Wednesday, December 15, 2010

#21: Deerfield Park, In Memory of Richard Bolton

On an overcast morning Andy Mytys pulled up and I hopped into his car for the drive to Mount Pleasant, Michigan to join dozens of others for the memorial service for Richard "Dick" Bolton. I was part of the small contingent of people who knew Dick through hiking activities focused on the North Country Trail and through the Great Lakes Hikes email group (hosted at Yahoo Groups as "greatlakeshikes"). We arrived not long before the service was meant to start and so were settled down in the basement (undercroft as the church pastor refers to it) amongst a couple dozen other people. The nave was full of everyone else. This modest sized, oldest continually used building, 1882 I believe was when it went up, was a fine place for the memorial service.

After the service people scattered to regroup at a nearby school for a nicely put together lunch. This was where people really had a chance I think to talk and perhaps share memories of Dick. I can't say if that really happened or not but I hope it did. For those of us from Great Lakes Hikes though the highlight of the day was after the lunch. We drove over to Deerfield Park (in Isabella County) to spend a few hours wandering through a perennial favorite place of Dick's throughout the years. This was the first time I had been to this 591 acre park and that added an extra special bit of pleasure for me. I can fully see why Dick enjoyed visiting the park and strolling the few miles of trails that wander through forests of beech, oak, and pine as well as along the banks of the Chippewa River. The afternoon weather had not cleared but when within the forest none of us really noticed the breeze. It was fun to talk through the woods and past things like Bailey's Rock which all have meaning for those of us who either talked with Dick about Deerfield Park or read his numerous missives about the park.

A reminder: You can click the title of this post to see the video in 720p HD. To be sure to receive the highest resolution version of the podcast you should subscribe to the Wandering Knight podcast via the iTunes link provided on the left.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

#20: Great Lakes Hikes November 2010 Gathering

Since 1999 the members of the GreatLakesHikes email group hosted over on Yahoo Groups has held a gathering in early November the weekend before modern gun (rifle) deer season starts. For a weekend we take over the Schoolhouse owned by the Western Michigan Chapter of the North Country Trail Association. The Schoolhouse is located near the town of White Cloud at the intersection of 5 Mile Road and Felch. The North Country Trail is less than a mile away and other trails like the Birch Grove Loop are even closer. It's a great place to get together for a base-camping weekend where you can enjoy the company of friends in an indoor or outdoor setting.

This year the Gathering was held the weekend of November 12-14. People started arriving in the early evening of the 12th and so the fun around the campfire was well under way by the time Andy, Elwira, John, and I pulled in just before 11:00PM on Friday. The evening was chilly but their was little wind and the fire was burning bright and hot. People were comfortable and having fun. We joined right in once we got our shelters pitched. Of course, some people were already asleep for the night but when you remember that some of those people are young, very young, kids that's quite alright. Even the diehards, including me, packed it in around 1:00AM, after all we all knew we had a long fun day ahead of us Saturday.

What really makes the Gathering shine are the people who attend. We had our usual mixed-bag breakfast before getting ourselves sorted out for the various hikes Saturday. The longest of these turned out to be about 11 miles starting at Echo Lake Road and returning to the Schoolhouse. SHorter hikes used that same basic route just starting closer to the Schoolhouse. The weather was overcast and crisp, threatening rain. A pretty typical autumn day in Michigan's woods. By the time we were closing in on the end of the hike that threatening rain began to drizzle down upon us. It wasn't a storm but it was steady. More than enough to cause us, once back inside, to stay pretty much inside. Durning the evening the on-and-off rain kept us from making a second campfire but we made up for it throughout the night with the usual good varied food, excellent conversation, and impromptu live music from Chuck and Charlotte on guitar and violin with Chuck providing gritty vocals.

Sunday dawned colder but dry. Weather that would turn out to be ideal for what we had planned to do. People helped clean up the Schoolhouse and then went their separate ways. Several others decided to join Andy, John, Elwira, and myself and hike our section of North Country Trail and help us do our fall maintenance work. That help was quite welcome as we had a dozen or so major blow down of primarily oak trees stretching across the trail. Over half of them were too big to merely drag off and required us to saw through them first. Many of those required a few hundred strokes with the bow saw to cut through: oak is tough. But with the help we got through the 7 miles of trail in about 5.5 hours of good solid work. Thanks everyone.

This was a very good Gathering and perhaps one of the best attended.

My apologies for the problems in the audio. For those of a technical bent wondering what is going on it is a side-effect of using an external microphone with an iPhone left in regular mode. The iPhone must be in Airplane mode when doing such recording to prevent any chance of interference from the radios in the phone. This is annoying, but to be fair a smartphone isn't a dedicated recording device.

A reminder: You can click the title of this post to see the video in 720p HD. To be sure to receive the highest resolution version of the podcast you should subscribe to the Wandering Knight podcast via the iTunes link provided on the left.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Gathering, 2010 - The Night Before the Day

The annual NCTA/GLH Gathering is taking place as late as it can this year. Friends of long standing get together the weekend before rifle deer season for a weekend of schmoozing and hiking. By the time I arrive with Andy, John, and Elwira the campfire fun was well under way. It will be a good weekend.
** Ken **

Sent from my iPhone

Posted via email from Ken Knight's posterous

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

TGO Challenge 2011: Waiting, waiting, waiting

On Monday morning I found myself up very early watching Twitter and being more drawn in than I usually am. The reason was simple: people in the United Kingdom were getting their letters informing them of their acceptance into the 2011 TGO Challenge. Colin Ibbotson (@tramplite on Twitter) was going further and checking if people he knew were on the list and passing out the sad news that some of us were not.I must admit to a much deeper sense of sadness that I did not get in. I was, perhaps unreasonably, surprised that I did not. Perhaps I had fallen into a mistaken belief, an Internet fostered legend perhaps, that applicants outside of the UK pretty much always got in. I hope that belief was mistaken because I'd hate to ponder the alternative.

What surprised me was the depth of my sadness as I learned with increasing certainty that I had not made the cut. I was reconciled to the fact when I received confirmation that I was on the waiting list, number 20, from Roger Smith later in the day. It is remarkable I felt quite so strongly when you consider the amount of effort one has to put out, even if you live near the Scottish Highlands, to take part in the TGO Challenge. I don't think I have formed the deep ties that many other Challengers have formed, seemingly quite quickly in some cases, so I don't have a real good reason why I felt the way I did. I suppose the community feeling the Challenge engenders is stronger than I already knew.

I will still create a route for 2011 and hope that within the next couple of months I manage to creep up the waiting list into the select lucky few that will take part in the Challenge next year. It's not as if I would have made any reservations for plane flights or hotels right now so having to wait is not going to be horrible at least if it only lasts until early next year.

-- Post From My iPad

Saturday, October 23, 2010

#19: Fall Fun Day, 2010

Generally the first weekend of every October you can expect a nip in the air and the leaves of trees to be turning. Autumn is just getting started and the burst of colors before the quiet stark beauty of winter is just beginning to appear in the lower peninsula of Michigan. It is a fine time to be outdoors and a great reason to spend time with friends. With that in mind the Western Michigan chapter of the North Country Trail Association holds an annual event they call Fall Fun Day. A day is spent doing some gentle hikes in the area of White Cloud, Michigan based out of the Birch Grove Schoolhouse. After the hiking is done those that are up for it spend a few more happy hours enjoying fantastic food that has been prepared by diligent volunteers of the chapter.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

An Autumn Paddle

On Monday Steve and I put together our Pakboat Puffins to do a paddle along the Huron River. We were going to paddle the stretch between Flook Dam on Portage Lake down to Delhi. I have paddled a this section a few times in the past but not in the past few years. It features a few rifles and perhaps one small rapids though even that rapid is tiny especially when water is low. Another nice feature of this section, and why I had paddled it before with other friends, is the canoe campsite about 40 minutes down stream. Steve and I had no plans on stopping there. We were just out for the day to paddle and, with luck, enjoy cider at Dexter Cider Mill. We were not quite sure how long the paddle would be - we figured between four and six hours depending on how lazy we were about things. We had plenty of time so being lazy was definitely an option.

