TGO Challenge 2018 Day 1-3

Day 1 – 11/05/2018 18 Miles 

So the day had arrived, I was pretty damn nervous. I didn’t know what to expect at all. Sam dropped me off at Kintail Lodge Hotel at 9am, I popped into the hotel to sign the register and use the last proper toilet for a couple of days. I was greeted by a sea of back packs, and their quieter than normal owners. I recognised a couple of faces from the message board and Instagram, but I was keen to get going so I didn’t linger. 

Off I went, along the old road towards Ault A’ Chruinne and then onto the public road to Morvich. All pretty familiar territory so far, I work in the area and know it well both from work and previous walks. Last year on the Affric Kintail Way I had spent a couple of painful hours descending from Camban Bothy to Glen Lichd House, and it was the thought of this ascent that was filling me with dread as I wandered along the track. I met a few people before Glen Lichd, Dougie (who I would not see again until the final dinner), Katie from Oregon who I hoped to catch up with later on the trail, and Susan from Livingston with who I spent most of the day but then never saw again! It was a pretty windy day, and when I arrived at Glen Lichd House I found a few people sheltering behind it. Here I met Galaxy Magic Man (whose real name I have no idea of) he produced a giant 1kg bar of Galaxy Chocolate from his backpack and proceeded to share it round the assembled hikers. I could get used to this I thought… 

It was time to start the dreaded ascent to Camban Bothy, in my head I had built it up to be an epic climb, clinging to the edge of cliff faces and risking certain death for at least 10 miles. In reality it took me little over an hour and a half to get to the top of the steepest section. On day one this was a huge confidence boost and I knew if I could do that section with such little difficulty then maybe I would be ok for the next 12 days of hiking. The good thing about solo hiking is that nobody else is dictating your pace and you can have as many, or as few breaks as you like. I remembered an old sheepfold with a good view a little before Camban Bothy, so Susan and I stopped there for lunch. I was pretty disappointed that I’d forgotten my specially purchased Harry Gows sausage roll,  so it was dehydrated meal number one (Morrocan Chicken and Cous Cous) for me! 

We arrived at Camban Bothy at 3pm, there were already a few people there setting up for the night so we pushed on and made it to Alltbeithe Hostel a little after 4pm, just as the rain started. I’d been looking forward to this stop off at the hostel for more than a year. Last time, when I was on the Affric Kintail Way, (unknowingly the same weekend as the start of the TGO) my friends and I heard tales of amazing scones at the youth hostel, however when we arrived they were all gone. So the scone and tea that greeted me when I wondered into the hostel on that first Friday tasted even better. Hannah is amazing, I have so much admiration for her and the job that she does – it must be a pretty lonely and bleak place to be at times. 

It’s amazing how much half an hours rest and some extra calories can lift the spirits. I decided to continue along the track to Loch Affric, I left lots of fellow TGOer’s gobbling up scones in the hostel. I was feeling pretty determined to get to my first planned stop and I wasn’t going to let a little bit of rain stop me. I basically marched along the track to Strawberry Cottage where there were 6 or 7 tents already pitched; I recognised Ray_KickButts and a couple of others, but headed on for the beach. It felt pretty good to walk down on to the grassy flat above Loch Affric and know that day one was almost done. There were a couple of others camped down on the beach (Kent, Gregory and Richard from Albuquerque), I was pretty glad they were there as no sooner had I put my tent up, the pole broke! Luckily Kent lent me a trekking pole which was high enough to use. I use Black Diamond Ladies poles which only extend to 125cm, not the 145cm required for my tent! I wasn’t too sure how I would cope the next night but I didn’t want to worry about that too much. Tent up and bag unpacked I set about making dinner, another dehydrated affair, Chicken Biryani this time but still pretty tasty! It was still pretty rainy so I cooked in my roomy vestibule and then retreated to the inner to listen to the rain on the outside of the tent. 


Waking up on Loch Affric Beach – Day 2


Day 2 – 12/05/2018 14 Miles

Day two was absolutely stunning weather wise and completely justified my decision to push on for the beach. The sky was cloudless and there was not a breath of wind, a stark contrast to the night before. I had a lazy breakfast to let my tent dry out from its soaking the previous evening. It didn’t take long and I was away by 9am, although still the last to leave the beach. Lazily I climbed back up the track and meandered by way along the side of the loch. I wasn’t feeling so great, probably dehydrated, so my progress was pretty slow and it was ridiculously hot. I arrived at the Allt Garbha Bridge feeling zonked; here I met Alan from North Berwick, although I knew neither his name nor hometown at that point. Alan was chilling out next to the river and I was pretty jealous of the sunny spot he’d bagged so I hung around until he moved on, and sat there for a while.

