0300hrs I finished packing. This leads to inevitable mistakes, five main meals and one breakfast instead of an even spread of each being the most apparent once I was under way. So, little sleep was had and we left late as well. My folks ran me up to FT Bill as they were going to have a gad about Lochaber, but we caught every concievable obstacle on the way, the winner of the biggest and slowest prize being the car ferry under police escort moving North as best as they could from laybay to layby to let the queues clear.
So we got there in time for lunch at the Highland Centre next to the
start finish post. A cuppa, a piece, a photie, a SPOT ping and I was on my way.
The first bit is rubbish along tarmac, but the inceasingly fine views down Glen Nevis with a snow capped Stob Ban did give me something to look at. I felt fresh at this point, the sun was shining, my pack was light and comfy.
You get up and away from Glen Nevis pretty quickly although Ben Nevis keeps it’s head above the scenery for a good while. The track through the forest is a transition of sorts, in that you do get a sense of heading somewhere other than back to the car. I stopped to blether to a couple of guys in the trees who were on the home run. They’d given up carrying their kit as they were getting worn out and were being now being portered by Transit van having bought daysacks in Tyndrum. They assumed I was doing the same with my half full pack and that there was the first of a long series of explainations of what I was doing and why. A Lemon and Lime Nuun Hydration tab in each of their bladders set them right again. There’s so many wee things like that that folk don’t know about, there should be more made of the benefits of nutrition and hydration in the mainstream sources like the magazines. I think it’s always a minor topic because it’s percieved as dull. A new jacket or sexy looking boots always catch the eye more that a sachet of fruity smelling crystals which can actually have a much bigger effect on your enjoyment of the outdoors.
Once I was out onto the clear-felled slopes behind Mullach nan Coirean I met Jon from upstate New York. My opening line was “That’s a big ‘kin pack!”, to which he agreed.
Jon was walking the Way, then heading out to see friends in Inverness and finally to the Outer Hebrides. The poor boy was burst, but having a fine time. We talked stoves, sleeping bags, mountains and weather.
I met so many folk over the days, usually in waves as they left the same hostels and campsites at similar times. There’s a cameraderie develops it seems between the folks walking at the same pace, a support group of sorts. As I spent so much of the trip in isolation so that’s something that’s a bit beyond me. I liked being on my own, but at the same there was times when I missed my pals.
I love the walk to Kinlochleven. The Mamores looming to your left, the track heading on seemingly without end. The miles pass easily, but the wind picked up, the temperature dropped and the sleet started. Time for a pitstop at Tigh na Sleubhaich under Stob Ban, a SPOT ping and a liberal application of waterproofs. And a cuppa of course.
It was a bit miserable from here as it was cold and dreich, but chatting to Donald from Adventure Trading (the SPOT folk) helped the miles pass. I hadn’t sent a signal for ages and it looked like I’d either lost it, it was broken, or I was dead. Whatever it could all have ben tits up, but no I’d just forgotten. Over the days Donald was very much Sgt Al Powell to my John McLane, bless him for staying the course.
Looking over to the water pipes above Kinlochleven and the descent and reascent to reach the top of them is a little upsetting. So I stopped for water and a sit down in Kinlochleven and headed up the track towards the Devils Staircase after sending a SPOT ping. I did remember better from then on.
The climb up is a bastard. It really is, the track is rough, twisting and endless. There’s views and interest all the way, the hills, the pipes, but it’s a grind. Here and Conic Hill are the two bits that are the downsides of going North to South. By the time I got to the top of the pipes the light was fading, the wind was up, the sleet was getting more solid and I knew my schedule was oot the windae. And, the sign is now burst.
I went as well as I could, but I was fading a bit. I was hungry, but there was no good shelter for cooking and eating so I pressed on. Even rounding a corner to see a snow capped Buachaille didn’t fill me with the usual bubble of joy. By the time I was at the top of the Devils Staircase it was properly dark. The rain was heavy, there was a mist coming down, the wind was up, I was tired, I could see failure written all over the path ahead to the bridge of disgrace, with the only way home being a Post Bus straight to Hell.
Head down, hood up, I made my way down to the A82 and along towards the KingsHouse. I was now walking in water. I had brought my Big Agnes bivvy bag, hot food was looking difficult tonight. Ba Bridge as a camp site was out, the miles were few, but the weather was horrendous. I have an internal swingometer that goes to fun to the right, and suffering to the left. I can take a good swing to the left but it can’t stay there all the time, that would be pish. I’ll camp behing the hotel and nip in for something hot I thought.
The badly pitched tents, badly parked cars, gormless giggling and whispering was crowned by toilet habits to be condemned over the bridge from the KingsHouse. I walked straight by the camping area and into the hotel to be greeted by a cheery bunch in the lounge, “You look tired, come and join the girls. Do you want a glass of wine?”.
I was on the cusp of failure. Again. I had so much riding on this, the SPOT test, I’d been shooting my mouth of as usual, all excited about the trip, the test kit.
I’d done a paltry 23 miles. I was tired, cold and hungry.
It was not looking good