It was a glorious Fall day with just a few clouds adding texture to the blue sky. In the sun it was pleasantly warm. We set out just before noon and made the quick portage across the dam to start our paddle. We did not think we would see anyone on the river after leaving the boat landing and we were right. But we made up for the lack of people encountered by spotting numerous turtles, 3 osprey, a heron, and naturally numerous fish in the very clear water. The trees were beginning to show their fall colors, various birds besides what Steve spied were out and about calling to each other, and once in a while you would hear a croak of a frog.

We would eventually see one kayaker and late in the day a couple canoeing a small portion of the river. One fisherman out late in the day perhaps hoping to catch something as the afternoon waned. All in all, we were pretty much alone.

Overall the paddle would take us a little more than four hours. We paused for an hour at the Dexter Cider Mill to have lunch. The cider mill was closed but the pizza and sub shop across the street was open and although it took a bit longer to get our food than we thought it would the hot subs made a welcome lunch. To add a bit of excitement to that break I found that I had to re-assemble my Puffin a bit. The Pakboat Puffin is a folding kayak. It's probably better to say assemble-able kayak. You have a skin, I don't recall what the material is called now but it is tough, and their are several metal struts and ribs. You insert the long struts and ribs to create the kayak, fill the air tubes - sponsons - to increase floatation and stability, put on the spray deck, and you have a kayak that is quite serviceable in rivers and sheltered bays (I'd not use it in big open water). Pakboat is known for their folding canoes that are often used to paddle wilderness rivers so they have a good reputation and the Puffin 12 foot kayak is a tough boat. Steve has a similar boat, the Puffin Sport. I had a rib pop out on me at the lunch break. It probably happened when I got out of the boat, pushing down on the boat as I stood up. It's easy enough to fix but I had to first remove the spray deck, deflate the sponsons, and then reset the rib. Once that was done my Puffin was good as new.

One other aspect worth noting about skin-on-frame boats is that when you bump a rock you really feel it. Sadly I bumped more than a few rocks along the way. I'll probably never be a big whitewater paddler as I can't read the water from a distance. But then when the water is low even a sighted fellow like Steve will bump a rock now and then too. I can't swear to it but I suspect I have a sore spot on my rear because of the few rocks I bumped.

We had a very good day. We spent a few good hours paddling on the water and the time spent setting up Steve's motorcycle so he could ride back to the truck and then return to fetch me and his boat wasn't all that long. I since have taken a look at a map of the area and it looks like we may have paddled around 12 miles, perhaps closer to 13 miles. I was surprised by this and it makes me feel better about the sore thighs and butt.

One last little note about the photos taken on this trip. I used my iPhone 4 to take the pictures. I had put the phone inside an Aquapac bag which has an optically clear section of plastic that you can shoot through. They call it "optically clear" but unless you manage to keep things clean you are going to have slightly blurrier images than you would shooting with a naked lens. However, having the phone in the waterproof bag is definitely worth the price of slightly less clear photos.

Posted via email from Ken Knight's posterous

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Hidden Lake Garden Walk

Comment: The Ann Arbor Walks hike for August 2, 2010.

Name: Track 020-Hidden Lake Garden, Tipton,MI
Date: Aug 2, 2010 11:19 am
(valid until Mar 20, 2010) Google Map
Distance: 13.2 kilometers
Elapsed Time: 2:47:09
Avg Speed: 4.7 km/h
Max Speed: 7.9 km/h
Avg Pace: 12' 41" per km
Min Altitude: 287 m
Max Altitude: 315 m
Start Time: 2010-08-02T15:19:08Z
Start Location: Zone: 16T
Easting: 739181mE
Northing: 4657154mN
End Location: Zone: 16T
Easting: 739191mE
Northing: 4657121mN

Learn more about our group here at the meetup site.

Hidden Lake Gardens, located near Tipton, Michigan is a new place for me. It boasts at least 5 miles of woods trails that also spend a bit of time weaving through prairie-like glades. There is also a several mile drive you can walk or, obviously, drive that affords the visitor many expansive views that put one in mind of a golf course without the annoyances that golfers would pose. Steve organized the hike for the Ann Arbor Walks group and I along with Patti and Lynn joined him for this gentle ramble.

Sent from my iPhone

Posted via email from Ken Knight's posterous

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Maker Faire: Detroit 2010

The Maker Faire has come to Dearborn, Michigan. This is, as far as I know, the first time this fair(e) of do-it-yourselfers who love to build mechanical and electrical and all sorts of other things has left the San Francisco Bay area. Makers are people who like to build things, to tinker with hardware, make robots, bild air launching marshmellow shooters, design and fabricate Rube Goldberg machines of considerably size, and so much more. Their is a sense of overwhelming creativity and a desire to affect the word that permeates the whole event. Not only can you see and sometimes interact with the things being shown off but you can learn how to build your own devices too.

I joined my friends Lar and Marla with their baby Andrew to spend a part of Saturday at the Maker Faire. We just wanted to wander around and see what we could see and we were not disappointed. Seing people create interesting and sometimes unusual or quirky things is just plain fun. You have to smile when you see are blue car covered in a couple hundred robotic fish and lobster that are all wired into the vehicle's electrical system and do strange things at the behest of the driver. Or you can find yourself watching a group of people in fire suits working with fresh molten metal. I wish my battery had not long since died because filming those people pouring molten metal from a hand cauldron that required six of them to shift and pour into molds. I wonder what they were going to do with that molten metal. Of course, seeing strange vehicles like Big Dog (or is it Dawg) which is a four-person bike with flame throwers that fire flames several feet up into the air; or, the seven or so person multi-wheel bike that has people sitting in a circle each pedaling to propel the bike with one person steering. I got to ride that and it was fun. That was built by one father who built three of these bikes that people could pedal around the fair. I wish I could have tried the two-wheel bike that looked like a hamster wheel with a person sitting recumbent style pedaling away. On the other hand the monocycle motobike look terrifying and I don't think anyone who didn't already have extensive motorcycle experience should give that thing a shot though the guy I saw driving it wasn't even wearing a helmet.

Some people clearly have a sense of whimsy. The fellow who had the idea to build a swing with a fountain falls into this group. I got to try this one out. As you swing back and forth the fountain would throw water as any good fountain does but as you approached the low-point of your swing the fountain would stop and you would not, usually anyway, get wet. I guess the timing was a bit off because I did get somewhat damp though hardly soaked. The fellow I talked with just had the idea to do this and got friends together to help him build the swing set, fountain, and sensors that controlled the spray (using the angle of the swinger to tell when to turn things on and off). That was fun.

We had a great time exploring and seeing what things people built. The biofeedback based flame thrower from Canada was interesting. The Power Racing Series was intriguing especially when you realize that those little electric kid sized cars are only meant to hold about 120-130 pounds and these builders are souping them up for adults to race. I wish I had tried one out. Then, of course, their are the great machines like the life-size Mouse Trap modeled directly off the old game that you probably played with as a kid. This trap was built to crush a car. They needed five days to assemble the cranes, gantries, stairs, trebuchet, cast-iron bathtub, and two-ton weight that would crush the van. They would fire this thing off a few time during the day and the Astro van was looking pretty smutted when I got to see it. This is a machine that required a dedicated person with passion to design and build. That's impressive when you learn this has been in development for years.

