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TGOC 2013 Dornie to Stonehaven

TGOC 2013 Dornie to Stonehaven

Postby whiteburn » Fri Aug 23, 2013 4:51 pm

Route description:

Date walked: 11/05/2013

Time taken: 12 days

Distance: 310 km

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I’d more or less abandoned writing up a report for the TGOC having got distracted by other things but seeing Billymaca’s report pushed me into finishing a brief report, at least he can now claim not to be the last one!

I first of heard of the TGO Challenge when I ran into a few Challengers’ during the 2012 event as I was dawdling around the Cairngorms for a few days. After doing a bit of research on the internet, reading various peoples blogs, I decided I quite liked the non-competitive nature of the Challenge & the social side seemed appealing, so after mulling it over during the summer I thought I’d give it a go.


As a side note I found the various TGO Challenge blogs a very useful source of information on lightweight equipment with a lot of good feedback on what gear worked & what didn’t, anyone looking towards reducing their pack weight could do a lot worse than taking a similar trawl through the internet.

Having made the decision to enter all that was needed was to wait until October for the the entry form & get it submitted. Nothing in life seems to be that straight forward though & in November I was disappointed to receive the “I’m very sorry to inform you....unsuccessful” letter. I was placed well down in the standby list so didn’t expect the ‘call’ & started planning for the Cape Wrath Trail.
All was to change in late March when I was pleased to find out I had gained a place, through some unlucky person having to pull out, Cape Wrath would have to wait. Luckily I’d already prepared the prerequisite route sheets so it only took a couple of hours to get the paperwork emailed & I was even happier that only 10 days later I got the comments from the vetter, “I am delighted to say that very little needs to be said”, well that bit was pretty painless.
All that remained was to wait & watch the vagaries’ of the Scottish weather for the next month while pondering equipment choices; crampons + axe, DEET + sun hat, wet suit + snorkel, canoe, etc.

The last week seemed to go in a flash by & I really only relaxed when I finally trudged through the pouring rain into the Dornie Hotel at 5pm after 7 hours of train & bus looking forward to a pint!

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Day 1: 24km
The Challenge is pretty well known for its camaraderie but heading out into the pouring rain I felt a little disappointed on that front, everyone else starting from Dornie had set off the day before & I had the hotel to myself.....at least the Hotel’s breakfast was enjoyable & I didn’t have to pack up in the rain.
First target of the day was Camas-luinie in Glen Elchaig & 10mins of road walking along the south side of Loch Long saw the trail shoes completely soaked through (run off down the over trousers as well as the puddles). The foot path following the very swollen River Glennan proved ‘entertaining’, numerous fords (I think I counted 11) over boot depth didn’t slow me up much in wet trail shoes but it did mean I’d quite cold feet by the time I reached the bealach overlooking Glen Elchaig. On the positive side, the rain had slacked off & the cloud seemed to be rising.


The route up to the Falls of Glomach was more straight forward than anticipated, even with a full pack & wet going, there is a couple of tasty bits where one could easily commit suicide. The crossing of the Allt na Laoidhre was a bit interesting with the amount of water roaring down it, no way to cross dry shod it was up to the knees. The Glomach falls looked quite impressive but I resisted the urge to go down to the ideal photo spot & pushed on to the top of the falls for a quick lunch stop in the rain.


I had planned quite a first gentle day (18-19km) with camp at lochan just south of Meall Dubh but on getting there the high winds made me quickly forget this idea & I pressed on. After crossing over A’ Ghlas bheinn in thick clag & a howling westerly I descended to the relative calm of Bealach an Sgairne. Descending west I picked up the trail into Coire an Sgairne & the path up to Ben Fhada & I soon found a fairly sheltered & dry spot below the path next to the Allt Coire an Sgairne (~ NH 006204).
It was one of them days to get the Trailstar up, throw the sack inside & get out of the weather for 12 hours; I hadn’t seen anyone all day.

Day 2: 34.2km
I hit the trail around 8am after a good night’s kip, despite being woken around 3am by what sounded like torrential rain hammering down on the tarp.
Ben Fhada was still cloaked in clag & the wind picked up the higher I ascended, underfoot overnight snow (50 – 70mm) was now a slushy mess making for very chilly wet feet. The summit was cloaked in thick mist & I hid from the wind behind the trig point to download the latest MWIS forecast; not good, winds of 45mph+ across the summits later in the day & the same for tomorrow. I pondered the forecast as I descended down the ridge east towards Glen Affric, I finally deciding to forgo my planned high camp & traverse of Sail Chaorainn - Sgurr nan Conbhairean - Carn Ghluasaid the next day in favour of my Foul Weather Alternative (FWA) down Glen Affric.

