Friday, December 5, 2008

The Gathering, November 2008 - Part 2


Episode 11 of Wandering Knight Podcast ((direct link, The Gathering, Part 2) is now online. You may also find Episode 10, part 1 of the two-part series, of interest.


I did not take any photos Saturday and only a few on Sunday. However, fortunately for us I was not the only one with a camera. Debi Pilkington took several photos on Saturday both of the short hike group and inside the Schoolhouse. I hope you enjoy what you find.



Photo by Debi Pilkington, 12:04.


Photo by Debi Pilkington, 12:06.


Photo by Debi Pilkington, 14:13.


Photo by Debi Pilkington, 16:23.

On Sunday our small group did an approximately 6 mile long hike that covered the North Country Tail and the Coolbaugh Natural Area. During much of that hike I kept a GPS log of where we went. The map below gives you some idea of where we hiked.



Photo by Ken Knight, 12:49.


Photo by Ken Knight, 13:12.


Photo by Ken Knight, 13:58.


A map showing, pretty accurately, the hike we did on Sunday along the NCT and within Coolbaugh Natural Area.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

North Manitou Island, August 2008, Conclusion


Episode 7 of the Wandering Knight Podcast (direct link) is now online. While I took a lot more photos and shot a great deal of video (which you'll get to see in due time, I'm still catching up on video from The Great Outdoor Challenge hike of last May) I wanted to share at least a handful of photos from our first day on the island.


Photos


Morning dew still sits on these flowers that abound around our campsite not far from Swenson’ Barn. August 16, 2008 08:20.



I enjoy walking through changing scenery. The island is full of open spaces like this one. This though is the only one I saw with a swath of these purple flowers. Anyone know what they are? August 16, 2008. 12:08.



Part way up the steep ascent of the second, I think, major climb to get to the top of the sandy hills around Old Mont Baldy. This is a bushwhack plain and simple, tough going but worth the effort. August 16, 2008. 15:21.



After passing a cloudy night with just a hint of rain at our final campsite we would be treated to one last day of great sunny weather. August 17, 2008. 07:00.


Bushwhack Map
During the afternoon of our second day Andy, Doug, Matt, and I would venture forth on a bushwhack hike that would take us up to Old Mount Baldy, down to the southwestern shoreline, around teh beach, from the forests, onto Dimmick Point, and eventually to our campsite. The total trek was only a few miles but they were invigorating miles and we had a superb island experience visiting portions of the island that I feel certain most people do not bother with. You can get a bit of a sense of what we did by looking at the map below.

Monday, October 20, 2008

North Manitou Island, August 2008, Part 1


Episode 6 of the Wandering Knight Podcast (direct link) is now online. While I took a lot more photos and shot a great deal of video (which you'll get to see in due time, I'm still catching up on video from The Great Outdoor Challenge hike of last May) I wanted to share at least a handful of photos from our first day on the island.


Photos

Some remains of rusting out hulks of cars that were probably brought to the island back in the logging days over half a acentury ago.


Jerrilyn framed by Lake Michigan at the overlook at the end of the unmaintained trail that we followed through the “Pot Holes.”


The beach at the cliff just below the overlook. The hike along this stretch of beach would be splendid.


Moonrise. With the moon rising and the sun only just setting well after 10:00PM at night we had ourselves a very full day.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Wandering Knight Podcast Is Born

Some of you know I have been working on a lot of audio and video lately. It's material from trips I've taken primarily this year. Trips as varied as my cross-Scotland trek in May, building trail along the NCT, hiking in Sedona, going to Ground Hog Day in Punsxultawny (sp), and attending music festivals, to name just a few. Some of these adventures have been shared on my website and/or blog (www.wanderingknight.org and this blog respectively). But that hasn't been the best way to share them. With this in mind I have created a new podcast. The Wandering Knight podcast will feature, in time, I hope more than justmy own personal trip diaries and experiences. I hope to make it more than that with contributions from other people in the form of interviews and the like. You can access this new podcast in a variety of ways.


From its blog
From its RSS feed
itunes Podcast Feed


You should see subscription buttons in the navigation sidebar of the blog. You can click those to access the podcast's feed as well. Also direct download links to the most recent episodes can be found just below the subscription buttons.


Right now you will find part 1 of my adventure across Scotland as I took part in the Great Outdoor Challenge of 2008 last May. Subsequent episodes will appear on a more or less weekly basis.


I hope everyone enjoys what they find. Please do visit the podcast blog over at wanderingknight.libsyn.com to comment.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Happy Wheatland

The 35th Wheatland music festival Is winding down and it has been pretty good if not quite as good as last year. The music has been varied (as has been sound quality), people fun, vonversation pleasing, and the various kid a source of boundless e energy.

You come for the music but a hood festival is more than that. The vibe at a good event raises the spirits of everyone present. The Main stagfe here really does that well. I saw performers ok side stage venues here who took it up another level on the big stage. Audiences do the same thing. Hours fly by under hot sun and. Crisp star filled nights. All have fun and rejoice in good company.

I must close now, before I want to so I can save battery, but I'll have more later. Signing off from Wheatland.

** Ken **

Sent from my iPhone

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Birds of North Manitou island

Last weekend I joined 8 other people as part of a Western Michigan North Country Trail Chapter sponsored trip to North Manitou Island. This 15,000 acre island is part of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and sits just off the Leelanau Peninsula. The island is a wilderness area and a great place for easy yet very interesting backpacking and exploration. You can go off to places that will challenge you as you scramble up steep forested hills or across tall sand dunes. You can take your time relaxing on the sun drenched (hopefully) beaches that look out upon the blue waters of Lake Michigan. The island offer plenty for the novice and experienced backpacker alike. I'll be providing a much richer trip journal in the not too distant future but I wanted to share this one little bit of video first.

The island used to provide home for many families. Long ago companies even did some forestry and if you go to the right location you can find rusting chunks of old vehicles that probably date back more than 50 years. You can also find the slowly decaying, though some buildings do get upkeep, buildings. Reminders of the people who used to live, and die, on this small island. Swenson's Barn is one such place. Within it you can still see where they brought their cows to be milked, the stalls they entered, the chute for hay to be dropped for the cows to consume. You can gaze upon the massive beams of the old barn and ponder life as it once must have been. Then you might gaze up at a sound faintly heard and notice a bird's nest. Within that nest, sitting very quietly waiting for their next meal, you spot a couple bird chicks. Enjoy the video.

Besides seeing these little birds and their parent we were fortunate to do so much more. Chances to swim in the chilly, though not nearly as cold as expected, Lake Michigan waters; swat at numerous biting bugs; visit portions of the island that see very few people because they require off-trail bushwhacking to reach; and so much more. The trip though just for a short weekend gifted us all with many opportunities of great enjoyment and I am sure most of us will return to North Manitou Island.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Hot nights and cider

Sometimes you just need to step outside. Step away from the sticky confines of the house to go downtown hoping for a breeze and a nice cold drink. For me this often takes the form of a cider at Conor O'Niels. If I'm lucky a friend or two comes along but more often than not it is just me. Tonight is no exception.

People are out talking about topics small and large. In some ways that makes me feel very small. But that is life.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Happy birthday

Today is my birthday. I'm 41 years old, another prime number goes by the boards. While I've not done anything special today that's
alright it has been a nice day.