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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

TGO Challenge Day 14: May 27, 2010 - Stonehaven and Montrose

It rained a bit during the night but it wasn't enough to really bother anyone. I think I was irritated more by the light that was shining into my shelter. I also spent a stupidly long time finding my way back to my campsite after visiting the bathroom. Annoying. By the time morning came with overcast skies and humid air. We packed up our dew coated shelters and left the caravan campground a bit past 08:30.

Photo: Nicolas and Jeroen hiking down a dirt road. Our last day together would start out with a several kilometer road walk then feature a dozen or so kilometers within the Fetteresso Forest, and I'd top it off with another ten or so clicks on a busy paved road. While the paths in the Fetteresso are often not the prettiest and the forest is clearly a working forest it is still a nice place.

The first few miles of the walk towards the sea today were on roads. The roads were not that busy which made it tolerable.. We found that we were able to cover the 7 or so kilometers to the northern edge of Pitreadie Farm near Moss-side where we took a break before beginning the lengthy crossing of the big fields that are home to numerous cows. It was starting to cloud over and what I thought was going to be a scorcher of a day was turning out not to be so bad. I pulled ahead of my companions who were taking a longer rest to get a break from their massive packs. I strolled along the wide farm path near large colorful cattle who sometimes seemed to care I was moving by and sometimes seemed to barely register my presence. I am basing this pretty much entirely on the quality and volume of the moos that some let loose as I went by. Perhaps that doesn't count for much. I am happy none really moved towards me though some definitely did look my way. At the southern edge of the farm field I found a locked gate and the only way over was to climb over a barbed wire fence. This happens now and then and I find it really annoying. The wire is just a pain to deal with especially as you worry about cutting yourself. Nicolas and Jeroen caught up to me at this point.

We quickly entered the Fetteresso Forest. We ascended through the managed forest paths as the weateher got blustery and we put our rain gear on. The paths in the forest here run from forest road to very narrow, the width of a bike tire it seems, and it can be confusing at times. You need to pay closer attention to how many intersections you have passed so you can properly place yourself on a map. If you are not used to this sort of thing the Fetteresso can be daunting but I think Nicolas had no real issues with the forest. Our biggest complaint was that the really narrow paths were often a flooded mess. But even though sometimes the going was a bit slow we made fine progress through the various types of paths and tracks. That is perhaps the single most notable thing about the Fetteresso Forest: the variety of path types. One moment you can be walking a hiking/biking trail and the next passing by a huge stack of cut timber on a logging road. This is a working forest more akin to something you might find in the Hundred Mile Wilderness (not!) than a large forest that is just allowed to grow as it would. ''In early afternoon we pass by the southern edge of Hill of Hobseat and that is about when it really clouded over and subsequently began to pour - not far from Mergie.

Photo: The Fetteresso Forest mixes wide and narrow paths with forest roads. It can be a confusing place if you do not pay attention to the map and check your location often. However, it shouldn't be feared. One thing that is notable about this working forest is that the forest itself is really quite inpenetrable beyond the paths.

Nicolas and Jeroen decided that they were done for the day. Jeroen's back was acting up so pushing on the remaining several miles to Stonehaven was not in the cards. I was unwilling to set up camp so early especially since it was dumping rain. I decided to continue on. From Mergie you have a couple of options of how you head to Stonehaven. The minor roads probably require a bit more hiking and you have a wretched highway crossing unless you walk a way north to Slug road and cross the highway using the overpass. Walking down Slug road is shorter but a slog along a far busier, though it is just one lane in each direction, road. I took the latter route and just had to pay a bit more attention to the fast traffic, especially trucks, as they zoomed on by. I walked through the rain wishing it would stop. I gaze out across the road and through the inhabited farm fields and waited for the rain to subside. Eventually it did and I just had to worry about getting splashed.

I spent about 2.5 hours walking down SLug road towards Stonehaven. As I entered the town the sun broke out and warmed things back up and I felt as though I was ending my walk on a high note. Sure I had no idea where the train station was and I was even in a bit of doubt as to where the sea actually was but I had made it. I was done. I found the huge hotel in the heart of downtown and eventually figured out I had walked right by the train station. Once I figured out where things were it was a fairly easy matter to catch a train to Montrose and find my way , with an able assist from both Challenge Control and a store owner on High Street, to the Park Hotel. I entered Control around 20:00 and was welcomed by Robin. My walk was done. The last tough bit of navigation to the George House was all that was left: turned out that was the worst part of the day. I went a bit astray a couple of times before finding the place. It's a nice enough hotel though my bed feels a bit lumpy.

* * *

I was right that my bed was lumpy. I think it might have had a tilt in it as well. Considering that I was paying for this room I think the bed should have been more comfortable than it was (though it was hardly the worst I have ever slept on; that award probably still belongs to The Doyle or that horrid place in Anchorage that Joe and I used one night). However, the rest of the room and the breakfast were good. At breakfast I found Louise Kiernan and the rest of her family group along with Barbara Peers. We didn't have much of a chance to talk as they were getting ready to depart and I was in the midst of a cooling breakfast.

I checked out and wandered over to the Park Hotel and Challenge Control under a sunny sky. It was going to be a good final day for the last walkers to enter Montrose and check in. I had a couple things to pick up at Control that I had forgotten to fetch yesterday and once that was done I just hung out. Challenge Control can be a beehive of activity when all of the Challengers are out and I reckon it is even busier when scores of walkers are arriving. But today, Friday the final day of the Challenge, it wasn't too busy. People trickled in and signed out and were presented with the same goodies I had received the night before. I was waiting for Nocolas and Jeroen to arrive. I knew they were on their way and it was just a matter of time before they strolled in. That time eventually came and I got to congratulate them on completing their walk. That is pretty much how the day went. Chatting with people who had just arrived, others who were hanging out like me, and just killing time. Most of us were wiping out the day until the final Challenge dinner. I had decided that I would stay for the , somewhat overpriced I think, meal and catch the last train to Glasgow. Had I planned things better I'd have cancelled my room in Glasgow and stuck around Friday night so I could have the full enjoyment of the dinner and the afterglow that would surely take place afterwards. Oh well. While I enjoy the company and the speeches from people like Roger Smith are fun the food the Park Hotel provides for your £17.50 is so-so.

Location: Stonehaven and Montrose

-- Post From My iPad

Sunday, June 20, 2010

TGO Challenge Day 13: May 26, 2010 - Waulkmill Campground

The biggest difference between a hotel and a B&B has to be in the food they offer you at breakfast. I had a great room that simply based on the number of people it could sleep would probably cost an arm and a leg in some places but the choices I had for breakfast were meager compared to any of the B&Bs I stayed at. It was a simple Continental style breakfast with small cereal boxes of various cereals with a small plastic bottle of milk suitable for a bowl or two and that was about it. I joined Nicolas and Jeroen and we ate our small breakfasts together. A regular cooked breakfast definitely is leaps and bounds better but I suppose we could argue that this cereal breakfast is much more akin to what most of us have on the trail. It's just that when you spend good money for a room you want to end with a good meal too.

I decided that I was going to buy the Paramo Qito jacket the night before and so while Nicolas and I went to the outfitter so I could make the purchase and he could check on a couple things Jeroen visited the grocery to get a bit more food. When we met up a little later it was edging past 09:20. It was clear and the day was warming up nicely. We gathered our gaar and set out for the primarily road walking of the day.

