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TGO Challenge 2009 - A Third Walk Across Scotland

Day 2 - Saturday 9th May
Craig to Loch Monar
(14 miles/1,647 metres ascent)

TGO Challenge 2009 - Part 2

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I slept quite well during the night, but woke a few times; worried, perhaps, that I was about to roll over and crash to the floor.

I woke for the last time at about 0530 and just drifted for some time, lulled by the sound of contented snuffles and little grunts arising from the other beds. At about 0615 I decided to get up, and so I switched off the alarm (which had been set for 0630) and scrambled down to the ground. A quick peep out of the window revealed steady rain and thick mist on the tops. Uh-oh... :(

Having promised to wake Laura at 0630, I slipped into my clothes and gave her a gentle shake before making my way downstairs for some hot chocolate. Kate was there, enjoying a morning cuppa...

Kate, at Gerry's hostel

...and gradually we were joined by an ever-growing group of tousle-headed, bleary eyed but nonetheless rufty-tufty Challengers.

As we sipped our drinks, Laura and I spent some time studying a very interesting frieze around the top of the room...

Interesting frieze

...and identified, with a sense of mounting horror, what appeared to be the remains of a dead and skinned cat, draped across a beam... Eep!

Um... remains of dead cat?

People began to settle down to eat their breakfasts. I don't generally do breakfast, and so I wandered outside to record a bit of an update for Bobs. The weather had begun to lift, although rain, snow and high winds had been forecast again. The clouds were breaking up, and a wee bit of sunshine was beginning to peep through! After the update I went in to pack up, and then I carried my pack down to finish it off.

Out of the corner of my eye as I was fastening up the pack I could see a bloke sitting at the table to my right. I thought it was Bob Ward, whom we'd met the day before with the horribly swollen face and eye. Pulling the last strap tight with a flourish I turned to the bloke and, smiling, asked him, "How's your face today?" Sadly, he turned out to be a complete stranger, and he gazed back at me, confused, and maybe even a little upset! I apologised and attempted to explain, but still... I saw him raising an exploratory hand to his face as I scuttled away, embarrassed, towards the kitchen.

By just after 0830 I saw Kate and Andy making their way outside. Route planning the night before had established that we were all aiming for a camping spot towards the head of Loch Monar, but the continuing foul weather, and in particular the heavy rainfall, had raised issues about whether or not we'd be able to get across the River Meig. My plan had been to go up onto Sgurr Choinnich and continue, via Sgurr Chaorachain and Bidean an Eoin Deirg, to the shoulder that leads steeply down to the side of the loch. Streadapair had pointed out to me that this was Isolation Shepherd territory, and indeed it was as a result of that conversation that I'd got hold of the book and taken it on the walk. The previous evening Andy had pointed out an alternative route on the map, which involved following the river much further to the west than I'd intended, and then striking south to meet up with the loch. I remained keen to get up onto the tops if at all possible, but I decided I'd set off and see how things progressed.

So, at about 0845 Andy, Kate and I set off. Not long afterwards we ran into Caburn, who'd left the hostel to camp by the stream the night before, and we walked on together. For some time the weather continued to brighten...

...and I began to think that possibly the forecast might turn out to have been wrong.

A few kilometers into the walk we passed some sort of wire contraption which crossed the river, and I couldn't resist jumping on for a play. Little did I realise at that stage that it was actually a bridge!

The first 'bridge'

Caburn and Kate by the old wire bridge

We (well, to be honest, the others) had seen another bridge on the map a little further along, though, and so we pressed on in the hope that we might find it usable. As we approached its location we headed right across a very boggy piece of ground, and my best efforts at tuft-hopping soon failed, leaving me with wet feet. Yuk!

As we drew closer to the river, though, I spotted a small figure apparently packing something up, and as we drew closer still I realised it was my old pal, and former vetter, Mr Grumpy, aka Pete Goddard. Grumpy's loud bark conceals a heart of the purest gold, and I was delighted to see him again :) Warm hugs followed, and then we all stood back and took a closer look at the 'bridge'.

Caburn, Andy and Mr Grumpy

It was an extremely droopy construction, consisting of a thick wire on top and a much thinner one underneath. Grumpy had crossed it from the other direction that very morning, and he told us how to do it. Apparently the knack is to fix the lower wire in the arch of one's trail shoe or boot and take a firm hold of the top wire, leaning one's weight forwards and shuffling across. Hmmmm! Andy stepped up to have a go...