Happy birthday announcement

Uploaded by www.cellspin.net

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Summer Trail maintenance along the North Country Trail



Three times a year I join Andy and John and we head over to Newago County not far from Bitely, Michigan to maintain a section of the North Country Trail. The section Andy and John adopted and let me help with is just over 6 miles long running from 13 Mile to 16 Mile Road. It runs past a handful of pretty lakes and features a few small hills as it wanders through forests of oak, poplar, red pine, and beech. It is a lovely stretch of pleasant trail. We had a great plan to do the trail maintenance and like so many plans it would not quite go as we laid out.

Those who are prone to superstition will comment that we should have known what was to come after things started to go against us. Our late start was immediately followed up by a small accident at the carpool parking lot where we all met. John slit two fingers open on his freshly sharpened ax as we learned that Andy had left his hiking clothing back home. John bandaged up his fingers and we piled into Andy's car to drive to his house to fetch his clothing. That, of course, added a couple hours to our departure time. Andy found his clothing, John dressed his fingers, we played a bit with Willow and kaila, and then it was time to pile back into the car and return to the carpool parking lot and switch cars before driving west. Our hopes of arriving before dark had been dashed but we were still in pretty high spirits. We reached the campsite after dark and quickly got our shelters set up. The mosquitos were out in force and we knew that this augured ill for what we would encounter the rest of the weekend.

We crawled out of our respective shelters not too long after sunrise. The whine of mosquitos had not prevented us from getting acceptable amounts of sleep. The humidity of the night had dissipated a little bit but it was clear it was going to be a very warm and humid day. Getting an early start was upmost in our thoughts and we drove over to Highbanks Campground and the connector trail that we had built, with many others, last spring (view video about this trail building trip last spring). Doused with bug dope we set out with tools in hand and began the search for areas that needed work. We had all thought that given the amount of heavy weather the area had experienced over the past couple of months that we would likely find a lot of blown down trees and the like. We were pleasantly surprised that this was not quite true. We marched on down the connector trail and then on to the NCT continuing to marvel that things were not that bad. Now and then we would find a downed tree that needed attention and once in a while that downed wood would turn out to be oak which is far and away the toughest wood to saw through. While we were on the move the bugs were mercifully not that awful. As we worked our way through the forest we chatted about the things you talk about when hiking: almost anything. But, given the nature of the climate we were walking through, that is the bugs that infested it, bugs came up now and then. Are we just made of weaker stuff than people of centuries past? I don't think that is necessarily true. Travel back then, and living outdoors, was slow and hard. They had no choice but to suffer the mosquitos, blackflies, and everything else that flies and bites. If you have to deal with it all the time you become used to it and just work through it. It's part of life. We are fortunate that we can get away, or at least provide ourselves with some temporary relief, from the pests. It is this difference that makes having to suffer a day of bad bugs, and this day was hardly the worst that any of us has ever seen, seem worse than it is and make you wonder if the human animal is just plain weak and squeamish. Then you remember that we have been around a lot longer than bug dope and that we have thrived in spite of everything.

We continued on and the day warmed. We found a tent city not that far down the trail and pretty much on top of the trail. Far too close for Leave No Trace camping guidelines. Big tents of car camping people. This is not the first time we have seen such things but it still annoys no end. It only gets worse when you see a fire ring with a dozens of beer cans in it. People just do not seem to care sometimes about the impact they make. Perhaps they honestly don't realize what they are doing which means education must be improved. But when you have to drive by a sign that says camping is only permitted at numbered sites and yet you pitch your huge tents in a complex right at the trail's edge anyway that points to a different human flaw.

We would continue on. I wonder if the people who use the trail appreciate what we are doing. I am sure backpackers do but what about the car campers who are breaking the rules. I would not be surprised to learn they have no clue what a group of folks like us are about. After seeing how some of them reacted to the forest service ranger when he tried to tell them they had too many tents and people at one site I feel fairly certain that they have no idea what we were about. But then you do not start doing this sort of work in the hopes of receiving open praise from those that you meet along the way. If that comes it is a bonus. All in all we zipped through the section fairly quickly reaching the end, some 4 miles and about two thirds of the whole section, in not much more than 2 and a half hours. Walking back along the back roads and two tracks was a bit of relief for us all as the open space afforded us a break from the ever pesky bugs. Even after a respite at a lake watching kids on a rope swing plunging into a lake and then a quick drive back camp we found it was only early afternoon. We had plenty of time to hike the stretch of trail from camp to Highbanks Lake and deal with any trail clean up that section required. It would turn out not to need that much and we sauntered back into our bug infested campsite by mid-afternoon.

WIth a bit of help I set up my hammock and quickly dove in for cover. John crawled into his tent and Andy under his great pyramid tarp. I suspect that I was the most comfortable. Andy's tarp is a remarkable shelter, tall and spacious but also very hot. John's small tent was also no doubt quite toasty and he had to leave his door open to improve ventilation. The air was still and thick with humidity. It was also thick with bugs that had designs on our flesh and our blood. But within the gently swinging confines of my hammock under the sheltering bug netting I did not notice. I dozed. Later on after I left the hammock unguarded Andy took over and being the soft touch that I am I let him have it for at time while I hunkered down in my tent. Definitely a poor second choice. A person in the hammock might look a little odd, rather like an upside down blister pack, but their is no denying the comfort level of a well protected hammock shelter especially when the air is still and thick with bugs and humidity.

We were, in a way, victims of our success. We were done with the trail work too soon. I don't think any of us expected it would go as quickly as it did. We had idle time on our hands and given the bug situation, the bites I received still itch today, our mood was not as joyous as it could have been. We would eat our adequate backpacker meals under Andy's pyramid, wander around a little bit, but in the end scramble for cover against the increasing hordes of flying menaces as the sun would dip below the horizon and out of sight. In the distance we could hear a yapping dog and music blaring. Perhaps both were at the same location. In some ways I think our morale was a bit down. We would swelter through our second night, warmer and more humid than the first, and at least in my case I found myself wishing it would hurry up and end. Sleeping in the hammock was quite nice but the constant drone of bugs trying to get at me was annoying and I feel certain some did bite me when I would roll up against the bug netting.

Sunday morning saw us breaking camp in a less than enthusiastic fashion. We had high hopes for some day hiking but it would turn out those would be dashed when we saw trail closed signs at Rogue River and also saw vast stretches of poison ivy and knew that the mosquitos, now larger and more aggressive than the day before, would be legion. We felt cheated but in the end we would drive back to the carpool lot and count ourselves lucky to not have been eaten alive.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Swift Currents and Timeless Travel: Gallup to Island Drive Park on the Huron River

The river is running high this month. It was running high in the spring. With higher water comes a faster current. Eddies of some size actually near bridges and by other places where water can be forced around in a curve into a backwash as happens with downed logs and rocks. Little riffles can actually grow to something we could consider a respectable class I rapids instead of the barely visible riffles they usually are. For people who want to run a stretch of the Huron in a tube conditions like this are wonderful. You need not worry about scraping your butt on a rock as you float down. You have to work a little harder to wade back upstream, but the tradeoff is more than reasonable.

