The Great Outdoors Challenge – The Tent.

Couple of years ago we bought a Terra Nova Polar Lite 2 Micro tent for our backpacking adventures. It was a small tunnel two person tent- small wasnt the word, perhaps tiny tent designed for two Hobbits is more apt!

Yes it was a small tent- two of us cramped together with no room to store hardly any gear inside the tent. Rucksacks and everything else had to be stores in the one small porch which was also the exit. This went that visits to the toilet in the middle of the night in the dark wasnt the easiest of things to do. Also sitting up, getting changed was also a challenge!

The good points of the tent were because of the fact that it was of low height and compact, made it totally bombproof- the night we camped at Bynack Stables at Strath Nethy in a howling gale, our tent never flinched!

Enough was enough though and I yearned for a roomier tent.

Fast forward to Autumn last year and Lynn had noticed a Tarptent Scarp 2 for sale in one of the Outdoor Gear for Sale sites on Facebook. I had been taking some interest in the Scarp 2 for some time, but it was expensive and Tarptent only sell direct from Brand new and it had to come from the States meaning on top of the tent price- I would of had to pay postage and a tax when it arrived in the U.K. bumping up the price even more.

The person that was selling their tent, claimed that it had only been used six times. It was still expensive, but after some thought I took the gamble and bought it. We needed a roomier tent and this one seemed to tick all the right boxes size and weight wise.

In November, Lynn had some holidays booked and it was rather mild for the time of year. We hadnt been away much over the previous month due to my work commitments, and at the last minute I thought it would be a great idea to walk the Affric Kintail way and try out the new tent!

On the first night we stayed at Camban Bothy and it wasnt till the second night that we camped at the east end of Glen Affric by a loch.

Our pitch was in a great spot- only thing that let it down was the slight slope we were on, meaning that Lynn kept pushing me to one side!

I found the tent easy to put up- thread the main pole through and only six pegs to hold it in place. Pretty simple really.

We took the tent out another couple of times after that on some training walks for this years TGO Challenge walk and it seemed to perform well- I even tried out the optional external cross over poles which supposedly turns it into a full performing four season tent!

 

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A couple of weeks ago we were at Shiel Bridge ready to attempt our biggest walk to date- The Great Outdoors Challenge. I didnt bother with the optional cross over poles as they add an extra 300 grams further to the tent weight and the forecast ahead looked good, but I did add an extra four guylines incase of windy weather.

During the challenge we wild camped and even stayed on a couple of offical campsites.

I found the Scarp 2 perfect for two people- it weighs approx 2 kilos which is the same weight as the Terra Nova Polar Lite that we had, but gives us so much more space and this is a truly liveable backpacking tent for two.

Setting up the tent is a doddle and is great having the inner attached to the outer which can be seperated if need be. We experimented with this by just pitching the outer only, having a brew under the outer in bad weather, then attaching the inner. But if you have pitched the tent under normal circumstances and weather is too bad for cooking with the porch door open- all you have to do is undo part of the inner giving a larger and save space to cook under.

The other little trick I have learned is, after a night of heavy rain when you have to pack up the tent- best to unclip the inner first, then pack it away in a drysack. This ensures that it stays dry rather than getting wet when you pack away the wet outer tent.

After nearly two weeks of constant use, I have to say that the tent has lived up to its reputation and can see why its popular with many backpackers.

I wont be selling this tent for another one, so here’s hoping it will last for many years!

Tarptent do a one person version. I would buy one, but Im looking at something slightly lighter for my next single person tent- The Trailstar!

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One week away and we will be taking our first steps walking across Scotland.

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At long last the TGO Challenge has almost arrived- one week today at 9.00 we be signing out at Challenge control at Shiel Bridge taking our first steps walking across the country, something I’ve dreamnt about doing for many years and feel ready to take on this mighty challenge!

For me, it is a holiday and couldnt think of something better to do for a fornights backpacking through the Glens and over Mountain Passes. Others may think- how can that be a holiday walking all that miles with a big pack on, and say- how can that be a holiday when you are meant to be relaxing?

Truth is, I do find out relaxing- mentally anyway! Phiscally I will also feel better after too- giving my body a good workout. Half a day lying under the sun at a beach in Spain, I’d get bored and fidgety and want to be off exploring.

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I havent done as much training for this walk as I wanted to. It hasnt been too bad though with me and Lynn, getting away camping and bothying most weekends since January up up until mid March. I’ve had a persistant cold/ manflu since begining of April. It hung around for a month before I got rid of it and I was physically shattered so missed out on a few weeks of walking.

Despite the minor setback, I feel very confident with managing this walk, and it spurs me on more so, knowing that we have raised a good amount of money for the charity SARDA Scotland- (Search And Rescue Dog Association).

Earlier this week, I headed to Aberlour after finishing work mid-morning and took a walk over the Gownie to Dufftown and back to Aberlour along the old railway line. It started off quite hazy, then as I left Dufffown it was clear skies.

