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TGO Challenge 2009 - A Third Walk Across Scotland

Day 7 - Thursday 14th May
Aviemore to Corrour Bothy
(20 miles/930 metres ascent)

TGO Challenge 2009 - Part 6

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I slept well in the tent, soothed by the comforting presence of Little Peewiglet. I had to get up at 0400 because Little Peewiglet needed a pee, but I soon had him tucked up and snuffling away contentedly again.

I woke at about 0700 to yet another gorgeous morning! LP and I had a little breakfast--we shared a flapjack--and then LP took up his favourite position on top of the tent while I went across to the fantastic shower block for my morning ablutions.

Little Peewiglet guards the tent again. Beware!

Colin and I had discussed routes the night before, and he'd decided to come along with me on my extremely exciting plan to walk down Loch Einich and then up onto the Cairngorm Plateau, before dropping down via the Devil's Point to Corrour Bothy, in order to spend the night communing with the ghosts. Brrrr! I was extremely glad to have a competent navigator on board. Andy and Kate, on the other hand, planned a stroll through the Lairig Ghru followed by a camp at Derry Lodge, and then an early entry to Braemar the following day. (They were both suffering quite severely from newspaper withdrawal symptoms. Bloody intellectuals! *g*)

Andy and Kate were packed and ready to go first, and so we exchanged hugs and stuff and hoped to see each other again in a couple of days' time. Colin was ready next but finally my packing was complete (Little Peewiglet slowed me down. Honest!), and we set off in search of John Manning to check out the prototype tent he was using. We found him, and poked and prodded at his tent for a while, but eventually we left him still awaiting the arrival of his parcel and set off into the heart of the Rothiemurchus Forest.

The walk through the forest was just as beautiful as it had been when I'd last been there, in 2006, and it didn't take us very long to get to the point at which those aiming for the Lairig Ghru go left whilst those taking on Glen Einich turn right. We stopped for a photograph...


...and then we continued.

There were some lovely flowers growing at the side of the path, but unfortunately my lack of facility with the macro button manifested itself once again, and I ended up with a slightly blurred picture.

Some sort of vetch?

As we emerged from the trees our first real sight of the mountains sprang up ahead of us.

Leaving the Rothiemurchus Forest

They were magnificent. The only other time I'd been to the Cairngorms was on the TGO Challenge 2006, and then I'd not got up onto the tops, simply following the Lairig Ghru through to Derry Lodge and thence on to Braemar. I'd traced this day on the map more often than any other of my 2009 plan, and I could hardly believe that I was finally doing it, and in such fantastic conditions.

The path through Glen Einich was easy, and largely flat, and we proceeded without incident for an hour or so.

Looking back along the path through Glen Einich

On rounding a bend in the path, though, I reached for my camera only to discover that it wasn't there! I generally keep it suspended from a small karabina clipped to one of the side straps on my pack. The karabina was there, but the camera was gone :( We'd taken a 5 minute break a short time earlier, and I assumed that I must have dropped it at that stage. I therefore jogged back along the path to the point at which we'd stopped. It was further than I'd remembered, but I eventually arrived to find... no camera! My stomach gave a bit of a lurch, then, at the prospect of having lost all of my photographs, and I made my way more slowly back along the path towards Colin. We'd crossed a couple of streams, and I began to wonder whether the camera had fallen off into the water. To my enormous relief I eventually spotted it just lying at the side of the path, though, and I quickly bent down to pick it up. I almost kissed it! I didn't, though, and instead I simply clutched it against my tummy and jogged back to Colin, who was waiting with the packs.

Close investigation of the krab revealed that it wasn't fastening securely. It's one of those little novelty krabs that are only appropriate for clipping things onto one's pack. I clipped the camera back on, but resolved to keep a careful eye on it from that point forwards.

Pressing on towards the loch

After that we pressed on towards the loch. The map shows a path leaving the track about half a kilometer before the loch begins, and it was easy to spot. We started up it and made fairly rapid progress, and as we walked I recorded something for Bob.

