Race Day

I squeezed my eyes open and looked at my watch, 0430. It was bright, sun was coming up, bet it’s beautiful out there. I flipped onto my front to block out the light and slipped away again to the comforting aroma of damp down.
0734, aye that’s better. It was still bright, the day was well under way, time to greet it properly with a cuppa. I shuffled down to the loch for a pot of water and sat back in the tent to boil up in the porch. Too bright out there and a bit chilly for a body still in sleep mode.

I crunched away on a cereal bar and sipped at my too-hot cuppa when I heard some noises outside. I stuck my head out and saw a fella coming round from the causeway. I popped back into the tent to make sure I was dressed enough to receive guests and then greeted the passerby with an “Alright?”.
He was a nice fella, but also a maudlin soul, his trip hadn’t been going so well with a leaky tent and a wet sleeping bag, but he still had ten days to go and his legs were old and tired. He looked fit and lean to me and I hope the bright morning improved his mood as headed onwards.
As he left I found myself just in the right frame of mind to tackle my feet. I looked at my shoes first, they had a guilty look about them. That last trip has seen them in water for two days and I had destroyed the insoles doing that, many miles elsewhere showed in the delamination of the fabric, the ragged and crushed midsole, peeling outsole and er, holes. What the hell was I doing in these shoes?
The deep red patches of my feet neatly lined up with the crappiest bits of the shoe, indeed my feet seemed to by moulding themselves into the gaps created by the ruined footbed, giving my a square edge in places. I could have painted them silver and told Holly I had robot feet, no doubt much to her delight.

I got my medical kit out and got to the business of patching. Clean socks over the top felt just lovely. Same crappy shoes back on though and a big day ahead.
I packed just essential kit into my rucksack , slapped on some sunblock, zipped the tent and dragged my feet into action over the beach to pick up the track towards the causeway.
The causeway is the oddest of things in the most unlikely of places. It bridges the meeting point of Fionn Loch and Dubh Loch and saves a huge detour, and although it’s a man-made item in such a remote spot, it’s concrete is worn and its stonework weathered so it looks like part of the landscape.
Dubh Loch’s smaller size and impressively mountainous catchment area means it’s level seems to be a little higher than Fionn Loch, so the water flows through the channels in the causeway in an attempt to even itself out. As I walked along the causeway fish darted around the channels and I wondered if they were hanging around to see if dinner was going to get flushed through  or if they lived on the other side and couldn’t get back through against the pressure of the flow.

The crags simply overpower Carnmore Lodge, they look as if they’re going to crush it at any second, just for laughs. What a setting. Well cared for too and served by boat from the end of the track I took by mistake the day before, I wonder if I could have borrowed a boat or hitched a ride if I’d kept going to the boathouse? There’s a sign on the gate welcoming walkers and climbers to use the barn past the lodge, my morning caller had slept there last night, for all it’s remote position, there’s a benign air about this place that surprised me.

Suddenly the gadding about is done and it’s all uphill, quite steeply too as the track curves up to a high bealach. The black waters of Dubh Loch slipped away and even managed a sparkle or two before it was out of sight and behind me Beinn Lair became a high wall of rock, a dam shutting out everything to the south. I’m going back to visit that big
I was staring at the ridge of A’Mhaighdean all the time, it was my ascent route and just a jump across the river to get onto it. With sore feet, legs a little stiff and only hot air to breath in I really wasn’t fancying the steep twisting steps that rocked from side to side all the way to the dark summit. I kept on the track towards the rocky horizon ahead and a sky that looked just a little bluer. 
From the high point of the bealach the views are grin enforcing, rock, water, moor and sky. The track is too soft on the eye to intrude. But, it is bloody handy underfoot and the stalkers track that climbs between A’Mhaighdean and Ruadh Stac Mor is a delight, and so joyfully dry underfoot too.

