Light penetrates the tent and I leap joyously out of bed. Well, ok, maybe not. But I certainly don’t linger and am up and about quite early. I’m keen to make the most of the weather while I can. After consulting the forecast last night, thoughts of having a rest day using my day in hand receded – I’d have nothing to gain weather-wise from delaying, so I might as well be about it. I’d sooner keep the day in hand banked and use it if I need to later on.
I’m away by 8am, my earliest start so far, but even so I notice that a few Challengers have slipped away before I even got up. That’s a bit keen. You know who you are.
As the campsite is on the edge of Braemar and right on the A93, I really can’t be arsed with backtracking to take the golf course road, and it’s early on a Sunday morning so I chance it. I survive. I arrive at Auchallater and am having a read of the sign there when Jim Davidson turns up. We walk up to Lochallater Lodge together and are soon ensconced inside nursing cups of tea and club biscuits. Out of a window, I spy Dave Clark approaching and think about hiding – surely he’s had enough of me the last two days ? I’m tempted to punish him further by joining him on Jock’s Road, but decide to stick to my plan.
Dave heads off down the east side of the loch while I begin climbing the track leading south from the Lodge. Spots of rain fall and I add my windproof hoping it passes. It doesn’t and indeed gets worse as I get higher. The windproof is swapped out and the Full Paramo is activated. A few false summits and then I’m at the real one, bands of cloud rushing over the mountain top alternately cloaking and revealing my path. A stiff breeze pushes the cloud and makes a long stop uncomfortable.
A hare bounds across the scattered rocks as I head away from the summit of Carn an Tuirc and make my way down to the bealach. The walk up to my next target – Cairn of Claise is gentler than it looks, but that’s offset by increasingly unpleasant conditions. A broken wall leads me to the summit and I’m stood there in the full force of the wind and lashing rain. I’m starting to get cold, and the route to the next Munro is nowhere to be seen. It feels like the time to call it a day and descend. I stand there a while while I work out which valley offers the best combination of a quick and safe way down, and somewhere useful to my route. The obvious choice is Glen Isla as the map shows a path starting somewhere along the wall line that will take me all the way down over an obvious descending ridge. Sounds good. I’ve got a signal, so I flash the bat signal into the sky that I’m taking a foul weather detour, download the map tiles (infuriatingly the top bit of Glen Isla isn’t on any of the maps I brought – doh!) and pick my way over the rocks.
Navigationally, my decision proves to be sound. The wall, and then obvious path, take me unerringly towards Glas Maol and then veering over Little Glas Maol. The only mistake I make is not doing the few moments work to bag Glas Maol itself. But the Full Paramo has reached its limits and I’m just as glad to not be out in it a moment longer than necessary. My Munro count stays at 2 for today. The descent over Monega Hill is straightforward and before I know it, I’m below the cloud and out of the worst of the weather. This is one of those moments where a stunning landscape is suddenly revealed, and you have to pause to draw breath. The decisions that have led me here all seem justified in this moment.
Now, though, I’m casting my eyes about for suitable camp spots and I find one by the Glas Burn with a nice view of the head of the Glen. The tent is up and then I begin the laborious process of getting out of wet gear without transferring all the wet to the inside of the tent. This leaves me prancing around in my (soaking) pants with gay abandon. The replacement pair are only barely dry after a couple of days of “airing” on my pack. It is now that the potential folly of attempting the TGOC with only 2 pairs of pants is brought home to me (If you think this is a risky strategy, I know someone that did the whole thing in ONE pair of pants. Obviously this is not someone who has lots of friends).
Eventually, I’m dry and clean(ish) and sitting in the tent enjoying the early finish and the view. So it’s sods law that this is the moment the rain starts again. Time to hunker down. This is also the occasion to break out the 1000kcal dehydrated meal that I’ve been saving. Sadly it’s a huge disappointment compared to the home made ones I’ve been using every other day on the trip. Chocolate deals with this problem while I study the maps and try to work out a strategy for recovering from this unexpected change of plan.