Photo: Even a road walk can be pretty when you cross rivers like this. Granted this was the only water we would see today but the point is still valid.

We started out walking along fairly quiet roads that would take us in and out of small woods and past farm fields. It was easy walking through what I would classify as rural lands not unlike places in farm country you can find almost anywhere. It was easy going and as we walked we chatted about the events that had lead to this point and other things that you talk about during a lazy walk. Soon we found we had worked our way, via back roads, a few miles and we saw a couple other Challengers coming down the road. The couple were Lou and Phyllis LaBorwit. They were taking a more direct route to get where they were going. We walked together for a short time but soon we had to go our way and they went theirs. Soon clouds took over the sky and it started to spit just a little bit. Just enough that we felt we ought to put our raingear on. That gave me a chance to try out my new Paramo Qito.

Photo: I look spiffy in my new jacket. It was particularly good at keeping me comfortable when the wind picked up on this slightly cooler afternoon.

We paused at the top of a hill in Slewdrum Forest near Muckle Ord. It would be our last break of the day as we just had to walk down the gentle, though seemingly endless, hill to the Waulkmill Campground. It was early afternoon and seemed too early to stop but that was just what we did. We found our patch of grass by some picnic tables to set up our camp. That is what we got for our £9.00. Sure we got access to a bathroom and showers but it really isn't that much when you think about it. Of course perhaps I would have felt differently if I had felt like using the shower as Jeroen would do but I don't think so.

There is a restaurant next to the campground. I am not sure of its name though I heard it said several times. Nicolas and I went in there while Jeroen decided to take a nap. It was mid-afternoon and a few people and a dog were at this surprisingly large inn. We settled in for some tea and later beer. It was a nice place to kill time which is precisely what we were doing. I later had dinner, pretty good, at this eatery. I think if we had shown up just a little earlier than we had we would have found some other Challengers. Instead it was just us and a few locals. Not a bad way to spend the afternoon and early evening. It is raining now as I write this under my Trailstar bathed in the rather glaring glow of a lamp near ground level that is shining too brightly into my shelter. Still I think I will sleep well enough as although there are many campers here I think most of them are empty.

Photo: Our camp in the RV campground. We have the range of shelters here from Nicolas' Akto through Jeroen's Tarptent to my Trailstar.

Location: Waulkmill Camoground

-- Post From My iPad

Thursday, June 17, 2010

TGO Challenge Day 12: May 25, 2010 - Aboyne

After a night's sleep that seemed to be over all to quickly I walked out of the Glenernan Guest House on a pleasant somewhat cloudy but not threatening morning. I found my way down to the old train station where teh Deeside Way runs and almost immediately found two backpackers with staggeringly large packs - two Challengers going my way. Nicolas and Jeroen are the two TGO Challengers from Belgium. Nicolas has done the Challenge several times and I fully expect he will be the first from his country to do ten crossings. Jeroen is on his first Challenge. They were going to walk the Deeside Way to Aboyne and since that was what I had decided to do I joined them. My plan before had been to climb Mt. Keen but I wimped out. It was probably really chilly up on that easternmost Munro anyway. The walk to Aboyne along the hike and bike path that runs near the Dee was going to be considerably shorter and clearly a lot easier as it would not rise to 3,000 feet but stay at the river's elevation.

Photo: Just one of the views from the former railroad grade that has now turned into a hiking and biking trail. It is an easy stroll between the two small river towns of Ballater and Aboyne.

It isn't the most exciting of walks you can do but the path is not a bad one and the scenery, what there is of it, isn't bad. Having the river for company a lot of the way helps out a lot. Nicolas is a talker and I found that we were able to chat about a fair bit quite easily. Now and then Jeroen would chime in but he was far less involved in the conversation perhaps because his english isn't as strong as Nicolas' but he could also be shy. We strolled down the former railroad track pausing a couple times for breaks and in fairly short order we found ourselves approaching the flooded areas of the path that are near Aboyne. We found our way to the outfitters where my companions wanted to check out some of the Paramo clothing for themselves and family members. I also took a good long look at some of the clothing as I had been hearing good things about items like the Qito rain jacket for a long time. The outfitters knew all about the Challenge and as we browsed they fed us tea. I would not be surprised if other Challengers pass through here and end up spending some money like all of us would end up doing. By the time we walked out of the store my Belgium companions had both purchased Paramo clothing and I was on the fence and tethering towards buying a Qito jacket it was mid-afternoon. We worked our way over to the Boat Inn which is a serious hotel and got ourselves rooms. Though the rooms are on the pricy side, especially for one person, they are well appointed coming with a kitchenette. I know other Challengers camped out not far from the hotel and I am also aware of a few Challengers who stayed in other guest houses in the area. I think we were the only ones though at the Boat Inn.

After a relaxing shower and a fine meal at the restaurant and a few congenial drinks shared with my new Belgium hiking buddies we went off to our respective rooms for a fairly early night's bedtime as the rains continued to come down in fits and starts.

Location: Aboyne (The Boat Inn)

-- Post From My iPad

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

TGO Challenge Day 11: May 24, 2010 - Ballater

I'm not sure exactly when I walked out the door of my B&B but it was after 09:00. The skies were overcast and it felt a bit blustery. I walked down the quiet road towards the forest that has paths that lead, among other places, past the Lion's Face rock formation. The woods here are full of nice paths and I began ascending the path I thought would take me where I needed to go. But I had gone the wrong way and as I gained elevation I realized I had made an error and was climbing Craag Choinnich. As I left the woods I noticed that the wind had picked up considerably and I donned my poncho more for wind protection than against the spitting rains. The view from the top of the peak was nice enough but it really was not worth the extra time and effort to get up there given the quality of the weather. However, on a nice day I think this must be a popular spot. I went back down and took a path that would take me out to the A93. I ended up popping out a lot sooner than I would have liked. The best path for avoiding the A93 turns out to be off to the right of where I was. Walking the busy road was not much fun but you do what you have to do.

Photo: The view from the Craag Choinnich. Definitely a windy morning up on this fairly exposed bit of rock above Braemar.

I crossed over the Invercauld Bridge into the Balloochbuie Forest and began heading towards Balmoral Castle. At this point the walking is all along forest service style roads. The roads in this managed forest are very well cared for. In fact I would pass by a road crew that was adding gravel to the road base and then flattening it down with a steam roller, what a huge racket that made. During part of this time walking under the now clear skies I hustled to keep up with another Challenger who set a pace I really could not keep up with over the long haul. We passed by the old cottage, with some aggressive dogs that I definitely would not trust, where two years back I realized I was going the wrong way (fortunately a path exists that leads, or used to, back towards Glas Alt Shiel and Gelder Shiel bothy). My hiking buddy had been hiking for a lot longer than I and decided to pause for a tea break. I kept going along the forest road alone.

Photos: We were still a little ways from the castle at Balmoral when we encountered these hairy horses and reddish brown cattle. The walk had been through managed forest up to this point where farm fields took over before coming to the castle and its immediate surrounds.

As I was photographing some rather hairy horses in fields not that far from Balmoral Castle my erstwhile partner caught up to me and we continued on towards the castle. We had hoped to see the castle but we couldn't get close to it without paying an entrance fee which we did not intend to do. We both thought there was a tea room we could get a drink at but if it was present I certainly did not see it (we had separated again by this point). It was time to head down the B road towards Ballater. This was a quiet road with infrequent traffic which made it tolerable. But it is a long walk.