It was the first time I had stopped at the Dufftown station- part of the Keith to Dufftown Railway. The trains only run at weekends, but they do meals and snacks on one of the carriages during the week. Perhaps I will walk the Isla Way from Keith and get the train back at some point soon.

Our route across Scotland was finalized back in January. I chose a route taking in many glens and some mountain passes. Some people yomp across as many Munros possible on the challenge, but we wanted to spend more time enjoying ourselves rather than toiling with a pack every day climbing Munros. Low level much as possible with a few climbs here and there was what I had intended for, as I didnt want to do it on my first challenge- its the first time I will have backpacked for this length of time.

Our starting point on the Challenge is one of a choice of 13 for everybody and ourstarting point is also the busiest one with a total of 70 challengers setting foot from Sheil Bridge next Friday. Im sure the first few miles will be busy, but after that- people will be heading up hills and taking different glens.

We have manged to get a lift to Shiel Bridge next Thursday, courtesy of Dan and I’m even just looking forward to the drive across being passenger soaking up the views on the way.

Thursday night, the bar at the Kintail Lodge will be packed with challengers- I will have to be strict with myself, as Im sure it will be a great evening meeting new people and exchanging stories with each other- with the beer flowing fast. I dont want to start my trek dehydrated with a hangover!

One more overnight trip before the big Walk.

Two weeks today myself and my partner will be embarking on our greatest adventure yet- The Great Outdoors Challenge.

Starting from the Kintail Lodge Hotel at Sheil Bridge, we will be backpacking across some of Scotland’s finest Glens and passes, finishing almost two weeks later at the east coast town of Montrose.

We will be wild camping in Glens, spending a few nights at campsites in villages giving us a chance to restock on supplies and of course maybe a few pints in the local pubs along the way, not to mention the odd pub meal to make a change to the dehydrated meals we will be eating when we are wild camping.

 

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This past few weeks I’ve not been too active due to a bout of man flu/bad cold, but thats all cleared up now and this weekend I’m ready for one more overnight trip before the challenge.

I’m planning to drive across to Loch Laggan and do a circulair roundtheback Loch and camp somwhere near the shores of Lochan na h-earba.

I’ve recently had custom insoles made after paying a visit to the podiatrist. I’ve been a big fan of superfeet which have helped my problem to a degree with my ankle, but was worried that a two week trek might be too much giving me problems and pain!

On my consultation, it was discovered that I have one leg 10mm shorter than the other one and that my left foor is very flat which is one lead cause to the pain I get.

The custom insoles that I had made take a while to bed in, and the process is still on-going but Im getting there. I had to buy another pair of boots a half size larger to accomodate these insoles and now all is good, but I havent tried them out whilst load bearing with a big pack, so this weekend shall be a good test for them and my ankle!

Preperation for the challenge is still ongoing, but everything is almost in place, just final preperation of the food parcels which will be dropped off for us at villages along the way and of course the all important clothing choice selection which will finally dictated my the long range forecast for the coming weeks.

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There are 13 different starting points on the challenge and 300 challengers taking part- Sheil Bridge is the busiest starting point with 70 people setting off from here on the 12th of May, plenty of like minded folk to meet and chat to on the first day as our walk gets under way. I can imagine the previous evening in the Kintail Lodge will be a sociable one- I’d better not get carried away and drink too much as I dont want to start a 190 mile walk with a hangover!

Along the coast from Strathlene to Whitehills.

A few weeks ago I decided on a walk close to home, walking east along the costal paths.

Weather was good and I had packed my pack with intentions of an overnight stop on the way.

I had intended to start my walk from my front door along the road passing Buckie harbour, but not getting home until 11.30 from work, the offer of a lift to the car park at Strathlene saving me a couple miles of pavement walking was too much, so it was at 12.30pm I left Stathlene carrying my big pack along the Moray Costal Trail.

The path leaves Strathlene and shortly gives an option keeping low below the crags or skirting along the top of the cliffs past the golf course heading to the fishing village of Findochty. I took the higher path past the golf course which gives for good walking, but as you near the village- the path has become neglected and been allowed to be overgrown with gorse bushes.

After findochty, the path climbs out of the village and along the cliff tops. Here the path is a good surface suitable for cyclists and walkers alike. It is only a couple of miles to the next village of Portknockie which is another quaint fishing village on the coast with the added attraction of the natural rock feature- The Bow Fiddle Rock.

From the Bow Fiddle rock I followed the path along the cliffs, then down the steps towards Cullen Beach. The beach was wasnt that busy, but that was because it was high tide and I only had a couple of meters of beach between the water and the land to walk along.

Cullen is a small seaside town popular with day trippers and holiday makers. I decided not to give into temptation to head into the town centre for an Ice Cream and instead continue along the costal path.

The path leaves Cullen, passes the Pet Cemetery and continues past Logie Head which is a small crag popular with climbers.

Passing by Logie Head and onto to the remote Sunnyside beach to Findlater Castle perched on the cliffs- this has to be the best part of the walk.

