2017: I’m only going to do this once.
2018: Oops, I did it again. That’s probably it though.
2019: Several routes planned a week after getting home.
In my house there’s a sort of informal rule: do something 3 times and it becomes a tradition. This is why I always go to Dartmoor at New Year, and why I’m still meeting up with my uni friends for a week away at Easter (we’ve been going strong since 1994).
So not one to mess with an established tradition, my route sheet was in a mere week after the results of the draw.
A slight variation on the previous approach though – having done one planned solo, one unplanned solo and one duo, I wanted to combine the benefits of a solo route with the guarantee of meeting up with friends. Not only that but having missed out the one and only Munro last time, due to rubbish conditions, I wanted a route with more options for hills.
Paul, having been unsure what to expect on his first one in 2019, seemed to feel a bit more comfortable about being in an official team of one for the next outing. And so was born the idea of coordinating our routes. We’d be officially solo, but would plan it so that we met up at certain points, and in places our routes would coincide.
We really fell on our feet in 2019, meeting up with Darren at Ali’s lunchtime cocktail party in Glen Garry, catching up with Jason at Invergarry campsite and making a foursome to Fort A, then a threesome up into the Monadhliath. It was a good group that on my part I had a desire to see if we could try to meet up again.
And so the internet provided for us in the form of a Google My Maps shared planning map where we shared our route ideas, and although we all did our own thing, gradually Paul’s, Jason’s and my routes converged on a broadly common approach.
I joked when we were discussing routes that Paul’s route would be my FWA, and so it largely has turned out to be. We’re both starting at Shiel Bridge and making our way to Drumnadrochit and then across the Monadhliath to Kingussie, and loosely close to each other on the run to the end of the hills where we do separate finishes. After not doing our one and only planned Munro in 2019 due to rubbish conditions, I really regretted not having more hills options on the route sheet, and so have made a point of putting hills into each chunk of the route. I have no intention of doing them all (16-17 Munros would be upping the ante a bit much), but at least I’ve not got more choices.
I’m particularly looking forward to more potential for high camps, and a return to Glen Markie, and hopefully finishing off the set of Munros I failed to make much inroad into in 2017. All in all, my route has a good sprinkling of all the things I like, and only the last dash to the coast is a bit meh. But I can only really improve the last bit by totally changing my finish and much of the route after Braemar, so I’ve decided to just grin and bear it, with the promise of Lunan Bay as compensation at the very end.
Now I just need the weather…
Distance = 344km (ish), making this my longest Challenge yet. Add to that 11,000m of ascent and it’s my hardest route too. At least if I do all of the hills, which I won’t. It’s a 15-dayer as I much prefer the intimacy of the Friday dinner, and making the most of the time out on the walk.
In 2019, I departed from my practice of using the sleeper train the previous two years (and hence making it an unbreakable tradition – phew!), and took the night bus to Glasgow. It wasn’t much worse than the horrors of the Seated Carriage, but was significantly cheaper. I’m thinking of doing it again. Indeed if I can’t get to Shiel Bridge in one go on the Thursday, then that’s what I’ll probably do.
The thing with taking the bus getting there was it removed any qualms about shelling out for a decent seat on the train home, and the last two years I’ve hung on for a cheap 1st class ticket back on the Saturday. I’m well aware that doing it again this year will then make it a tradition, but it’s a tradition I quite like. I will be getting a later train home though, as I’m hoping to squeeze in Montrose Parkrun beforehand. Indeed, in theory it’s feasible to not miss a single Saturday’s Parkrun on the Challenge, as there’s one in Oban (which obviously means a late start) and one in Aviemore (which makes it a hard first week), and a choice on the east coast. For now, though, I’ve put all thoughts of attempting something like that firmly in the box marked “crazy”.
I did my usual spreadsheet timeline the other day and worked out that I can probably get away with just a single parcel to Mar Lodge, but might put one in for Drum to be on the safe side. All meals will be a combination of what I can buy together with my usual bags of dehydrated ingredients, rather than already made-up meals. This really works for me and allows me to adapt to what the shops have, and to go large/small for individual meals as hunger dictates.
I pretty much know what gear I’m taking, as my backpacking kit is pretty fixed now. There’ll be some last minute decisions on clothing layers depending on whether it looks to be predominantly cold or warm, but that’s about it. I have a few new bits I’ll be taking, the most important of which is my shelter. More about that on a later date. Suffice to say it passed its initial field test on Dartmoor between Christmas and New Year.