Andy tests the second 'bridge'

...but apparently he thought better of it because he soon jumped down again. Wimp!

I love to play with that sort of thing, though, and so I got up and began an exploratory shuffle. I didn't immediately fall off, and so I continued. I was almost half way across when it occurred to me that it would make more sense to continue than to turn back. I heard yells from the bank, as well as further instructions from Grumpy to keep the bottom wire in my instep, and stopped for a photo :)

Me crossing the bridge -- many thanks to Grumpy for the picture :)

It was rather tiring but otherwise not too difficult, except that about 4/5 of the way across I suddenly became very aware of the water swirling underneath me and had to close my eyes against a smidge of dizziness. Not long afterwards I was on the other side, though, exhilarated and jumping up and down with excitement.

My exhilaration soon evaporated, though, when I saw Caburn, Kate and Andy say goodbye to Grumpy and begin to make their way further up the river. It then occurred to me that they were probably going to look for a place to wade across, but a few minutes later they stopped, and after a short conference Caburn turned round and began to return while Kate and Andy went on. They'd been joined by another walker, but I didn't realise until later on that night that it was Doug Cockburn, whom I'd last seen in the hostel that morning.

It occurred to me then that this was a good opportunity to record something for Bob and so I did, as Caburn mounted the bridge and began to cross the river. As he did that Grumpy completed whatever he was doing, waved and set off for his next destination, umbrella raised against the rain, which had by now begun to fall again.

Goodbye for now to Mr Grumpy and his brolly!

Caburn was soon across, and we stood together at the foot of the path for a few minutes, catching our breath before the hike up to the Bealach Bhearnais. It transpired that Andy and Kate had decided to take the alternative route, but Caburn and I were going to try our luck on the tops :)

We set off, and my legs soon settled to the sort of pull they've not really experienced since I was in Corsica last July. I don't normally have much of a problem going uphill, but I felt myself beginning to pant a bit, and so I got out my trusty remedy: the MP3 player. The pleasure and excitment of listening to great music always produces a bit of an adrenalin rush in me, and this occasion proved to be no exception. We pressed on up, and--almost at the top--we paused for a moment to look back down to where we'd come from...

Back down towards the bridge

...and to take a look at the mountains we were hoping to climb.

As we sat there we chatted briefly with another Challenger. We'd spotted him in the distance on the way up, and had pressed on to try to catch him. Rather stupidly, I've forgotten who it was, and since I can't see his face in the piccy I can't attempt to work it out. Doh...

Lone Challenger en route for the Bealach Bhearnais

As we sat we had a spot to eat, to keep up our energy levels. I had a little bread and saucisson...

Bread and saucisson

...and Caburn consumed a couple of his trusty cheese and pickle sandwiches.

Caburn with cheese & pickle sandwich

The weather had begun to close in again, as is evidenced by Caburn's rarely seen long trousers in the picture above, and as we continued to the Bealach it grew rapidly worse.

Weather starting to close in, higher up

It was very cold, and what had been falling as rain lower down turned rapidly to hailstones. The wind got up again, and at times it was necessary to walk with my right hand against my face to try to protect myself against the painful sting of the hail as the wind whipped it against my skin. I remembered that I'd seen lightning forecast, and also that the presence of hailstones can sometimes foreshadow a thunder storm, and I felt a frisson of lightning-related anxiety.

As we got higher, though, the hail turned for a while to snow. A group of day walkers passed us on their way up, and we stood around shouting at each other for a while, in an attempt to make ourselves heard against the wind. After that Caburn and I sat down on a grassy tussock for a few minutes to see whether the worst of what had developed into a bit of a blizzard might pass.

A bit of a blizzard

It didn't, though, and so we decided to press on up. There was more snow on top than either of us had expected to find, and it was really quite exciting to be up there.

Photo opportunity

Encrusted with ice!

At some stage Caburn told me we were on Sgurr Choinnich, but there was nothing to see and so we continued towards Sgurr Chaorachain. As we dropped down a bit the wind lessened slightly, and we stopped for another couple of photos...