Ben Fhada still cloaked in low cloud from below Alltbeithe

I walked down Glen Affric in intermittent rain before following the Right of Way over to Cougie Lodge. Cougie seems to be a bit of a legendary places on the Challenge & I’d thought I’d see if I could get a bed or camp there but the place was like the Mary Celeste so I plodded on down the road towards Hilton in the rain feeling a little dejected.
It was nearly 7pm when I reached Ploda Falls & I really didn’t really want to walk 100m further. The car park didn’t have any suitable spots so I pitched up in a forestry turning area a short distance back up the track, the few Vargo ‘Titanium Nails’ I carried came in very useful to hammer into the compacted gravel & get the tarp pitched, by 8:30 I was kicking out the Z’s.

Day 3; 28.1km
Another 8am start with the day looking quite overcast, again! After only 1km I met up with 2 other Challengers pitched up in the woods above Hilton, they’d managed to find a ‘nicer’ spot than me & after a few minutes chat I set off again towards the Guisachan Forest, the electricity pylons guiding the way.
The ongoing work on the power lines (Beally – Denny) has meant that the track has recently been ‘improved’ making for easy navigation & going underfoot (apart from the snow drifts). The weather wasn’t that co-operative with quite heavy snow squalls on occasions, big fluffy wet stuff that hit, stuck & then slowly melted.


Torgyle Bridge was reached in time for lunch sheltering from the wind in the trees before heading off up through the forestry to gain the military road through the Inchnacardoch Forest & a straight forward trudge over to Fort Augustus, a day ahead of schedule.
Fort Augustus: chips; hostel; wash socks; food shopping; shower; ‘The Bothy’ for more food........luxury! Lots of Challengers about, it seems like I’d caught up a whole bunch that had set off the day before me & like me had been funnelled towards Fort Augustus by the poor weather...but hey that’s Scotland!

Day 4: 27km
High winds in the forecast again so I abandoned plans for camping high & cross country traverse over the Monadhliath in favour of continuing my FWA over the Corrieyairack pass.
Despite the power lines & the ongoing construction work it proved more of a pleasant walk than I anticipated, even the sun was shining by the afternoon & the winds weren’t as severe as forecast. Quite a few Challengers had chosen to cross the Corrieyairack & by the time I arrived at Garve Bridge a tent village was growing alongside the river & in the trees a little further downstream.


Day 5: 27.6km
The day started with ~14km road trudge (not my favourite occupation) down through Laggan to Cluny Castle, at least the sun was shining & again the forecasted high winds seemed to have gone elsewhere. The stretch from Laggan to Cluny probably felt the most hazardous part of the trip with numerous heavy trucks hurtling past in both directions, the tyre tracks 1m onto the grass verge & the numerous pieces of vehicular debris definitely quickened the pace.
At Cluny I turned off the road & headed over the Right of Way through Glen Banchor, the glen looking very different to my previous visit in April when winter still had its grip on the place.


I enjoyed a lazy lunch at the Dalnashallag bothy before meandering into Newtonmore.
Newtonmore: Tea & cake at the Newtonmore Hostel; food shopping; eat pies; wash socks; shower; pub for food & ale with lots of challengers for company..........more luxury!

Day 6: 21.1km
I’d arrived in Newtonmore a day ahead of schedule & had 3 days to get to Braemar, to match a B&B booking, so it was a lazy start with a full breakfast at Betty’s cafe before meandering down the cycle path to Kingussie; along the back road to Tromie Bridge with a quick visit to the barracks; forest tracks over to Glen Feshie. I arrived at the Ruigh-aiteachain bothy mid-afternoon, back in very familiar territory now, where I kicked back & enjoyed a relaxing afternoon in the sunshine. Chatted to various Challengers as they arrived & pitched up or just stopped to say hello & continue further up the glen, there was quite a little gathering eventually with a dozen folk in the bothy & at least a dozen tents/ tarps in the neighbourhood.

Day 7: 28km
A chilly morning with frost on the tarp, I was in not in any particular hurry so had another cup of coffee & let the sun do its work in drying everything & airing the sleeping bag before dawdling off around at around 9am admiring the scenery.


I met lots of ‘bodies’ on the trail with some coming from unlikely directions, this group were coming over from Glen Tromie & taking the short cut across the River Feshie.


I finally called it a day just past the Linn of Dee, pitched up in the trees away from the road & enjoyed the evening sunshine while finishing the last of the Talisker (more essential supplies were waiting in Braemar)

Day 8: 9.3km
Really a rest day & no need to rush into Braemar, I was enjoying cup of coffee #3 when another Challenger popped in attracted by the smell, well it would have been rude not to offer a cuppa so we enjoyed a chat over coffee while I tidied the last few bits & pieces away before we dawdled off the 2km to Marr Lodge for tea & biscuits, plus lots of conversation with the dozens of Challengers.
Braemar: beer; lunch; beer; B&B; shower; sort out resupply stuff; beer; food; beer..................... & more beer.

