Torridon to Craig
(15 miles/777 metres ascent)
Rab TGO Challenge 2009 - Part 1
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Day 1 of the Challenge dawned dismal, wet and windy, at just before 0600.
In the irritating way that bodyclocks sometimes have, mine had woken me just minutes before my alarm was due to go off: long enough for me to regret the lost sleep, but not long enough for any further attempt to return to oblivion to be worthwhile. I reached for my mobile to switch off the alarm, lest it should wake anybody else, and lay around for about 10 minutes, listening to the wind howling outside and the rain splashing against the window panes.
Finally I eased myself out of my sleeping bag and crept down the ladder from the top bunk to the floor. Sneaking around in the dark, because the room was full, I gathered my wash kit together and slipped off along the corridor for a very lovely shower. Laura came in as I was showering, and after changing into my walking kit I shuffled along to the kitchen to make a drink, and then settled down at a table next to the window, where Laura joined me. In fact, Laura provided the tea bag from which I'd made my drink, because I'd left mine in the dormitory. Thank you, Laura :)
We'd heard the day before that the forecast was terrible: rain, sleet, snow, 70mph winds and the possibility of lightning! It seemed to have materialised, and we therefore sat around a little glumly, peering vainly through the window searching for a break in the clouds. As we sat there other people began to drift in, and by about 7am there was quite a crowd in the little dining room.
It struck me that this was the perfect opportunity to attempt to inflict an interview on an unsuspecting victim, and I managed to persuade Laura to say a few words. After that I managed to get a further short interview with Howard, and then one with a cyclist, Merv Dudgeon, whom I'd briefly met on the train the day before.
My recording-related conscience assuaged, I finally put the little device away and returned to my room, to pack up. Andy and Kate had spent the night at a B&B with Tom and Liz Forest, and they arrived with Caburn, Alan and Colin as I was packing up. I'd met Steph a little earlier in the ladies', and so I knew that John was also up and getting his things together.
Finally all packed up, I made my way to reception and found most of the others standing around in a knot, eager to get away. It transpired that Colin had walked across from Strathcarron the day before, and he told us that he'd had to wade, thigh deep, through a river! With some reluctance, therefore, we all, except Caburn, decided to abort our various plans to go via the bealach, and to take the road and then turn right for the Cuilin Pass instead.
Alan was particularly sorry not to be taking the high route, because Martin Banfield had buried a bottle of vintage Glenmorangie for him somewhere on the tops, and it had been Alan and Phil's plan to hold a cheese & wine party (incorporating the whisky, of course) at Loch an Eion. At the last minute Phil had had to drop out because of an unanticipated round of radiotherapy, but Alan had been planning to stick to the route that Phil had planned. Martin had provided photographic instructions on how to find the bottle, and therefore Alan passed them over to Caburn and told him he could have the bottle if he could find it.
We were about to leave when I suddenly remembered that I needed to post a card, and so I scribbled it rapidly and managed to persuade the Warden to include it with his outgoing post. After that we all stepped outside for a photograph...
Steph and little Sierraor two...
Colin, Andy, Kate, Alan, Caburn (Shirl at the front)
...and finally we were off! Doug and Howard had gone on ahead, and we left John in the Youth Hostel, finishing his packing and saying goodbye to Steph and Sierra.
It had, in fact, stopped raining by the time we got away, and over the next few hours a pattern of weather was established which was to last throughout the first two days. The dry period became gradually brighter until actual sunshine broke through, but after about an hour the clouds closed in again and rain began to fall, increasingly heavily. It was that particularly wet and drenching sort of rain. Still, we'd all put a great deal of thought into our waterproofs, and no doubt we were all keen to see how they would perform, so perhaps the first couple of clouds had a bit of a silver lining...
Disappointed as we all were to have had to adopt our foul weather alternatives so very early in the walk, we all agreed that the route was very beautiful. We strolled along easily, chatting away; taking advantage of the opportunity to catch up with old friends, and some of us meeting and making new ones.
Kate, Andy, Alan, Colin
I soon noticed that Alan was carrying the new Osprey Exos rucksack that I'd read so much about. I'd considered buying one, but I'd not actually seen one in the flesh and therefore I'd held back. I made a mental note to try it on at Craig, though, and took the opportunity to get Alan to say a few things about it into the dinky little recorder. When I got home, though, I realised I'd somehow managed to erase the recording! Doh...
As we drew close to Loch Clair we stopped to take a quick photo...
Alan, Colin, Kate, Andy
...and then we turned right onto the landrover track and began to head South.
As we walked we came across Bob Ward, who had fallen the day before on the way over from Strathcarron and badly banged his face and eye. It looked extremely painful!
The weather began to brighten a little once again...
Expert photographer at work
...and soon afterwards we stopped for lunch. Perhaps inevitably, it soon began to rain again, and so we packed up pretty rapidly and pressed on.
The views around us were really stunningly beautiful in every direction. As FWAs go, I think we'd have been hard-pressed to find a prettier one.
As we completed our crossing of the Cuilin Pass Colin spotted a small path to the left leading downhill towards some woodland and eventually the road, and so we took it. On reaching the road we weren't quite sure which way to go, and initially we turned right. Colin's navigational instincts soon suggested to him that we might be going in the wrong direction, though--if I have any then they remained entirely dormant--and after some careful studying of his navigational equipment Colin concluded that we needed to turn round and walk in the other direction.