Passing by the sign reading "Ballater 6" around 16:00 was a rather depressing event. It meant I still had 6 miles to go and I had thought I was a bit closer than that. I pushed on. I passed the old memorial to Queen Victoria and pushed on. I passed by some nice farms with huge fields and shaggy horses. Some had people working in them. I kept pushing on. I passed a sign telling me that Spital of Glenmuick was 7 miles away and continued on along the eastern bank of the river Dee. Traffic increased and at last I was crossing the bridge that would put me in the heart of Ballater - it was a bit pasted 18:00. If only I had known where the campground was I might have gone right there and camped out but instead I spent quite a bit of time tracking down a room. I ran into a few people, Challenters from prior years who recognized me, and learned from them of a possible place to stay. Turned out they were full but the lady who ran the place called another guest house and found that he had a room left. I walked over to that B&B (turned out to be farther away than I had thought though still only 5 minutes from the heart of the village) and found a welcoming B&B waiting for me (the Glenernan Guest House). Once I settled in I went down to the Alexandra where I had learned I could get a good meal and was likely to find other Challengers. The guest house owner was right on both counts.

I had a reasonably good steak though nothing special after enjoying a hard cider at the bar while waiting for a table. As I finished off my meal Mase, Paddy, and Jill who I had first met back at Stravaigers campground and bunkhouse in Fort Augustus came on by. They had already eaten but were hanging out enjoying the fine atmosphere of the place before returning to their campsite. I joined them and for the next few hours, until the staff told us it was time for them to close, we enjoyed each others company and shared a few good drinks. It was a great way to spend the night. I left them to return to the campground (never did figure out where it was) and I went back to my B&B. As I arrived I met the owner who was closing things up for the night. I hope I did not seem to drunk. I don't think I was. I'll sleep well.

Location: Ballater (near Glenernan B&B)

-- Post From My iPad

Monday, June 14, 2010

TGO Challenge Day 10: May 23, 2010 - Braemar

A good long night's sleep was just what my feet needed to recover from their prunish state. My shoes were still rather wet and my socks were not in the best of shape but my feet were happy once again. I had taken a lovely shower the night before (ah good water pressure and a normal sized towel that is provided by Mar Lodge, such a step up from a hostel bunkhouse) and I was ready for the day. I wandered out into the cool overcast morning and strolled over to the main building. That stroll yesterday felt like it took so much longer. Just goes to show what a good rest can do and the absense of pain doesn't hurt things either. My only concern was that I had left my rainwear in my room and it sure looked like it was going to open up on pour. I reached the main building before that happened. Finding a few other Challengers having cereal, toast, juice (none for me as it seemed to be gone) and coffee in the spacious kitchen I settled down to join them for a lazy breakfast. Had I a chance to do it again I would spend the extra couple pounds and get the full cooked breakfast even though Braemar is only a scant handful of klicks away. I was not in any great rush. When I did return to my room to pack up I found Jeremy, a first time Challenger who had started near his home village located not far from Torridon, also getting ready to depart. Just as we were set to leave the rains did arrive. It seemed silly to leave the dry warmth of the bunkhouse entrway and the reasonably comfortable couch for the pouring rain and a road walk into Braemar. After all the walk would only take an hour or two and the rain would probably pass by quickly. We waited. Our patience was rewarded in fairly short order and sometime around 10:00 we left the bunkhouse and began the 0.4 mile walk out of the grand Mar Lodge estate to the road that would take us into Braemar.

Photo: Stiles are rare over here. More often than not you have to figure out how to open up a gate in a fence and the locks seem to vary with every gate. Once in a while you might find a kissing gate that you simply have to squeeze through. Stiles like this are a nice change but they could be a bit better too. For example, they often seem short a step on each side - that is unless you are long-legged like Jeremy who took this photo.

We walked down the road until we came to the parking lot that gives one access to the paths in the Morrone Birkwoods. These paths wind around a small forest among hills that overlook Braemar. We entered the woods and soon found a large beaver dam amongst the forest tracks. It was a far better way to work our way towards the town than the direct but tedious road walk. We negotiated a couple fences and stiles and soon found our way to a great overlook. I am not actually sure what the name of this spot is though I am sure it is named and it is definitely popular.

Photo: I am not sure what the name of the lookout here is but the view on a clear day most be wonderful.

When we walked down into Braemar Jeremy and I split apart. He went to find the campground and I wandered into the tourist information office to see if a B&B was available. I found one and ended up paying a rather high price for it. This brings up a sore point with me. I understand paying a bit more for a double room (that is a room with a double bed) than a single but paying twice as much is excessive. What irks me a bit more is the way the room rate was explained lead me to think it was considerably less than it was and when this came up the lady behind the desk in her attempts to apologize ended up making me feel as though it was my fault. Annoying.

I found my B&B and then went back down to the Fife Arms to see who was around. I found a few Challengers present including Alan and Phil and SHirl (Sloman, Lambert, and Worrall) with a few others. We shared some drinks and then a game of team pool. The rules were a bit different from what I know and I almost made a couple mistakes like trying to make a shot using the other teams orange (we were red) balls to sink a red ball. Though Alan and I lost to Phil and SHirl we did not do badly. We all had fun. But all good things have to end and these three veteran Challengers had to get going to cover the kilometers to get to their next port of call - Callater Lodge I think for all of them. Once they left, it was mid-afternoon by this time, things seemed awfully dead. I had nothing to do.

Photo: A look at the quiet street my B&B is just off. It is a quiet early evening here in Braemar.

I know other Challengers were in town and you would think I would have been able to find them in the usual watering holes but I could not. I did not check out the hostel or campground and maybe they were all hanging out in those places. I ended up having a quiet bite at the nice chiipy shop (they always seem to have a horde of motorcycles parked in front) and then I went back to my B&B for the night. Even though I know at least two other Challengers are here, Lou and Phyllis, I haven't seen hide or hair of them. I guess I will just settle in for bed. I kind of wish I was elsewhere. It's too long in this town with no one to share time with and I feel as though I've spent too much money. I don't mind spending money if I get something good out of it in terms of time spent with others or finding something cool in the town but that isn't really happening this time around.

Location: Braemar

-- Post From My iPad

Sunday, June 13, 2010

TGO Challenge Day 9: May 22, 2010 - Mar Lodge

I was right my selected spot for camping was not quite flat. I found myself sliding now and then off my ideal spot and bumping the silnylon of my Trailstar. Since condensation was forming on the inside of the shelter, a normal problem with any single wall shelter especially when their is little wind blowing through to help whisk moisture away, the outer shell of my sleeping bag was moist too. Not wet just a bit damp. This is an issue anyone using single wall shelters has to deal with. People using double wall shelters deal with it too but the condensation is a bit farther away so you can be a bit more causual about dealing with it. Since the sun was out it was easy to dry things off. I was ready to leave camp around 08:40 not that long after Lou and Phyllis had finished pulling up their stakes and departing. I caught up to them right by the good stream at the old ruined shack (which, to be honest, I don't think I ever really saw this time). We forded the stream, got water, and then continued on our way. In this area the paths appear and vanish in the peat bog mire and we actually lost the path for a while and ended up following what is probably a sheep trail. It was a definite path but not one people would want to follow. We crept along for a few minutes and then noticed that the nice easy to walk path was a couple meters to our left and just above us. Even though it wasn't much above us it was a little scramble to get to it. It just shows that you can be practically on top of a far superior route and not realize it for the longest time.

Photo: Does it look scarier than it is? Yes, it does. Much of the walking today would be through the glen with very little elevation change. You need to head into the mountains.

