The road to Ben Nevis Nov 2009

The road to Ben Nevis Nov 2009
The road to Ben Nevis Nov 2009

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Thursday, 21 June 2018

TGO Challenge 2018 - Oban to Kinnabaer: #2 from Glen Etive

The map shows the route tracked from 30 minute beacons sent by a Spot satellite tracker and captured by Phil Sorrell's Social Hiking site.

  Push and pull the map in the window below to see the route in blue.

This is day 3 - there is light rain, and clouds obscure the top of Ben Starav, but in the the 3 or 4 hours it takes to get there this disperses leaving clear views all the way the the hills of Mull in the West. Snow on the northern slopes glisten in the sunshine.

At the start of the day I was pleased to know that there was just 14 kilometers of ground to cover. Now, at one o'clock, I was dismayed by the realisation that I had only covered 3 km on the ground and 1000m in elevation in almost 4 hours. The ridge ahead twists and turns into the distance with the planned camp spot beyond the furthest mountain on the horizon seeming a challenging distance away.
Planning and resolve does not compensate for fitness and not for the first or last time do I regret my lack of preparation. A walk can be more enjoyable if it is relaxed and done at a level somewhat lower than capabilities allow.
Looking back to Ben Starav
The ridge heading eastwards with camp spot by the far horizon

There is always some up-and-down along a ridge and without much mountain walking practice I was finding this exhausting, so I was pleased to agree with myself to stop a bealach early. Below Stob Coire Albannaich is a wide area with plenty of water and some flat land.
Orientating of the tent can be difficult in a high pitch - the back should face the wind, but on a  bealach this often comes from all directions as it is deflected from nearby cliffs. Here was no exception, but fortunately the problem disappeared and the wind dropped as it became dark.

The dead grass has patterns - like runnels or routes between small holes in the ground. I've seen these before in Norway during a 'lemming year'. I wonder if they were made by this animal or another last year and now abandonded?

After a quiet night I resume my walk along the ridge disturbing a few ptarmigan on the way. The end is marked by Stob Ghabar with a scree run down to a corrie between this and Stob a'Choire Odhair from which there's a great path down to the valley.
From summit of Stob Ghabar
Stob a'Choire Odhair from Stob Ghabar
Having met a few people on the way up I'm in a reflective trance as I descend and, much too late, I realise I have gone a long way past the point at which the path heads down from the ridge, so I miss my last munro of the day. There's a rough but not difficult descent to join the path in the valley and then a long but easy walk to the Inveroran Hotel.

Victoria Bridge, a short way before the hotel, is a favourite camp spot for those walking the West Highland Way and at 4pm there are already a few tents pitched. More walkers are heading that way as I order my drink at the hotel and collect a food parcel. The hotel was fully booked when I contacted them earlier in the year and there's been no cancellations so I need to camp.
The WHW walkers is a mixed crowd, with different behaviours and expectations from 'wild camping' - for example the group I donated my extra food to had their bags carried for them from their previous stop and were loading up with beer and cocktails before investigating the campsite. Rather than move back to Victoria Bridge, I head on to find somewhere by the Loch Tulla. There's not many opportunities but I do find a spot where I can enjoy the bird life on the water in peace. 

A short distance along the road is Bridge of Orchy where I find more WHWers starting their day. As I pass under the railway the sleeper train from London draws in. My route goes into the hills behind the station and suddenly I am alone again on the trail.
WHW campers at Bridge of Orchy

Looking west over Bridge of Orchy to Stob Ghabar
My plan has a long contour around to the ridge upto Beinn Achaladair. It is so easy to plan, but often painful to walk on such a traverse.  Slow going, painful on the feet it was a long time before I got to the start of the ridge.

Day 4 Summit in the mist
The top was in cloud all day, so no views and the compass was needed to navigate down from Beinn a' Chreachain. I had determined to visit the ancient monument Tigh nam Bodach - but without knowing what I was looking for I needed the GPS to locate it - requiring a bit of backtracking.  "The house was the home of the Cailleach (Mother Goddess), the Bodach (old Man) and the smaller Nighean (the Daughter), while two smaller children remained inside the house. The Creator Goddess only lived in her house from May 1 to October 30, from Beltane to Halloween, the Celtic festivals that mark the beginning and end of summer."
Tigh nam Bodach

After 8 hours I have traveled just half the distance on my plan and some drastic countermeasure is required. Forgetting the rest of the hills for the afternoon and those on the plan for the next morning I follow the track along Loch Lyon and then the road to my FWA camp spot. The track is well made and busy with ewes and their and lambs which provide continuing interest.
At the east end of Loch Lyon - Pubil

It is evening when I reach Pubil and the road. Here I find Sandy Millar nodding off in his distictive tent, a red Laser Competition. A short chat reveals a couple of other TGOers on the far side of the river.  My planned camp spot is 3.5km further on and I head off down the Glen seemingly absent of people, but full of sheep. 