I stopped for a rest above Findlater Castle, taking some pictures before continuing to Sandend which has a small caravan/campsite next to a beach which seems popular with surfers. I had intended to wild camp after Sandend, but since I had been up at 4am in the morning and had put in a mornings work- I was beginning to feel tires and welcomed the chance to stop for the day and put my tent up at the campsite and had a walk along the beach.

Next morning I packed up and headed across the beach to pick up the path heading towards Portsoy where I stopped for something to eat.

For the next part of the walk to Whitehills, I was unsure of. I had looked at maps, other peoples blogs and was unsure of what was ahead- could I get along the coast without walking along the back road?

The first part of the walk was promising and there was a good cleared path through some gorse, then a faint path along the shore below some crags.

After that the faint path headed up along the top of the cliffs- then came the quarry! I had heard on someone’s blog that they simply walked through the quarry when no one was around. It was Sunday and surely nobody would be working at the the quarry, so I proceded to walk on down and through the quarry. It was open and there was people about, but luckily nobody challenged me! On hindsight- before the quarry, there was a track heading up past a field. This would have taken me onto the back road which I should have done, because after the quarry, I had to option th head up onto the road anyway and continue my way to Whitehills.

Overall this was a great walk which im sure I will repeat again at some point this year. It would be great if there was a proper path all the way from Portsoy to Whitehills.

TGO Challenge almost here and winter has returned!

I cant beleive that the TGO Challenge is almost here. I’m sure in two weeks time that I will be rushing around madly worrying if I have forgot to pack anything and will not be able to sleep due to excitment!

Two weeks of walking across Scotland through Glens and over passes, being self sufficent and camping most of the way. I have booked one night at a bunkhouse and we might be having the odd overnight in a bothy.

Myself and my partner will be doing the walk together and are very much looking forward to it, no matter what the weather throws at us!

Lets hope the wintry blast that has returned today doesnt last.

The training for the walk has gone okay, although I admit that I had planned to do more walking preperation for this trip than I have done- this past few weeks I have came down with a bad cold which has hampered progress, but before that, we have been active most weekends this year, getting used to our heavy packs, setting up our new tent and making decisons on what items we will be taking with us.

One item I have mulled over for a while is the stove. I have happily used a MSR Pocket Rocket stove for some time- which is a great little stove, but I’ve never been happy using it in a confined space especially with a bigger pot as Im always worried of knocking the pot over.

I’ve now purchased a MSR Wind Pro 2 stove which is bulkier and heavier than my Pocket Rocket, but the centre of gravity is much lower- so much less risk of knocking over a large pan of boiling water. Other advantages of this stove, being that the gas canister does not screw directly onto the burner, and if I need to use the windshield- it will not overheat the gas cannister which was another one of my worries!  I havent used this stove yet, but I am confident it will be a great addition on the challenge and many other camping trips!

On Sunday I felt well enough to get out for a walk as my cold/man flu seemed to be subsiding! We left for Aviemore reasonably early on Sunday morning and arrived at the Sugar Bowl car park on the Ski road about 8.45. I thought I would take Lynn up the North East shoulder of Cairngorm and perhaps vist the El Alamein shelter which had visted previously on a walk a few months back.

This is a lovely way to approach Cairngorm in itself- its a quiet route up the hill and plenty to see, although the path is rough and faint in places.

The El Alamein Shelter was built on the steeps slopes above Strath Nethy back in 1963 by Army Volunteers. Apparently the precarious and odd site which the shelter was built on- was a mistake as the people who had built it were given the wrong grid reference!

The shelter is not wind nor water tight and I beleive it has been in quite some state of disrepair over the years, but there has been efforts to rebuild and patch it up. It does give certain amount of shelter from the rain and biting wind and I could see myself spending a night here one night- but I would take my Bivvy bag to keep dry and for two people with sleeping bags it would be cramped but just possible I think!

After lunch in the shelter we made our way back up the slopes and headed upwards towards Cairngorm. A nasty hail shower had started and with increasing winds, the hail stang our faces. At this point I could make out the top station and with deteriationg weather, we decided to miss out the summit and head to the station for a warm coffee before heading back down to the car.

The Great Outdoors Challenge walk across Scotland starts on the 12th of May and our walk starts from Sheil Bridge on the West and finishes at Montrose 12 days later.

We have decided to raise some money for a good cause- Search and Rescuse Dog Assocation – Scotland (SARDA)

You can donate to our just giving page by clicking the link below:

https://www.justgiving.com/Lynn-GavinTGO

The Great Outdoors Challenge 2017- thoughts about my biggest forthcoming adventure yet.

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I cant believe that its eight weeks today that we will be all packed and heading to Sheil Bridge on the West Coast to start our walk across Scotland.

It was last october when we sent away entries from TGO magazine in hope that my partner Lynn and I would be accepted for this years event, then in November we were delighted to recieve an email to tell us that we had a place on the challenge.

We have been doing some training for the walk- not so much distance, but more importantly getting used to carrying big packs and finding out what equipment works and what doesnt.

