Plan B

Kev was right, go the other way. 

I’m not going to talk about the A82, I don’t want to look back on this in times to come an just read about how close I kept coming to having a stroke behind the wheel. Let’s just say the journey north was harrowing and leave it at that. Harrowing.
I stopped in Ft Bill for a couple of bits and pieces, a mini naan from Morrison’s, and some Nuun from Ellis Brighams. Morrison’s was easy, they even had rucksack-sized yumyums. Entering EB’s after the “boot incident” just isn’t the same. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but maybe it’s a bit like EB was the smart arsed kid in class, who when asked “What’s the capital of Peru?” answered “The Factory Act of 1833”. They’re stuck with that one defining moment of stupidity in my mind.
I was fingering through the racks of stuff and came across those 150 weight Icebreaker t-shirts and it occurred to me that maybe I would be better in one of those than my nice checked shirt. I dunno, a moment of distraction we’ll say. But pulling at the corner of the t-shirt was a big magnetic swing tag which immediately caused me to raise an eyebrow. Still, I took it the the checkout where said tag was removed and I said “Thanks, let’s have a look…” and held it up to the light to see the big hole where the tag had been. “Ach” says I. At which point someone more senior homed in this potential loss of sale.
“That’s fine”
“No, there’s a hole it”
“It’s next to the hem”
Sigh…”Do you have one round the back without a hole in it?”
“No, this one is fine”
“No, there’s a hole in it, why don’t you put the tag through the label?”
“People will cut them off with scissors”
Sigh…”So I have to have a t-shirt with a hole in it because…look, never mind, I’ll take the Nuun thanks”
“You’re not taking the t-shirt?”
“No, there’s a hole it”

An hour later I was in 914 Outdoorin Dornie and was breathing a sign of relief at a wee shop jammed with kit and staffed by smiling folks. They had the 125g Rekri8 gas canister which brought me great joy, and minutes later I was pulling into the thoughtfully provided walkers carpark at the entrance to the Attadaleestate by Loch Carron. It’s beautiful country up here, half mountain infested wilderness, half Balamory. It should be visited by all with extreme haste.

1710hrs when I left the carpark, even for me that’s leaving it late. Especially considering I was supposed to be camping on one of the (if not the) remotest peaks in the UK. In baking sunshine I wandered through the estate on old-time tarmac, there’s gardens to visit and holiday cottages to rent, very pleasant.
My right shoe’s is a little loose, I should tighten it.
It’s pretty much estate track until you reach the slopes of Lurg Mhor, but it’s not the too-familiar bulldozed scars of elsewhere, what we have here is old, wear-hardened tyre-tracks, often with a grassy mohican in the middle. It winds through forest and by lochans, high into the hills and far away. Without the track, covering this distance would be much harder, but there is a trade-off. It’s hard on the feet.

My right shoe’s is a little loose, I’ll need to tighten it soon.
There’s a big meander to the left which does take you higher than you were expecting at at nearly 350m, and it’s here you leave Loch Carron behind and first see where you’re going. And it’s really far away.
Bidein á Choire Sheasgaich and Lurg Mhor look very different from this side than they do from the regular point of view on the ascent over Beinn Tharsuinn from Craig to the north. In fact, when does Lurg Mhor actually even get into the photie? It’s always that same shot with the lochan on Tharsuinn and Sheasgaich’s summit. I really wanted to see what was on the other side. Miles of track as it turns out, and as I wandered along I kept imagining what this empty land would be like in winter, scary I think. I never saw a single soul while I was in there and it’s holiday time, I don’t see it being any busier in the first week of February.

My right shoe’s is a little loose, I’ll tighten it at the bridge.
Bendronaig Lodge and bothy is remote, it feels more remote than the recently visited Altbeithe, and also more deserted. Apart from some heilan coos which ran away, I’ve never know heilan coos to run away.
The track splits and then I was suddenly in the mountains. The sky became a strip walled by crags and I knew I was finally getting somewhere, but the sun was sinking, I was hungry and a little tired. The heat just sucks the life out of me. I stopped by Loch Calavie and had some munchies, including the now vital chicken Cup-a-Soup. The sun was out of view behind Sàil Riabhach, but the light spilling over the the other hills was golden, I was running out of time and I still had 600-odd meters of ascent.

