The Road goes ever on and on; Down from the door where it began;
Now far ahead the Road has gone; And I must follow, if I can;
Pursuing it with eager feet; Until it joins some larger way;
Where many paths and errands met; And whither then? I cannot say.

[JRR Tolkien, Lord of the Rings]

Saturday, 12 May 2012

TGOC Day 1 - Shiel Bridge to beyond Alltbeithe Youth Hostel (Glen Affric)

Friday 11 May 2012 (0815-1655)
Distance: 14.5 miles (as measured in straight lines!)
Ascent: 4200
Weather: mainly snow (rain lower down), but with some short fine spells later
Number of times I fell over: 5!!

Three hours into this morning I had to wonder why we were slogging through snow, in attrocious visibility and huffing and puffing our way from sea level to top out at just under 3400', when we could just have taken the valley path and been at Alltbeithe in time for lunch. I'm not sure what the enjoyment is of walking up hills when you can't see anything of them, but my incentive was simply to gain a bit more fitness before we hit the PCT at the end of the month.

Even though Shiel Bridge is one of the most popular signing out points (56 people this year), it had seemed fairly quiet last night and although we saw a few people milling around as we signed out, and passed a couple on our way to Morvich, we didn't then see any other Challengers until Alltbeithe, some 14 miles later.

We did see one day-walker. He'd been ahead of us heading up Beinn Fhada, but having reached the snow line, he had thought better of his excursion and bid a retreat. "Wise man!" I was to think, about half an hour later.

Despite the heavy snow falling, the lack of visibility, and the depth of snow having completely obliterated the path, we managed to make it to the top without too much fuss. Fortunately it's a hill where the 'just keep heading uphill' method of navigation doesn't lead you into danger (okay, so we may have been a tiny bit more technical about it than that).

Incredibly, despite being lashed by snow on the way up, when we got to the summit, there was a lull. With not a breath of wind, but with fat snowflakes gently falling, we sat and had elevenses.

More incredible was that within a couple of minutes of leaving the summit, the cloud broke up enough for us to be able to see our route ahead, along the ridge heading generally east.

Our optimism that it was the materialisation of the forecast improvement in the weather was misplaced, as a while later we found ourselves being absolutely blasted by horizontal snow whilst wading through knee deep snow. That wasn't the worst part of the day, mind. That came at what appeared to be the trickiest bit of the ridge (or do I just mean 'narrowest'?) when conditions approached white-out.

Picking our way oh-so-carefully along, barely able to see a hand in front of our faces, suddenly the day transformed. We went from near white-out to stunning views in an inconceivably short timeframe. And what views! Absolutely indescribably magnificent. Stunning. Gorgeous. (Sorry - my phone was safely tucked away in my pack, and I didn't get it out for a blog photo.)

Suddenly all of that effort of the ascent, the stinging snow in the face and the wading through knee deep white stuff was entirely worthwhile.

The views stayed with us (bar during a few passing showers) as we finished the last bit of the ridge and set about the treacherous descent. A thin layer of slushy snow, covering the slippiest grass and mud known to man led to us slip sliding our way down.

Alltbeithe Youth Hostel had been in view from our lunch spot (a late lunch at 14.45 - no way were we pausing in the earlier conditions), but it seemed to take an age to get there. We'd earmarked the place for a nice sociable cup of tea with those Challengers who were staying there tonight, but it wasn't to be. The hostel wasn't opening until 5pm, and we hadn't planned to camp in its immediate vicinity, so we weren't feeling inclined to hang around for 45 minutes. Onwards we went.

We didn't go very much further. A flat bit of grass was found (not that they're lacking hereabouts) and up we popped the tent before the next shower hit. It's nice and warm in here when the sun comes out, but as we type the sleety rain is bouncing off the nylon.

Allegedly, tomorrow's weather will be better, before it take a nose-dive on Sunday.

(Conrad - hope the knee is showing signs of recovery. We thought of you today: "Conrad's been here" I said, as we stood atop Beinn Fhada.)

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange


  1. 90mph winds over the summits coming in the days ahead apparently. Anyway at least your been bagging summits. Enjoy it.

  2. Wow Gail you really know how to enjoy yourselves!

  3. We had some sleet in south lakes yesterday but absolutely nothing in comparison to you.
    Today saturday, it has been like summer apart from the tops. We went up Wetherlam.
    Hope you get better conditions soon.

  4. Good luck for the Crossing x

  5. Beinn Fhada was a memorable ascent. I had my friend Pete with me who is five years older than me, and instead of taking the easier route via Bealach an Sgairn we ascended every steeply onto the end of the long skyline taking in all the ups and downs of the subsidiary summits on that great ridge, and it nearly did for Pete; his story of that day gets better every time he tells it, which is quite often.

    I am doing excruciating exercises four times a day on the knee which is still very swollen and quite painful, but I have progressed to being able to get round the house today without using the wretched crutches which are always falling on the floor or unexpectedly getting in the way of things - all very frustrating.

    Your ambitious route so far is impressive. I have memories of a very wet tramp from Altbeithie to the Falls of Glomah and onwards to Maol Bhuide bothie on my LEJOG.

  6. If I'd known you were starting from Shiel Bridge I'd have looked out for you as you passed Morvich. We did see a number heading along by the River Croe. I think the possiblity of a weather clearance, such as you experienced, is a good reason to go out in such conditions. Pity you didn't get pics though!

  7. Gonna be one of the coldest yet I think! Hope you guys have a safe crossing! :-) J

  8. Well done on going high - nice hill, Beinn Fhada.