Fuar Loch Mor is a green pool circled by rock, an amphitheater where the seats are filled by two sets of supporters. A’Mhaighdean’s crew is in white and grey, shining in the sun, Ruadh Stac Mor’s team in pink, glowing in the heat. The track follows the meeting point of the two colours of rock all the way to the bealach, it’s the natural line too, no contrivance, what a wonderful occasion of serendipity.
I sat near the top and had the last of my oatcakes and cheese, I love these wee mixed miniature cheese selection bags from the supermarket, while waiting for the owner of the clattering through the scree above me to appear.
He duly appeared, a happy bloke whose tent I’d spied earlier it turned out. We nattered for a while and off he went with his ancient canvas rucksack. Cool.

The bealach wasn’t too far away, a wide spot with much bare rock. Rather dauntingly, Ruadh Stac Mor seems to rise straight up in bands of red, square edged crags, but there is a way through and it was rather good fun to be pulling up on rock with my hands. The real joy is that there is no false summit or hidden extras, it’s right there when you clear the boulders. What a spot too, An Teallach seems so close, Ben Hope a familiar wedge beyond the familiar shapes of Assynt. I stayed for a while, it would be rude not too, and it occurred to me that if A’Mhaighdean is the UK’s most remote mountain and you have to climb over it or pass it to get to Ruadh Stac Mor, then why isn’t it the UK’s most remote mountain?
I’d hate to make the descent in mist, there’s really only a couple of lines through the crags, but ten minutes and I was crossing the bare rock towards my second summit, now capped in mist. If that was the way it was going, my route change looked right.

It wasn’t much of a climb, but it took me ages. A couple of weeks of inactivity had turned my legs into bendy straws. I saw a couple of folk descending east, busy for a wilderness this place, and strolled onto the rounded north top.
Cloud swirled around me, I could see indistinct shapes, distant darkness and patches of light, but the summit was unmistakable. I stayed, explored the little spurs and peered into the depths of the corries where the sun still shone.
The cloud parted, just long enough for me to see the view they talk about in the books. More impressive was the drop from the summit to Dubh Loch, it’s straight down, like standing at the open door of a Dakota waiting for a green light to jump.
I took the less direct route towards the ridge and its worrying pinnacle. It’s a clamber to the foot of the sheer rock and I was a little tentative, not wanting to kink my straws when there was an almighty clatter of shifting scree and I nearly shit myself. A herd of goats to the left of the pinnacle had taken fright and ran in all directions to get away from me and my scary face. Buggers.

After that I took the easy route and bypassed the pinnacle to find the crest of the ridge a bit further down. It was greyer now, the colour draining from everything as the cloud cover became more complete. It was still warm though, so I was in short sleeves as I took the easiest wee scrambles all the way down to the river crossing.
Getting back on the track from this morning came with mixed emotions, every footstep from here on was a repeat. That’s a lot of repeats. I suddenly felt tired and hungry, and as I descended the track towards Carnmore my knee was throbbing and my feet were protesting at their continued incarceration in unsuitable accommodation.
There was a tent by the causeway and I heard voices from inside, a story being told, laughter followed by “..I hate you!” just as I got to the tent. “You can’t say that, we’ve only just met” replied I at which some hurried rustling brought the couple out of the tent to say hello.
They kayaked over Loch Maree and came over the pass, we compared photies and blethered away for a good while. They were a lovely cheerful pair and I found my spirits much improved when I left them as the rain started. I was pitched just round the corner and I just had time to fill a water bottle before the rain really came on.

I had dinner and a cuppa and came over all sleepy. The rain played a relaxing rhythm overhead and slowly keeled over sideways and pulled my sleeping bag over my shoulder. I drifted away.
A dry throat woke me and then I wondered where the hell I was. Oooohhhh… I sat up and realised my feet were still outside in the rain, they were nice and cool now, so that was fine.
I boiled the last of my water and started packing as I enjoyed a cuppa, the walk out very much on my mind. I had everything in my pack but my waterproof and the tent when the rain stopped. I raised and eyebrow and looked up at the sky, light grey. The rain’s off for a bit. I crammed the tent into my pack and headed for home. It was 1800, history was repeating itself, but at least I knew what time I’d be getting into Poolewe.