Ready to drop, I reach the bridge across to where I hope to camp - to be confronted by a sign "Strictly No Camping". Too knackered to take notice I sneak over and put my tent up. I am on the edge of a small plantation which looks in poor condition and with a large dead deer lying just by the fence, it seems far from the nature reserve implied by the sign.
The fine weather continues the next day and I set off around 8, following another TGOer who I saw powering down the road across the river as I ate my breakfast. I dislike road walking, but this is pleasant in the sunshine and at one point I imagine I see an otter running along the road ahead of me before turning off to the river bank.

I miss a small diversion past Meggernie Castle which might have been interesting and after almost 3 hours on the road I reach Innerwick where to my delight is 'The Glen Lyon Tearoom and Post Office". I'm not on my planned route, so this was quite unexpected and I stop for a cold drink and a large sandwich. Strangely, although I was short of food, it didn't occur to me to buy something here until I was well on the way again! 
 There's a well-made track leading up over the hills to Loch Rannoch on the other side. I follow to the highest point, then rejoin my planned ridge route, heading for the top of Carn Gorm. I had been afraid these rounded hilltops would be wet and tuffety and make difficult walking, but this was far from the case. Although there is some heather to overcome on the sides, the tops are firm and carpeted with a mixture of stunted heather and moss - rather like deep pile doormat.

A hundred or more deer move across my path in three large groups as I work my way up to the ridge. When the first top comes in sight I see a human figure; good visibility means easy navigation and allows me to keep him in sight as we both move eastwards towards Schiehallion. There's 4 munros here in a group and I'm happy to traverse 3 of them, the last being Cairn Mairg. 

From here I hope to reach the shielings below Schiehallion for a camp. My 1:50000 OS map does not have enough information however to guide me properly, and by the time I get out my mini Harvey Ultra map of this area with its excellent detail it is too late (incidentally the similar Glen Coe map covered my earlier ridge walk at 1:40000 too).

Ben Lawers & Schiehallion
 I am already desperate to stop and find a stream bed with some flat areas between the heather. 

In the morning I quite quickly reach the wide flat area that was my original target for a camp spot. I expected to find others here but it was deserted - except for a fox trotting purposefully across my line of sight. I didn't see the cave shown on the map, and the route to the western end of Schiehallion seemed pathless. Gaining the rocky top I could see to the east some early starters coming towards me.
Shielings below Schiehallion

Back towards Cairn Mairg
Schiehallion summit looking east

Schiehallion contributed to the World's understanding of Newton's Universal Gravitational Constant
 This would prove to be the busiest mountain I have ever seen in Scotland despite not being weekend. On the long way down I passed 30 or more people of many nationalities on their way up. The top is very rocky and the first km or so is slow going, then there is a very well made path down to the carpark at the road.
looking back to Schehallion

There's a line of hills reaching towards Pitlochry and the gateway track takes a bit of road walking to reach. The weather is hot and the legs are weak. A rare (for me) brew is just what's needed to get me along to the lime quarry at the end of the track and Farragon hill which provided the revised target for tonight.
Below the hill are a couple of lochans which in reality are not as inviting for a campsite as the might appear on the map. As usual something works out - a flatter bit of ground appears with slighty less heather, and before long I'm cooking up the second half of my last dried meal. 

I'm happy in the knowledge that I have adjusted my route enough to allow a few hours break in Pitlochry before evening time. The weather so far has been fine, so drying and adjust gear will not be necessary. Just a little bit of washing and procuring some gas are the only chores on the menu.

A few metres away is the next track and I am on the way at 8 o'clock. Within minutes I am caught up by Dean from Devon. He walked the hills south of Loch Lyon (the Ben Lawers) and started walking a few hours earlier than me. We spent a pleasant few minutes together before our paths diverges - he on the track towards Blair Atholl, me pathless toward Pitlochry. These lower hills provide fertile ground for heather everywhere, so 'heather bashing' it is for the next couple of hours.
The first view of Pitlochry

The approach to Pitlochry is plesant down grassy slopes yellow with primulas and giant trees in Clunie woods.
Backpackers' Hotel Pitlochry
I had a room booked in the Backpackers' Hotel which is usefully central in the small town. Arriving before reception closed at 1pm I got my room early with plenty of space to sort through my food parcel and time to do a bit of local shopping too. I expected the streets to be thronged with TGOers, but no, there were plenty of tourists but of the more conventional variety.