I caught the wilderness backpacking bug a couple of years back when we did a few overnight winter trips to Bothies and it progressed to wild camping in glens when spring finally came!

My favourite trip to date has been getting the train into the remote Corrour station and backpacking over the Ben Alder hills. It was hard work carrying a heavy pack over the summits, but the rewards and satisfaction I gained from doing that were immense.

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The Challenge is a yearly event which is now in its 38th year and has proved very popular with people taking part from all over the world and the number over people taking part is capped to 300.

Its not a walk where 300 people walk together on one route- that could cause a lot of problems, namely accomodation for a start!

There is a choice of ten starting points on the West and you can finish anywhere on the East between Fraserburgh and Arbroath- all you have to do is pick your starting point, plan a route through some of Scotlands great scenery and then submit your route to the challenge vetters who are on hand to give you any advice etc on your chosen route.

Being our first ever challenge and biggest ever walk carrying all our camping gear etc, I chose a reasonably straight forward route through glens and over a few mountain passes.

Our route takes us through Glen Affric, over the Corrieyairack Pass, through Glen Feshie to Braemar, over to Glen Esk and finishing at Montrose.

Although I have already walked parts of our planned route before- the attraction to me is linking everything up together to make the walk of a lifetime possible- its quite interesting to think that years I cycled from Fort William on the West to Rothes which is almost 15 miles from the north east coast in a day, and every wednesday with work I drive from Buckie in the east to Oban in the west and back in one day! Our walk will take us almost two weeks!

Most nights we will be camping which will be a mixture of wild camping and staying at campsites on Villages we pass through when we need to restock on food supplies, camping gas etc.

My attention has also turned to our equipment for this trip. I’m not quite at the stage of becoming an ultralight backpacker, but Im slowly making the transition- the lighter the better especially for a 185 mile walk!

Boots- I hardly ever wear my leather boots now, great for plodding though snow covered hills during a winter hill walk but way to heavy a clumsy in my opinion for backpacking.

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This past year I’ve been using my Meindl Minesotta Pro GTX boots which are lighter than my leather boots and more comfortable, but I now want to go even lighter. A lot of people have gone down the road of wearing trail shoes for backpacking which I have tried, but Im not concinced as yet. I have ordered a pair of Salomon X Ultra Mid 2 GTX which Im hoping to use on this walk. They are basiclly trail shoes with a higher cuff around the ankle. Im pretty confident these will be perfect for the challenge, but will need a few test runs first before I decide whether I will be wearing these or the Meindls on the challenge.

Clothing I will be wearing for the challenge is sorted out, but depending on the long range weather forecast- it may vary what I will be taking at the last minute. Lets hope its a heatwave, but it is Scotland and by what I’ve read on previous challenge reports- be prepared for anything!

Accomodation will be our Tarptent Scarp 2 Tent which I bought last Autumn. Previously to this we had a Terra Nova Polar Lite Micro 2 tunnel tent- which was a cracking small tent, but it was small. It could stand up to all sorts of weather, was easy to put up quickly- but it was simply to small for two people.

I had been looking at the Scarp 2 tent for some time and one evening my partner Lynn had found a second hand one for sale. It was in good condition and had little use, so I just had to buy it!

So far I’ve been pleased with my purchase, its far roomier that the previous tent. We now have a porch each too!

The tent weighs in at a respectable 1.8 kilos and it came supplied with the optional 2 cross over poles for use in winter and very windy conditions- these poles take the weight of the tent up to 2.3 kilos. If the long range forecast looks good for the challenge, then I intend to leave out the extra poles for the challenge thus saving even more weight- every gram counts! Instead I’m going to do what other Scarp 2 owners have done and make a couple of additions/modifications and add a few extra guylines which will make the tent more secure in high winds at a minimal weight gain. I was hoping to get these modifications done today, but the high winds have put stop to this plan!

I have only one worry about the trip, which is an on going ankle problem I’ve had for years. After walking considerable distance especially with wearing my heavy pack, I get this pain under my left ankle bone and it is more pain walking when the uphill slope is on the left of my foot. I always wear superfeet which do help to a degree and I do wear custom made ones in my walking boots.

I read with great interest in the latest edition of the Scottish Mountaineer magazine, a gentleman who also had problems with his ankle, he too had tried Superfeet Insoles- but this didnt cure his problem. Then he consulted a podiatrist who soon diagnosed his problem and got custom Interpod Othoritcs which has given this gentleman an 80% improvement. From what I have read in this article- I think these insoles would help correct or alleviate my problem to a big degree. Im now waiting to hear back from the local Podiatrist to book an appointment- fingers crossed they can help.

Im looking forward to this walk for various reasons- meeting all the like minded people along the way, two weeks doing what I love the most, the achievment of it all and of course the craic in the pubs along the way with other challengers and Lynn when we stop over at campsites in villages! Although lots of people will be walking in pairs and on their own- its quite a socialble event Im lead to beleive!

