November (266-279)

Slioch and Am Faochagach – (278 & 279) – 30th November

We may have the end in our sights, but the mental toughness required for this challenge doesn’t seem to be abating! We drove up the night before and slept in “our” now familiar Garve car park (electricity and indoor plumbing, oh my!) after the now obligatory pre-Munro pizzas at home. We stayed up a bit later than planned, glued to the car radio listening to the tragic news of the helicopter crash into the Clutha Pub in Glasgow. This shocking event certainly put into perspective how fortunate we are on a daily basis.After a too-short night sleeping in the car, we pressed the snooze button more than a few times until Jamie managed to drag them both from sleep. We drove round to the car park on the south side of Loch Maree. Kayaks in and we paddled across the approximately 500 metres to the shores on the other side. We’d taken the decision to paddle just in our hiking clothes and carry spares, on the off chance that one of us went in the drink. This meant we weren’t quite as fafftastic as usual; only shoes to change and we were on our way.

A brief bash through gorse and we picked up a well-worn trail that would eventually lead to Shenivall Bothy if we’d been interested in heading back to it. Rather, we diverted off the trail and headed up from the east, hitting the snow line around 800 metres but soft enough that it didn’t pose us any difficulty. The cloud was also around this elevation and we had long since left anything remotely resembling a trail so some navigation was required. As we neared the summit we saw two other hillwalkers approaching, going in the opposite direction around this horseshoe route. I think they were a bit perplexed when we told them that we’d set off two hours later than they had, which just goes to show the time we saved by our 10-minute paddle earlier.

We descended Slioch from the southeast ridge, then took a direct line aiming for the kayaks. This was much steeper and slower going than Jamie might have liked, but we got back to the boats for another 10-minute paddle back to the car, this time with much stronger wind than on the way out. Back to the car by 3:15 with a quick loading of the boats onto the roof before setting off for Number 2 of the day.

En route we realised we wouldn’t have enough fuel to get us back to Inverness later so a little detour to Contin before heading to the car park at the weather station at Loch Glascarnoch. We arrived at 5:00 pm, when it was officially very dark out! The car was shaking with the wind and it was no secret that the route up and down this Munro includes a river crossing that comes with its own health and safety warning (every route description we saw comments on saving this crossing for a dry day, which wasn’t exactly what we were venturing out in!). Andy made the astute comment: “We’ve done some really stupid things this year but this is definitely up there with the stupidest.” We decided to venture at least as far as the river and re-evaluate plans from there. It was pretty clear that if his had been any earlier in the Challenge beyond  a shadow of a doubt we would have cut our losses and headed home without even making a start, but with only a few more potential hiking days between now and the date we’ve set to finish – not to mention the crazy amount we’ve spent on fuel driving to the far northwest reaches of the country – we decided to at least give it a go.

On arriving to the river Andy was feeling pretty confident, stripping down to his skivvies and donning the wetsuit booties in an attempt to be dry while walking for the duration of the night. He plowed ahead and wasn’t particularly interested in waiting for Jamie to sort out the camera settings to get a shot of him crossing the river; he was standing in his underwear in below freezing weather after all! Jamie’s feet were already soaked from the earlier walking due to her now holey boots. She made a lazy attempt at concocting trouser-protectors out of bin bags but the current was so strong they didn’t stand a chance. We both made it safely across the waist-deep water; poles were a necessity as the rocks beneath were incredibly slippery!

From the other side the going got tough as it got really, really windy. It was obviously already dark before we’d even stepped foot from the car but to add to that was a bitterly cold and constantly strong wind that occasionally threatened to take Jamie clean off her feet. The summit was not the easiest to find in these conditions as it’s a bit of a plateau and our headtorches served only to illuminate the rain and mist rather than shed light on anything like a cairn but we got there with Andy’s fab navigating – just long enough for a super quick bite to eat and a quick dash back down to get out of the wind. There’s not much in the way of shelter atop this one so we weren’t lingering for long. The descent was motivating in that the wind began to ease off eventually and before we knew it we were back at the infamous river crossing. At least this time we knew what to expect and we only had another kilometre to go before we would be back at the car. So, with that in mind, there was no hesitating this time around and we went full steam ahead through the still-waist deep water. The last section always seems to take longer than you remember on the way out, but that may also have been because it was approaching 10:00 p.m.! Back to the car for a speedy turnover of clothing and stuffing of leftover pizza down our faces before driving home; the shared drive got us back to the house at 2:00 a.m. As our luck would have it, the next day seemed graced but beautiful sunshine, but Andy was working so was at least able to enjoy some time outdoors, being reminded that it is possible to be outside here without being blown away!

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Mt Keen – (277) – 23rd November

Today’s outing was decided based on Joe’s interest in getting out on the bikes, and Jamie’s interest in having a relatively short and easy day prior to the 5th annual running of her birthday miles with Carrie the following day (and wishing we’re still 21 doesn’t mean we can only run 21 miles!). So, it was Mt Keen for us today, joined by Joe, Steve (a newbie on the Munro Challenge), Carrie and Chuck. Carrie attempted hero-status by doing the ride with slick tires, but was at least sensible enough to ditch her bike before the ice made the decision for her.