Saturday, 16 June 2018

TGO Challenge 2018 - Oban to Kinnabaer: #1 to Glen Etive

This year I captured my walk using the Spot Tracker which should record my location every 30 minutes. Is this truly representative? I always think of the occassions when I spend 30 minutes wandering in the wrong direction or zig-zagging up a hill and how in this instance it will show almost no distance travelled between two beacons. The information was recorded on Phil Sorrel's Socialhiking site (about the become defunct) and downloaded from there. This revealed some information gaps - ie there is not a beacon for every 30 minute period. This maybe a shortcoming with Spot (discussed on the internet elsewhere) and how it communicates. Anyway there is a good approximation of my steps across Scotland here.

For the first time pictures are embedded from an album on Flikr. Is this good? I'm not sure. If you double-click on a picture suddenly you are on the Flikr website scrolling through a photo album that contains a lot more pictures than shown here.
  Push and pull the map in the window below to see the route in blue.
How to choose out of the 14 start points for the TGO Challenge? Oban is the southernmost and perhaps one of the most accessible, and so one of the most popular start points. For me, there was unfinished business in Iona - just 2 ferries and a bus ride away from Oban - which was pleasantly dispensed with prior to the start of the big walk.

This small port on the west coast of Scotland is easily reached by a 3 hour train ride from Glasgow. Early May seems to be very much 'in season' for tourists of Western Scotland with a kaleidoscope of nations at the very serious shellfish stall on the quay.

On Thursday 10th of May there was a palpable change in the atmosphere around the town as more and more people arrived of a certain age and demeanour marching here and there with large packs on their backs. And on Friday morning I followed after the throng heading along the seafront to furthest ferry terminal which would take us to island of Lismore and the start of my walk.
Lismore Oban Ferry
This hour long trip provides an opportunity to reflect on the journey ahead - a step removed from the business of walking, and with a panoramic vista of the landscape with its ups and downs and geographic features all looking small and distant. On the other hand there is a couple of comfortable seating areas on the small car ferry where you can sit and talk and avoid the fresh air and views (after all you will get plenty of that stuff later!).
The TGOers are Go as Lismore
We were 9 or so that raced ashore eager to start our Challenge. Those still in chatting mode gravitated towards a road walk. At the rear I realised that something did not quite match my expectations and I backtracked to find the field route. When I eventually surrendered to the road there was just Robert from Tennessee. He was happy to have a trailing wind, I was please to have a clear view of the hills on the mainland, and we were both pleased to reach the Appin ferry in good time to avoid the long lunch break in the timetable.
Lismore to Appin Ferry
Lismore to Appin Ferry
On reaching the mainland the majority rushed into the local hotel for lunch. I was more inclined to restart my walk. And found my route to the Jubilee bridge and the reclaimed railway which is now a hardsurfaced cycle path.
Getting out of Appin - Jubilee Bridge

Getting out of Appin - Jubilee Bridge

It is always a relief to move onto a softer surface and despite some gentle rain I was happy to be heading into the hills to look for my first campsite.

Into the hills from Applin - Gleann na h-lola

The spot I found on the map was a bit rougher than expected and I travelled on and up towards the bealach over towards Glen Creran.
Beinn Fhionnlaidh Glen Creran from bealach Gleann na h-lola
Although pathless at the higher level, I had identified a footbridge on the map which was a good target to aim for on the way down to the glen. On the other side a ridge leads enticingly eastwards over munro Beinn Fhionnlaidh. It's a long haul - about 5km - pathless, and despite fine visibility the ridge line is not so clear on the ground as on the map.

Beinn Fhionnlaidh summit

Flanks of Beinn Fhionnlaidh to Glen Etive From the top there is a good view to the hills on the other side of Glen Etive - the target for the next couple of days. In fact the views are terrific in all directions, and I take a 360 degree movie in an attempt to capture the memory.

Spraying gang in Glen Etive Down below dark scars on the ground converge on a forest track which leads through Etive forest to the valley bottom. Vast swathes of trees have been felled on such a scale that the gang of men spraying the remaining undergrowth are almost invisible (reminder to self - don't drink from streams passing through forest enclosures!).

Eventually I come to the road and, to my suprise there's quite a few cars. As I round a bend there, sitting on a wall, with a giant pack on the ground beside him is Ian lamenting how Glen Shiel has changed since he last visited it on the TGO 20 years previously. Down the valley he just passed 'lots of party animals with their pop-up tents and loud music', and around the next corner I pass Matt another TGOer who confirms the story and can't understand how I can be going the opposite direction to him.

Before long I turn off, finding my bridge across the River Etive and passing an unfriendly (but absent) resident who has blocked the public track and tried to send walkers around their plot on a wet and muddy diversion with a notice "please respect our privacy" - I resolve next time to bring wire cutters and a notice "please respect our public right of way". A little further there's a camp spot next to the river and near the bottom of the ridge stretching down from Ben Starav. It is weekend and despite my late pitch there are still a few walkers returning down the path from the hills, the last rushing by at about 10pm.
Riverside camp Glen Etive

I rested well in the knowledge I was on schedule and the weather set fair for one of the highlights of the trip the following morning.