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Vetter Comments on my Challenge Route Plan

Photo Courtesy of Martin Rye

Everyone who participates in the TGO Challenge has to submit a route plan that describes the path that they will use to cross from the west coast of Scotland to the east in enough detail that it can be reviewed by Challenge Control. This is done to ensure that everyone has a safe walk and to accommodate the wishes of certain land owners, including the Royal Family, who might request that people not camp in certain areas. There's also the chance that certain routes or river crossings might be closed or not exist anymore, and the route vetters help spot these in advance, making everyone's journey more enjoyable.

I submitted my route to Roger Smith who coordinates the event about 10 days ago and promptly got some feedback back from my route vetter, John Donohoe.  I really didn't know what to expect from this process, but John's feedback has been extremely valuable in adjusting my route. He's graciously agreed to let me reproduce it below, so that future challenge participants can better understand what to expect from this process. It makes great reading too.


Route comments: Philip Werner      16 February 2010 
 

Dear Philip,

Welcome to the Challenge and thanks for your routesheet. You have picked an interesting route across some very special countryside and I’m sure you will have a great time. I do not foresee any particular difficulties with what you have planned, but I do have some comments on individual days.

Thur 13 May. Shiel Bridge is a very popular starting point so you should have the company of other Challengers when you set off. The simplest way to get there is by Citylink coach from Glasgow. There are 4 coaches each day and two of them travel via the International airport. They normally stop for at least half an hour in Fort William; this could allow time to pick up fresh food and stove fuel, though it might be better to do this in Glasgow. Whatever method you use to get to the start point it is a good idea to make a reservation in advance, as the buses and trains will be full of happy backpackers.

Fri 14 May. The track up Glen Lichd is an easy angled start and there is a lean-to shelter at the side of Glenlicht House where you can brew some tea and shelter from the rain. Camban is an open bothy and also a useful stop. By this stage you will have realised that the single line of dashes does not guarantee that a continuous path exists on the ground. The hostel at Alltbeithe (the stream of the birch trees), will have some spaces available for unbooked visitors if the weather is bad.

Sat 15 May. The ascent of Mam Sodhail (pronounced mam sool, meaning barn shaped peak) and Carn Eige (pronounced approximately aiya, meaning notched or serrated peak) is an excellent expedition and there are no particular difficulties on the route you have planned; descending south or SW from Sgurr na Lapaich can lead to awkward rocky terraces. The best way down is to continue down the long SE ridge to hit the path at NH176239 which leads down to Loch Affric. The residents in Affric Lodge do not welcome walkers crossing the nearby bridge, so cross at NH 199232. There is a good spot to camp at NH 179222.

Sun 16 May. The Pocock family at Cougie are very welcoming so you might get some cake and coffee there. The route to the River Doe is a delightful grassy track all the way. There are other options; e.g. south to Bealach Feith na Gamhna then south to the minor road or SE to the landrover track to Torgyle Bridge.

Mon 17 May. I would not recommend the open hillside east of Meall Damh. I suggest you take the minor road east through Dalchreichart then go up under the pylon lines to meet the Old Military Road near the Allt Phocaichain. You can walk along the A887 to Achlain, but drivers on these roads do not expect to meet walkers, so take care.

Tue 18 May. The Corrieyairack Pass is one of the network of military roads built after the 1715 Jacobite Rising to control the Highland clans. It is showing its age now but is still a great walk. Melgarve bothy can be a useful shelter, though its proximity to the road means it is sometimes infested with undesirable types, wasters and poltroons, not all of whom are on the Challenge. There are however lots of idyllic camping spots all the way to Garva Bridge.

Wed 19 May. Take the path at NN 584934 to meet the A86 at NN 604935. This will take you past the Monadhliath Hotel near the ruined church and the pottery and tearoom at Middleton, for delicious tea and cakes! There is a good campsite at Glentruim if you feel like some comfort. You can cut directly across the very fast A9 and a short scramble through the woodland will meet the Phones track.

Thur 20 May. Kingussie is an excellent rest and resupply spot.

Fri 21 May. Druim na Feuraich looks a long way round. I suggest you take the B970 to Ruthven from where you could go over the hill path to Glentromie Lodge, or continue past the historic Ruthven Barracks to Tromie Bridge. Unless we hear that the ruined Carnachuin bridge has been replaced, I suggest you cross the river Feshie at NN 850964. The bothy at Ruigh-aiteachain is where the famous painting Monarch of the Glen was painted by Sir Edwin Landseer in 1851.