When we crossed the metal bridge over the fast flowing River Eidart we slowly began to spread out. The temperature was rising steadily as we walked through the rolling hills. The skies did not stay blue through the whole day but the times that clouds took over did not last all that long. It was a very nice day to be walking the paths through Feshie even though as the day wore on I did feel a touch of sun or wind burn forming on my exposed arm. It was good to just walk along the paths and enjoy the good weather. A few times I found that I would have to pause and search for the path as it had temporarily vanished from view. One time this happened at a stream crossing in early afternoon right around when I was starting to feel pretty hungry. I paused to have lunch and as I was finishing two Challengers, the couple Lou, Phyllis and I had seen the previous afternoon, came on by. They had just talked with Lou and Phyllis and I learned they weren't that far behind me. I freely admit I took advantage of watching them depart and seeing which way they went to pick up the proper path once more.

Photo: in the early afternoon clouds chased each other across the sky but I never as if it was going to rain.

Eventually I found my way to the two-tracks that start near Geldie Lodge. Geldie Lodge is, like so many places, a bit misnamed. Once, years and years ago, it may have been used as lodging for the occasional shepherd but today it is just an empty shell. No lodging here. I must admit I find it a bit depressing to see the word "lodge" on a map and then find that you can't actually stay there. I'd rather it just said "ruin" and be done with it. Had I arrived earlier in the day and done some serious searching perhaps I could have found Alan and Phil's wine and cheese party but it was not to be. Instead I continued on my way through the modestly deep and very swift flowing water that was gushing across the road (and completely flooded my shoes) on down past the properly named, actually it might lack a name entirely and just have the building symbol which doesn't inspire any thoughts or feelings, ruined building at Ruigh nan Clach towards (the not white) White Bridge.

Photo: I'm fairly sure that sign wasn't there two years ago.

Two years ago, the 2008 TGO Challenge, I reached White Bridge a little after 17:00 and found a few people set up on the windy banks of the River Dee. I decided, along with Laura and Mary Ann, to go on to Mar Lodge where I lucked out and managed to get an apartment for myself instead of taking a room in the bunkhouse. This time I crossed the green colored White Bridge around 16:00 and found myself alone. I had seen quite a few cyclists the last few kilometers who were either out for a day of riding the good two-tracks or perhaps they were going to bike close to some of the peaks and then make summit attempts by foot. It was certainly a fine day for either; far better weather (even if a tad warm) than two years ago. I treated myself to a lazy break by the river before returning to the gravel track. I still had quite a ways to go if I wanted to spend the night at Mar Lodge.

The two-track here is rather dull. It is merely the means of getting from point A to B. Their is not much to draw your attention away from the squishing of your feet in your sodden shoes or the slowly increasing aching of your feet as your pound the hard surface towards the admittedly pretty forested area by Linn of Dee. When I got there I saw, and especially heard, plenty of signs of people out having a good time. I am not sure if anyone was in the water (it is a very fast river here and paddling it could be tough if you aren't experienced) but that hardly matters as it was clear people were out and about having fun. Last time through this way we saw no one. Perhaps because this time was a Saturday afternoon, around 17:30, instead of a slightly later Friday afternoon was all the difference that was needed but I think not. I decided to walk the roads towards the front entrance of Mar Lodge. I think this was a mistake. It is definitely a longer route than going via the back route past Claybookie. It could be a couple klicks longer. It certainly felt a lot longer to my feet. I was very happy to see the welcoming sign at the estate just a little before 19:00. As I strolled up to the massive main building I could hear the sounds of a bagpipe drifting across the estate as someone practiced his or her craft. I was able to get a bed in the bunkhouse and take part in the very nicely put together dinner. Their are quite a few Challengers here though after having dinner with the bulk of them I have only seen my roommates and even them just briefly. I am pooped and my prune-looking feet are crying for a nice dry rest. It has been a good day.

YouTube Video

Video: Much of this video was shot early in the day while still about 14km from White Bridge.

Location: Mar Lodge

-- Post From My iPad

Thursday, June 10, 2010

TGO Challenge Day 8: May 21, 2010 - Somewhere in Glen Feshie

The sliver of sunshine that has been peeking out through the masses of clouds has all but vanished and I think it will not be coming back tonight. It is about 21:30 and I have just left Lou and Phyllis to finish up their dinner at their solid blue Stephenson and returned to my screamingly yellow Mountain Laurel Designs Trailstar. This is a pretty nice camping spot even though I could have picked slightly less lumpy and sloped ground than I did. It has been a good day and I think it will be a good night even if I find myself sliding off my sleeping pad a fair bit.

I left the Allt Gynack B&B after a filling Scottish breakfast a little before 09:00. The mroning was bright and clear promising fine weather for the foreseeable future. I strolled through the quiet streets of Kingussie heading out of towards towards Ruthven Barracks. As I neared the old fort I saw Lou and Phyllis coming out from the place they had stayed the night before. They have the distinction of not only leading the American contingent of TGO Challengers in successful crossings, having done more than a dozen each, but also of being the oldest couple on the Challenge this year (81 and 78 respectively I believe). They're well liked by everyone and a whole slew of stories exist around them. They're good people and I was happy to join them for a while as we walked down the road past the old fort towards Tromie Bridge. I had thought I might pause at the barracks to get some additional photos and video but before I knew it it was receding into the background as I chatted with the venerable couple about the Challenge. At some point as we worked our way through the very much managed Baileguish forest I pulled ahead from Lou and Phyl and continued the easy walk through the woods and farm along the forest roads and farm track. The morning was passing easily and the weather was still quite fine. I was feeling in fine spirits as I came to the paved road that runs along the River Feshie's western bank. When I came to the lovely sign saying that I was at the last bridge crossing of the Feshie I had to make the sad decision to cross here instead of taking a chance and fording the river downstream by the bothy (which I thought might be possible and later learned definitely was possible as Vicky Allen did just that). I would get to experience new paths though which is a good thing. In fact, the path I was following was also new to Lou and Phyl.

Photo: Signs like this are definitely mire common than they were two years ago. Photo by Phyllis.

By this time the clouds had chased the sun away and the wind was picking up somewhat. Sounds of the river competed for my attention along with sounds of construction work. I am not quite sure what those fellows were doing but I'd not be surprised if it involved some type of bridge work. My narrow path took me inland and well up above the river below. It wasn't hard walking but it was a bit muddy. Then the path came to a gushing stream. If you have long legs and are confident crossing that fast flowing moderately deep stream would be easy work for you. It gave me pause and I had to pluck up my courage to go across. Fortunately as I was getting ready to cross, perhaps 30 or so minutes after arriving (I had a snack too) Lou and Phyl showed up as did a local fellow out for a day hike. He was of great help to Lou and Phyl ferrying their packs across for them. I had crossed by this time and together we continued along the narrow path, now and then it would come within feet of River Feshie, towards the bothy at Ruigh-aiteachain. We walked together to the bothy wading through one more stream (I should have removed my shoes for that one too) and passing by a group of cyclists out for a day of hill riding and then we were at the bothy just as it began to rain.

The rain did not last long and it gave us an excuse to sit inside briefly and have snacks and gaze at the map figuring out whether to go on or not. It was still rather early, barely 15:00 when we arrived. Lingering about was not a problem for any of us and when Vicky Allen showed up, having set up her tent a ways downstream (the best water source is at the bothy along with an actual privy) we lingered a bit longer still. But it was really too early to stop even though I did consider it as I was really hoping to get some photographs and shoot a bit of video of the local friendly horses if they decided to make an appearance (they did not, I wonder if Vicky saw them). Lou and Phyllis wanted to shave off some kilometers so they could get to Braemar at a reasonable hour tomorrow. I had no such ambitious plans but shortening the hiking the following day to either WHite Bridge or Mar Lodge was fine with me. We gathered our stuff up, said farewell to Vicky, and continued on our way - it was probably about 16:00 by this time.