I didn’t look back much, I was counting off the landmarks ahead of me while finding new things to ponder since I was going in a different direction, a group of eratic boulders that looked just like a stone circle, the sounds of cuckoo’s echoing in every crag, the circling helicopter. I always assume I’ve set off the emergency button on my Spot Tracker when I see that and start wondering about fines and what to say to the press. It never is of course, must be a deep rooted psychological issue of persecution or abandonment or something.
The sky was ablaze by the time I walked into the forest above Loch Maree again and my pace was woeful. My feet felt as if they were coming apart, I was shuffling like a hobo when I passed the buildings the lined the road to the bridge that I’d left behind the day before. Luckily it was now dark, after ten and there was no one to see me.

New socks and shoes were an improvement and sitting down was the best idea I’ve ever had. I took the road back through Gairloch and Kinlochewe, passing through Achnasheen for the first time in years. The roads were empty and in some places very wet, the same showers I’d slept through had been working their way around.
I didn’t feel that tired, I was quite happy to be driving. The music was loud and the sky never completely lost its flashes of colour, daylight clung on to the fringes and started to climb back up again after a couple of hours.
I pulled into Perth at 0300 for a break and some breakfast. Sausage and egg on brown bread with a latte from the machine. Sounds rubbish, tasted great and made me ready for the cross country sprint home.
All the way down the road, mist had been rising from the trees and wafting through my headlight beams, now the fields were swathed in mist as a pink sun started to gather itself under the horizon in the east.
Patches of thick fog slowed me as I got further west but I was nearly home. The village was silent as I pulled off the road, the girls didn’t stir as I crept through the door and felt sore bare feet rejoice upon soft carpet.
I looked at the clock, it was 0420 on race day, I was running a 10K in five hours. I looked at my raw feet in the shower, I thought about where I’d been, I thought about being back home.
Aye, that’s enough for me.

38 thoughts on “Race Day”

  1. I loved reading this, almost as good as being there myself! I liked the remark about the guy with the canvas rucksack, I like these reminders of simpler times…

  2. Magical stuff. Reading that was a great way to start my day.

    A mate had mentioned we do these hills at some point and I’ve only just put the two together. Hopefully I’ll be repeating your route before the year’s oot.

    A 10K five hours later? Sorry Pete but yer a nutter.

  3. Thanks folks.

    I’ve really enjoyed writing about this trip, it was a couple of days that’ll stay with me.
    It’s been great to share the joy and the sore feet :o)

    The 10K? I limped into the post-race marquee for lunch in jeans and a checked shirt. I couldn’t even get out of bed never mind race.
    Next year…

  4. Mr Petesy. Long time, no see. That feet thing sounds brutal. Last time I went with the “old faithfuls” I ended up losing a toenail. Worth it tho’ :o)

    Smashin’ photies and words btw. I enjoyed that.

  5. Lovely that!!

    Stick a piccie of the offending footwear up…. are they finally retired now to gardening duties?

  6. Great photos and account that brings back memories

    I’ve done a similar trip on two occasions. The first time I was caught out on the NW ridge of A’Mhaighdean in bad weather, emerging on a flat area with a sheer cliff in front of me, and no obvious way forward in the poor visibility. I turned round for the long return trudge, and adding insult to injury I left my walking poles on the ground when stopping to do something with waterproofs or the like. Despite realising quite quickly and retracing my steps I didn’t manage to find them. They may still be on the ridge somewhere!

    Last year I returned to try again, this time successfully climbing the pair of mountains in generally good conditions. It is a magical place with excellent paths to ease the long miles, but I just missed out on the view from A’Mhaighdean as the clouds came in. Perhaps that will be the incentive to return again as some time in the future.

  7. Immense! Looks like a route I have to do. Kinda expensive diesel-wise though! The filth outside my window has called my bluff, so I’m not camping out tonight, this is the next best thing.

  8. London to Scotland is a real pain – even on the Caledonian Sleeper – but there is every chance that I’ll make it up there in July. Nice conclusion to the trip and wonderful photos. Great stuff P.

  9. seeeinasamjelus am no goin to say that I enjoyed that. Well OK then I did but amstilljelus…..of the article, the weather & the photies.

    I did think though that the trip was a bit of an overkill just to miss a wee 10K. Good training though if you’d run it all.