Sat 22 May. The road on the north side of the River Dee through Claybokie is the nicer route; cross along the front drive of the magnificent Mar Lodge to Victoria Bridge.

Sun 23 May. The little footpath directly behind Connachat Cottage saves a bit of track mileage. I don’t know how you were planning to get from Meikle Pap (meaning little peak); the slopes over Cuidhe Crom and Little Pap look inviting but have large areas of unstable boulders to cross; you would be better to go on to the summit of Lochnagar and down the path by the Glas-allt, or return to the path junction at NO 272860 and take the path south. Camping is not encouraged anywhere around Loch Muick, but there is a charming little bothy in the courtyard at the rear of the Glas-allt-shiel hunting lodge which you are welcome to use.

Mon 24 May. This is straightforward enough if you locate the top of the track down Muckle Cairn, (meaning big hill). Be sure to visit the ladies in St. Drostan’s beside the Episcopal church for tea and sympathy. With luck you might locate the mysterious and legendary Masonic Arms pub.

Tue 25 May. You would be better to look for accommodation in Edzell or camp at North Water Bridge rather than trudge on to Brechin. The main A935 road to Mains of Dun is fast and dangerous and it is better to use the network of minor roads.

I hope you find some of this information useful. If you wish to discuss any points or any further information please e-mail me. I hope you have a very pleasant crossing.

Best wishes,

John

John Donohoe


Then we had some follow-up correspondence. The yellow highlights are mine.

John,

Thanks you for your excellent comments on my route sheet. I just have a few follow-on questions for you.

Sat 15 May. The ascent of Mam Sodhail (pronounced mam sool, meaning barn shaped peak) and Carn Eige (pronounced approximately aiya, meaning notched or serrated peak) is an excellent expedition and there are no particular difficulties on the route you have planned; descending south or SW from Sgurr na Lapaich can lead to awkward rocky terraces. The best way down is to continue down the long SE ridge to hit the path at NH176239 which leads down to Loch Affric. The residents in Affric Lodge do not welcome walkers crossing the nearby bridge, so cross at NH 199232. There is a good spot to camp at NH 179222

–>Are you suggesting the I descend the ridge leading to Sgurr na Lapaich by backtracking a bit west from the summit and descending to the northeast near NH 151 246 down to the path that parallels Abhainn Geann nam Fiadh?

Sun 23 May. The little footpath directly behind Connachat Cottage saves a bit of track mileage. I don’t know how you were planning to get from Meikle Pap (meaning little peak); the slopes over Cuidhe Crom and Little Pap look inviting but have large areas of unstable boulders to cross; you would be better to go on to the summit of Lochnagar and down the path by the Glas-allt, or return to the path junction at NO 272860 and take the path south. Camping is not encouraged anywhere around Loch Muick, but there is a charming little bothy in the courtyard at the rear of the Glas-allt-shiel hunting lodge which you are welcome to use.

–>I understand. Do you think it's acceptable to hike west of Loch Muick toward the White Mounth and camp along Dubh Loch, below Eagles rock? It's a short detour and since it will be one of my last nights in the backcountry, I'm interested in a wild camp at an inspirational location.


To which John replied

Hi Philip

It is good to hear from you. I am quite happy for you to publish any comments, and for my name to be available; there are enough of my meanderings out there in cyberspace, though a search usually throws  up vice-presidents of Mid West plastics factories or convicts transported to the Australian colonies for sheep stealing or bootlegging liquor.

 
To the specific points.
Descent from Sgurr na Lapaich: These North West Highlands were once joined to Appalachia, Canada, and Greenland before the tectonic plates split and the Atlantic Ocean opened up and widened with volcanoes forming Iceland and along the present Scottish western coastline. So the mountains have been knocked about a bit over a long time. The last big event was glaciation and this caused the typical landscape of roughly uniform mountain height about 3000 feet cut by deep steep sided, flat-bottomed or u-shaped valleys. Where they are bowl shaped they are usually called a coire, corree, from the Gaelic for a cauldron. The flat tops and steep sides mean that it can be difficult to see a safe route down without careful study of the map. As I used to live in Inverness I know this area well and have climbed Sgurr na Lapaich a number of times. From the summit walk down the ridge on a bearing of 142 degrees, changing to 124 as the ridge bends skirting the occasional rocky outcrop until the terrain flattens about NH 164237; from here a bearing of around 80 should take you to the path coming south from Gleann nam Fiadh where it reaches the edge of the escarpment down to Glen Affric. Of course if the weather turns nasty , with high winds or thick mist I would take the safer option of retracing my steps to the lip of Coire Leachavie; it's about the same distance but sheltered and a good stalkers' path all the way to the floor of the glen.
 
