TGO Challenge 2019 – Part 1
It’s taken me a long time to sit down and start writing this. I haven’t stopped since I got back from Montrose a couple of weeks ago and I’ve almost avoided starting to write this down.
I’m not sure when I made the decision to apply for TGO 2019 but I knew that if I didn’t I would get to May and regret not doing so.
So here I am leaving Glenelg on the morning of Friday 9th May for my second TGO Challenge. I’m starting alone again this year, hoping to catch a few Munros over the first few days before meeting up with Laura at Spean Bridge.
When I open the curtains of my luxurious room at the Glenelg Inn, an unwelcome grey light greets me, along with the sight of my least favourite type of Scottish drizzle. I sink back into the room, a little more relaxed about leaving now, keen to delay the inevitable soaking. I have a bath, very indulgent but there isn’t a shower, so a tub full of bubbles it is. Delaying further, I have poached eggs on toast for breakfast and a few cups of coffee, by this time there is some more hopeful weather shining through the thick layer of clouds. It’s almost 9.30am by the time I leave the Inn and wander along to Mrs Davidsons house to sign the register. I meet John and Sue Tattersall heading in the opposite direction, they’ve already signed out and aren’t going my way. I’m second last of nine to sign out, I’m in no rush and spend some time taking photos on the beach before I finally depart Glenelg just before 10am. The first four miles of the day are on the public road to Balvraid, it’s stopped raining and there is blue sky about. Things are looking up. Originally I was hoping to tackle Ben Sgrithall on my way to Kinlochourn but the fresh coating of snow lying on its slopes has quashed that idea so I abandon my plans in favour of walking straight to Kinlochourn. Its turning into a pretty beautiful day and I follow the track up the glen towards Moyle before heading south east and over the Bealach Aoidhdailean. The pass only rises to 474m but as I approach it there is a coating of fresh snow, by the time I actually get to the top of the Bealach its melted and only small patches remain. It feels great to be at the top of the first real climb, and I practically skip down the other side – losing the path and tramping through heather for a while before I regain it above a huge and beautiful waterfall.
I pass a ruined cottage at Gleandubh before meeting another challenger, Jenny, crossing the river a little further on. It’s a horrible river crossing and I end up with a wet foot, having underestimated the length of my legs for the millionth time. We hike along together chatting for an hour or so before I head off ahead to beat the now heavy rain down the glen. I don’t beat the rain and I crawl into the little BnB at Kinlochourn a soggy wet mess, praying they have a room for the night. In my hurry to get there I’d passed Geoff, Dean and Pat who were also heading for the BnB. Eventually we were all piled inside the tea room, hanging our soaking jackets over the chairs and sipping cups of steaming tea. Tony, who runs the BnB, sorts us out with rooms for the night while I cuddle my first trail dog, Woodstock. The rain was hammering down outside and I was so happy not to be pitching my tent in that. There would be plenty more nights for camping but tonight I was going to enjoy the luxury of a bed and a hot shower. It feels a lot like cheating but at the same time I’m learning to make decisions based on how I feel and not worry about what other people are think. It’s all about self care. Showered, fed and dry clothes on, the sun was out and it was a beautiful evening. I took a little wander down to the end of the public road, basking in the happiness of being back on the TGO challenge and surrounded by mountains again.
Waking on day two, the sun shining and the sky blue, was a delight – I was heading back into hills towards the South Shiel Ridge. There was quite a congregation for breakfast, four challengers and two Cape Wrath Trail hikers and I was reminded again why I was back walking across the country for the second time. It’s not just about the journey but about the people you meet along the way. The previous evening Jenny and I had been joined in the the Old Cottage by a third lady, Anna, who was hiking from Shiel Bridge down to Mallaig and bagging all the munro’s on her route. I was slightly in awe of her when she left at 5am to climb Ladhar Bheinn before catching the ferry from Inverie.