The high water though wasn't the excuse Steve and I used to get out this past Sunday to paddle. I had read the article, and watched an interview, about two men who were going to paddle upstream along the full length of the Huron over a ten day period. They were going to do it in circa 1760 style as far as their boat and camping methods were concerned. A nod to living history (1). We both wondered about the hoops they would have had to jump through to get camping permission since the bulk of the land they would be passing was private and even the public lands did not allow overnight stays. The fact that Sunday was also Huron River Day was an added bonus though by the time we arrived at Gallup Park everything for that event was pretty much packed up.

We sauntered past the two fellows who were resting under their canvas (it appeared) shelter, wearing their period clothing, chatting with people about the river and what they were doing. We did not stop. We looked for a put-in point and then got our boats. At most we said hello to the gentlemen. Our reason for getting out to Gallup had not even really been fulfilled. They really were, at this point in time, merely the prod to get us out. Ironic and amusing. By 5:00PM we had our boats assembled, I almost got my Puffin assembled before Steve finished putting his Puffin together, that would have been a first for me. We pushed off from the slightly steep bank (after I dumped out excess water after a screwed up entry) and began the slow paddle upstream ourselves. The afternoon was warm, the sky pretty clear, and the sun shone glaringly bright off the water.

Paddling against the current is always a tough chore. It is tougher if you cannot really see the current and where the eddies are. Steve always found the better line. Having him as a guide was helpful especially as we crept islets and under bridges. In one spot, not far from the southern end of the Arboretum I found that I had gone the wrong way. I should have stayed to the left to paddle through the chute of the swift little class I rapid. Had I done that I probably would have made it but I went around the wrong way and ground to a halt. Would I have made it without the assistance of a fellow who was wading the river and found himself curious about my Pakboat Puffin? I like to think I would have. But I appreciated his help and he got to learn about my folding kayak. In fact on this journey both Steve and I shared a fair bit of information about the Puffins with interested bystanders. This experience does go to show how important being able to read the water is. It brings into sharp focus the fact that I'd be mediocre at best navigating upstream solo. Perhaps I could get better with some serious practical training but, sadly, at some point you need to accept your limitations. Having written this though I still would do this stretch time and again.

We were not in a hurry. You can't be in a hurry when the current is running as swiftly as it was. We avoided the worst downed logs and tried to stay on the river's edge poking our boats out past the worst of the branches now and then and then aiming them back at shore to avoid the worst of the current. Steve's better at this than I am. But that's the way it is. In time, after passing numerous beer barges (aluminum rental canoes with people in various states occupying them) we worked our way to the north end of Island Park. By this time, perhaps some 2.25 miles upstream from where we started, the sun was much lower in the sky and the glare off the dark brown shaded water was fierce. Neither of us could really see. It was time to turn back. We began our return journey in the company of a family of tubers. I began my journey in ignominious fashion running into a strainer of tree branches that took me a minute or two, that felt much longer, to work my way out of. I'm sure I provided amusement for the tubers. Amusement at my own expense. Oh well. I can live with that. We fell into an easy, so much more relaxing on the arms and upper body, paddle back towards Gallup Park. With the current helping us out we zipped right along. Steve had switched to a single blade and I was paddling a gentle rhythm that added a bit of speed to my travel but probably did more for steering control. Now and then, as we had on the upstream leg, we would chat but that's hard to do when someone is leading and the other boater (usually me) is trailing. Voices just don't carry well if you are facing directly away. We would pass a handful of rental canoes and other boats on the way back down. Including a couple boats with people who definitely had lightened their loads of beer perhaps a bit too much A little past 8:00PM found us pulling our damp boats, both of us had shipped water in at various times from drips and such, up on to the shote near where the living history duo had set up their camp. I think they were finishing off dinner and talking with people about cooking when we arrived. We found ourselves talking with a couple people, including a couple kids who seemed to care a lot about the fishing rod Steve had picked up, about our kayaks as we took them apart and bagged them up. The 3 or so hours on the river had been very enjoyable and I think we both felt pretty good about the trip we had just finished.

As if to make up for not chatting with the two canoers before we started we ended our trip by talking with them at length before heading to the car. They represent an interesting mix. Yes they're doing the river paddle circa 1760 style, but that can only go so far. After all, in 1760 you couldn't stop in the morning at Denny's for a bite. Nor could you call your wife at home and check in. Would a paddler using 2108 technology do the river that much more quickly than they are or be that much more comfortable? Perhaps. I reckon I can get a modern tent up more quickly than I could the shelter they are using. Certainly a modern liquid fuel stove would cook more quickly than the brazier they were using. But you can sleep comfortably with a wool blanket or a contemporary sleeping quilt. You could argue that some of the modern garb might in fact be more fragile even though it might let you get things done a bit more quickly. The point though is that what has to be done whether it is 1760 or 2108 is the same. I hope they make it. Unless something unexpectedly bad happens I do not see any reason why these two, seemingly pretty experienced, gentlemen will not make it.

(1). I first read about this on the Erie Hiker Blog. The specific article is here..

Sunday, July 6, 2008

On the Waterfront

OK, so perhaps not as in the old movie but I needed a title for the post and that fit. It fits because I spent the afternoon with a friend paddling a small section of the Huron River between the docks just north and west of Argo Canoe Livery (Vandermeer Park area) up into Barton Pond. I don't know how far we actually ended up going but that doesn't really matter too much (6 miles tops would be my guess). What matters is getting out with a friend and having a fine time doing something you both enjoy. I think we managed to achieve that just fine and in the process we even learned a few things.

Steve and I both own Pakboat Puffins. He has the 10 foot Sport and I have an older 12 foot version. In many ways the boats are quite similar. Mine has a couple extra ribs you need to insert and I always seem to be fighting a lot more with my gunwales than Steve ever does with his. My boat takes a spray deck while the Sport, as Steve got it (perhaps things have changed) does not. But both boats are fine for paddling gentle rivers, lakes, and sheltered water. I could imagine doing modest multi-day trips in either of them as long as you did not take them out on big open water. As usual Steve got his boat assembled more quickly than I. SOme of that is practice making perfect, some better natural ability to put things together. But once we were all set, and after answering a couple questions from interested people who had not seen folding kayaks before, we plopped our boats in the water and paddled forth under the clear blazing sky. Finding shady spots along the river as we paddled upstream was always a nice change. Finding those shady spots also gave relief to tired eyes from the fierce reflections of the sun off the water.

Steve and I have both paddled this lazy stretch of the lazy Huron before. The river flows easily against our passage but the current is hardly an impediment to our boats. The cool waters don't stop other people from swimming or standing waist deep with fishing lines angling for who knows what below. Those cool waters would drip off our paddles as we raised them out of the water moistening our legs with pleasant doses of cool enjoyment. In a reversal of usual roles I had decided to forgo using my spray deck and Steve was experimenting with a newly crafted half-spray deck. I would receive more drips and drops because of the change but I reckon I also enjoyed more freedom of movement so in these conditions out in a warm afternoon sun on a cool river it hardly mattered.

It is hard to chat while paddling. Someone is always ahead and voices don't carry well backwards. But you still manage conversation. The topics might not be grand but the mood is good and when conversation isn't practical that is fine too. We enjoyed the river, the company, the weather, the entire afternoon out. We knew we had ample time to go where we wanted and we took advantage of that time whiling away hours before we knew they had gone. At least they seemed to pass quite quickly to me.

When you can end a good day out with a friend with a nice meal and good drink sitting outside in downtown Ann Arbor (or where ever you are) that is the capstone to a very fine day. I know I had a good time and I feel sure Steve did too.