Joe, Steve, and Andy rode/pushed/carried their bikes to the top claiming that a descent down an icy track without ice spikers would be “fun.” Luckily they arrived back down safe and sound, though Joe was down an innertube after an impressive snakebite puncture had him deflated in an instant! Meanwhile, Jamie, Carrie and Chuck jog/walked the descent back to where we’d sensibly left our bikes!

Jamie, Carrie, Chuck, Steve, Joe and Andy on Summit of Mt Keen

Jamie, Carrie, Chuck, Steve, Joe and Andy on Summit of Mt Keen

Andy stopped on the way back to check out the well that Queen Victoria visited once upon a time, somewhat disheartened to realise that the route to get there as a diversion from the main track involves tramping through a bog!

The five of us met up again further down the track for the blast back to the cars. Andy, Steve and Joe hadn’t had quite enough mountainbiking for the day so they ventured off to take a bit more in, while Jamie, Carrie and Chuck made a brief pit stop for cakes before driving to the Borders in advance of the Jamie/Carrie annual running of the birthday miles (and sadly we’re not 21 anymore!).

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Glen Feshie: Mullach Clach a’Bhlair, Monadh Mor & Beinn Bhrotain – (274-276) – 17th November

As in weeks before, we decided to spend the night at home on Friday to get up at the crack of dawn on a Saturday (actually, hours before dawn had even considered cracking!) to drive up to Glen Feshie. As luck would have it, we bumped into our new mate, Ian, who had accompanied us for the descent of A’Ghlas-Bheinn in October, in the remote car park. He later may not have thought himself quite as fortunate, as we soon led him astray! We cycled as a trio along the road and onto the track leading up Glen Feshie. Andy had based our route on a description he had read in a mountain bike guidebook, which suggested crossing the river to pick up the best track before crossing back again on a bridge further upstream. Sounded like a brilliant plan, until we got to aforementioned bridge which had clearly been washed out years ago! Poor Ian – he’d joined us for a bit of company and before he knew it was crossing a river, pushing his bike, getting his nice warm feet soaked!

Meanwhile, we took the decision to have dry feet for the rest of the day by taking our shoes and socks off and crossing barefoot with trousers pushed up past our knees. The hot aches that followed later were unbelievably painful and Jamie was pretty close to tears, but once she knew she was out of danger of losing any toes she had to concede that it was nice to have dry feet for the rest of the day! It turned into a bitterly cold day and we were quickly reminded of what conditions had been like at the start of the challenge – often dry, but Baltic!

We pushed our bikes up part of the track toward Mullach Clach a’Bhlair, but were then able to resume cycling and picked up the grassy track, which was intermittently also covered with snow and ice. Jamie reassured herself that the pain of pushing a bike uphill for what seemed like ages would all be worth it when it came time to head back to the car, as the track up would have been easy and speedy riding . . . if only she had known the plan!

The bikes made it all the way to the summit, which made for a much more efficient descent than we’re used to! We then ditched the bikes at the junction with the single track descent route to get back to the car (read: NOT the same wide and easy track we had ascended). And headed on foot on the icy track toward Monadh Mor. We covered some frozen terrain that was probably easier in these conditions given that the bog was largely frozen, before crossing stonier ground to reach the summit of Beinn Bhrotain. The ascent of this one seemed quite gentle in comparison and the trig point we reached seemed easily earned but gratefully received, so we could move along before freezing! We took a slightly circuitous route back to the bikes to minimise the amount of re-ascent we would have to do but began to cycle just as it started to get dark. While Jamie had been looking forward to the efficient (non-pedalling) descent down the track we had come up, Andy was keen to reccy the single track descent he had heard so much about. So, with the fear of getting lost in the dark and with only one cycle repair kit between us, we ventured together down the single track. Before too long Jamie was again pushing her bike, this time down a track that would have been quite fun to run down had it not been for the big mountain bike she had to carry along with her! Some work has clearly been done in this area and a huge number of water channels have been built through the track, leading to steps and stony gaps that were just too much for Jamie and her lack of biking skills. Eventually she got to a section that was again rideable and we probably did make it back to the car faster than we would have without the bikes, but it sure felt a lot like hard work to have pushed them both up and down large chunks of the day! Andy enjoyed sections of it, but agreed the guidebook was clearly written a) before the bridge was washed away three years ago and b) before water channels were created every few feet making the ride less enjoyable than it probably was a few years ago. We’ll know better for next time (ha, as if!).