I will be posting on here over the next few weeks on our progress of our training, more about gear we will be using, if I get my ankle problem sorted and of course my tent modifications!

We have also decided to use this opportunity of this walk to raise money for SARDA Scotland- Search And Rescue Dog Association.

The Search & Rescue Dog Association Scotland:

  • Is a volunteer organisation which trains dogs and their handlers to search for missing persons
  • Is used by Police and Mountain Rescue to locate missing people in the mountains or low ground areas, including children and people with dementia.
  • Has handlers who are experienced mountaineers, and trained in casualty care.
  • Covers all of Scotland, 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year.

Please take a minute or two and clink onto our link below to find out more about our fundraising- thank you.

https://www.justgiving.com/Lynn-GavinTGO

 

Meall Chuaich

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Meall Chuaich, to me it should mean hill of the cloud- but actually it means hill of the quaich.

Fifteen years ago I was on a weekend meet with the Granite City Hillwalkers club. On the Sunday, the forecast did not seem promising. Rather than just wasting our weekend and driving back home, we decided on an easy straight forward relatively short hill walk and set our sights on Meall Chuaich- our hill for the day.

Weather was awful- it was wet, windy and cloudy. I never saw much of the hill that day, nor of the surrounding views. Infact the views I can remember of that day were of the ground below my feet and that of my friends if they were within 30 meters of me!

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My Friend Stuart had called me earlier in the week asking If I wanted to go for hill walk and the Cairngorms were to be the destination- first thoughts were Ben Macdui, but I’ve ascended it many times this year and fancied somewhere different, then our thoughts changed to the Feshie hills, then I remembered-a slightly further drive but not by much, Meall Chuaich near Dalwhinne. The forecast was promising and it was worth more, than just one ascent that it has had by me. This time there would be no could and cracking summit views I thought!

The temperature was hovering at zero when I left Buckie and by the time I arrived in Dufftown at 7.20 to pick up Stuart, it had dropped to minus 2.  Nearing Cromdale it was now minus 6, then it started dropping slowly as we drove between Grantown and Aviemore. The Strath between Nethy Bridge and Aviemore was filled with freezing fog and I think it had dropped to minus 8 as we approached Aviemore.

On reaching the lay-by  on the A9, we soon were ready for the walk along the track at the viaduct to the base of Meall  Chuaich.

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The central cairngorms were cloud free as we passed Aviemore, but the Drumochter hills had pockets of cloud on the summits, but the forecast was good and so was our hill.

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We had reached the end of the track at the loch at the base of the hill and now for the short steep section which wasnt too bad and we made height quickly, but as we did- a drifting cloud decided to settle on the summit dome of the hill!

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All to soon, we had reached cloud level and we nearing the summit.

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It was a small breeze at the summit, but with the windchill- it felt very cold and we were glad of a large summmit carn to shelter us from the wind whilst we ate our sandwiches. A lady whom we passed earlier with two dogs wasnt long in catching up at met us at the cairn. She explained to us that she had forgotten her rucksack and left it in the car, the map was in her jacket pocket- but her compass was left behind in the rucksack! She said that she might have to follow us back down.

We saw her at the car park earlier and the lady did say to me at the car park, that she was walking Meall Chuaich. I thought it was funny that she set off without a pack. I’m glad to say that the lady did make it off the hill no problem- navagation wasnt really a problem coming off the hill- five minutes down the hill, the cloud lifted! What struck me and Stuart was- how could you leave your rucksack in the car and forget to put it on?

If only I had been ten minutes late this morning I had thought to myself- I would have had a  view form the summit! Weather only improved on the way down and we stared to warm up again out of the wind. By the time we picked up the landrover track, the temperature had risen significantly and we stopped to take some layers off.

The walk out down the glen was pleasant and full of grouse chatting away to each other!  A more memorable experience than my first walk on this hill. It took us in the region of four and a half hours and I would thoroughly recommend this walk as an introduction to the Munros- one of the easier ones to start off with.

Meindl Minnesota Pro GTX Boots- Mini Review

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This is a review of the Meindl Minnesota walking boots which I purchased earlier this year.

I had bought a new pair of leather walking boots a few months earlier for hill walking, but as I was starting to do more overnight trips in the hills and glens- I thought  it was time to get something lighter for backpacking.

Many people seem to be making the transition from boots to sturdy trail shoes when carrying a big pack for long periods, but Im not convinced by the idea but I have briefly tried using trail shoes on a short trip and wasnt entirely satisfied- perhaps it was a poor choice of shoe I was using. I also suffer from an ankle problem which tends to flare up from time to time, so I will stick to using boots which cover above the ankles for the time being.

On one of my many trips to Aviemore, dragging Lynn around another countless trip at the outdoor shops- I spotted these new Meindl boots. I picked the display one of the shelf and was surprised by its light weight to sturdiness ration which impressed me so much that I soon had a pair on my feet and was walking around the shop to get a feel for them.

Straight away I could tell they were a great fit for my feet and before you know it, they were bought and paid for- probably the quickest boot shop fit and buy I’ve ever done!

