TGO Challenge 2022 – Day 2: Escape from the Black Hole

It rained in the night (unsurprisingly – this is Scotland), and my first foray out of the Pioulou reveals a large puddle of water lying on the back of the tent. A combination of the wind and a bad bit of pitching let this happen, but on the plus side it does at least demonstrate the waterproofness of Silpoly!

A mental note is made to avoid pitching the shelter back directly into the weather – it looks crap.

We wake to the realisation that although it’s only day 2, we’re already in trouble. We’re 6km behind a plan that gets steadily harder, requiring successively longer days, and now in a serious game of catch-up. Add to this the uncertain perils in front of us that need to be overcome, and the knowledge that it’s possible we might not be up to it. We could still find ourselves scurrying back west with our tails between our legs.

Despite all this, I am actually feeling a bit more positive, at least compared to how I felt at the end of yesterday. Now without tiredness clouding my thoughts, there is at least room for optimism. We will get out of this glen; we will catch-up; we won’t be forced into an incomplete Challenge or outright failure.

We make a slow start. Our route calls for us to head a short way up Ruighe Breac before crossing the Allt a’ Choire, then cutting diagonally over and around Druim Eadar Da Ghleann. Before submitting the route, I examined every Geograph photo of this grid square looking for the optimal way, and whilst it seemed doable and had passed vetting, some doubt remained as to its actual efficacy.

Just past the building where the glen splits, we looked up into Gleann Donn, a narrow steeply-sided ravine packed with trees. No path is shown, and confidence is low that a frontal assault would work. A kilometre of pain separates us from release from the confines of this mantrap of a glen.

The path heading up Ruighe Breac is pretty well-defined and we stick with it next to the tumbling and boiling Allt. There’s nowhere to cross, at least until things calm down a bit further upstream.

As we progress north east up the narrow glen, there is much debate over tactics: Darren favouring a longer route up the glen, an easier river crossing and an up-and-over of the ridge where it is higher but flatter, but which comes with an uncertain drop down into Gleann Donn.

Personally, I favour a river crossing at the lowest practicable point, and a more diagonal path at the lower end of the ridge. This is the route I researched, and hence have some expectation of what lies on the far side.

Actual route (red) vs planned route (blue). How’s that for a bit of planning ?!

For now, though it is academic – we’re too early in the game to have to make a call. At this stage the river is still what Gordon and Jenny describe as “not for us”. We continue up the glen-let.

The debate rages on until we come to a spot where the river seems to split into two almost separate parts – a series of low-lying and flattish rocks, even a suggestion of dry land in the middle. It feels like the point to make our stand – effectively breaking the problem into two.

As is our protocol, Darren leads – I’ve already stated my semi-joking policy of sending the short one first (if he survives then I’ll be fine!). But it’s also important – as the advocate of a further upstream crossing, Darren needs to be comfortable with what we’re attempting, as we do this together or not at all.

We take it carefully – this is a make or break moment, not just for today’s walk but potentially for our whole Challenge. Darren prefers keeping his feet dry as much as possible, and hops over the rocks in the middle of the river. Me, I see that I’m going to be wading the last part anyway, and embrace the water from the start, enjoying better stability and grip from the outset – I know I’m too clumsy to put my faith in my balance on wet rocks.

We make it across and a sigh of relief floats out. The next part is almost laughingly simple – a diagonal cut along and up the ridge to the point where it seems grassy on top. Released from the “will we, won’t we” tension of the river crossing, I surge up under the guise of going for a recce. As I wait for Darren, I look down into Gleann Donn, and although a bit precarious in places, it looks no worse than yesterday.

It’s a bit of contouring on a steep rocky slope above the tree line. Bluebells provide a carpet along our route. It’s slow progress due to the care being taken – we don’t want a stumble now to waste the good work done so far.

Gradually the gradient lessens; the trees thin out; the glen narrows; the bluebells are gone. Now, we’re next to Allt a’Ghlinne Dhuinn and passing below the crags that we might have had to contend with on a further up the glen crossing. It doesn’t matter: we’ve escaped the Black Hole.

It even starts being pleasant, maybe even a little reminiscent of the uppermost parts of Glen Markie, which is no bad thing.

We’re over the lip and looking down into Coal-Ghleann. It’s ludicrously straightforward in comparison. We walk down to the bothy at Corryhully. As if to emphasise the unreality, the bothy has power. Our brew-up is made on an electric kettle. We sit on a bench outside the bothy, legs just avoiding the nettles growing up the side. There’s an American chap here to chat to.

This can’t last forever – it’s lunchtime and we’ve just finished yesterday’s distance. We still have all of today’s walk to do. But now it at least seems possible: levels of positivity surge. Ok, we’re probably too late in the day to have a realistic chance of making our Day 2 camp spot, but surely all that lies between us and being on schedule again is distance itself. Surely nothing in front of us can be as difficult as the gravity sink of the Black Hole of Glen Beoraid.

We practically skip our way down the track to Glenfinnan. Now we’re passing Cape Wrath Trail walkers, many of whom we stop to talk to. There’s an almost holiday atmosphere as we approach and walk under the Glenfinnan Viaduct. Potter acolytes throng the area, but if they’re hoping to see Death Eaters, they’re in the wrong place: we left them behind in the Black Hole.

We arrive at the visitor centre just as it’s closing. No refreshment for us. We don’t seem to mind too much – we’re still being fuelled by the feelings of release and relief.

We head for the road and detour to look at the monument before attempting to follow the boardwalk alongside the road. But the bridge at the end is closed, and we’re forced onto the road as far as Callop Bridge.

It’s late now and thoughts are of a camp for the night. We won’t make it into Cona Glen today. We’ve used too much mental energy escaping the pull of the singularity. Rest is at the top of the list of desires.

We walk up the track from the power station, eyes peeled for a spot. The track peters out and we take to investigating any seemingly flat bit of ground. Darren finds a ledge above the track/path and we go to look around. It takes a good 15 minutes to evaluate – it’s bumpy, heathery and altogether a crap spot, but we can’t see much prospect of anything better ahead. The decision is made to call it for the day, and suck up the shortcomings of the spot. At least there’s a decent view back towards Glenfinnan.

Far from making up yesterday’s deficit, we’ve actually fallen further behind: we’re now 10km behind plan – the price of escape from our predicament. But it doesn’t matter: we’ve escaped the Black Hole.

Today’s Distance: 18.78km | Ascent 491m | Cumulative Distance 33.71km

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