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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