Since buying them in April, I have used them for hill walking and several backpacking trips. The Goretex lining is still holding up and the Vibram sole is hardly showing any signs of wear and for a fabric style boot- the material is still looking good as ever.

I always take out the standard insole that comes with the boots and replace them with Superfeet insoles as I feel they offer more support which helps my ankle.

I wouldnt hesitate to wear them for our planned two week walk next year on The Great Outdoors Challenge, but I am looking at an even lighter boot – the Salomon X Ultra 2 Mid GTX. This is a  boot which is getting closer to bluring the line between boots and trail shoes, so Im not sure how I will get on with them.

My first choice of retailer for boots at the moment is Ellis Brigham in Aviemore. My main reason for this, is that they stock all the half sizes in shoes and boots that they sell, which to me, is really good as Im normally in between an eight and a nine. The staff at the shop are really good too, and they have the paitence of a saint with me, when Im trying on footwear!

Overall, these boots are the best boots I’ve had to date and if I had to give them a score out of ten, then these boots deserve full marks!

AFFRIC KINTAIL WAY IN REVERSE

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The first week of November in Scotland- probably not considered by many a great time of year for backpacking across the Glens, but Lynn had booked a week off work, I was currently a man of leisure and the forecast was looking reasonably settled.

The weekend proceeding the walk, I was thinking it would be good to get a short backpacking trip in before the end of the year and thought the 44 mile Affric Kintail Way would be a good choice as the route was fairly low level keeping to the glens.

Tuesday 2nd of November came and were up early and on the road to Drumnadrochit where we would leave the car and catch the bus to the west and start our walk from the road end at Morvich.

In typical fashion, the bus was late and we finally started our walk at 11.15 that morning.  My reason’s for starting at the west were down to bus times and the prevailing wind- but I would say that this walk would be better from from east to west as it gets more scenic the further west you go.

The first two miles were up the single track road to Morvich, which was quite pretty for a road walk- then we reached the official start of the A.K.W at the entrance to Glen Lichd.

 

The walk up the glen by the River Croe follows a Land Rover track as far as Glenlicht House which is a locked cottage used by the Edinburgh University Mountaineering Club-  lovely location nestled between Beinn Fhada to the north and the Kintail hills to the south.

 

At the cottage- the track ends and the toughest part of our day awaited us as we made our way up the steep but well engineered path which winds it’s way up the beautiful pass onwards to Glen Affric.

This part of the walk in my opinion is the most scenic part of the walk- so much to see around every corner!

Eventually the steep path slackend off and gave way to a wide glen and it was only a few kilometers to our destionation for the evening- Camban Bothy. We had our tent with us, but you cant beat a night in a bothy huddled around a warm fire, so we were also carrying a couple of firelogs for the Bothy fire.

The Bothy consists of two rooms- both of which have fire places and bunks. The room we stayed in had a table and benches.

After we had settled in the for the evening, we ate our food and sat in front of the fire and had several drams of Glenmorangie. Another Bothy we had to ourselves for the night!

During the night we awoken by a banging noise- at first Lynn thought it could have been a mouse up in the ceiling, but this was far too loud for a mouse and the noise seemed to be coming from outside. I was sure, that in acual fact- the banging noise were of deer locking their antlers together in a fight. After a while the noise stopped and we fell back asleep.

Middle of the night, again we were awoken by a loud bang. I listenend away to this great noise for a while and decided to quietly get up to see these deer fighting, but Bothy doors seem to be generally quite noisy when you open them, and by the time I was outsided shining my headtorch in all directions- to my disapointment, they had gone.

Next moring we were up early and were walking by 8.am. The first part of the day took us to Altbeithie Youth Hostel which is closed in the winter months, but the leave one of the rooms in the outbuilding open in the winter months for use in an emergency.

A couple of hundred meters before the hostel, I noticed a cracking patch of flat short grass next to the river which would be ideal for two or three tents, but I would imagine that in the summer this would be a very popular spot to camp.

 

Weather was relatively good although when we stopped to look behind us, there were a few showers coming in from the west- but they were confined to the tops and corries.

We soon reached the iron bridge where we had left the bikes here last year when we did the Munro of An Socach. This is a nice place to stop with a waterfall and a deep pool flowing under the bridge. The glens and hills take on a really nice golden colour at this time of year and the highest tops even had a fresh dusting of snow capping the summits.

We had a short break here for a bite to eat and rested the legs from carrying the big packs.

We were now well and truly on our way walking through the heart of Glen Affric and in a short time we passed Strawberry Cottage (another mountaineering club hut) and Altnamulloch Bothy – a locked building frequently used by the company Trees for Life when they have groups of people staying that are involved in tree planting etc.. to help the natural regeneration of the glen.

Onto the south side of the glen now and we headed along the track above Loch Affric- this track I have walked and cycled many times from the car park at the east end of the loch.

I have affectionately always called this track- The Yellow Brick Road. Me and Lynn were debating which characters we were from The Wizard of Ozz!