For those of you looking for a point to this ramble I'm sorry to tell you that their is no deeper meaning than that when you have a chance to do something you enjoy do it. That sounds trite but it is still true.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Happy Independence Day

232 years ago the Declaration of Independence was approved by the Continental Congress. It's as good a day as many to call our national birthday as it marks our desire to become a distinct national state even though it doesn't by any means totally define what America is. That would take more time, the development of the Constitution with its Bill of Rights and subsequent amendments that would improve, or so we all hope, things for everyone.. But things need a beginning and this day is definitely a good marker for the beginning of what would become the United States of America.

It's too bad I couldn't celebrate the event really. No parties to attend, no big fireworks shows to gawk at and enjoy. Just little neighborhood fireworks going off in the street. Some legal; some not so much. This probably says more bout me and my desire to try and get something going than anything else. I enjoyed the visceral pleasure of watching those neighborhood fireworks being fired off but that is something I would enjoy (like most everyone) whether it was July 4th or not. After all, fireworks are cool.

Perhaps with the dawning of a new year for the nation we will be able to start to see a re-awakening of what is best about us throughout the nation and that will spread worldwide. Who knows perhaps next year, as I walk across Scotland again taking part in the 30th TGO Challenge, people will be able to say how they like what our image is becoming. I hope so.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

TGO 2008 Stats Time

I was pretty lazy about gathering data this time. I paid a lot more attention to items that were related to travel time and distance. I paid a lot less attention to overall weight. My rationale for this is pretty simple I have a pretty good idea of the gear I like to carry for certain conditions so building a detailed gear list with everything itemized to the last item just isn't that important to me anymore. This does mean that I can't provide a super precise, down to the gram, statement of exactly how much weight I was carrying and in what areas it was the greatest but I don't really care (and with this statement I bet I lose any standing I have in the gram weenie club). In broad details I can tell you that my total pack weight likely never exceeded 23.4 pounds and that would have been with about 5 days of food, an average of one liter of water, and stove fuel. I had a lot of paper with me on this trip in the form of maps and notes plus an Ortlieb XL Map Case. When you add that all up it nudges the 1,000 gram mark. That's what happens when you carry 7 1 to 50,000 scale OS maps plus your own notes and other stuff. Toss in a whole bunch of extra batteries to power the Sanyo Xacti HD1000 camera (about 11 ounces with battery and memory card, 312 grams), Samson Zoom H2 audio recorder (about 5.3 ounces all told, 150 grams), Garmin Colorado GPS (7.5 ounces, 214 grams), and an Apple iPhone (4.76 ounces, 135 grams) and the miscellaneous, some might say frivolous, weight really begins to ramp up. However, the lion's share of the weight still remains in the "big three." I definitely went heavy here in part because I was lazy and in part because it is what I like.

The laziness factor appears with the backpack. I couldn't find my 50 liter dry bag and never bothered to remove the stays from the Backpacking Light Arctic Dry Pack. That's about a 160 gram penalty right there, but I didn't care. Sure it's a nice amount of single malt or a couple candy bars but given the nature of this trip it just didn't bother me. I decided to sleep on my comfortable, but heavy, Pacific Outdoor Equipment InsulMat which weighs in at 406 grams. Very comfortable but the heaviest 3-season pad I currently own. I could have shed weight here with an item like a TorsoLite saving over 100 grams, but again I wanted the extra comfort and given the nature of this trip I felt this was a fair trade. My Arc Alpinist can keep me warm down into the teens (fahrenheit degrees) and that is definitely more than enough for Scotland in May. Will I use the Arc again next year? Probably unless I have something that is nearly as good and lighter.

The long and short of it is this. Even when you factor in the large amount of maps, carrying cases, extra batteries and such I still had a base pack weight around 14.75 pounds (6.7 kilograms). When you remember that my camera bag alone accounted for somewhere around 950 grams of that and all those maps and such nearly a kilogram more you see that the weight for the camping gear is actually pretty good. I wasn't carrying the lightest load but I was nowhere near the heaviest. And in the future I can either change some items out or even add some items (like a tripod and second decent still camera) and not really mind the 2 to 3 pounds (1.0 to 1.5 kilograms) weight increase because even at the absolute worst I'll know that the carried load is still less than 27 pounds (12.26 kilograms).

As I said above I paid more attention to the distances I was traveling and you can see that is reflected in the maps I have shared with you. However, summaries of information are nice and so the table below provides one for you. I actually stayed pretty well on my planned route except when I really blew it. I had troubles on my trek into Fort Augustus but my worst day was clearly the hike between Gelder Shiel and Spittal of Glenmuick. I also took the long way around out of Braemar and a different path through the forest by Invercould Bridge but those didn't add much distance and, more important, stress compared to what came later. After all is said and done I am sure I added at least 10 kilometers to my planned route with my micro- and macro detours. But I doubt I added too much more than that.

The Great Outdoors Challenge, 2008 Distances Summary
DayDistance (km)Approximate Elevation Change (m)
AscentDescent
Dornie to Canban Bothy123.32700200
Canban Bothy to Cougie22.102500500
Cougie to Fort Augustus31.00700700
Fort Augustus to Melgarve Bothy320.70800460
Melgarve Bothy to Monadhliath Hotel12.65250250
Monadhliath Hotel to Kingussie17.50250250
Kingussie to Ruigh-aiteachain Bothy15.70260100
Ruigh-aiteachain Bothy to Mar Lodge429.75820870
Mar Lodge to Braemar05.75100100
Braemar to Spittal Glenmuick527.90700700
Spittal of Glenmuick to Tarfside24.90600680
Tarfside to Water of Dye Camp (N O 656 863)627.00470450
Water of Dye Camp (N O 656 863) to Mergie21.30400400
Mergie to Dunnottar Castle13.80100250
Totals (14 Days)293.37 kilometers
(182.29 miles)
6,650 meters
(21,818 feet)
5,910 meters
(19,390 feet)

Notes

1. My initial plan had me going to the Alltbeithe Youth Hostel but I decided that this was far enough. Adding 3.5 kilometers to the next day wasn't a big hit.

2. I actually probably walked a bit more than what is stated since I wandered around looking for the footpath a modest bit including some back tracking, but that's life.

3. The crossing of the Corryairack pass to Kinguusie can certainly be done as an overnight, but I decided to add a day thus making the stretch between Melgarve Bothy and Kingussie two short days.

4. Russ Manion had talked up Mar Lodge and I am very glad I lengthened my day to go there. It is true my feet were dog tired by the end of the day but this is a place I would return too. I'd even try to have some decent food waiting for me.

5. My worst day from a navigation point of view. It's true my northernly route did not add too much distance but my trials with the Gelder Shiel footpath and then muck up by the holiday homes really made this a much longer day.

6. Getting through the Blackcraigs region took a lot longer than I think it should have. I have no doubt people with normal vision flew through here. But then that is hardly a new thing for me and it would be repeated going through Heatheryhaugh the next day.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Montrose—All Done: Dunnottar Castle

The hike out is a bit anti-climatic. At least my hike up until the very end felt that way. The first few kilometers were on the forest road that quickly left the forest for farm country. I left the forest road for tarmac and rolling fields full of sheep and sometimes cattle (bulls I learned later)  the Gorse plants were in brilliant yellow bloom but their were also other flowering plants. Still it is really just a walk through countryside  that is nothing special. The hike features one truly awful bit: crossing the A90.