The easy to follow path leaves the bothy following near the bank of the river heading along the course of the river until it reaches a series of landslides. Two years ago I along with some others took the tough way through these scree fields of very unstable rock taking a low route that was definitely far more trouble and potentially dnagerous than the proper higher up path Lou, Phyllis, and I would trod this time. As we approached the landslips we could see a couple people, we assumed Challengers, setting up camp down by the river's edge. I wonder if you stuck hard and fast to the river's edge if you could get around the landslides that way and just where does that path on the other side of the Feshie go. We picked our way across the scree and I think we all felt a sense of relief to get back onto more stable ground and continue on our way. At this point I decide to pull ahead of the others and see how far I would get before deciding to camp. We knew that decent spots existed not far from the old shell of a shepherd's shack near a stream a couple of miles beyond the landslide area and that was where, more or les, I think we all wanted to camp. Time was passing by as I worked my way along the good path up and around the bit just before Ruighe nan Leum (never did see the lower elevation route option that is on the map, and this is also about where I got plenty of extra water and then, I believe, left my Nalgene canteen). Finding a safe water crossing at Ruighe nan Leum took a bit of time but I managed to get across the rushing water without getting wet and I was proud of that. From there you climb a bit along a narrow path and head easterly with the Feshie vanishing from view below and to the south of you (but never very far away). I was now looking for good campsites even though I was reasonably sure I was within a couple klicks of the shepherd's shack. I was also ready to stop so when the large field on the southern side of the path with a rivulet of water just off to the north appeared I decided that it was time to stop and set up camp under the darkening angry looking skies. It was about 19:20.

YouTube Video

Video: Take a look at our campsite.

I wish I could just whip up my Trailstar and be done with it but it definitely takes me a while to get the pentagonal tarp set up reasonably well. I would like to say that is because I am a perfectionist but truth be told I am just slow. I've no doubt I can pitch my Stephenson or Henry Shires Tarptent Virga more quickly. But when the Trailstar is set up well it is a palace. It is also a beacon. I am sure Lou and Phyllis were able to see it from quite a ways off. They strolled into camp about an hour or so after I had arrived and was eating my hamberger wrap meal. Unlike me they had gotten a bit wet crossing the last great ford of the day even though they had stopped to put on their Drywalkers. Maybe, as Phyllis admitted ruefully, that was their undoing as they got a bit cocky. But no real damage was done except perhaps to their pride and I think we will all enjoy this quiet campsite in Glen Feshie.

Location: Camped in Glen Feshie (NN 893 888)

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

TGO Challenge Day 7: May 20, 2010 - Kingussie

Photos: The motto on the gate and the clan memorial in the woods near Mains of Glen Truim.

This was a slow day to get going. I was up early enough and eating breakfast in the hotel around 08:20 but I had a visit in Laggan to make to get something checked out and that slowed things down. The visit with the local GP went as I expected and I confirmed what I pretty much already believed about what was bugging me. But it was good to have confirmation by the doc. I must say I was quite pleased with the quality of service rendered. I just went into the clinic during the office hour (I was run down there by the hotel manageress) and quickly seen. The check-up was efficient and felt thorough. THe doc gave me good information and I left feeling comforted that while this annoying problem is a problem it isn't serious, just annoying. Enough said on that score. Upshot: I wasn't really walking towards Kingussie until a little past 10:00 under overcast skies.

Photo: Looking out tom the memorial, southernly I believe, it is not the most pleasant of mornings but it could be worse. It is just that in 2008 it was sunny.

Photo: Lunchtime for some. The most active animal shot I got the whole trip. This was shot from the bike path between Newtonmore and Kingussie.

Photo: Chris Wright managed to capture this bird in the farm field. Anyone know what irpt is?

My plan was to hike through Glen Truim along the minor roads past Mains of GLen t and then take the nice dirt paths via Phones towards Ruthven Barracks and into Kingussie. The same route I had done back in 2008 and a route I personally think, especially the latter portion, is quite pretty. The minor roads aren't bad and as long as you make the turn at the right place you will have no trouble finding your way through to the highway by the RV (caravan) campground and then onto the dirt paths that lead you past Phones and beyond. This time I didn't have the benefit of a history lesson from Vicky at the memorial site for a locall clan, can't think their name, but that was OK. I continued on my way through the small woods, most I'd really seen up to this point, and then poof I was at the highway. I found Chris and Ian there and I decided to change my plans and hike with them along the old road via Newtonmore and then into Kingussie. It is perhaps a couple kilometers shorter but a less interesting and certainly less pretty walk. However, the lack of scenery is made up for by the enjoyable conversation we shared as we plodded along the shoulder of the road and later along a bike path. I never did see the colvert I used two years ago to cross the highway. I learned later from Vicky , she had seen us heading off toads Newtonmore, that it was smaller than I remembered (she had gone via Phones). The three of us stopped in Newtonmore for a drink at a pub, how can they not serve food throughout the afternoon, and wiled way a good hour in the strip town. We did not see any reason to rush. A couple hours later, call it late afternoon, we were strolling into the heart of Kingussie and wondering where other Challengers were at. Kingussie seems like a busy town which is a blessing and curse. You know other Challengers are about but you've no idea where they are. It is easy to feel isolated amongst all the people. I know I felt a touch of that. In 2008 their seemed to be hordes of us present at the bar at the Tipsy Laird but this time I saw just a smattering (three, to be precise). Surely other Challengers were about but I've no notion where. I'm just as glad that I arrived a bit after 17:00 and lingered over my shower and settling down in my B&B (the Allt Gynack Guest House) rather than having had a long afternoon with little to do but laundry.

Location: Kingussie

-- Post From My iPad

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

TGO Challenge Day 6: May 19, 2010 - Monadhliath Hotel, Laggan

This has been a short day, perhaps the shortest of the entire Challenge. I could have walked all the way to Kingussie and been wiped out, but what would I have gained. A short stroll, pretty much all along roads except for a small bit on farm paths not far outside Laggan, and a lazy afternoon at the hotel is just fine by me. Many probably go on farther and use the caravan (RV) campground in Glen Truim near the highway and have a short trek into Kingussie the next day but that seems a bit silly to me. I am glad I have done what I have and I would encourage others to think strongly about the same approach if they intend to end up in Kingussie or thereabouts anyway.

It was a nice enough morning when I set out from the bothy and I was soon striding easily down the tarmac road towards Garva Bridge. I did not expect to find anyone there when I arrived and I was not disappointed. Strolling past the farms along the quiet road went easily enough though it seemed to drag a bit as time wore on. I think I covered the 6 or so kilometers to Garva Bridge in a little over an hour while the next dozen or so took, seemingly, much more than twice that long. The scenery in this area is not that compelling until you come to the River Spey. At the river it gets a bit nicer but you are still pretty much road walking and so I can't get that worked up about it. However, there appear to be some nice camp spots along the river and I could imagine using them under the right circumstances. I did see a few poeple out and about by the riverbank.

Photo: the nicest part of the ealk today is the stretch along the River Spey. It is along the paved road but the river makes it nicer. I saw one big tent pitched.

Walking the farm paths that are mapped out on a small sign noting the paths about Laggan is a change from the road walking but to be brutally honest it really is just a path through farm fields. I suspect their are some nicer paths around but they would take you well out of your way. Just march through the farm path and be done with it. You have some more road walking, this time on a busier road that runs right into Laggan, but it isn't too terribly long and I didn't worry about the traffic.

