The Great Outdoors Challenge 2017

In May, we will be taking part in the TGO Challenge. This is a non-competitive backpacking event in which 300 participants walk from the west coast of Scotland to the east. It has been running every year since 1980.

Chris and I discovered its existence separately last year: I heard about it via Twitter, and Chris heard about it by meeting a Challenger in the Cairngorms during his Mountain leader assessment. We had been vaguely considering undertaking a long trip, with Chris mentioning the Cape Wrath Trail every so often, and we quickly decided to apply for the TGO Challenge. A really interesting aspect of this challenge is that every group plans their own route, so although 300 people are crossing during the same fortnight, we can all go different ways. It therefore combines a long-distance journey and wilderness, with a sense of camaraderie and companionship.

Having been accepted, we are now deep in our route planning! We’ll keep you updated as our plans progress.

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Our living room is currently carpeted with OS maps. A little furniture rearranging meant that at one point we were able to fit in the whole width of Scotland!

Camping in the Cairngorms

Walk report

Last week I created my “munro map” on the Walkhighlands website, which showed me just how few I have climbed and filled me with motivation to get up some more at the weekend. Chris also had his new MSR Wind Burner stove to try out and our tent hadn’t had an airing for a while, as we’ve been using the van for our trips (eg. Kintyre, Cairngorms and Galloway and Dumfries), so I suggested that we go for a two day walk with a wild camp. On Thursday evening, we got the OS maps out and Chris showed me all the multi-day walks he has done in the Cairngorms, and I proposed a trip that combined two routes from the Munros book (Cameron McNeish) and included five new munros for me and four for Chris, with an obvious area for a camp (the first time I have come up with a route for us!).

We left on Friday night and drove up to Braemar with our usual lunch boxes of pizza for dinner; it such a bright night, the moon was casting shadows on the mountains. We had a fairly laid back start on Saturday, not leaving from the Lin of Dee until about 9.20am. We set off following the signs up the track through Glen Lui, towards Derry Lodge, as we had done a month or so ago. We stopped for snack but our break was cut rather short by the large number of midges, many of which were hiding in Chris’ rucksack. Rather than heading north into Glen Derry, we continued east to the Luibeg Bridge. This whole section is fairly flat with excellent paths and lovely scenery: we spotted lots of male bumblebees on the Devil’s-bit scabious and a red squirrel near to Derry lodge.

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After the bridge, there is a little bit of ascent that gives you good views down Glen Dee and Glen Geusachen, and then as the path curves around the bottom of Carn a’Mhaim, you get the first sight of the Devil’s Point and the Lairig Ghru.

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View from the Luibeg Bridge

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The Devil’s Point

We left the main path up the Lairig Ghru and crossed the river Dee at the bridge, heading up to Corrour Bothy. It was actually the first time that I had been inside a bothy and I honestly think that in summer I’d rather camp, although I can see that it would be much nicer in there if the weather was bad!

I actually found this long flat first stage the most difficult of the day; we left the bothy and attacked our first real ascent at 2pm and I found it much more enjoyable, perhaps due to the effort distracting me from aching feet and shoulders! Once onto the plateau, we nipped up to the Devil’s Point, where I looked up from chatting to sudden and absolutely amazing views that makes it feel really remote. There were also a couple of ptarmigan that waddled along ahead of us for a while: seeing them always makes me happy.

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From the top of the Devil’s Point

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Having taken in the endless landscape as best we could, we retraced our steps back to the top of the path above the bothy and then followed the edge of the plateau over one summit and on to the summit of Cairn Toul.

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Happy summit selfie (Cairn Toul)

Both of these summits are made up mainly of boulder fields, which isn’t too bad for the ascent but makes descending a bit trickier. At the top of Cairn Toul there are two cairns, the more northerly one (the second you reach from this direction) is the highest but the first is worth going to as the views are better, and they are pretty spectacular.

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On the way to Angel’s Peak

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Admiring the view

It didn’t take us long to follow the top of the cliffs down and then climb up to the top of the Angel’s Peak (Sgor an Lochain Uaine), which was our final munro of the day.

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Down into the Lairig Ghru

We then left the views of the coires, the Lairig Ghru and Ben Macdui behind us and descended south east down the ridge. There was no path here and we just picked our way down the patches of grass and boulders aiming to camp somewhere near the bottom of the saddle above Loch nan Stuirteag. As we wanted to be near some water and the flatter areas at the bottom looked boggy, we moved onto the north eastern side of the ridge and found a flattish patch near the streams that become Allt Luineag: it turns out slightly damp grass and moss makes a very nice tent base: easy to put the pegs in and very soft to sleep on.

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A lovely evening

The tent was up in minutes; we love our tent, it’s so sturdy and easy to put up and down. A herd of about 20 red deer watched us as the sun dropped. Dinner was also ready in minutes, which was a vast improvement to our last camping trip when we froze waiting to eat half crunchy, barely-warm noodles. So we were very impressed with the MSR stove performance, although conditions were very benign: there was almost not enough wind to keep the midges at bay.

We both had a lovely sleep: decent camping mats and sleeping bags have made a world of difference to our camping experiences! We woke up in a cloud as usual but the sun was trying to break through as we left camp at about 8.40am.

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Misty morning

Once we were up the steepest section of Monadh Mor, visibility became pretty poor and as the slope flattened off we started navigating properly and I got some great practice walking on bearings and timing distances. There was no obvious path and we walked to a bearing all the way to the saddle between Monadh Mor and Beinn Bhrotain, where the cloud lessened a little and clear path led up to the trig point.

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Chilly on top of Monadh Mor; not much of a view either.

All we needed to do from there was find our way down onto the track beside the river Dee to the White Bridge: easier said than done. We didn’t really want to climb the steep looking Cairn Cloch-mhuilinn and there was a lot of bog between us and it, so we tried a short-cut down beside the Allt Garbh straight to the track. No luck. Once around the shoulder of Cairn Cloch-mhuilinn, it became steep and there were other streams and gullies to cross, so we bashed through the heather all around the shoulder, under some slabby cliffs, back to the flatter ground leading to Carn Fiaclach. Short cuts never work and we had to break out the chocolate raisins! There was still no sign of a path and the ground wasn’t very easy as we made our way towards Carn Fiaclach. Don’t go right up this: it’s steep down the other side! We had to go down the south side and stomp through the heather and lumpy, holey ground right down to the track.

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The Allt Garbh is very pretty

I have to say, these last two munros were not much fun to get off and wouldn’t be much fun to get up either, so this route is a great way to get them done, without making a special trip for them. We had a paddle in the stream and ate our last rolls before marching along the path to the bridge. Here we had a little lie-down in the sun and some more chocolate raisins. From this point there is only the 5km or so to walk back along the track to the Lin of Dee, which didn’t take too long; we were back at the van by 4.30pm and ready for a meal in Blairgowrie on the way home.

A superb weekend!

Details

Distance: ~42 km

Time: 2 days (9 hrs + 7 hrs)

Summits: 5 munros, the Devil’s Point, Cairn Toul, the Angel’s Peak (Sgor an Lochain Uaine), Monadh Mor and Beinn Bhrotain

Comments:

Two good length days with a long flat walk-in and out. Excellent first day! Lots of  good paths but also some sections with no paths, so good navigation required in poor visibility. Good area to camp halfway with access to water. Not too boggy except for some patches on descent on the second day.

 

Most useful piece of kit/advice:

Jessica says: Make sure you know how to use a map and compass and take midge repellent. Chocolate raisins were also essential for this walk.

Chris says: For long distance walks it is important to conserve your energy. Using walking poles is a great way to do this: it saves the knees on the down hill a bit too.