It was on this track we finally met another couple walking the A.K.W. They were from Germany and were hoping to get to the Bothy before nightfall.

Previous evening in the Bothy, I was looking at the map- looking for a spot to wild camp for the next night and had eye-balled a flat looking spot on the shores of Loch Beinn a’ Mheadoin. Of course what looks flat, could just as well be a bog or clumps of heather. Luckily when we spoke to the German couple- they had camped at this very spot and it looked like we had our pitch for the night sorted.

We arrived at out chosen spot by the loch by mid aftenoon and decided it was far nough for the day. There probably is enough room here for two tents- the spot behind our tent was flatter but the ground was damp, so we chose the drier and slightly sloping area of ground. I should have put up the then 90 degrees the other way as even although it was a slight slope- it was enough for our sleeping mats to keeping sliding to one corner of the tent!

Otherwise it was a lovely spot- we had a good supply of running water from a burn nearby and it was a cracking location overlooking the loch. Unfortunately we had no whisky left as we had both consumed the contents of both hip flasks the previous evening!

Next morning after breakfast we packed up and headed along the track on the south side of the loch which took us to the car park at Dog Falls where we stopped for a brew.

After stopping for refreshments, we continued across the road and up a rather steep path which took us onto a forestry road which carries on towards the Village of Cannich- our destination for the evening.

I had checked a few days previous to the walk and found out the campsite was open all year round. Great for all year round backpackers, and great for me and Lynn as we both fancied a good shower. Stopping for a night in the Village also had its other benefits of a shop and pub, and I thought I would treat us both to a pub meal.

We had a couple of pints and something to eat at The Slaters Arms. Now I dont want to say to much, but the owners could do with taking a course in hospitality management! I’ve since read about many mixed reviews on this establishments. I will say this- the owners are very Jekyll/Hyde. You would think they would welcome trade from all the walkers but….

Last day of our walk- fourteen miles to Drumnadrochit. The only bad thing about this trail, is that you have to endure four miles of road walking from Cannich, but we fairly marched on, and soon we were back on the forest tracks again. This part of the route was fairly pleasant, apart from the diversion near the end because of forestry works which takes you up over the hill instead of the intended route which contours round the hill- but this isnt permanent.

We soon were walking down the hill towards Drumnadrochit and were heading through the village back to where I had parked the car. Word of warning- there are several zebra crossings in Drumnadrochit.Both times when we used them properly as pedestrians, we stood at the pavement waiting for the approaching traffic to stop and on both occasions, both cars just sped by. We were clearly visible and stood at the edge of the pavement both times- preparing to cross expecting the cars to slow down, but this did not happen.

Overall this is a great walk- 44 miles long, but our total including the walk along the Morvich road from the bus and the forestry diversion probably took it up to 47 miles.

I would do this walk again, but next time from the east and you could easily turn this into a coast to coast walk by taking the Great Glen Way from Inverness to Drumnadrochit and following the Affric Kintail Way through to the west.

 

Conquering the Munros and Depression.

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Today is my 44th birthday and I’d thought I’d look back on my Munro bagging exploits so far. This long running affair with the Scottish Mountains over 3000 feet is nearing its end as I only have nineteen yet to summit.

It started back in 1991 when I booked a place on the bus for an outing with the Moray Ramblers to Glen Affric. I had a growing interest in the outdoors and I was keen to get out to the hills that I knew little of. So off we set in glorious September weather bound for the summits of Toll Creagach and Tom a’ Choinich and that time I knew very little of the Munros and even less about the hills we were climbing that day. At the summit of the first hill, I asked one of the party if this was a Munro- he said yes and said in front of everyone that I’d be joining the Moray Mountaineering Club next- which is exactly what happened!

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Over the next few years with the Moray Mountaineering Club I was a regular on most of the bus and weekend meets to many locations on the west. I tried my hand at summer at winter climbing too, but it never really gripped me- pardon the pun. I did love the narrow and airy ridge scrambles though. On a weekend meet to Glen Etive with the club I was shouting in my sleep and woke everyone up- the joke was that I was having a nightmare about falling of the Aggy Ridge! Next day everybody had different plans, so I decided to head for a solo trip on the Aonach Eagach ridge which I thoroughly enjoyed, and I’m glad to say I did not fall!

IMG_3315.JPGI was starting to get quite a few number of hills under my belt and was confident to spend many a solo outing on the hills. I moved to Aberdeen for work (again) in the mid nineties and although it was a far greater drive to the west I still got some hills done, but far less than I had been doing. First time backpacking in the hills carrying all my gear and tent was when I did Ben Avon and Beinn a’ Bhuird. I walked over both hills and descended to Faindouran Bothy in Glen Avon and spent the night in the bothy instead of camping. Next day I walked up Glen Avon and down the Lairig an Laoigh towards Derry Lodge. It was at this point I felt really low and didnt want to carry on. I felt awful and didnt know what was wrong with me, but I carried on and made it back to the car at Linn of Dee. This was to be start of my depression. It was five years or so after that I found out what was wrong with me. In between times I walked the hills on and off, but most times I managed to get out there and do something.

