Sunday, 25 November 2012

Grampian Mountain Challenge 2012

Last weekend I teamed up with mountain marathon rookie, JRitchie, in the Grampian Mountain Challenge (GMC).  It was a tough but enjoyable event, the weather played kind with clear skies and good visibility despite the bitter cold.

The view from Wolf Hill
JR at the first control thinking
"what have I let myself in for?"
We kicked off the first forest section (on 1:10,000 orienteering maps) just as the sky was getting light and had a decent run through the forest with only one real navigational slip up and were soon onto the 1:40,000 mountain section where we eschewed a longer route on a decent looking track, hoping to pick up a sheep run through the heather. Wrong choice as tired, scratched, wet legs soon were telling us. Oh well, at least we found all the controls without too much trouble, had a nice chat to a group of walkers on the top of Mount Battock, and made our way to the mid-camp (via the final control on Wolf Hill despite J's idea that we should just miss it out - not sure how serious he was being!).
The top of Mount Battock

Mid-camp sets the GMC apart from other mountain marathons I've done - once we'd got our tent up and changed into warmer, dry clothes (that we hadn't had to carry with us :-) ), we made our way to the marquee where there were croissants, hot water for coffee, tea and hot chocolate, and a seemingly infinite supply of hot soup. Add to that the company of the other competitors, maps showing the routes taken by the leaders, alcoholic beverages, and heat and light when required, and we had all the makings of an enjoyable afternoon turning into an enjoyable evening with beer and pasta! It was really good and even the chemical toilets were fine - these were borrowed from 1st Daviot Oldmeldrum Scouts and although I'm not sure how long these things last, I'd like to think I was sitting on the very same loo just a few years ago (!) at camp. By about 9 (I think) it was time to head back to the tent after an open-air pee under the stars (a strangely enjoyable experience) and to try and get some kip before the next days efforts.

Hill of Edendocher
No idea what he's thinking here
This being the GMC, we awoke on day 2 to a cold frosty world, but after bacon rolls and porridge we got packed up and set off across the river - nothing like an early morning foot bath to wake you up. Again, the days controls were found with no major cock-ups and although the going was slow, it was a good day with splendid views in all directions. We found our way to the map exchange, and from there back through the forest without too much trouble except for more wet feet including a step into a huge boggy puddle right before the finish.

It was nice not to come last, but it wouldn't have mattered if we had. The main thing was that we had a good weekend in the hills and completed the event without falling out, getting seriously injured or getting lost. I may not set my standards too high but that ranks as  success in my book! Big thanks to Ali, Sean and the rest of the organisers and helpers who made this such a good event, and huge thanks to JR for his company.

NB Other pictures can be found from the main link above, which also has a link to Routegadget, that fantastic web site that allows you to see the maps, compare routes, and shake your head while thinking "shanksi, what were you doing there?"

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Looking for piles of rocks

Cairn on Mongour with TV mast
Near the top of the slug road, on the way from Stonehaven to Crathes, near the Durris TV mast, there's an exposed hill top with a cairn on the top. Having spotted this hill quite a few times, I became curious as to what it was and how to get there. After identifying it from the map as Craigbeg and noting that there was another cairn on nearby Mongour that I'd never seen, I decided to explore.
Starting at the car park near Spyhill cottage, I followed the route of the Durris mast race route as far as the benches on the top of Mongour and then continued East past a small stone shelter and along a wee track through the trees which then came to a wee clearing containing a substantial cairn, larger and better built than I was expecting.

The entry to the "tunnel of doom" - not today!

I kept on the track down to the access road for the mast where I was able to rejoin the race route just where it heads off the road through another fire break and across the stony gully. At this point the race turns left and enters the "tunnel of doom" but my path kept me going forwards onto a heather covered hilltop, devoid of any obvious paths or signs that anyone had been there in some time - it was hard going but before too long, I reached the cairn, next to a stunted tree, from where there were fine views across to Cairn mon Earn and back down the valley towards Stonehaven. To get back to the car, I dropped down to the North East, quickly found the track going round the hill and followed it back to the access road and then back down to the car park.
Looking towards Cairn mon Earn from Craigbeg

As "long" runs go, 5 miles in 1hr22 doesn't sound too impressive, but at least every time we drive over the slug, I can point up at the wee cairn and say "I've been there!". mrs s will never tire of hearing that, I'm sure!
Approximate route taken