Path leading up from Glen Einich to the plateau

Looking down to Loch Einich

We crossed a couple of small streams...

Stream fizzing in the sunshine

Crossing a stream -- piccy by Colin Ibbotson

...and then pressed on up towards Coire Dhondail.

Looking back down on the approach to Coire Dhondail

I'd spent more time looking at this part of my plan on the map than any other, because although I'd been told it was do-able I'd found it difficult to picture the lie of the land from the comfort of my seat in front of the computer. When we arrived I found that the path led up to a large cirque, and I was relieved to see it continuing clearly up the left towards the rim.

Colin arrives at Coire Dhondail

The day was still sunny and bright, but as we'd climbed higher quite a strong wind had begun to blow, and I was pretty sure the conditions were going to be very windy indeed on top.

The path up the side of the cirque was steep, but by seven days into the walk I was feeling fit and strong, and I very much enjoyed the sensation of virtually effortless ascent. About two thirds of the way up the path entered a small snow field and disappeared...

The path is swallowed up by a snow field -- piccy by Colin

...and we had to scramble up a little in order to avoid what looked as though it would be a fairly precipitous traverse of the stream. Colin found the path again a little higher up, though, and we followed it to the top and then sat down for a bit of a rest. It was extremely windy, and the wind blowing up out of the cirque was bitterly cold, and so we each donned another layer before continuing with the walk.

Sitting at the head of Coire Dhondail -- Piccy by Little Peewiglet

I should have realised that the Cairngorm Plateau isn't called a 'plateau' for nothing, but for some reason I hadn't expected to see a broad expanse of relatively flat ground stretching away ahead of me. That's what I found, though, when we got up to the top.

The Cairngorm Plateau

The plan was to aim towards the Devil's Point, probably via Cairn Toul, and, after climbing the Point, make our way down the steep path in Coire Odhar towards Corrour Bothy at the bottom, assuming that the descent was feasible in the conditions. We therefore set off, anticipating a cold but exciting walk.

We sat down at one stage to watch a tiny walker, some hundreds of metres below, and wondered who it might be. Was it a Challenger? I'm still not sure.

When we pressed on we came to further and larger snowfields, and at one point Colin walked down the hill a bit to try to scout out the safest way round.

Colin looks for the best way

Lots of lovely snow

Eventually we came to a snowfield that we couldn't avoid, and so we ploughed on across.

Peewiglet enjoys Himalayan conditions -- piccy by Colin

Colin with a mountain in the background

Little Peewiglet was very quiet in the side-pocket of my pack, and when I got him out I realised he was frozen and starving, poor wee thing! We therefore stopped for a bite to eat, and LP had a bit of my cheese & onion pasty and a pistachio.

Little Peewiglet has a bit of lunch

Despite the near Arctic conditions on top, there were flowers and small shrubby things eking out a meagre existence in the gravel.

There were pools of water too, which must have supported a range of interesting wee creatures, as well as plants, but we were hurrying, and it was still extremely cold, and so we didn't linger to take a closer look.

Small pools were dotted around on top

Eventually we arrived at a point overlooking a deep valley far below, and stopped for photos.



It had been several hours since we'd arrived on top, and we reckoned we must be almost at the Devil's Point, and so when we arrived at a convenient cairn we stopped and sat down so that Colin could check the position with his GPS phone thingy.

Colin about to receive bad news from his GPS...

Unfortunately, though, the GPS revealed that we'd actually walked in completely the wrong direction, and that instead of approaching the Devil's Point we were now sitting at the top of Beinn Bhrotain, some 4 kilometers or so from where we should have been. Oh, noes!!!

There was no easy way to correct the error, because between us and the Devil's Point now lay Glen Geusachan, a deep valley containing the Geusachan Burn. The only way to get to the Devil's Point would be to return almost to where we'd started and set off again. Had it been earlier, and had we been sure of being able to get down the path to the bothy, we might still have done that. In the end, though, we decided to drop down into Glen Geusachan instead, follow the burn to the point at which it met the tail end of the Lairig Ghru and turn left towards Corrour.