My right shoe’s is a little loose, I’ll tighten it up when I get to the ridge.
The slopes of Lurg Mhor are flooded with flowers. I lost count of the different colours, shapes and sizes as i slowly climbed towards the skyline. I could see the clouds start to catch some colours at their fringes and there was a breeze whipping up. The day was shutting up shop. Curse my lateness, I was going to get the finish line and take an expected left turn to the icecream van like an idiot and miss out on the mighty prize.
I made it onto the rocky plateau with the lochan below Lurg Mhor’s summit to see Bidein á Choire Sheasgaich blocking the sun as it hit the horizon. Now it looks like an eclipse of sorts, at the time I was just shouting “Bastard, bastard, bastard…” and trying to get to the summit cone of Lurg Mhor before I missed out completely.
As is often the case, it’s when the sun goes down that the sky really lights up. I saw the tiniest glimpse of the sun as it sank from view and the clouds just exploded. All the miles in that heat, all the cleg bites that I’m sitting here scratching, all worth it.

My right shoe’s is a little loose, no point in tightening it now, I’ll be camped soon.
The summit of Lurg Mhor is a fine spot with a very fancy cairn. The hills in view are the superstars of Torridon, Skye and Kintail, and there’s the scary steep and deep coire just beyond the cairn. I lingered and enjoyed, it was 2230 and it was bliss.
I would have camped right there, but I needed water and the lochan below was calling to me. It’s a pity, there’s a flat patch of grass 10 feet from the cairn that was perfect. But I needed cuppas in abundance, and dinner. Hopefully before midnight.

My right shoe was a little loose, I should’ve tightened it.
My first blister since the West Highland Way, my own stupid fault. I sat in the bivy shaking my head. Clean socks on and I felt much better, hot food and drink and I was quite happy. There was still birdsong, and the sky glowed to the north as the sun took a shortcut just under the horizon to spring back up in the east in four hours.
I was comfy all night, but I never slept much because of the brightness. In the bivy it was a bit like sleeping inside a space hopper with a desk lamp trained on it. I watched the sky light up sometime after 0400 and within an hour I gave up and had the stove on again. I never saw the sunrise, I was just too tired to get shoes on and run over to the other side of the ridge. It was cold as well, and very windy, but I was snug and happy in my sleeping bag with my proper coffee from a Lyon’s bag.

I was breaking camp around 0600 and was away. It wasn’t a vintage camp spot, but at 2300 and being waterless, my needs outweighed the picturesque and it did give a great starting point for day two.

Bidein á Choire Sheasgaich isn’t too far away. It’s a rocky descent to the bealach and then straight back up, and when you’re onto the summit ridge itself it really is an “Alright!” moment. It’s got a little exposure to the west and absolutely stunning views everywhere. Walking the ridge past the summit (with its amusingly small cairn) you can look down on the regular route. Sod that, huge amounts of ascent, descent, re-ascent and possibly even a little traversing and re-traversing.
The wind was whipping across the top which threatened to tip the camera and tripod over the side, so I ended up sitting by a rock just looking and grinning. I started down about 0715, it was a long trek and I wanted to get some of it out of the way before the sun was too high above me.
I soon passed all the places that I should have camped on Sàil Riabhach’s ridge, this is wonderful ground right here. I could have walked the ridge all day, but the steep descent was soon upon me and I was back on the track too soon. I stopped by a deep pool and had a brunch of sorts, and adjusted my layers. I’d been wearing a powerstretch top since I broke camp, but it was time to be back in my shirt and daft hat. The heat was creeping up and I was back in trek mode, as opposed to mountain mode. But I’m not actually sure there’s a difference as such.

I reached and passed the bridge over Uisge Dubh’s beautiful gorge and started the climb out of the glen. It was now roasting and lack of sleep was beginning to tell on me. I stuck my iPod on and set my legs to automatic. My iPod seems to have had a nervous breakdown. I like “Shuffle Songs” on the move, but it picked Rush’s Hemispheres, 2112 and Cygnus X-1 one after the other, an hour to get through three songs. Then it hit me with Tone Loc straight afterwards, which just felt odd. I could have pressed skip at any time, but I loaded the songs, so I’m not letting the iPod know that I didn’t want to hear it, it’ll undermine my authority over it.
I was happy to be desending again and it’s very different here in amongst the trees and lochans, dragonflies of all colours swooping past, butterflies chasing each other around like confetti in the wind, birds, frogs all were out and not afraid to announce themselves. Wildlife had been a feature of this trip, the stag that had bellowed at my arrival on the slopes of Lurg Mhor had unsettled me a little, but he soon gave up and left the hill to me. The other creatures were then divided into those which delighted and those which saw me as food.

It was 33°C when I hit the estate tarmac. My steps were slow, my blister was sore and I really wanted a cold can of Irn Bru.
I arrived at the motor and opened all the doors, stood back to let if cool and stripped myself of pack, shoes and clothes. Magic.
I reinstalled shorts and t-shirt and headed off to find a fridge and its contents.

