bothy to the road where it felt strange to be sharing the route with other traffic for the mile or so before turning onto the forest track up Garlot hill with fine views towards the farm lands of Aberdeenshire as well as a last look at the hills with the distinctive rock of Clachnaben.
The forest edge is well back from the track all the way up to the top giving a fine open walk before descending to the more enclosed route down the West Burn of Builg to Corsebauld from which point it is all road walking to the coast.
I am not a great fan of road walking but the route from Glenbervie to Catterline was very pleasant with almost no traffic, except for the crossing of the A90, but it was a long way! At Roadside of Catterline I met John Jocys and Vivien Pike coming up from the coast after a successful crossing and continued down to the harbour.
I had intended to camp at Catterline and make my way to Montrose the next day but the camping potential was limited and the pub, while serving an excellent pint, was really a restaurant and not particularly interested in smelly Challengers (could you blame them!) so I went back up to the main road and caught the bus to Montrose to be welcomed by the team who had done such a good support job for us all throughout the Challenge and collected certificate Polo shirt etc and a welcome cup of tea.
Total Distance 344km / 214 miles Total ascent 15113m / 49250ft
Average per day 26.5km / 16 miles 1166m ascent
18 Munros and 3 Corbetts were climbed on route
I started my plan with the intention of keeping the road walking to a minimum. The finish therefore had to be near Stonehaven where the forest is closest to the coast, I then drew a line on the map straight across to the west coast at Mallaig and worked out a practical route from that. To make it more interesting I tried to keep away from the main trails and keep to higher ground with re-supply at Dalwhinnie as the only village that I would pass through until reaching the east coast. This was modified later to include two extra food re-supply points to reduce the weight carried and the final three days of the route plan were actually completed in two.
I only met nine other challengers while walking, six of these on the last day, and walked in company for about 6km, other challengers were met at Dalwhinnie Hotel, Callater Lodge and Shielin of Mark.
Total maximum weight of all equipment, clothing, food for four days and drink was 20kg with the normal weight of clothes, boots, poles etc that were worn coming to approx 4kg the maximum pack weight was 16kg. If anyone would like to look at the kit list click here
I started with three days food and collected three more from a cache that I buried above Glen Gary, three from a parcel posted to the Dalwhinnie Hotel and four from a cache I left at the Glen Shee Ski Centre.
I used Pack ‘n’ Go daily ration packs throughout with extra snack bars and instant tea added. I carried a spare days pack in case of emergencies but this was not used. The only adverse comment about the food in my notes says ‘ no bean and veg curry’ this was due to the difficulty of softening the beans.
I used three 250 size gas cartridges but was worried about running out after the first few days usage seemed high and was given an extra cartridge at Dalwhinnie which I did not use in the end.
Thanks to everyone who helped with the planning and execution of this trip especially Peter Goddard who vetted my route and although sceptical about some aspects of it gave me a lot of good advice, Alvar Thorn who supplied an invaluable sketch map of the way up through Laggan Forest and of course John Donohoe at control and Roger Smith for all his help and the organisation of the event.
A GOOD TIME WAS HAD BY ALL