Loch Muick: The sensitivity about Loch Muick is that it is on the Royal Estate of Balmoral and members of the Royal Family can be about during Challenge time; so we don't encourage camping near any of the buildings, especially around the north end of the loch. There is no problem elsewhere in camping discreetly, the more remote and wild the spot the better; indeed this is specifically enshrined in our access law in Scotland. In good calm weather the best camping can be up on the plateau rather than deep in the glen, where the sun disappears early. So a spot like NO 217838 would be idyllic. If the weather is bad, follow the stream down, skirting left at the headwall of the corrie to avoid some awkard boilerplate slabby rocks. There may be some spots at the west end of the Dubh Loch (black lake), the side along the path is boggy and tussocky; you could also try further down the outflow stream where the ground flattens again, but failing that continue down to the bothy.
 
This opens up the option of going south from Braemar via Lochcallater Lodge and up by Carn an t-Sagairt Mor (Taggart Mor, the peak of the big priest) rather than by Ballochbuie Forest and Gelder Shiel. If you camp high you can decide in the morning whether to continue over Lochnagar or go via Allt an Dubh Loch. I won't even mention the pleasure of a cup of tea or something stronger from Stan and Bill, custodians of Lochcallater Lodge and guardian angels for distressed Challengers. Local greeting of "Fit Like?" goes down well.
 
Let me know if there is anything else I can help you with
John

9 comments

  1. "wasters and poltroons"! How exciting! I do hope you have a few brushes with them just for the spiciness of it.

  2. Good luck in the TGO Challenge

  3. Good advice from John, Philip. I’d recommend a camp by the Allt an Dubh-loch where the burn bends away from the path. I was there just like weekend and posted a picture of the camp on my blog.

  4. I just read that post again. Sounds like a magnificent location not to be missed. Thanks Chris.

  5. "Melgarve bothy can be a useful shelter, though its proximity to the road means it is sometimes infested with undesirable types, wasters and poltroons, not all of whom are on the Challenge" Odd comment as o the 06 Challenge we meet lots great Challengers there and climbers staying the night. You could meet claimed undesirables ( I wonder what is one? Maybe they read Trail Magazine?, or maybe I am in a grouchy mood) any time and that is no reason not to call in to the bothy to see who is about. Camping at Gave Bridge has legally the need to ask permission as it is fenced in there and not open ground. I asked once and it was fine. Cows can be a problem there so be aware.

    "Camping is not encouraged anywhere around Loch Muick" My my lets all worry that the Queen might come by. Well, lets be good and keep to the wishes of the Challenge. Thing is as I read the law about wildcamping in Scotland camping by Lock Muick is legal. I would have been on Cromwell's side back in the English civil war. My sovereign queen has 50,000 acres to shoot the local wildlife plus a few thousand more acres she hires to allow more shooting in-between shooting wildlife in Norfolk where I live where she has another estate. Would a lone backpacker be that unwelcome ? Is the Scottish parliaments law allowing wildcamping unwelcome on the Royal lands. Is the UK ?? I will get my coat.

  6. Martin, yes, the key phrase is "not encouraged". But under the access legislation it is allowed. I would have been on Cromwell's side too.

    I think John Donohue's comment on Melgarve was meant to be humourous rather than serious.

  7. Philip, I have often seen tents at the west end of Dubh Loch, no doubt climbers testing themselves on the cliffs above!

    John is correct about the ground around the loch being awkward in places, the Northern tip near the end of the path on the map has an awkward boulder field and the path that runs east from here is very often bogey.

    However from the east end of the loch down to Loch Muick the going is good.

    The high plateau as suggested would be good for camping, there is plenty of level grassland, some nice spots between Broad Cairn and Cairn Bannoch.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/paulsammonds/3698473

  8. Paul – I have been admiring your flickr stream this morning. Fantastic scotland photos at http://www.flickr.com/photos/paulsammonds/sets/

    I really like this Carn Eige ridge shot: http://www.flickr.com/photos/paulsammonds/2918416

    I'll be there in 2 months!

  9. Philip, I hope you get to walk these ridges in similar weather to what I enjoyed. Have a great trip.

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