Another short sharp adventure, and that seems to be the way of it these days. Truth be told I don’t like being away from the girls too long anyway, Holly really doesn’t like it when I’m gone too long, it upsets her a lot, so a night or two is about my limit now. I don’t give a shit though, it’s taken me 20 years to get around to climbing Lurg Mhor and I didn’t do it in the times of multi-day trips a few years ago, so I reckon I’m making the most of my time now.
As ever I’m a bit vague about what my route was, but this one will be in Trail in a couple of months, Hey, I took notes and everything!
I will say that it’s well worth doing it from this side, I saw no-one, there’s only traces of a path on the hill, and I really felt like I was out there. Marvellous.

35 thoughts on “Plan B”

  1. Magic as usual, pete. Thanks for the write-up. Just what I needed after being stuck at home with work. I’m planning a mid-week overnighter, the first in months, so a bit of vicarious joy through your writing is highly welcome.

    One question, however, springs to mind. How come you’ve such a big pack for just a bivvy thingie? Maybe you were testing stuff, but it looks way too full by your standards…

    Grand country up there.

    And I’m glad I’m not the only one getting into a boiling rage at the slow drivers up the A82 (and A9 and you name it…).

  2. Brilliant write up, pity it was a short duration trip, I could have kept on reading for a couple o hours yet, I’ll go back and look at the pics now :-)

    See the LIM got an airing, great pack and big for a 45 I think.

  3. Bless you good people! Always a joy to share the good luck.
    Great wee trip, I was so pleased I just caught the best of the sun going down. I’d still be sitting up there head-in-hands if I’d missed that one.
    The pack does look big and I’m at a loss to explain it. I think it’s probably a combination of the shapeless pack stuffed with an uncompressed powerstretch top and primaloft pullover.
    I’ll do a wee gear write-up over the next couple of days and see if I find an unexpected tub of ice cream in there…

  4. I think it’s some kind of magic myself, just got one recently and you fill it up, discover that there’s some wee thing that you overlooked (like a tent or something) and in it goes. Great pack, the only complaint I have is that I can’t find anything I don’t like……..

    They are a bit out of shape at times though, fortunately they’re on your back and it’s everybody else that has to look at it. :-)

  5. It is a huge pack, rammed full it’s way over 45L. I should probably have the 35L so it looks neater in the photies :o)
    It was so nice to feel that hip-belt again, so damned comfy.

    “it’s everybody else that has to look at it” my defence of my shirt and hat :o)

  6. Blisters the occupational hazard of the backpacker. Heat and blisters – bring on the winter hey. It is lovely up in that part of the Highlands. Great photos and write up a always. Irn Bru the magic drink of the Scots. Fine stuff indeed. I must admit I do miss my wife and kids while away for a lot of nights. I feel slightly guilty now. Very slight…getting less as I think about next weeks three day trip :)

  7. R MacE, we could be twins…

    I feel like it’s some kind of defeat getting a blister Martin, especially in my favourite shoes.

    Here, enjoy yout trip in what’s being dubbed “the hottest week of the year”. That’ll be clear skies and sitting on the tops in a t-shirt then :o)

  8. I better camp real high and get a breeze hopefully. Sun cream is a must I think as well. I am looking forward to it more and more with a forecast like that.

  9. beautiful, Pete, really beautiful.

    We’ve been talking about doing that route for a while – cycling in though rather than walking it and kipping in the bothy. Useful stuff here for the planning.

    Had a great day in the Grey Corries yesterday, but it just whets the appetite for more.

  10. Aye Martin, sunblock is a permanent fixture in my hip-belt pocket these days.

    Cheers Chris, good to hear you were out as well. I’ve got friends camped on the South Glen Shiel Ridge right now too, it’s great when folks are getting out there.

    Cycling in to the bothy would be great fun. There’s still a lot of ascent both ways, but the descents would definitely raise a smile!

  11. Those pics are stunnin mate!, I got a pic mssg earlier off’f TBW and Ayrshire Tiger and their camp looks stunning too.

    If I’m honest I’m a little pissed off now, I was hearing of thunder and lightenening this weekend so scrapped todays plans in favour of a quick wee camp out last night with the new tarp and bivy.

    I should’ve stuck with plan A

  12. Aye,, those skies are fabulous, especially for someone who’s been stuck in the NE Fife haar for days noo…

    I was also surprised you saw no-one at all on those hills on a Friday. I often think that because of blogs like this one everyone and their granny are now taking to summit camping at weekends…

  13. The peaks on the horizon are Liathach, Beinn Eighe and the like. Quite a fancy backdrop :o)

    BBF, I got the same message, well done them! When lightning is a possibility, there’s no shame in changing the plan. It’s the one thing that makes me properly nervous on the hills. I ran all the way down to the road from the northern slopes of Beinn Narnain once as the sky was flashing right above my napper. No thanks.

    andy, to catch the moments like the shot just above we know we have to be in there after hours, and although I see that camping high seems to be getting more popular, it’ll never have majority appeal. Too many folk out there just list-ticking rather than wanting to spend time up there.
    Which is a bit of a shame, the amount of time I’ve spent in the hills these past few years has changed everything I thought I knew and understood about them, and my relationship with them. I’ve developed more respect for the hills as an environment, they’re not just a leisure venue. I think to get more folk to see that side of it means them spending quality time in there, but then of course, that’s more folk in tents. It’s Catch 22.