This is a highway. Two lanes, median, and two more lanes of high speed traffic including many trucks. Very unpleasant and scary. I dithered about hoping for others to show up so I could cross in amongst a group. Murray and David came along and we scurried across into Stonehaven together. We strolled through town past the main square and then we were at the beach: the eastern coast, the Atlantic ocean, an unofficial endpoint. I could be happy ending here. I had not tried to step into the coastal waters at Dornie but I made a point of doing so here at Stonehaven. The swirling cold waves bathed my feet and calves and I felt a sense of achievement even though my official ending point was a couple kilometers down the coastline at Dunnottar Castle.  Other Challenger bikers showed up and we all shared the moment together. I think even for those of us not truly at the end this was the real high point.

We dispersed going our separate ways. I joined John and Steph and we had what surely must rank as one of the slowest lunches I've had in recent memory. It wasn't bad food just slow leisurely service. Fortunately the conversation more than made up for the stunningly substantial amount of time we burned there. We had to hurry to reach the castle and then catch the bus to Montrose with enough time to settle in before the big dinner. The walk along the boardwalk then up on to the cliffs along the curving coastal walk to the castle ruins was far more enjoyable than the walk into Stonehaven.  The castle looms out of the cliffs seeming to grow out of the living rock. We didn't have time to explore the castle itself. I'm sure it would be worth some extra time but even just being outside the castle at the top and then at the water's edge did feel special.

For me the Challenge really ended with the dipping of my feet in the ocean. I was happy to trek the last couple kilometers to Dunnottar Castle but in my mind seeing and then feeling the coastal sands under my bare feet was my climatic finishing moment. Completing the Challenge represents my longest through hike. It is not my longest hike or even close to the longest trek between resupply points but their is a sense of accomplishment that goes with finishing a well defined task in one go and that is a key element to the TGO Challenge.

While the big dinner at the Park Hotel consists of food that would likely make a campaign dinner event proud - bland  food - the event was worth attending. Speeches thanking people and noting special accomplishments were given and made the moment worth sharing. I'm not enough of a social butterfly to really get deep into the spirit of such events but I did get something out of it. Part of the overall enjoyment of the Challenge, as so many Challenger hikers told me, is the social aspects of the event. This dinner represents an important high point in that regard and though I'd hardly be shattered if I missed the dinner after future Challenge attempts I would try to still attend because even I manage to share stories with other people and enjoy the good vibe.

Photos



Signs of progress. I am almost to the eastern shore. You would think that I would reach the shore pretty quickly but I got stuck at the A90 for quite some time. If a driver had pulled up and seen me dithering about getting across this busy highway and offered to ferry me to the other side I would have accepted the offer and called it a ferry ride. May 22, 2008. 10:30.




Hurray! I am standing in the waves of the Atlantic Ocean on the eastern coast of Scotland in the town of Stonehaven. Getting here is very satisfying. May 22, 2008. 12:02.




John Manning and Stephenie Hughes (hope I have the spelling right) arrived at the beach not that long after Murray, David, and I. By this point other Challengers had also shown up. May 22, 2008. 12:22.




The walk along the curving path along the coastal cliffs to Dunnottar Castle is really quite nice. It would have been nice to spend a bit more time at the castle but that did not happen this time around. May 22, 2008. 15:10.

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Sunday, June 15, 2008

Mergie

Getting here took a fair bit more effort than I think it would have were I playing a support role in this story. In other words, if I'd been following somebody else instead of making my own way the day would have gone much more quickly. But this is not quite the way it would work out. I slept in late and was only just getting to the point of striking my shelter when Terry, Allen, Sherry, and Steph came by. They had camped a few kilometers closer to Bridge of Dye than I and were now jumping ahead of me.  I'm not sure how I missed their camp but I'm not sure I crossed the river at the 'right' spot or by the optimal path. I never did see Humphrey or Rolph.

I left camp near 10:00 and made good time down the track towards Heatheryhaugh and then my troubles began. I went to the left of the old farm buildings following old paths that lead me nowhere. I felt sure I was about where I should be. In fact I knew I wanted to be just over that barbed wire fence but I couldn't get over. Michiel and Arno came by, maddeningly close, and were then gone. It seemed an age had gone by and I was really irked by this point when I learned I just should have gone around the house on the other side!  I followed more paths and before I knew it my little path had put me on the wrong side of the stream. I lost the path but that hardly mattered since it was likely the wrong one anyway. I looked at the map and shape of the route on the GPS compared to where I was and struck out cross country. With frequent checks I made it to Heathery Hill and I slowly climbed the steep deep grass and dense heather coated hillside of Builg Burn. This may have been my toughest climb of the trip edging out the climb up the scree field back at River Feshie because there I knew I was heading the right way and this time I didn't have people waiting at the top. But I gained the track again and things were once again totally right with the world. Finding Michiel and Arno sitting at the side relaxing for upwards of an hour was good and bad. It underscored how incredibly long it had taken to get through this little bit. But they were great to talk too.

The climb up Kirloch Cairn was one of the windiest and worst ones I've made this trip. The track is wide but boulder strewn. At the top of this hill is a cairn and an obelisk I should've checked out more closely. If it was a trig point it was huge. I should have looked at the map more carefully because I  think I could have skipped the climb and just gone around the base of the hill. Of course, I would have missed my 360 degree views even though they weren't much given the overcast sky.

Following the rocky track down into Fettereso Forest was nice enough the dense evergreen forest really could be too thick for camping. I met Joy as I was realizing I overshot my turn, by about 0.4 kilometers, and we hiked together for a time on track and footpath before  we went our separate ways near Stonehouse. It was still early when I reached Mergie and found Rolph, Steph, Allen, Terry, and Sherry. If I'd gotten there earlier I certainly would have pushed on to Stonehaven. But I am staying put and under cover the rest of the time at Mergie - 14 hours and change.

Photos



I am not entirely sure where I took this picture. Am I actually within the boundaries of Fettereso Forest? I only barely set foot in the forest when walking along some bicycle tire rutted narrow footpaths with Joy. It appears quite thick. But the vast bulk of my walk through this forest was along forestry roads and that wasn't that exciting. May 21, 2008. 14:59.

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Beyond Spittal Cott—Water of Dye Campsite (about N O 656 863)

I probably should have stopped sooner. I may be playing the hare to other Challengers tortoises by going farther and thus having to deal with Heatheryhaugh alone. We will see

I sallied forth out of Tarfside full of bacon botties (bacon on  bread)  in good spirits ready for the short 15 kilometer day. I worked my way along the farm paths through Cairncross farm checking my location against my route on the GPS. I walked under clear skies at first serenaded by birds that I suspect were either courting or telling me to move on. I passed livestock that at one point included cows which had, up until this point, been rare. I took a chance that the track I was on did what I thought and so I avoided the perhaps substantially shorter cross country hill climb that I had originally plotted (at N.O. 540 804, turns out it would be a lot shorter. It's worth noting I had already made an error on the farm tracks that probably added close to a kilometer).  But as the clouds rolled in from behind me my luck would shift as I soon lost the footpath across Blackcraigs and then Stobie Hillock. I picked it up from time to tome but overall I just tried to aim for waypoints along the plotted route. This meant a lot of walking through shoe grabbing peat bogs, sudden dips in the terrain, heather, and other hazards that slow one down. The worst obstacles were deer fences. Ideally you find a corner with angle bracing and climb that. If you must climb elsewhere the fence will likely bend backwards and make you feel very nervous indeed (a technique suggested to me later is to put your pack on a climbing carabiner on the top wire hanging on the far side of the fence to act like a counter balance). I found I could slip through one fence and the other had a flattened spot I could scoot over. This all took quite a lot of time to get through but I returned to the obvious track and some 7 and a half hours after leaving Tarfside I arrived at Charr Bothy (probably having hiked more like 17 kilometers instead of 15).