Having made a joint command decision, we set off to put it into practice. We'd hoped to be able to drop down fairly quickly, but the presence of some rather dodgy-looking snowfields made it necessary for us to contour round almost to the head of the valley first. The trog down was steep, and began to feel endless (although not as endless as the one that Caburn and I had endured near Loch Monar almost a week earlier), but eventually we got there and began to follow the burn towards the haven of the bothy.

For much of the way there wasn't a properly defined path, and we passed some rather odd-looking prints in the mud.

Who made these, then?

The little valley was very pretty, in the sun, but I was keen to get to Corrour bothy as early as possible, in order to book my spot inside amongst the ghosties.

Along Glen Geusachan towards the Lairig Ghru

Eventually we arrived at a point from which we could see the Lairig Ghru before us--what a relief!--and not an awfully long time after that we were able to turn left and begin to head up what must have been the lower slopes of the Devil's Point towards the bothy.

Finally the Lairig Ghru appears!

It was still quite some time before the bothy appeared in the distance, and along the way we passed a group of deer. They didn't seem to be concerned by our presence, and simply stood around grazing, and watching us watching them.

Deer in the Lairig Ghru

Finally the path levelled out...

Into the Lairig Ghru

...and Corrour bothy appeared before us.

We spotted a tent from quite some distance away, and as we got closer to the building we also saw two other backpackers arrive and go in. It was about 7pm by then, and I was a little worried that we might find the accommodation occupied. I'd not been in before, and therefore I wasn't sure how many people could actually sleep inside.

As soon as we got to the bothy we went in, and, sure enough, there turned out to be two couples already in residence: two were Challengers--Richard and Andy--and two others weren't--Charlie and Tom. Richard and Andy were occupying the sleeping platform, and it seemed clear that Charlie and Tom intended to occupy the space underneath. There would have been room for me to put down my mattress on the floor, and in other circumstances I'd happily have done that, but Colin had said that if the sleeping spaces were occupied he was going to sleep outside under his tarp, and I wasn't sure how the four blokes might feel about a strange woman parking herself on the floor at their feet and settling down for the night. I therefore decided that I'd better stick with my tent, and after a brief chat I went out to put it up.

The camper outside turned out to be John, whom I'd not seen since the morning after the night at Errogie. It was good to see him again, and he, Colin and I chatted together for a while. After that Colin and I put up our shelters, and got in to make something to eat.

Camping outside Corrour bothy

I had some spare Beanfeast and Smash, and I dropped it over with Colin so that he could try it. He enjoyed it very much indeed, and I was delighted to induct another member into the Beanfeast and Smash Appreciation club :) I had the same, after a delicious bowl of Shropshire Pea soup, and then I settled down with a mug of pastis and water to record something for Bob.

By then it was about 2030, and I was toasty warm in my sleeping bag. It was a little windy outside, but otherwise conditions remained fine.

Colin and I had discussed our plans for the following day, and had decided to try to climb up onto Ben Macdui via one of the gullies created by streams dropping down into the Lairig Ghru. I'd read before leaving home that it was possible, and I'd discussed it with a few people since leaving Torridon, and I was optimistic that we'd be able to do it. I hoped that when we got up there we'd be able to put up our tent/tarps near Loch Etchachan and leave them there, while we walked down to try to find the Shelter Stone somewhere near the foot of Cairn Gorm, and afterwards I hoped to meet up with Bob and Rose, and possibly some others, at the tents to help celebrate their wedding anniversary. All in all, the prospect of the day to come was extremely exciting, and as I lay down with my book I could hardly wait for it to begin. And, as had been the case on all previous nights during the Challenge, I didn't manage to read very much, because within less than ten minutes I was fast asleep.

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