We did, and as we did so we spotted the others on the road in front of us. They'd been a little behind us coming down the hill, but now they'd caught us up. It was a relatively short stroll along the road to Gerry's Hostel at Achnashellach, and upon arriving there at about 1545 we wandered round to the back and sat down to wait for Gerry to open up.
The sun now came out properly and the weather became positively hot. Rolf was there before us, and as we all sat around chatting a host of other Challengers arrived in dribs and drabs.
Alan, Rolf, Colin, Andy, Kate
When Alan sat down I took the opportunity to try on his Exos pack. It was immediately comfortable, even though for me the back-length was too long, and I began to hatch a plan to take a closer look at them in Aviemore... In fact, I got out my mobile and rang Directory Enquiries for Braemar Mountain Sports's number, but the promised text didn't arrive. Temporarily foiled :(
I think Gerry advertises 5pm as the opening time for his hostel, but it was a fair bit earlier than that when there was a sudden scraping sound from the front door and it swung open, to reveal the fabled Gerry standing before us. Twenty-odd Challengers leaped to their feet with an agility surprising so late in the day, those of us who hadn't booked suddenly extremely anxious to secure a place inside, and covertly assessing our chances in case there should be all-out sprint for the door. For a moment I thought there was going to be a stampede, but Gerry emanates natural authority and so he took immediate control and ordered us to proceed in an orderly fashion. We therefore settled uneasily into a bit of a queue.
I'm not sure how he managed it, but over the course of the next 20 minutes or so Gerry distributed us throughout the building and found a bed for everybody. I initially began to unpack into the main dormitory downstairs, but a short time afterwards Gerry came over and ordered me into the small room upstairs. I grabbed my kit obediently and made my way up, to find Laura, Andy, Kate and another bloke occupying beds in what was quite clearly the elite dorm :) I began to unpack for the second time and chucked my sleeping bag up onto a top bunk. It wasn't until later that I realised there was no ladder, but in due course I enjoyed the scramble up the rigging at the end of the bed.
After a bit of unpacking we made our way downstairs to the sitting room. It was quirky and pretty luxurious, I thought, and the first thing that caught my eye was a recording of Handel's Water Music on top of a pile of LPs on a table next to a record player. It was the very same recording that I bought some 30 years ago when I was still at school! A wave of nostalgia washed over me, and I began to hope that it might be possible to listen to it later on.
There was a well-equipped kitchen. Gerry introduced the various gadgets and showed us how to use them, and in small groups we began to make drinks. Then we shepherded our drinks back to the sitting room and settled into chairs to wait for Gerry to light the fire. I'd heard a lot about Gerry's fire during the day, and was looking forward to toasting my crubeens at it later on. In due course Gerry arrived with kindling and larger pieces of wood, and I sneaked over and asked if he would show me how to set it, because I've never been good at lighting fires.
Gerry's a fascinating bloke. I asked him how old the fireplace was, and he told me he'd been living in the house for 43 years and that the fire had been there before him. It was part of a range, and he'd cooked on it in the past. He took a great deal of care in the laying of the fire, and when he was finally satisfied he produced a box of matches--telling me that he only ever allowed himself one--and lit it first time :)
Gerry lighting his fire
After that, people began to dig around in their rucksacks for dosh, and we all paid for our beds. When that was all finished I asked whether it was okay to use the record player, and Gerry showed me how to do it. It occurred to me, in chatting with and watching him, that it must actually be quite stressful having a big bunch of strangers suddenly descend upon one's home and spread themselves around it.
Handel was soon established on the record player, and people began to drift out to the kitchen to cook dinner. I'd cooked and dehydrated what was meant to be a veggie Thai Green Curry a couple of months earlier, and now I was keen to try it out. It was a little dull and boring, though, and the yummy Thai flavourings seemed to have been lost somewhere in the dehydration process. Perhaps they were overwhelmed by the vast quantities of Quorn mince? Still, it was hot and filling, and certainly it filled what was by that time a fairly large gap.
We went on to spend a great evening chatting around the fire.
Rolf, Laura, Alan, Kate, Andy, Howard, John
Gerry returned to poke the fire from time to time, and to add bits of wood and damp it down, when necessary, with water from the biggest kettle I've ever seen: 'the pacifier', I think it was called. At one stage he invited me to poke it too, which felt like a real honour, but unfortunately my fire-poking skills deserted me in the surprise of the moment, and he had to come over and do it himself.
An hour or so after we'd all settled into conversation Caburn suddenly appeared amongst us, triumphantly clutching the bottle of whisky! Conditions on the tops had turned out to be less grizzly than those of the day before, and he'd arrived at the secret location and navigated easily, with the aid of Martin's directions, to the buried bottle. Brilliant! Alan opened it, and we all drank a bit. It was very good indeed, and many thanks to Caburn, Alan and Martin for the treat :)
The evening slipped by in a glow of laughter-filled conversation and the warmth of the fire. In the corner of the sitting room are some shelves filled with all sorts of exciting supplies, accompanied by an Honesty Box, and at some stage Alan asked whether anybody would like to share a tin of pears. That sounded good to me, and very excellent pears they were too!
Eventually it occurred to me that I really should get to bed, as I'd still not caught up on the sleep lost on Thursday night, and so I made my way up to the elite dorm. Upon arrival at the top bunk I realised that there was no sort of railing to hold me in place. Eep! So I shrank back as close to the wall as I could manage and prayed not to turn over in the night. Zzzzz....
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