An hour break for tea and matchbook pastries really buoyed my morale. I decided to go a little farther so I could shorten my day tomorrow down to something more comfortable than 38 kilometers to Dunnottar Castle.  With one thing and another I probably only traveled another 6.5 kilometers before setting up camp at 22:00 (I made a costly error at Spittal Cott trying to find my way across the river; and another time consuming mistake at the farm at N O 650 859). However, it isn't all bad here at this little campsite on the river. I may have used up the most time going the shortest distance today but it felt reasonably good

Photos



This is what passes for signs, when you actually have them, along my route. I think this is the first time I saw something like this and I know I have not seen anything since the bridge over River Feshie several days before. May 20, 2008. 10:59.




The cross country trekking I would end up doing bounced me over numerous small hillocks, into sudden gullies, along enticing though dangerous freeways of peat bog, and past little flowers like these. May 20, 2008. 14:04.




This shot, pulled from a video clip, was taken just above Burn of Bradymicks I think.I have gotten over the worst of my travels by this point and am enjoying the stroll down the broad two-track at this point. The lamb sure is cute! May 20, 2008. 17:15.

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Saturday, June 14, 2008

Tarfside

I am sitting in the lounge baking in heat that is probably the most I've encountered inside or out the entire trip. I sip my beer and wait. I'm waiting my turn at the supper table which now is quite full of Challengers. It has been a long day even if it wasn't the longest or toughest day.

I woke burrowed in my Arc Alpinist. The temperature dipped a few degrees below freezing and it was windy. But I slept well enough. I called Challenge Control to ask about alternate routes since I didn't want to go cross-country alone. I'd determined the only option was a long walk to Ballater and then towards Tarfside from there. It would likely add a day and just wasn't an option. That was confirmed. I also learned many people had stayed at Gelder Shiel so if I waited a bit I'd have company. Peter was right. Moments after hanging up Les and Issey came by. We would do the walk together.

The trek up the glen along Allt Darrarie was quite picturesque and would make a fine though short day hike (about 5 kilometers to the confluence and back) of its own. When we struck out cross country I couldn't tell if Les was checking a compass of not. They had been in the area before but surely not enough times to know a route my heart. We did check the map now and them but I'd not be surprised to learn the navigation was done totally by eye and matching the land to the map. That land was hilly and full of tussock grass. This was much drier and easier to navigate across than the lands through Feshie watershed or the faded footpath that gave me fits yesterday. I would have gotten through it solo, more slowly to be sure, but it wouldn't have been bad.

We found one person relaxing outside the bothy. Taking his ease on a chair in what was a fine afternoon sun that would eventually give way to clouds. Soon four others came. Les made water for coffee and we all relaxed in each others presence  I could have happily taken a nap. The bothy sits in an open area between hills with brisk stream flowing by in front. I'm not sure this would be such a good place to camp in stormy weather since their is no real shelter except for the building itself (which is quite small), but on an afternoon like today it is a lovely spot.

I left before Les and Issey but after the rest had drifted away and out of sight. I was making steady if not fast progress before taking a break which is when they caught up. Les again took the lead and we made much better time. This is country where you do need to pay attention to where you step. Sink holes abound and some are certainly large enough to swallow a person. If you were to fall in getting out could be exceedingly difficult. Maybe you could squirm your way through the underground rushing water to a spot that was closer to the surface, but I suspect it's just as likely you find a spot deeper underground or get trapped in water with no air and drown. If it were misty out I would move through terrain like this with great care indeed. At the top of Muckle Cairn with the wind whipping around we parted ways. I would follow two track and they had more cross country.

The walk off Muckle Cairn was wonderful. The two track was rife with boulders but I was able to shoot down the grassy slope dropping considerable elevation before having to return to the track.  By then it had improved and was just the usual hard track passing through rising mountains in a narrow valley. I would pass Stables of Lee which could make good emergency shelter and/or campsite. I was above the rushing Water of Lee river much of the way which always cheers me up even if I have to hike into a stiff chilling breeze under overcast skies (again, but that's the weather).  Strolling past Loch Lee with light rippling off the shimmering surface brought pangs of desire to paddle into my thinking. Could one do a packrafting coast to coast trip of Scotland?  I know people have canoed across.

Passing Invermark Castle which if I'm right about where I was struck more as a monolithic tower than castle was a reminder of the long history of this region.  I ended by walking down the tarmac road past my turning all the long way around into Tarfside (adding probably 2.5 kilometers) where I now sit tapping out this entry. All in all it was a very good day of varied scenery and enjoyable company.

Photos



Near the confluence of the small rivers that flow down towards Spittal of Glenmuick (the main river is Allt Darrarie). The trail is a fine path and I suspect one of many in the region around the visitor center at Spittal of Glenmuick. The clouds had been drifting in and out for a time, a prelude to the much more complete overcast later in the afternoon. May 19, 2008. 11:07.




The bothy at Shielin of Mark. It really only becomes visible when you crest the hill just before it (to the west). Les and Issey are leading the way. Walking with them made route finding a non-issue but I am sure I would have made it solo, just nowhere near as quickly. May 19, 2008. 11:56.




It is a shame the picture doesn't capture the real allure of this area. Sure it is true that I am walking along essentially a back country dirt road (like so much of the hiking) but the very intermittent sun glinting off the rippling water of Loch Lee plus all the other sights and sounds made this stretch of the walk into Tarfside really very pleasant. May 19, 2008. 16:45.

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Friday, June 13, 2008

Spittal Glennmuick, Part 2—Braemar to Spittal of Glenmuick

I left Braemar taking the long way around. Or, at least the less nice way since it was the road (the A93 I think) walk. I couldn't find the Lions Face path. During the road walk John, another first timer, caught up and we walked together. Very enjoyable. When we shifted to the first two-track style road we began paying more attention to navigation. But too late. I'd missed my turn off by quite a ways. John was very helpful in helping me sort it out and went so far as to walk down my path to return to where I needed to be for a short ways. I likely added some distance to my hike with that error, but it might not be much since in essence I followed a north path through the Ballochbuie Forest instead of the more southern route. I can't really complain though since walking with John was enjoyable and who knows maybe I saw things on that route, like the deer herd, that I would not have seen had I followed the path I had mapped out for myself. While on track I did my best to enjoy the cool day. Definitely our coldest yet, low 50s at best before you factor in the breeze. Walking through more working forest was a bit of a let down but that's the way it goes.