...and a play in the snow :)

Not seen this much snow for a long time!

Aaagh! The Big Red Man!!

Not long after that we stopped again for a quick rest and another snack, and recorded something for Bob.

Thank goodness for my trusty Pacer Poles!

By this stage we were approximately half way between the two Munros, and as the mist suddenly began to lift Loch Monar came into view.

Loch Monar, at last!

There'd been a possiblity of aiming for a third Munro, but we pretty soon decided that we'd stick to the plan to descend after Bidean an Eoin Deirg via what Streadapair had told me was a lovely ridge, to the loch side. Along the way we came to some sort of shelter--possibly it was the top of Sgurr Choinnich: who knows?! *g* Anyway, we stopped for one last hilltop picture...

On top of Sgurr Choinnich, I think

...and then we pressed on down.

The way ahead

Sadly, though, we pressed on down the wrong shoulder. We turned off a little too soon and pretty quickly realised that we'd made a mistake.

At that stage we made a bigger mistake, though, when we decided that it probably didn't matter and that we should just continue. In fact, the descent was extremely steep, bouldery, shaley and slippery, with no sort of a path and no apparent sign that the bottom was getting any closer. I reckon it must have taken us almost 2 hours to get down, and all the time I was thinking of the lovely steep descending ridge walk that Duncan had told me about! I'll have to return and do it properly another time.

I often find relentlessly steep descents demoralising, and thus it was on this occasion. Still, though, there were some fantastic views ahead when the mist blew off from time to time...

View along Loch Monar

...and on the way down Caburn spotted a ptarmigan's nest.

Ptarmigan's eggs. Yum! Breakfast, anybody?

We did eventually make it down to the shoreline, and with considerable relief we began to make our way along it. It was difficult to walk on, though, with no sign of a path, and the grassy bank a little to our left didn't look any easier. Eventually we climbed up onto it, though, in search of a path, and at last we found one.

We had a couple of fairly broad streams to cross...

...and it began to feel as though we'd never get to the camping place.

It sounded from what Andy had said earlier in the day as though there was going to be a large congregation there, but when it eventually came into view we were surprised to see no sign of any tents. We stood staring around for a while, and made our way a little further forward, and finally we did spot one small tent on the other side of the broad, flat ground, situated in what looked like an old sheep enclosure. We eventually arrived there at about 8pm, having left Craig just before 8am that morning. I was absolutely exhausted!

In fact, there were two tents. Doug Cockburn had parked his tent on the near side of the river, and it was Kate and Andy who'd put theirs up in the sheep fold on the other side. There was more room there, and so we made our way round via a small bridge. It seemed that the others had given us up for lost, but they appeared happy enough to see us :)

We got our own tents up pretty quickly, and with a sense of enormous relief I put on some water for soup, to be followed by macaroni cheese. I normally have two packet soups together in my Kettly Thing before I use it for my main meal, and normally they're the same flavour. Some last minute confusion in the soup packing department, though, had left me with one packet of wild mushroom and one of carrot & coriander. For just a moment I considered making them separately, but I quickly dumped that idea and just poured them both in together. It was an unusual combination, and not one I'm particularly keen to sample again, but at the time it was more than welcome.

Wild mushroom soup with carrot & coriander soup, and some of my bread. Yum!

Macaroni cheese is new to my backpacking armoury, and this was the first time I'd tried it out in anger. It was absolutely delicious, but the rather industrial quantities that I'd included almost overwhelmed my Kettley Thing, and I had to take care to prevent a stream of sticky cheese sauce from making its way down the outside of my pot cosy. All was well in the end, though, and as I ate my meal I recorded something for Bob (mistakenly conflating Doug Cockburn and Doug Bruce into 'Bruce Cockburn' in my exhaustion--apologies Dougs!) and began to think about getting out of my wet socks.

Macaroni cheese

I'd decided to take pastis with me this year, rather than whisky, and after dinner I poured some into my mug and slopped in some water. Having drunk it, I lay down and closed my eyes, just to relax for five minutes or so before washing up. I was so tired, though, that I immediately fell asleep, and when I woke up it was dark, and too late to do the washing up. Oh noes! What a shame... *g* I therefore simply slipped into my sleeping bag and turned off my headtorch, and very soon afterwards I was fast asleep.

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