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)
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)


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.


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.

Show/Hide the map for Day 14

Sunday, June 15, 2008


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.


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.

Show/Hide the map for Day 13

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


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.

Show/Hide the map for Day 12

Saturday, June 14, 2008


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.


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.

Show/Hide the map for Day 11

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.


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.

Show/Hide the map for Day 10

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.


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.

Show/Hide the map for Day 9

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.


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.


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.


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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Sunday, June 8, 2008

Melgarve Bothy

Corryairack pass is quite something. This is a classic walk in the highlands. I could have gone farther but since I have decided to get to Kingussie in three days instead of two I am staying at Melgarve bothy tonight. This is a posh place with a great sleeping area on the second floor. The first floor has a table, comfy chairs, and fireplace (though no wood). It is leaps and bounds better than Canban. Getting here was a joy. Chris from the Caldonian Hotel walked me to the entry point of the track to the pass (one of General Wade's military transport roads which he built to great effect to move men and equipment to be used to keep the Scottish clans in line). We passed through a cemetery past just starting Bluebells. It was very good of him to do this and I thoroughly enjoyed the walk with him and the two others that joined us for a time. Once on the track, a 4x4 road really though it dates back to General Wade and so is well over two hundred years old. You slowly climb the winding road with bald mountains falling away on either side it reminds me somewhat of the undulating country near Wales, Alaska. There are even patches of snow near the pass. Today was mostly bright and clear so the viewing was pretty good. Even when some mist was clinging at lower elevations it was still good.

Sometimes it made far more sense to walk the lumpy grass on the roadside because the boulders were just too much hassle. This happened a lot on the far side of the pass. Chatting with Bob who caught up, hiking bear chested and clearly in fine shape, just before the pass was quite fun. We took a good lunch break just beyond the pass. It would have been a great spot to take a nap. If only I had a light blanket to roll up in. Arriving at Melgarve both at 1730 was great. I feel sure others will arrive in time but right now I have the place to myself.

* * *

People started arriving soon after I finished writing the first bit. First Cameron McNeish showed up with tripod and video camera in hand. He's working with the BBC to create a documentary about the Challenge that will air later this year. He also wanted to chat me up and make sure I was doing fine. I hope it was more co-incidence that he found me here than not but I know Roger Smith had told him about me so perhaps people are checking up on me. It is what it is. Other people would drift in too with some having a quick bite and moving on down the road (Ursula, Peter) and many others pitching tents or staking out space in the bothy itself. I had pitched my Tarptent Virga even though the sleeping area did look very inviting. Among the people here are Russ, Sam, Mark, and Herman would show up; Both and Ethel who I had started to morning with when leaving Fort Augustus; and the four brothers (A TGO first).


I am right at the top of the pass at this point, about 780 meter (2,560ft) and as you can see snow is lingering. We could see patches further up as well though this would be the only one I'd pass really close too. Photo by Bob. May 12, 2008. 15:03.

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Saturday, June 7, 2008

Fort Augustus—Part 3, Cougie to Fort Augustus

Fort Augustus—Part 3, Cougie to Fort Augustus
The walk from Cougie to Fort Augustus is about 30 kilometers the way I did it. In fact since I goofed at Torgyle Bridge it became longer than that. I left with Tony, Peter, and George and we walked to Plodda Falls and then to my turn off point (they kept going on towards Drum)  it was overcast and spitting but not cold. The worst was that it was musty and you couldn't see much. While I walked the public path to the power-line track it didn't matter since I was in forest but once I began to ascend the rocky 4x4 track the mist took the world away. I'm sure the views would have been great had they been available. I'm just as sure I took the right route - the safe route.

All in all I was doing OK but when I blew it I really blew it. It isn't worth going into details here. I got it sorted out with the help of a passing motorist and In so doing he learned that he had missed his turn off to Fort William. Staying  at the Caldonian Hotel is definitely a decent way to make one feel better. Tomorrow I'll go to somewhere between Melgarve bothy and Garva Bridge.


This would turn out to be the most colorful stretch of hiking I would do all day. Sure, it would brighten again when I began to descend Inchnacardoch FOrest but that is hours away.

May 11, 2008. 11:27.

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Friday, June 6, 2008

Fort Augustus—Part 2, Canban to Cougie

Where day one went very well with just a couple slip ups in navigation that didn't quite hold true on my second day where I lost the trail around Allt Garbh along the footpath (somewhere around NH184 212) to the main track that leads past a surprisingly warm lochan (NH 209 217). I lucked out when Tony, Peter, and George (last two names are English spelling of the Dutch names) heard my whistle blast and called me to the right trail that was certainly quite close to where I was. We had a great time at Cougie. Val is an excellent hostess spinning Scottish country attitude with good stories with an able assist by her daughter, one of 8 (I think) children, Tina. We had a great time first around an outdoor patio eating soup and scones with beer and tea, followed by a short rest and then a fine dinner all laced with fine conversation.