  14. Wise words indeed. I was noticing that at least some of your trips these days seem to have Munros ticking as a by-product… I took up summit camping to tick off out of the way Munros and the joy is that of connecting them in ways you don’t find in them guidebooks.

    But you’ve taught me something, and that’s the idea of the quick overnighter, leave in the afternoon, pitch a tent on a summit, nae matter if it’s a tick in a list or what, then come doon in the morning. That’s a great way to spend time on the hills, rather than the mad dash from dawn until dusk to get 4 hills in the book or something. And I’ll forever be grateful to ya for putting the idea into my mind…

    Off to do some work, and with luck I’ll head for the hills on Tuesday (lightning is forecast again though, and like you say, that’s not where you want to be in a tent near a summit trig…)

  15. Same here Andy, to climb a new hill these days it’s a mental driving and a mad dash up and down or a galavant followed by a night in a tent, it’s a no-brainer.

    But it’s finding new things on familiar tops as well, spending nights on the Arrochar Alps or Ben Lomond makes them feel brand new again.

    I still enjoy day walks, I don’t want to give the imnpression that lugging camping kit makes us feel all superior, it’s a just an option to broaden and enrich your experience and maximise your joy.

    What a pretentious sounding bastard I am :o)

  16. Thanks for posting your trip report, not brcUse it was a good read with great pics (as always) but because we are currently on our way home from a great night in the lakes and it took my mind off the fact that our lass is driving my car on a journey she has never driven

  17. Big piccies of Fire… Wicked!

    I’m glad it’s not just me that doesn’t like lightning. Scares the crap out o’ me!

  18. It’s the “prong of sudden death” element that’s definitely undesirable.
    Aye, indoors for lightning watching.

  19. Ah, another grand trip there by the looks…..

    Just back from one myself, camping high on a Coniston outlier last night – not much by way of sunset but enough breeze to keep the midgies away, and only two claps of thunder :) (phew)

    The LIM 45 did the job very nicely too. And a big hand for the Aquagear Travel Tap too :))

  20. “Having seem the size discrepancy in your rucsacks I thought you’d have been happy with the rest :o)”

    aye true, she is getting a bigger sack or a smaller sleeping bag soon, having said that im not sure she would have coped with he extra weight in the heat, it was boiling, no nice sunsets though as it completely misted over ;o(

  21. Good lad!

    The Travel Tap looks better than the older version, I think if I was comimng south I might spring the cash for one.
    Water’s becoming an issue up here, the burns and high lochans are shrinking.

  22. Them’s the breaks Moggy, I think the cloudy days are paying the deposit for the glorious ones. I had a stack of trips in miserable weather and thought I was stuck with it for good.

    Smaller sleeping bag is the way to go, as long as it’s still warm :o)

  23. Spendid trip into the middle of nowhere. My mate and I camped at the lochan just to the north of ‘cheescake’s’ summit a couple of years ago and enjoyed similar views. We were going t’uther way (and headed out over An Riabhachan and An Socach.

    Had you got your act together timewise, you might have been able to go the way to the Pait Lodge (a very fine corner of Scotland indeed) and traversed Lurg Mhor, which is recommended if you like narrow scrambly ridges (I don’t as it happens)

  24. Moggy, there was one deep pool I was wanting to jump in, but right next to the track was too much of a gamble to bare my arse. Of course I never saw another sould ’til I was back at Attadale house. Ach!

    David, one of my route options was that narrow ridge to the east, looks interesting from the summit with that big notch out of it!
    It’s wonderful in there, I’ll explore some more for sure.

  25. Most splendid. Trips to the middle of nowhere are what tents are really for :)

    Terrified of lightning. Got chased off a hill by a bit of thunder last Summer. Didn’t stop to put on waterproofs until under the tree line. Really impressed how much good my lightspeed actually did.

    I was spooked enough to cut out an intended climb the next morning. Turned out to be a really lovely walk :)

  26. Another cracking write up. That looks like a lovely route isolated route there.

    Man I wish I lived in Scotland

  27. It’s a cracking route, lots of changes in terrain and scenery, and you’re about as far out there as you can get in the UK.
    It is handy being local :o)

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