I didn’t leave until after 9am, climbing the hill above Kinlochourn back to where I’d left it the previous day. Everyone else was heading up the road towards Quoich Dam but I didn’t fancy the road walk and I wanted to be higher up on such a beautiful day. I had the hills to myself today and I spent most of the morning bog hopping through the glen. At the top of the first bealach I had the perfect view down the snow capped South Shiel Ridge, wishing I was up there but knowing it wasn’t sensible. The hail started as I stood admiring it, too stubborn to find my gloves in my pack I hurried down the far side of the pass, hoping my hands would warm up quickly, it took a full half hour. I followed the glen below the ridge for hours, stopping for lunch briefly at Alltbeithe before continuing into Glen Loyne. The constant effort of switching from rocky path to jumping over bog and crossing streams wore me down quickly – combined with the heat of the day I felt exhausted. I always feel this way on day two of any long walk, the slump that comes with the tiredness from day one, when you haven’t quite settled into the rhythm of walking for days on end. Nevertheless I dragged myself across the River Loyne, I’d still only seen one person all day and I wanted to get as far as I could tonight. So it was with two wet feet that I dragged myself up the final hill of the day. I couldn’t have been in a worse mood when I reached the top, I sat down on the ground and sobbed, exhausted in every possible way. Something told me to take my phone off flight mode for a moment, that little 4G icon couldn’t have come at a better time. The messages that flooded through lifted my mood immeasurably and it was a different person who sank back into the land of no signal on the far side of the hill. I pitched my tent well above the public road, the perfect view of Gairich to the west and Glengarry, tomorrows destination to the east. Finally collapsing into the cosiest sleeping bag, I wrote my blog for the day and had a quick look back through my photos so far – a good way to remind myself how lucky I am to be here and what an amazing time I’ve had so far.
Waking up on day three I knew that straight away that it was going to be a beautiful day, for one my tent was completely frozen and two there was not a breath of wind, everything was silent. I peered out of the tent to be greeted by a clear blue sky and some crunchy frost covered grass. It was chilly and I would have to wait a while for sun to defrost the tent. After porridge and a coffee, I set off down the hill – I was looking forward to seeing a few more friendly faces than the previous days and almost as soon as I hopped out onto the road, a German Cape Wrath Trail hiker appeared. He was heading North and was also using a Gossamer Gear pack, we chatted about gear for a while before heading off in our opposite directions. It’s a wee road walk along to the forest road through Glengarry, I’m feeling strong mentally and physically this morning, prepared for the 8 miles of forest road walk ahead. I see my first challengers at the top of the hill, they are loitering on some rocks in the river, drinking cups of tea. I wave and shout hello – meaning to carry on without stopping. Before I can escape, I hear my name being called by one of them.. its Laura! How? Why? I rush down to find out more about this unexpected reunion. One of my best friends, we’d planned to meet in Spean Bridge on Monday but a change of route on her part has meant our paths coincide and so we set off through the forest together. Its so good to be back with people after a lonely day in the hills, I enjoy the solitude immensely but its nice to be with friends too. We chat about which route is best, I am planning to head over the hills to Loch Arkaig, which is fairly pathless in places and not known for its lack of bog. We’re soon both heading in this direction, bumping into Colin from Tramplite and a few other challengers before turning off the main forest road and into the hills. The path, if you can call it that, has been completely destroyed by trail bikes – the bog is worse than i’d imagined and my feet are soaking within minutes. It’s a long slog out of the trees and onto the open hill, but its a beautiful evening and theres finally a breeze to blow away the heat of the day. After more bog slogging and trail bike destruction, we aim for the ruins at Fedden. Challengers Julie, Dave and Adrian are already there, pitched up beside the cottage – theres plenty of space so we join them. It’s another beautiful tent pitch, with a perfect view of the Loch Lochy Munros.
Its a short day and theres a hotel bed at the end of it so naturally I’m excited to hike and my feet are twitching. I’m impatient to get there, wash and eat fresh food. Its only been four days but it feels much longer. Our camp mates are up and away before us, heading in a different direction. Laura and I head south towards Loch Arkaig, its another amazing day weather wise and we bask in the sunshine and the view of Ben Nevis. We’re down at Loch Arkaig by mid morning, indulging in a little ice cream action at the Clan Cameron Museum shortly after. The rest of the day comprises a five mile road walk into Spean Bridge and I know that I have to get it over with as quickly as possible. The ice cream fuels a quick couple of miles to Gairlochy, where we collapse on the grass beside the canal and enjoye the sunshine. I was growing impatient again, we were so close to Spean now and I left Laura to enjoy the grassy spot a little longer. A quick sprint along the last few miles of road and I was stretched out on a bed real bed by 3pm. Laura arrived about 40 minutes later and we set about washing everything we’d worn in the last few days… socks were the highlight, turning the water a murky brown. The joys of hiking across bog for days on end with holes in your boots!