When I reached Gelder Shiel bothy I failed to find the hot water toilets. Perhaps they're in the locked building (I later learned I had misread my notes and the hot water is at Spittal Glennmuick). I had been making good time up to this point but that would change. First I went a short ways down the two track (call it about a third of a mile roundtrip)  correcting that I found the faint footpath, more game or hunter  trail than anything else, that would lead about 1.8 kilometers to a main track again. I managed to push through the heather staying on the footpath for a time but I soon lost the path. I followed the stream which was always near the path trying to avoid stepping in leg swallowing holes or cold water. I hoped to regain the footpath. Instead I had a very intimate encounter with the stream: I fell in. I soaked my legs, flooded my shoes, and horrors submerged my camera bag. Remarkably the Sanyo Xacti HD1000 seems fine (I've not tried the Samson Zoom H2 audio recorder yet).  Had it been colder or windier I'd have been in trouble but instead I was merely shaken and soaked. Surprisingly I didn't really soak my head or torso which was another plus. But I was still plodding at a snail's place. I'd find the footpath and loose it again. I think I spent nearly two hours covering the distance (looks like I added some distance to the route overall, but still a very slow pace). By this time I had also figured out that my route data for the day was incomplete. For unknown reasons the route ended almost four kilometers short. It was as if I hadn't laid it out. It will be interesting to check when I go home (editor's note: I have no idea what happened because as I look at the map the route is all there so something seems to have happened with the Garmin software or the saving of the route from Quo and then transferring it to the GPS using the Garmin software—Quo, by Mapyx, refused to talk to the GPS and I don't know if it's a problem with Quo, the Garmin, VMWare Fusion, or something else).

In time I got to the main track again and the going was good until the descent which was awful rocky and steep and walking the path on the verge wasn't much better (I think this was near Little Conachcraig). Then to add insult to injury I took two wrong turns by the buildings (holiday homes) where the Lochnagar path emerges - eating up more time and adding more distance (and frustration at this point) to my day. I'd long ago decided that I would stop at Spittal Glenmuick and I was anxious to arrive (editor's note: I had thought it might be technically a no-no to camp here but since I didn't see it in the Final Details, a mis-read on my part, I did it anyway. I doubt I was invisible but no park ranger kicked me out).

It is now 21:30 and I'm under cover, have had a tasty meal-read-to-eat style dinner and can now ponder what to do tomorrow. Going to Shielin of Mark and than Tarfside seems foolish unless I have company. I just don't want to go cross-country without complete information. But my alternatives appear really lousy. I'm going to check with Challenge Control and confirm what I think I know and then see what happens. I am also probably just feeling a bit nervous after the happenings today and know that with time things will improve.

Photos



I know large deer herds roam the countryside in the States, but this is the first time I have actually ever seen one. May 18, 2008. 11:29.




This still, pulled from some video, ishardly the best picture you will see but it gives you a small sense of the area at Spittal Glenmuick. The horses in the field had no interest in me. I camped not too far away and it was a fine site even if technically an illegal site. I was hardly invisible but no one kicked me out. May 18, 2008. 21:03.

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Thursday, June 12, 2008

Spittal Glennmuick, Part 1—Mar Lodge to Braemar

After an eventful rest day, it's less than 6 kilometers to Braemar (Bray-mar) from Mar Lodge, in Braemar where I spent too long at an evening ceili (kay-lee if you are trying to figure pronunciation - a party) acting more like a wallflower than a person. I had a so-so night of sleep to start out this new day. Maybe I should have stayed in bed.

To be fair to Braemar it is my own limitations that held me back at the party though I do think it is hard to have good conversations in a beer tent with a covers band playing loud music in the background. I had far more fun with Jules and Mark at the Old Country Bakery for dinner and just before. Jules and Mark get along quite well and listening to Jules tell some stories about RAF duty as well as some fascinating war history on how different cultures deal with their dead was quite a good way to spend time. It is also true that I only have myself to blame for eating too much. Having said all this I would still stop in this little town and try and play socialite again. I can see why some people take a complete rest day here since their are things to do besides eat, drink, and chat.

Photos



A view of the front of the main building at Mar Lodge. This was a great place to stay and I would visit it again even though you have to make your own food. That's hardly a big deal given the posh kitchen that you can use so it is conceivable you could treat yourself to something quite good. I know some Challengers actually mailed good food, including meat no less, to Mar Lodge for a fine meal. If that isn't enough then perhaps the good conversation around the roaring fire with fellow TGO Challenge hikers sipping nice drinks and eating chocolate in the Gun Room will push you over the edge. May 17, 2008. 09:14.




THis line of packs is sitting outside the Fife Arms Hotel which is a natural gathering spot for Challengers to eat, drink, and be merry. May 17, 2008. 13:31.


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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Mar Lodge, Part 2—Ruigh-aiteachain Bothy to Mar Lodge

It dipped a bit below freezing and there was little wind so  everyone had condensation. Our tent city had many Hilleberg tents, mostly Aktos and Nallos.  I had the only single wall let alone ultralight shelter. We all slept well. I may have heard the horses but it didn't register much. Their are a handful of horses here keeping the grass down. They're used to people and quite friendly. Reminded me of Grayson Highlands ponies though only because of character not locale which is totally different.

The walk across the Cairngorm National Park along the River Feshie could have been my most challenging to date. The hiking went over boggy plateau where faint trail would often vanish into wet mud-sucking peat to reemerge on the far side someplace else. It was at these points where I would slow to a crawl as I would have to search for the path. But I found myself hiking with a group of Challengers and that pretty much made route finding a non-issue.

We marched across the open but not featureless Feshie watershed under partly sunny and later overcast skies with moderate temperatures and modest breezes, good hiking weather. The footing could be difficult and I did slip a couple times. The views were of the river and seemingly bare land that receded into rising mountains in the distance. We would hop rivulets and avoid mud holes. I chatted some but was mostly paying attention to where I was going and where people in front were. Much thanks to the others for letting me walk with them.

In some ways the start of the walk was the prettiest because it was closest to the river which sported several small rapids. But the entire day was a good one even though by the time I came upon the old building (NO 002 869, about 19.7 kilometers into the day) and found Mary Ann and Laura resting their feet and talking with Lynsey and Allistair I was noticing my feet were tiring too. About two miles later, walking alone on impossible to miss two-track, I reached the not white White Bridge. The wind had picked up and it was spitting rain. I found a couple people tenting but didn't want to stop because while the Tarptent Virga is a fine shelter it isn't meant for sitting around in. Gus came by heading for Mar Lodge and soon so did Laura and Mary Ann. I joined them and we kept each other company while walking the hard ground the remaining 8 kilometers to the lodge. We passed a couple Challengers at campsites and I was given advice on campsites by them. I think I could have camped at many points up to the tarmac road and Linn of Dee. In fact the spot we took a snack break would probably have been ideal with sheltering pines (or are they spruce?) even though a road was nearby. We pushed our aching feet on the final few kilometers on the road to the back of the Mar Lodge estate. It ended up being farther than we thought but at just after 18:30 we arrived and I was booked into my room. All told this ended up being about a 30 kilometer day.

I really should write something about the ballroom. I can't tell you how large it is. The vaulted ceiling is way up there and I feel confident that you could bring in a troupe of people on horseback and have them parade around the center of the hall and still have ample room for numerous guests to sit comfortably at tables and have sumptuous meals. The lighting is indirect and dim. This adds to the feeling of largeness in the ballroom. It also adds a bit of eeriness as you gaze around and realize that you are looking at nearly 2,500 mounted deer heads. These were deer on the estate that were culled over I can't tell you how much time. I don't have a problem with controlling the population of animals and this is certainly an interesting way to display the bounty of the land but I can see how some people could really find the scene disturbing.