I was about to leave my comfort zone and head up a path that I hadn’t taken before, coupled with the heat, I wasn’t really looking forward to it! The path to Cougie turned out to be a boggy mish mash of trampled hillside; I followed it up for a couple of km and then noticed a couple of people high up on the top of a hill above me. My heart literally sank, all the way up there in this heat and with my huge bag…. I checked my map, and quickly became pretty confident that they were not on the same path as me, phew! So I kept trudging up the boggy path, the Hydro Scheme have made a pretty poor attempt at reinstatement here and I later heard that several people had lost the path altogether. I came to a gate and crossed into a rocky restock site, I was getting closer to the hill where I had seen the others high up on the ridge. 10 minutes later and the path veered off to the right, skirting around the ridge – they must have gone the wrong way or been looking for a quicker route! I stuck to the path. It soon joined a bigger track which I assumed was access for the Hydro Scheme, it was pretty rough but I could see Loch Nan Gillean in the distance so that kept me going for a while. I still felt exhausted, sick and a little dizzy. I could see a little green fishing hut nestled beside the Loch and at this point I was pretty sure that I would happily spend the rest of my days there rather than walk another mile. When I got there I found Peter and Gayle already occupying the veranda so I collapsed in the sun next to them and chatted for a bit. When they departed I moved in, heated up some non dehydrated (woohooo) chilli con carne and made a cup of tea. 

I think I had dozed off in some sort of heat induced stupor when the friendliest face ever appeared at the side of the hut. It was Margaret Brown, she probably saved my life! ‘Put your hat on, drink lots of water and I’ll see you at Cougie in an hour’ were her words of wisdom!. Luckily she did see me at Cougie, although it might have been more than hour later. A couple of big glasses of orange juice and two scones revived me, and I managed to walk another 5 miles finding the best camp spot just outside the forestry gate. 

I was camped near another TGOer, the speedy Swede, who had flown past me earlier! I passed a few people down in the forest too. I put my tent up and sat out front to make dinner and a celebratory coffee. Day 2 done, I hoped they’d all get easier from now on. 


Campsite above Guisachan – Day 2


Day 3 – 13/05/2018 13 Miles 

I awoke on Sunday morning to the sound of rain on my tent, great I thought a soggy trudge along the pylon road for 13 miles into Fort Augustus!! At least there was a warm bed and a hot shower waiting for me at home, not many challengers could say that on Day 3 without dropping out.

Spurred on by the thought of a night at home (and the cheeky hot apple and custard desert I made myself for breakfast) I packed up and clambered back over the burn to the track. There were several others making their way up the hill – I recognised Peter, Gayle and three guys I’d met at Cougie – Anthony, Morris and Sean. I walked with them all for a while, chatting happily about the prospect of the end of the day in Fort Augustus. The rain stopped about 10am and the speedy Swede (who had still been in tent when I headed off) caught us up, just as we crested the hill to look down into Glen Moriston. It was a welcome sight for me, I knew exactly where I was and how long it would take me to get home. I practically skipped down the Pylon track to Torgoyle Bridge, crossed the river and headed eagerly up the hill on the other side. Then sense prevailed, I realised it was 1pm and I hadn’t eaten since breakfast.. reluctantly I sat down and ate some of my diminishing supplies. I was already pretty sick of all the trail bars that I’d packed – some rethinking of this would need to be done when I got home. I managed to gobble up a cliff bar, some trail mix and get back on my feet! 

I hadn’t seen anyone for a while – I’d left them all behind in my hurry to get home – but soon a figure appeared behind me on the trail and caught me up as I reached the top of the hill. It was Chris from Michigan, who was on a mission to get to Fort Augustus and drop his pack before returning to help his friends who were struggling a few miles back! We chatted the rest of the way down into the village, and when we went our separate ways I very much doubted I would see him again – it sounded like his friends might not make it! 

It was definitely a treat to spend the night at home, with a delicious dinner cooked by Sam, happy dogs and a comfortable sofa to relax on! My feet were already itching to get on the way again though. 

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