Canban Bothy isn't much too look at from the outside. It's not much too ook at from the inside either. Bothies, mountain shelters that were built ages ago mostly by shepherds are now maintained by the Mountain Bothy Association which is a volunteer based organization. They run the gamut from somewhat dingy to pretty posh for a backcountry shelter. Canban is closer to the less positive end of that spectrum. May 10, 2008. 05:46.

None of us can find a name for this small lake that is just a few kilometers away from Cougie. But that doesn't matter. It remains a great place to take a load off and relax. I am sure it would makea good swimming hole. May 10, 2008. 14:23.

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Thursday, June 5, 2008

Fort Augustus—Part 1, Dornie to Canban

I've not written until now and even tonight I'm rather tired so doubt I'll say much. It has been a tough three days. On day 1 the hiking wasn't bad. I had little trouble finding my way. A small slip up here and there but nothing to remarkable. The weather, especially for Scotland, struck me as very warm easily mid 70s and sunny. While the sun would eventually give way to clouds the temperature never really seemed to cool that much. Granted when walking along a tarmac road, as I was in the beginning between Dornie and Morvick, that's understandable. The back-road out of Dornie is really rather pretty. I saw no traffic and the views of the loch below were wonderful. I had a stretch on the main traffic artery which was so-so but at least it was short and then I entered forest-style roads and tracks. These took me through long valleys with lambs all around, plenty of flowing water, and a few local folks out for a stroll. Easy walking and a nice introduction to the lowlands of the Scottish Highlands. At Glenlicht House I had a small bit of confusion about where the cross the river but that was as rough as the navigation got. The waterfalls I would see later on, though not the wondrous Glomach (sp) Falls I'd heard about were nice enough as they poured off the empty mesa down into the river valley below. I was climbing up to that point to go through the mountains towards Canban bothy and feeling reasonably good though a bit tired. Although my "official" end point for the day should have been at Alltbeithe Hostel I decided the bothy was good enough.


Standing at the turn off to my small road. My waiitng is, at long last, over. I'm really starting and I'm nervous. May 9, 2008. 09:05.

I bet more sheep and lambs live around here than people! I quite some time walking through farms nestled in a valley like this. May 9, 2008. 13:51.

While this may not be the largest waterfall in Scotland it would turn out to be the grandest I'd see the entire trip. May 9, 2008. 16:07.

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TGO Challenge 2008 - Getting There

It took longer to get here than it should have and I sincerely hope this is not an omen I should be paying attention too. Up until the bus went off the rails as it were things had been going swimmingly. Then the driver drove us past Dornie and if I hadn't been playing with the GPS and saw us moving away from the tho start point I don't know when I'd have figured it out. I got dropped off at a caravan campground (RV campground) about 4.5-5 miles away. The driver said a bus going the other way would be by soon and I should tell the driver what happened and he would ferry me back gratis. I saw buses, lots of traffic in general, going the direction I didn't want to go but no bus going the other way. I gave up after too long. I walked trying a little to hitch with no luck. At least the weather is near ideal and the scenery is nice with mountains not far from here, some peaks dotted with some snow, scattered forest, ample water in many forms, and what I'm sure are boggy fields.

I actually overshot the hotel even though I saw the sign when I asked I must've said the wrong thing and the fellow in the fruit and seafood barn sent me across the bridge. The lady at Sonas B&B set me right and even drove me back across the bridge.  So after an extra three hours I am finally at the Loch Duich Hotel The best and worst can be seen In this bit of adventure.

I'm feeling less sanguine about this all the time. Constant comments on how treacherous things are and my own wavering doubts about what I've written versus what is on the map versus what is on the digital map (e.g.,where is the yellow back road out of Dornie?) and I just don't feel good. It doesn't help that I woke up this morning, Friday, very early and can't do anything until I check out and their still are no signs of hotel staff life and it is almost 0800. I need to leave and see if I can do at least Day 1. God a partner would be invaluable now.

Dornie Castle as seen from the Hotel. I was up by 5:00AM and had nothing to do but dither and think about what could go right, and especially wrong. The events of the day before had not been a good start.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Local events

I almost blew it. I was walking towsrds downtown to just stretch my legs, maybe get a hard cider, but mostly get out if the darn computer chair which was really starting to make me ache. Besides it is a fine sunny day.

As I neared Main Street amplified music teaches by ears. I wondered what it was and it fawned on ne I was missing the Taste of Ann Arbor. I'm sure town large and small have events like this. A few streets are closed to motor traffic and rrstaurants set up booths and people arrive to sample the food. Things like this STR good for business and for community. Families and friends get out and have fun. Maybe a local economy gets a boost as we learn of new places. People have a good time. I know I did.