Sunday, 24 May 2009
TGO Challenge 09 Part 1: The Sunny West
This year was the 30th TGO Challenge, that unique backpacking event that goes coast to coast across the Scottish Highlands. I was on the first Challenge, way back in 1980 (29 years ago, not 30 – there was no Zero Challenge!), and this year was my 13th crossing. Extremely stormy weather marked the first two days of the event and many Challengers had a rough start. I didn’t begin until the second evening however and caught just one last sharp shower as I walked up Gleann Beag from my start point at Glenelg. There followed five beautifully clear sunny days. The light was sharp with even distant hills standing out distinctly. In the glens it was hot during the day but a breeze kept the summits cool while clear skies meant near freezing temperatures at night. I wandered towards the Great Glen over a series of fine hills - Beinn Sgritheall, which has some of the finest sea and mountain views in the Highlands, Beinn na h-Eaglaise, Beinn nan Caorach, Sgurr a’Mhaorich, Gleouriach, Spidean Mialach and Meall na h-Eilde. Other than a couple of day walkers I saw no one during this time. The glorious hills were all mine. The campsites were wonderful too, though finding dry ones took a little time in places, the ground saturated with the rain and snowmelt of recent weeks. No midges and no rain meant I could sit outside watching the play of the light on the hills, the shimmering of the water in the burns and the subtle colours of the spring grasses. As the days passed the gentle southerly breeze swung to the east and began to strengthen. On Meall na h-Eilde it made walking hard and I abandoned my plan of climbing the two Munros to the east and instead dropped down the lovely Gleann Cia-aig with its scattering of ancient birch trees, fresh with spring green, and the burn bubbling and foaming in a series of cascades, water slides and little falls. Down in the woods of the Great Glen it was hot and sticky despite the wind. The next day I climbed out of Glen Spean past the sparkling Grey Corries to the high pass of the Lairig Leacach. Now the wind was so strong it stopped me moving at times. Three walkers coming down said they had retreated from the Grey Corries due to the wind. My intention of climbing the Easains had already been blown away on this wind blasted, wind scoured day. Instead I rushed down the muddy path to Loch Treig and on to Loch Ossian, exhilarated by the wind, to eventually camp in the Uisge Labhair glen after what turned out, at 37 kilometres, to be the longest day of the walk. During the night the wind brought rain and cloud. The nature of the land had changed as I left the Western Highlands. Now the nature of the walk would change with the weather.
Photo info: Camp in Easter Glen Quoich. Canon EOS 450D, Canon EF-S 18-55mm IS@32mm, 1/125@F5.6, ISO 100, raw file converted to JPEG in Lightroom 2.