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Inverlael: Seana Bhraigh, Eididh na Clach Geala, Meall nan Ceapraichean, Beinn Dearg & Cona Mheall – (269-273) – 10th November

We started out the day with high hopes of completing all six Munros in the Inverlael area, going so far as to ask Carrie and Chuck to set up a car shuttle for us, but as soon as we got above 600m it was pretty clear that getting all of them done was an unlikely goal. We had driven up the night before and slept in the car in the car park, but a leisurely dinner at home led to a late arrival, which meant that the alarm at 5:30 a.m. was not enticing! We still managed to start before 7:00 a.m., but with daylight precious we had no time for sitting around enjoying our Frosties!The initial walk in had us enjoying views over to the Fannichs, which distracted us from our route and we were soon covering pathless ground when a path may have existed elsewhere. Ah well, that was the least of our worries, really! Unlike last weekend when the snow was just a dusting and it was soft enough to walk with ease, today quickly became a lot like hard work and before we knew it we were taking turns in 10 minute increments to break trail through the sometimes waist-deep snow. It was soft in some places, frozen solid in others, leading to a regular jolt to the system when a punch through had one of us literally stopped in our tracks and barely able to get out without assistance. It was exhausting work, made especially annoying by one of us regularly commenting on how perfect a day it would be for skis or snowshoes . . . ah, if only we had thought of them sooner!

Carrie and Chuck caught us up by the summit of Meall nan Ceapraichean; we’d like to think this was because we had broken trail for them and because we waited once we made the definite decision that we were not going to push on to the sixth Munro (and therefore were going to beg for a lift back to where they’d moved our car only hours earlier!), but in actual fact it’s just because they’re ridiculously fit! It was great to have their company to complete the rest of the day, and not just because Chuck broke trail for the duration! In good news, we at least had superb views throughout the day, which were visible through the gaps in our hoods trying to keep the cold off.

Once we were above the snow line today we didn’t drop beneath it again until the walk out so today was truly the reintroduction of winter conditions. The walk out from Cona Mheall was about 12km – this felt suspiciously more like 12 miles at the end of a tiring day punching through snow, but at least we had the company of good friends.

Many thanks, as always, to Carrie and Chuck for their generous support of the Challenge. Not only did they drive our car ‘round to the finish for us this morning, but 14 hours later they drove us back again when we didn’t quite achieve the goal we’d set for ourselves. And the only thanks they accepted were Jelly Babies!

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Sgurr nan Coireachn, Sgurr Thuilm & Gulvain – (266, 267 & 268) – 2nd November

With only one day to spare this weekend we tackled the hills near Glenfinnan and Loch Eil, striking distance for a day trip from Glasgow for the uber-motivated. And by “uber-motivated” we mean willing to get up at 4 a.m. for the privilege of a day out in snow and rain to get three more Munros off the list.

The alarm at 0400 was an unpleasant shock to the system; the fact that we did any hills at all today was fairly impressive! Andy took the morning driving shift, fuelled with coffee, and parked up near the Glenfinnan viaduct, the site of our first LAMM competition a few years ago. The cycle along the paved road was a wonderful change of terrain from last week’s cycle access, which had us riding/walking through cow mess up to our calves (no pun intended!). Who knew cycling on tarmac could be so inviting?! The miles went quickly until we reached the junction where we would be descending later; we locked the bikes to each other and headed up the path. Snow greeted us under foot and overhead around 750 metres – we changed the clocks last weekend and winter has unmistakenly come to greet us! Despite the snow, visibility was actually pretty good and the first summit was reached without drama. The second, too, followed the ups and downs of a few bumps between the peaks but with good visibility and relatively light winds we were counting ourselves lucky, even remarking on comments made earlier this year that we would take snow over rain any day!  Then, around 600 metres, our enthusiasm for a bit of snow was dampened by heavy rain. We slipped and slid our way down the grassy slopes to regain the track where our bikes awaited us.

We had an awesome and quick ride back to the car, where we proceeded to sit for about 20 minutes debating how to work up the motivation to drive around to do the next hill of the day. Jamie was so determined to not have to put on cold, wet gear that she spent the drive sitting with her bike helmet on! In the end, though, a bit of sense took over and some dry layers were substituted for the drenched ones before we started again.Some eating of cereal and brownies was done in the car to try to motivate and we rallied to get going. Aside from Jamie dropping her bike on her head getting it off the roof, the cycling part of this third hill was quite good, and luckily the rain eased off once we were underway. The ascent was largely uneventful, though it was getting dark shortly after we set off. Again, Andy’s super nav skills came in handy and we headed directly for the trig point and summit, where it had started to snow. Below 700m this was falling as rain, but at least we could put dry clothes on and have a hot drink once back at the car! The descent back to the bikes seemed to take at least as long as the walk up had done, but that may just have been Jamie’s quads talking.

We had a really good ride back to the car at the end of the day, which was fortunate since Jamie had pretty much had enough of wet tussocks by then!

A pit stop in Fort William for Andy to have fish and chips while Jamie made a pathetic attempt at supernoodles in the car, before heading home – but at least she had hot chocolate.

The relief of wet boots off at last!

The relief of wet boots off at last!

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