Photo: My Mountain Laurel Designs Trailstar pitched in the ruins of the old church. I was the only one camped here. The hotel was full of Challengers.

Sometime around 13:00 on a warm sunny afternoon I strolled into the courtyard of the Monadhliath Hotel. I found people sitting at picnic tables enjoying a bite to eat and a drink. I joined them and we talked about our respective Challenge walks and what was coming up next. I asked if any vacancies were available, turned out the sign lied, none were. I wandered over to the bunkhouse down the road and found out they were full of a school group too. That was a surprise. At that point I certainly could have packed up and moved on but as I noted before I just didn't see the point in getting to Kingussie super early when a good place with interesting people was here and I had access to a very nice camping spot. The owners of the hotel will let you camp in the ruins of the old church and that is what I elected to do. I set up my canary yellow Trailstar and then settled down for a quiet afternoon in the hotel bar to chat with the folks who came on by. They included Alan Sloman and Phil Lambert; Chris and Ian Wright; Lou and Phyllis La Borwit; and a few others. Easy conversation amongst people all taking part in the same endeavor: great fun.

My only small complaint and it really is a niggling one is that the active farm next door to the church ruin is noisy. The animals certainly rise early and make enough noise to disturb ones sleep. But that's really a small gripe and I would definitely not want to discourage anyone from camping at the hotel.

Location: Vicinity of Monadhliath Hotel, Laggan

-- Post From My iPad

Monday, June 7, 2010

TGO Challenge Day 5: May 18, 2010 - Melgarve Bothy

Oh boy did I get up early today. I was puttering around my room around 05:00 knowing that additional sleep was out of the question. At 06:00 I took myself to the break room / kitchen and settled down for a rip roaring breakfast of cereal and tea. That's the food component of your £20 bill at this hostel. Like most hostels they give you the basic basics which means you had better have your own towel and soap if you plan to use the shower. A camp towel is a poor substitute for a proper bath towel but I did my best with it even though I had a good shower the day before at Mamar. No one else was up. I ate alone and sometime around 07:20 I packed up my gear and stepped out into the pleasant morning air to begin the walk of the day.

Photo: Crossing Ardachy Bridge over what might rank as one of the more lushly shrouded streams I've seen so far. The stroll through the woods to this point was nice enough and if I were to do it again I'd probably make a point of checking out the Loch Ness viewpoint that was noted on a sign I'd seen earlier.

Photo: I'm pretty sure this sign wasn't around two years ago. Signs like this have been popping up in more places and I think it is a good thing. They clue you in that you're on the right path without coming close to overwhelming you which I think is a fear some people have.

Getting to the meat of the walk, the Coreiyarairack Pass, requires first getting to the old General Wade Military Road. I later would learn of a shortcut but at the time I walked out of the hostel to the right following the road around past farm fields with active animals searching for a sign that would point me to Ardachy Bridge. It took longer than I thought it would and as you might expect I went a bit slower trying to figure out if I was going the right way. It felt like I was making a great circle and that I would have been better off going back to Station Road and going out of town that way through the old burial ground. But eventually I came to Ardachy Bridge and that was my first sure sign I was doing alright. Down to the right I kept going. And Going. And going. When I came to the spot where the path to the Pass starts I actually did recognize it for what it was but dismissed it as being wrong for reasons I can't explain. I went a little farther down the road before deciding that path had to be right after all. As I approached it a group of cyclists came to meet me. They had done the TGO Challenge a couple years back and decided that cycling across the Highlands would be more fun. Taking a bike over the Pass must be tough work. It is steep in places, very gravelly, completely washed out in other locations, and therefore probably just plain tiring. Sure when they can ride I bet they fly but pushing a bike uphill that is loaded with gear has to be a real chore. They seemed a happy bunch though and knew what they were in for (unlike a solo rider who came by later in the day). When I have a chance it is going to be interesting trying to figure out just how far I walked to reach the entrance to the old military road. Once you are on that road there is really just one spot you could make a mistake. I had that spot marked as a GPS waypoint and that helped keep me from messing up. I climbed the gravel road in the nice morning air. It was partly sunny at this point. I felt reasonably good about things. The real hard part, after the bridge crossing by the waterfall just before the bunker, was still a ways off. When I got there, late morning under more windy skies, I found a few others already present. This is a great spot to get water before the serious climbing of the next 3 or so kilometers begins. I got water and chatted a bit with the others before we spread out once more on the assault of the Corieyairack Pass.

Photo: Near the start of the walk along the old General Wade Military road. You can just see the town below and unless I'm totally out to lunch that is a bit, a small southernmost bit, of Loch Ness. As the morning moved along the blue skies were slowly displaced by a heavier overcast and winds.

It is a tiring climb. At least it is for me. I know some Challengers, like a few who zipped by me, zoom across barely seeming to show the strain but I huff and puff my way up. I paused a few times to catch my breath and gaze at the patches of snow I could see off in the distance. Two years ago I actually walked by a patch of snow or two and I wondered if I would do so this time as well. Two years ago the crossing of the pass was done under a blazing sun; this time it was overcast and windy. Having an afternoon snack in the lee of the workers shack at the top with another Challenger was a nice respite from the wind.

Photo: Snow spotted a little before 13:00. I would pause for a snack not long after I shot this image. The wind had picked up and finding a slightly sheltered spot for a bite to eat was a good excuse for a break during the several kilometer climb of several hundred meters to the top of the pass. Unlike two years ago I would not walk by any patches of snow.

By now it was early afternoon and I had been on the move for several hours. That brings me down a bit when I see people catching up to me who I know have left two hours and more after I have or come across folks who maybe left as early as I but have covered substantially more ground than I and done so under tougher conditions. But that is just the way it will always be. A case in point: the descent off the pass is wretched. The old military road is destroyed up there. Impossible to walk upon because it it so fractured and frequently has water flowing through the spaces between the shattered rocks. Your only option, shared by countless others, is to walk the dip rich grass ridge on the edge of the track. For me that is slow going. For most everyone else it is a straightforward descent that might be hard on the knees but that is all. From the pass you have somewhere around 11 kilometers to go before reaching Melgarve bothy and I am certain many cover that stretch in considerably less than two hours. I picked my way down the mountain slopes sometimes on the track and sometimes on the rumpled grass towards the bothy in something a bit closer to three hours I think. It was a little past 17:00 when I arrived and I had left the workers cabin somewhat before 15:00.

Photo: The bothy is just beyond those trees in the distance. As you can see Challengers are walking the path on the grass instead of the rough stones of the old military road. But walking the verge isn't dead easy as it is full if humps and bumps to trip you up.

Many people were settling down at the bothy for the night. After all the next day, for many, would be a short one with a stay at the Monadhliath Hotel or thereabouts. The walking to there is dead easy though foot tiring as it is on gentle paved roads for the most part (the paths about Laggan only consume a small bit). Some were merely pausing to have a bite before going a little farther to Garva Bridge but those folks were hoping to get closer to Kingussie or Newtonmore the next day. I figured since I was not going to reach Kingussie the next day that a lazy day in Laggan was fine. Besides my walking day was ten hours old by this point. Sure it had its share of breaks but I was happy to be done. Cnversations here are enjoyable and the company is pleasant. I think I'll try sleeping in the bothy this time around.

Photo: Mase of (UK Mase) is heating up water on his Bushbuddy Ultra wood burning stove. I like the romantic idea of cooking on wood and in certain cases wood is definitely a very good choice but for me finding the fuel throughout the day as I walk seems problematic.

Location: Melgarve Bothy

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