Day 9: 23km
A dull head, a full sack & fast traffic don’t go together but that was my Sunday morning!
It was good to finally wave bye-bye to the A93 at Invercauld, head off into the Ballochbuie Forest & amble down to Connachat Cottage before heading off uphill towards Glen Gelder.
Cloud still clung to the top of Lochnagar as scattered groups of Challangers made their way up through the glen but towards the bealach over into Glen Muick the cloud seemed to magically disappear giving some nice views of Lochnagar.


I pitched up in the trees above Glen Muick, a bit damp but the best available & I was joined later by another Challenger (Craig) with the same idea.

Day 10: 18.9km
Another 8am start, Craig & I wandered over to the Spital of Glenmuick & then up the footpath following the Allt Darrarie before cutting across country to the Shielin of Mark.
The bothy looked as though it had been recent flooded, the ground around the bothy was very soggy, peat hags/ grass sods on the river bank & everything inside seemed dripping wet, even the Bothy book was sodden.
We lunched in the sunshine outside the bothy before Craig headed over Muckle Cairn to Glen Lee & I set off following the Water of Mark downstream towards Mount Keen. Having already got wet feet on the ascent following the river downstream was much simplified, I just waded across to which ever bank looked like the easier ground. After a few kms it was a relatively short bog trot to the west flank of Mount Keen where I decided that straight up into the clag was the simplest option. I stumbled into yet more Challengers heading for Tarfside in the summit clag & buffeting wind before saying bye-bye & descending east into the mist.
I quick bog trot across the bealach soon led to my camp spot on the summit plateau of Braid Cairn, quite exposed but probably the only flat grassy spot in miles. I pitched the Trailstar lower than usual to counter the 30+mph wind & once inside it was quite peaceful just laying there watching the cloud whistle by the entrance.


Day 11: 30.7km
I’d trekked this route before; the passage over Hill of Gairney, Cock Cairn, Hill of Cat, Tampie to the Fungle road was pretty straight forward, a reasonable but sometimes faint trail goes all the way.
Heading east from the Fungle I was now in unfamiliar territory but I picked up a faint trail over Mudlee Bracks to join a LRT which led me to within 2 - 3 km of Mount Battock. Peat hags & bog followed, real character building stuff, even the 45 deg slope up Mount Battock was bog; but at least it wasn’t raining.
Once over Mount Battock it was an easy roller coaster stroll over the plateau on the LRT before descending into Glen Dye to the Charr bothy. A few Challengers were already in residence but after a brief chat I set off down the glen in the company of Humphrey. I stopped just short of Spital Cottage & set up camp by the river while Humphrey continued into Fetteresso.

Day 12: 37.1km
A 7am start & into the Fetteresso Forest!
I don’t know whether it’s just me but if I’m going to get ‘lost’ it’s going to be in a forest, tracks not on the map, missing tracks, only land marks being trees, I un-ashamedly made full use of the GPS for the first time on the trip!
The ongoing construction work building yet another wind farm & logging activities made for some interesting navigation at times & you had to keep the ears pricked up for the trucks well exceeding the 15 mph speed limit.
I reached my planned campsite near Stonehouse just after midday, well ahead of schedule, & had just settled down for lunch when a large vibro-compactor arrived & started running up and down the track opposite. I couldn’t take this so I head off in the direction of Stonehaven, following Humphrey’s suggested route and this soon diverged from all the construction traffic, eventually leading to a pleasant meander along old farm lanes right into the outskirts of Stonehaven. It was a quick march down to the harbour, dip the toes in the habour & then into the Marine Hotel for a pint (or two). Job done & a day earlier than planned!

All that was left to do was to wander into the Park Hotel in Montrose the next day to ‘sign out’ and join the festivities. The first dram was in the car park before I even got into the hotel, a nice drop of 16 yrs old malt straight from the bottle! This was followed by lots of beer, wine, a reasonable meal at the Park, more beer, the odd dram and lots of conversation with familiar faces from the past 2 weeks....a dull head the next day!

Was it worth it? Yes; I’d enjoyed a good yomp across Scotland even though I was a bit disappointed at having to change my planned route; met a whole bunch of nice people.
The people, a very diverse bunch; 18 – 80 years old from around the globe; first timers to 20+ crossing veterans; solo backpackers to groups; very experienced ultra-lightweight backpackers to relative novices. The level of camaraderie across the event was very noticeable.
Would I do it again? Just waiting for the application form for 2014!
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Re: TGOC 2013 Dornie to Stonehaven

Postby Gable Gable End » Tue Feb 11, 2014 12:04 am

Bravo sir. I only just clocked this.

Check your email. Stu :D
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Re: TGOC 2013 Dornie to Stonehaven

Postby mountainstar » Tue Feb 11, 2014 8:27 pm

I missed it as well, a great report on a cracking event.
I may have another go at it when time allows.
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