TGOC2018 Shiel Bridge to Melgarve May 11 - May 14

May 11, Shiel Bridge to Camban Bothy, 16 km, ascent 637 m

After a good night's sleep I was up early and after a wonderful breakfast I signed out at 9 o'clock. There were quite a few of us walking towards Morwich, where we turned off from the road to follow the tracks towards Camban bothy and Glen Affric. The weather was perfect, just right for walking, albeit a bit windy. 

Sunrise, day 1

There was a strong wind from the east, which meant that we were walking into the wind.  As I got closer to the pass, the wind picked up. I was very happy for my walking poles, as it felt as though the gusts would push me off the trail at times. I also had some difficulties walking, which I attributed to the wind. Eventually it started to rain. At first it was just a drizzle, but combined with the wind and my walking problems I decided to pop in to Camban bothy for a snack. There were already a couple of challengers there, and while we were talking it started to rain more. Realizing I wouldn't reach my intended camp site I decided to stay in the bothy. More challengers came during the evening and I think there were 12-13 people staying the night. 

May 12, Camban Bothy to Cougie, 24 km, ascent 440 m, 3 hours of thigh-high heather interspersed with bogs and a deer fence

I slept fairly well during the night. A couple of times I found it a bit hard to breathe. At first I thought I was coming down with a cold, in retrospect I think there was mold in the bothy. After breakfast I packed and started walking as soon as possible. The morning was glorious, sunny and warm, and walking was pure joy. At Glen Affric Youth Hostel I stopped for a snack. This was the first time I met Chelsea, Ray and Chris from Michigan. I had been in contact with Chelsea prior to the challenge, so it was nice to meet them. 

Leaving Camban

Heading towards Loch Affric

Looking back

Loch Affric

Towards Cougie
Just after that last pic was taken I came to a boggy area. I lost the trail for a bit and saw tracks going everywhere. However, there were some tracks veering off to the left, and since I knew the trail would turn left I thought this was my trail. So I turned left. Bad choice, though I didn't know this at the time. The going was extremely difficult. The heather was very high, it was like walking in deep water. I considered turning back, but decided to continue to the hydro plant access tracks that I knew lay ahead. But when I reached the site of the tracks they were gone, the ground was recently broken up in an attempt to restore it. I tried to follow the restored tracks, but my boots and poles got stuck constantly. To free my poles I had to get on my hands and knees, and as I got up my poles got stuck again. I finally managed to free both my boots and poles. 

By now I was on the other side of the restored access road, and didn't even think about going back. So I continued up the hill, in the general direction of the path. I was back to  negotiating the heather again. It was very frustrating to know the track was somewhere not far in front of me and being unable to get there. Every summit I reached turned out to be a false summit. And then I came upon the deer fence. It stretched out in both directions and no gate in sight. The hill was quite steep, or at least so it felt. The fence ran parallel to the tracks I was trying to reach, so I decided to follow it, hoping I'd find an unlocked gate. Most of the time I had to hang on to the fence, that's how steep it was. At times I was scared for my life. I was afraid I would fall and break a leg (or my neck!) and die of starvation because nobody knew where I was (I know, drama queen and all that). There wasn't even a place to sit down and rest for a while, it was all heather and swamp.

Finally I reached a summit where I could see the tracks to Cougie 150 meters away. On the other side of the deer fence. And to make things worse, the fence was now turning left, whereas the road was turning right. Ahead I could see a spot where a fence post was reinforced, and I decided to climb it. On my fifth or so attempt I managed to push my pack  over. I then climbed the fence and finally reached the road. Just as I got to it Katherine passed by. She said that Kate and Sarah had asked about me, since they had seen me walk off across the hills. So, somebody knew where I was, after all! I later learned that there had been more people lost on that hill, but I never saw anybody else.

When I walked into Cougie I was extremely tired. I didn't have a reservation, but Melanie managed to get me a room anyway. Need I say that I slept like a baby?

May 13, Cougie to Fort Augustus, 34 km, ascent 940 m

Once again, I hadn't reached my planned camp site yesterday, due to my unfortunate stroll up the heathery hill. This meant that I had quite a long walk to reach Fort Augustus today. In the morning it was raining, but it soon stopped and the sun came out. Instead of contour lining across to the power line access tracks (I was told that it was very boggy) I, and almost everybody else going towards Fort Augustus walked up to Plodda Falls and turned right on the access road. This made the day quite a bit longer, but the going easier. I later met a challenger who had cut across, and it had taken at least the same amount of time, if not more. 

Today I was experiencing the same problem with walking as I did the first day. I didn't have full range of motion in my right leg. Sometimes my leg or hip hurt, but most of the time my lower back hurt. I have always been a slow walker, but this made me extremely slow. To make up for my speed (or lack of it) I only took very short breaks, snacking while I walked. After a very long uphill stretch I finally arrived at the top of the access road. The walk down to Torgyle Bridge was lovely. The sun was shining and the views were wonderful. I usually don't have any problems going downhill, and today was no exception. 

After crossing the bridge it was uphill again, following General Wade's Military Road. At the top I realized I had to cross under the power lines quite a few times. After Torgyle Bridge I didn't see any challengers at all, I assume they walked up closer to the power lines. For some reason I don't like walking close to, or under, power lines (and don't get me started on dams), so I would go as fast as I could when I was close to them, finally passing under the last ones. 

As I got nearer the descent into Fort Augustus I was a bit worried that my legs were too tired for the steep descent, but once again I had no problems going down. The final walk to the hostel was on tarmac. By now my feet had just about given out, and that final stretch took almost 30 minutes. I arrived at Morag's Lodge at about 19.30 and once again slept like a baby.

Where the trolls live

Low clouds.

Start of the access road. No, I'm not going to Skye.

A beautiful forest road

Loch Na Beinne Báine, my intended camp the previous night.

Crossing Torgyle Bridge.

May 14, Fort Augustus to Melgarve bothy, 22 km, ascent 862 m

I woke up to another beautiful morning.One problem staying in a hostel is that I don't want to wake the other people in the room, so I got a late start. After breakfast at the hostel, I walked down to the post office to send some things home. When I finally continued towards General Wade's Military Road it was close to 9.30. Before the challenge I had read that the start of the military road was a bit difficult to find, and it was. I had good help from the OSMAND app though (thanks Pat!). Too bad I didn't remember that app when I was roaming the hillside on my way to Cougie.

Once on the military road the going was easy. Well, maybe not easy, it was uphill for maybe five or six hours. Today was another day of false summits. Some other challengers told me that the summit we could see was the final one. And then, just around the bend, the tracks just kept going up and up.In their defence they hadn't been this way in 10 years. At the top of the Corrieyairack Pass I was walking with Ray and Chris from Michigan, I was still a bit worried that I'd fall and get hurt, and that nobody was behind that could find me. I think this is why they stayed behind me until we got to the bottom of the pass. As soon as we reached the bottom they passed me, going quite a lot faster. Fairly soon I reached Melgarve bothy, where I decided to stop for the night. There were a couple of chalengers there already, and some actually arrived after I did. The bothy is located in a very beautiful spot, and we saw a large herd of deer grazing in the fields below us.

Fort Augustus locks

Not the way to the Military Road

Looking back towards Fort Augustus

Old bridge on the Military Road

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