    A few queries:
    1) Any idea what the accommodation at Carnmore is like?
    2) I take it from the article and the pics that the track shown on the map doesn’t end at Fuar Loch Mor but takes you up to the ridge. Is that correct? (013755?)
    3) Awaiting the promised comments on the midge position :o)

    Thanks for the info on the parking. Judging by the forecast & THE MIDGES might be late September before I pencil that one in. It’s not a way I’ve been in before & there’s Beinn Airigh Charr & Beinn Lair on the still to do list.

  10. Kev, totally worth it!

    Bellie, I was looking at the offending items this morning, I think I’ll do a post during the week.

    Cheers tomlukasik, great country to be pointing the camera at.

    rp610, I think it’s an area that bear repeated visits, I know I’ll be back. I feel like I’ve visisted and now I want to get to know it.

    Vorlich, it was round about a full tank for the trip door to door. I try not to think about it. You could spend days in there though, easy to get your money’s worth. Sort of.

    Journeyman Traveller, hope you make it up. That is quite a hike you’ve got, done the sleeper a couple of times heading south, definitely the way to do it, hides the hours of journey altogether.

    Ange, you’ve just given that tent a new name. Alright!

    Alan, Carnmore had good reports from the bloke I met in the morning, a couple of bunks and some wire beds he said, and the building does look clean and tidy from the track at least.
    The track runs past the loch, right onto the bealach where it fades over the rocks then heads right up onto A’Mhaighdean’s north top. Harvey have a new British Mountain map of the area coming out in a few weeks which should show OS a thing or two.
    Mudges, day one: none, day two: some. I was testing some new repellant, so I’ll have some stuff to say in a couple of days.

  11. It’s been a grim six weeks tied to the house at wkds due to the knee but from next weekend I’ll be out there. My photos will be garbage, the laser comp heavier than that wallet sapping tent of yours and my old terrocs probably just as brutal BUT I’ll be loving it all the same.

    Picked me up a bit has this write-up and pics. Cheers fella.

  12. Ace write up fella. Might just have to go lose myself in the Welsh wilderness for a few days next week, make the most of it before they start building the 10 new windfarms :-(

  13. haha! By the way, i do still have that other tent, in my cupboard. It hasn’t been eBayed. Although the effing clutch is away on my car so i may need to eBay it afterall, unless you can sub me til payday :-)
    I’m kidding. The car is broken though. Blasted thing. Grrr.

  14. Oh and i love the photies, and he words and most of all the reflections of he landscape in the water in the third photo down. Just lovely.

  15. Groovy_nut, we’re probably not far behind you up here, there’ll be a turbine on every summit by the time I’m 50.

    Ange, just done my front brakes so I sympathise. Only burts two knuckles though, so that’s not too bad.
    Hope you’re getting good use out that tent!

    That photie was taken from the causeway, such a beautiful morning that. Jeez, that was a week ago now.

  16. Summed up my legs before i set off anywhere with that analogy of bendy straws, still laughing now at it. Soon you’ll be known in the highlands as the man with the silver tent.

  17. Fantastic photies mate! I’m jealous as hell reading that…I was so close to getting out last weekend but got sent home from work on the Thursday with a migraine. Took me until about Tuesday this week to start feeling human again.

    I got out this weekend, though it didn’t exactly go as I imagined it! Still I was on top of pointy stuff and got some nice views and peace in which to enjoy them.

  18. The Man with the Silver Tent, I like that Coops, it’ll match my beard and hair :o)

    Good job BBF, I’ve been stuck in steel toe capped boots since I got back.

    sbrt, I knew half way through the first day I wasn’t running, my feet were already toast. It’s a bugger, I wonder how I’d have done?

    Is BNS better or worse that DNF :o)

  19. Great write up, cheered up a monday morning in the office splendidly. If the choice is a 10k run or a walk like that, I’d be right there with you in the lunch tent.

  20. Always enjoy reading your reports, but this was something a little special. Thanks for doing what you do!

  21. Well you know what Billy Connolly said: “there’s no such thing as bad weather – just the wrong clothes”

    Not a problem I see you having.

  22. In saying that I was wandering about in the pissing rain all day yesterday in a hoodless cotton jacket.
    That’s either irony or stupidity.

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