DSCN0004In the year 2000 (this was still a few years before I was diagnosed with depression) I wanted out of Aberdeen and  out of the Motor Trade and then moved to Braemar to work at Braemar Mountain Sports. I enjoyed working and living there and spent many a day off,on the hills and even managed to find the legendary secret howff. I had a job I enjoyed and was living amongst the hills, but all was not well and I was back and forward to the Doctor. Eventually I moved to Aberdeen yet again for another few years and did’nt get many hills done, but did have an enjoyable week off on the West Highland Way. I got signed off work a couple of times with stress apparently, and eventually I moved home to my parents in Aberlour and was working in a new job. Eventually things got really bad and on the first visit to the Doctor back home and he diagnosed me with depression. I couldnt handle work and was signed off. It wasnt all bad though, even although I couldnt cope with work I managed to get back to the solitude of the hills and was enjoying spending my time on the mountains again.023During the next five years or so trying to cope and overcome with my illness- I’d get out over a few times over a couple of months, then nothing for a another few and so on. Between 2007 and 2012 I caught the mountain bike bug which was great for my depression and it was good medication for me. I became a good technical rider and did well in a couple of mountain bike races. The walking had been left on the back burner- so no munros for a few years.DSC00061Fast forward to 2013 and I was living in Aberdeenshire coping reasonably well to a point with my health when I rekindled a relationship with Lynn from my teenage years. I moved back to Moray and worked at Rothes Wind Farm for almost two years. During these two years I did a great amount of biking still, then my other relationship with the hills started to grow again. It started off again with walking a few of the local hills with Lynn. We booked some time off and I took Lynn up her first Munro- Sgurr na Banachdich on Skye! That’s the day I forgot to pack my Lunch and had to share with Lynn. Then my back felt rather wet at the bottom- I thought- am I really sweating that much? But no, my water bladder had started to leak. Those two incidents didnt spoil a great day out on the hills.

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Since then we have had many great hill days out together on my quest to climb all the Munros. I’ve had to renew much of my gear- new boots clothes, packs and tents etc….. the list is never ending. As my Munros are getting fewer and fewer, this means I’ve left out quite a few remote Munros to do involving a long hike in with a possible camp. I must admit that at first some of these felt like a fair old challenge and that a fair amount of planning would be involved!SDC10381

In the past couple of years Ive managed to get out and climb quite a few Munros and had two holidays bagging many as I could weather permitting including many return visits to the local hills of the Cairngorms as I love the area around Ben Macdui and Loch Avon, not forgetting to mention glen Feshie!

My depression hasnt gone, but I’m handling it better than I was, but the great thing is that I feel alive, happy and full of energy when out in the hills! And last year when the weather wasnt so great we took to going away weekends seeking out bothies and sitting round the fire in the winter evenings, and we even took in New Year at Craig Bothy on the West.

I’ve now got used to carrying a heavy pack lugging all that wood and coal into bothies! I now seem to caught the backpacking bug and have now done a few trips this year wildcamping and have loved every moment of it.

Back in June I did a trip through Glen Tilt to Glen Feshie, then a couple of weeks later I walked in from Kinlochewe and camped at Lochan Fada where I climbed A’ Mhaighdean.

On our Munro bagging holiday this year, the highlight had to be getting the train in from Tulloch to Corrour and backpacking over the Ben Alder hills- yes it was tough going at times carrying a full pack over six hills, but the rewards and satisfaction made it my best trip ever with two overnight wild camps at different locations.

Back in June I thought to myself that I couldn’t really be bothered with this ticking off hills business anymore simply because I was enjoying the wild places and glens through my new found love of backpacking, but I thought to myself that I had been doing them for years and since I only had 30 to go, that I might as well complete them, and so now I have nineteen munros to go and aim to complete them next year.

Whilst I was on A’ Mhaighdean, I met a hill runner doing the Fisherfield six. He swore blindly that he would never wear a big pack on the hills and off he ran in his trainers up the hill. Each and one of us to our own I guess, but I like the slower pace on the hills to absorb more, look at my surroundings, take photos and enjoy the moment.

People have asked- will I start doing the Corbetts next? Highly unlikely, but I will revisit some of my favourite hills, do more backpacking and visit many a wild glen and corrie.

I’ve also had a plan to combine my love of cycling and backpacking and hope to do some off-road bikepacking next year. I hate cycling on roads as car users tend to be selfish and not give enough room on the roads, but I like cycling the back-roads.

I’d like to say a thanks to my girlfriend Lynn for accompanying  me on many of these trips to the hills. Also I’d like to thank the Moray Mountaineering Club for all the trips I’ve been on with them throughout the years.

One inspirational person I’d like to thank is Chris Townsend. I have read many of his articles and books . A  big inspiration  to me over this past year. To quote- going to the hills isn’t escaping reality, it is in fact escaping to reality.

Here’s to the last nineteen!