Photos


The walk along River Feshie was great fun. The trail is a bit spotty in places but their is nothing like walking along a nice rushing river. I took this photo just beyond the scree field we scrambled up and over instead of taking the trail that exists just above the scree. May 16, 2008. 10:12.




I wish I could tell you exactly where this photo was taken but I can't (if someone knows do let me know). I had joined several other Challengers and we were hiking up and across the watershed by this time. The sun had been chased by the clouds and we would walk under gray skies pretty much the rest of the day. Crossing the plateau was a lot of fun. May 16, 2008. 11:45.




Linn of Dee. The walk from White Bridge to Mar Lodge is a bit of a drag. Forestry style road that would eventually leads to a tarmac road (here) that goes on for about 8 kilometers. But hiking with Mary Ann and Laura made this slog a lot more enjoyable. May 16, 2008. 17:56.




At last, Mar Lodge. The back entrance to Mar Lodge and just a few hundred meters away is the main building and what would turn out to be a very cozy room. Russ Manion had talked this place up and I am very glad I pushed to get here. The atmosphere was great. May 16, 2008. 18:29.


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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Mar Lodge, Part 1—Kingussie to Ruigh-aiteachain Bothy

The past two days have been quite special. I'm sitting in my cozy room here at Mar Lodge and marveling at what my money is buying me. A tiny fee gets me a great room, I'm sure the bunkhouse is good, access to the Gun Room where a roaring fire burns and snacks and alcohol can be shared amongst friends, the kitchen, and a tour of a remarkable ballroom that is impressive and unnerving (granted this might not always be the case). But I'm getting ahead of things.

Leaving Kingussie in late morning I plodded down the roads past the old Ruthven military barracks which once housed three score redcoats. Now a ruins you still have sense of the goings on there and most times it would've been hard. I know I missed a lot of information which gives me an excuse to return.

More road walking would lead to Glen Tromie and the working forests contained therein. At least I didn't walk through clear-cut but the effect was similar. It wasn't a pretty forest. Maybe it was the forest road or the skimpy nature of the woods but it had less charm than many such (working) forests back home. Crossing Baileguish Farm was OK but nothing special. The final few kilometers were on standard road that followed the Feshie River which is very nice. Were I to do the walk again I'd see if walking on the river edge would be possible. I saw some paths down at the shoreline but other times it looked like the shore was almost cliff-like. Maybe floating in a packraft would be an option. Hmm...

I found Cameron filming by the bridge. We would go to Ruigh-aiteachain bothy together. The setting here is quite nice with plenty of flowing water, good camping, a well kept building (although why they've blocked access to the sleeping loft I don't know. Safety reasons seems silly in a way since you're out in the woods already taking a risk. Seems quite a waste), and interesting people. I found Jock (sure that's spelled incorrectly) with his skittish alsatian named Wolf. Nice guy though maybe the mass of Challengers put him off a bit. Once we got a fire going in the wood stove chatting in the bothy was very enjoyable and the relaxed sense of community that seems to pervade the Challenge (and any gathering around a fire, even a contained one in a wood stove) took hold.

Photos



Ruthven Barracks. Although I spent a fair bit of time here I ended up missing quite a bit of stuff. Somehow I ended up just exploring the main barracks building that you see here. However, that just gives me an excuse to come back. May 15, 2008. 10:30.




I love walking by or at least near rivers. River Feshie is no exception. This gos lined path takes you down to the slightly shaky bridge I would cross to reach the bothy. May 15, 2008. 14:56.




Moonrise over our tent city at Ruigh-aiteachain Bothy. I am sure I will leave people off any list of names so I don't think I will try. Suffice it to say that this is the largest group I think I would ever camp with. We had a fine time here and this is a very nice bothy that I would stay at again. May 15, 2008. 21:41.


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Monday, June 9, 2008

Kingussie—Melgarve Bothy to Monadhliath Hotel to Kingussie

I arrived here at 1230 and haven't left. If I'd left with Hayden three hours ago I could be that much closer to Kingussie but I have settled - for a short day.

Leaving Melgarve at 0800 with a warming sun high in the sky I soon left the old military road for a single lane tarmac road. When I could walk the shoulder on dirt or grass I did. I passed farms with sheep and horses and birds of various feather. The peaks receded into the distance replaced by more rolling hills and even some forest. Pretty enough but hard on the feet.

In time I was caught up to by Hayden (not that long after crossing a bridge on what sure seemed like a canal of some sort). He's hiking Scotland on his own schedule and that opens up options a Challenger doesn't have. We walked the road chatting about various topics from the sub-prime mortgage crisis to world politics. Then just after River Spey came into view Vicki and Barbara caught up and we learned from Vicki about the footpath option into Laggan that popped us out below Spey bridge. We talked more about world travel as we moved along until the ladies fell back so Vicki could stay with Barbara whose feet were really bothering her.

Hayden and I found this hotel and had a tasty lunch. The ladies arrived and the mellow afternoon has continued on and on. Part of me feels I should've gone on but now I see no point and will do the 20 kilometers to Kingussie tomorrow. It has been nice to just hang out here, have some decent food and good beer (John Smith), chat lazily with other Challengers as they arrive and know that I am now doing pretty well all things considered.

Coming into Kingussie was another pretty day of open views of moors and sheep farming with small rivers thrown in for good measure. I hiked with Russ and his friends most of the day and we ambled all the way. Nick and I pulled ahead for the last bit (Andy trailing helping Vicki perhaps with Barbara) at the end. The last mile or so which travels roads drags on a bit. But still a very fine day. I would say that a highlight of the day is the variety of scenery we got to see. Especially before and after Phones as the landscape changed quite a bit in character. It may not be as stunningly beautiful as some places I have been but variety keeps one interested too.

I must note that I ate a ridiculous amount of food. Had I known the potato wedges with cheese and bacon would be what they turned out to be I'd probably not have gotten the lasagna. I was expecting something more like standard potato skins not thick wedges of potato mounded over with bacon, onions, and cheese (more like chili cheese fries though better). And although I had a fair bit of alcohol it was over such a long period of time I never really felt it that much. As the night wore on I learned that a big football (soccer) game with a Scottish team playing some Russian team was on and that was garnering a lot of attention. The Scottish team lost and I'm sure many were very much down in the dumps (later I learned about the damage done down in Manchester by football fans). American sports fans don't hold a candle to what some of these football fans do when things don't quite go their way.

Things are going very well and with luck will continue to do so.

Photos


The church ruins I have pitched my Tarptent Virga within are adjacent to the Monadhliath Hotel. Maybe if I had known about the bunkhouse down the road before I pitched my shelter I would have gotten a bed, I did check it out (sort of), but I stayed put. It was a fine place to camp and I got a standard UK-style breakfast at the hotel the next morning for £5. May 13, 2008. 16:16.


Lunch with the rest of the group I had been hiking with today (Russ and his band of Mark, Sam, and Herman, Vicki and Barbara, Nick and Andy) was a real joy. In some way this probably rates as the best lunch spot of the entire trip. The scenery was varied and the company great fun. May 14, 2008. 13:30.


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