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]

Monday, 20 May 2019

TGO Challenge Day 10 - Gelder Shiel Bothy to Tarfside

Sunday 19 May (0625-1455)
Distance: 19.3 miles
Ascent: around 750m
Weather: foggy start, but with sunny intervals later. A couple of drizzly periods.

A few days ago I mentioned that my Thermarest had developed a small leak. It hasn't been overly troublesome, just requiring me to give it a puff of breath a couple or three times a night. At just before 4 this morning I woke up with my hips on the ground and contemplated whether I could be bothered moving off my mat to reinflate it. Knowing the cold patch would likely keep me awake if I didn't, I did the shuffle-blow-shuffle. Putting my weight back onto the mat there was a pop and a sudden gush of escaping air. The valve had parted company with the mat and as NeoAirs rely on the air to provide the insulation, that was a catastrophic failure. 

The black plastic valve on the left is supposed to be firmly affixed inside of the black plastic hole on the right. 

Mick, of course, immediately moved over so I could use part of his mat, but they really aren't big enough for two people. I thus lay awake for the next hour before deciding we may as well get up and walk - hence the early start.

Murky start to the day

We had already decided we were walking to Tarfside today, but the imperative had now become to get there as early as possible. Plan A was to get a bed there, with the fallback being that immediately upon arrival I would glue the valve back into place and hope that the glue would have cured adequately by bedtime. The earlier we arrived, the more chance we had of a bed and, failing a bed, the longer the glue would have to cure.

Cutting the day up into chunks, we made it through the fog to Spittal of Glenmuick by second breakfast time (in the circumstances, it pained me not at all to bypass the hill that I had, until the NeoAir incident, intended to run up and down on our way). We'd encountered two Munroists (with whom we passed a few minutes) and two fell runners (who smelt very clean, but I bet that didn't last long) en-route.

Our break for second breakfast lasted 8 minutes - which is swift even by our standards, then we were on to Stage 2: up to Shielin of Mark Bothy. Previously we've approached that Bothy by the longer route of handrailing the burns. Today we went the shorter (but rougher) route of up-and-over. I'm not convinced that the longer route isn't the more efficient option.

A Bothy that looks much nicer from outside than it is inside. 

We must have been a good ten minutes over elevenses at Shielin of Mark, and then only made it to the other side of the river before we had to pause again. I'd rock-hopped across the water without incident. Mick chose a slightly different course that involved a huge sturdy-looking boulder. Turned out it wasn't sturdy. It rolled and he submerged a foot - hence the pause whilst he removed his boot, emptied out the water and wrang out his sock.

The going up to Muckle Cairn felt slow, although it was undoubtedly faster than the last twice we went that way, in the days before smartphone mapping, when we had to manually navigate our way. By the time we topped out at 730m the cloud base had risen to around 750m.

Once we'd picked up the track down the other side, I left Mick behind. I can descend quicker than Mick so it made sense for me to get a shift on to Stables of Lee to get the kettle on before he arrived.

Alas, the room next to the stables, with chairs and a table, is now comprehensively locked up, so we had to make do with sitting on the floor of the stable, which was preferable to being outside as lunch coincided with the wettest bit of drizzle of the day (the first drizzly spell lasted but a few minutes).

Mick's tendinitis was troubling him by now, but exactly 30 minutes after he arrived he was off, leaving me to pack away the stove and catch him up further down the hill.

Looking back along Loch Lee

We arrived at Tarfside just before 3pm to the excellent news that they did indeed have plenty of beds available - Sunday not being a busy day. The volunteers (two of whom completed this year's Challenge in a week, before coming to man the hostel) even sorted out the issue we had realised in the last half an hour of our walk: a double quilt that splits horizontally across the middle is pretty useless in a bunk-bed scenario when you need to provide your own bedding.

As I sit here and type this (after consuming a pot of tea and an egg bap, and having enjoyed a hot shower) I have my Thermarest next to me with the valve glued back into place and I've a reasonable level of confidence that the repair will hold for tomorrow night. Perhaps even long-term as, looking closely at the valve assembly, it appears that it only ever had glue on one side of it, meaning I've been using the thing for years with the valve not properly affixed.

Funnily enough, the last time we came this route to Tarfside we spent the night outside Stables of Lee where we were able to lend this very Thermarest to a Challenger-in-need, because Mick & I happened to find ourselves walking across Scotland with three NeoAirs between us (yep, there's a story behind that; can't remember if it's recounted on the blog post for that day, but I doubt it got much of a mention as it was about that time I drowned my Blackberry and was unable to blog until it recovered a few days later).

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