With another dismal day coming as far as weather was concerned, I abandoned all thoughts of climbing the Cairngorms and continued on the track through Glen Feshie, which would deposit me at the south end of the Lairig Ghru at White Bridge.
12 of us set out from the bothy that morning on the same track through the Glen, although we were relatively spaced out. A series of small but steep land slips in the Feshie made for an interesting morning, along with more than our fair share of spated rivers. I walked most of the day with Anna (from Poland). After inching my way ahead of her, we met again at white bridge, where we had both originally planned to camp. Ironically, the bridge is not actually white.
However, due to the early hour and wet everything, Anna and I decided to press east towards a Youth hostel marked on the map. Having exerted a fair amount of effort with her large pack, Anna had been able to keep up with me until then. Considering that I was down to a mere 25 pound bag and feeling good, this was some feat. As I trudged along the road and came to the Linn of Dee, I noticed signs from the Mar Lodge Estate welcoming Challengers with free tea and a £15 bed far the night.
Having forgot that Mar Lodge was open to us, I dashed about as fast as my legs would carry me. Now owned by the National Trust for Scotland, Mar Lodge was built as a hunting lodge for some obscure royalty and now sits on some 77,000 acres. Following the signs, I made my way to the Challenge area to find 20 of my fellows already there, including a good portion from the night before. Dinner was served (venison of the estate!) for £5, which was a very hard deal to pass up. But I was still carrying extra GORP and had no plans to carry it any further. Anna pulled in an hour or two later after discovering the Youth Hostel was no longer open. Other challengers included Mike Knipe, Jean Turner, Lilo Lil(Pete), Russ, Bert Hendrikse, and many others.
A fireside chat and two baths later, I curled into the white linens of the finest bed I have ever slept in. 30 seconds later I was asleep.
Sunday the 17th of May - Mar Lodge to Gelder Shiel.
When I'm hiking as late in the day as I was in Scotland, I find it somewhat difficult to get up early. Compound that with a nice bed and the prospect of a short day saw me leaving Mar Lodge at near 9!
From the lodge it was a quick two hour jaunt to Braemar, where a good set of challengers were staying the previous night. On the Challenge, Braemar gets a reputation for being the start of the "pub crawl." for some challengers, they apply the ethos of the event to their consumption of whiskey as well. Even at noon, many of the local eateries were occupied by challengers. The first place several challengers flagged me into was Gordon's, perhaps the first non house I passed. An hour later I made my first of many attempts to depart Braemar, but got pulled in to the classic challenge hotel, the Fife Arms. Several hours later, I made it about another half kilometer to the local chippy where the Four Yorks pulled me in for the remains of their chips. Facing a three hour walk to the bothy, I finally hoofed out of Braemar at near 5.
It was them through the Queen's estate, aka the Balmoral Estate. Such a lovely place to walk through! Heading towards Lochnagar, a munro I hoped to reach tomorrow, I arrived at Gelder Shiel Bothy just in time to claim a spot inside. Several familiar faces were about, which was easy given the 30 of us that were there.
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