1am – Well, earlier today I sent Tracy an update for the blog which was full of hope and excitement about the walk ahead. It’s not turned out quite how I’d imagined though. Right now I’m in a bed at the Glencoe Hotel where I’ve been for just over half an hour. This was not where I’d planned to stay tonight!
During the journey here I’d become progressively more ill and, ironically, as I’d passed the hotel on the coach I’d almost decided to get off here to go to the campsite and wait until morning. But I thought I’d get started, and that I’d find somewhere to pitch and sleep it off, probably waking up feeling much better tomorrow.
I left the bus at 8.40pm just south of the bridge at Ballachulish and found the cycle track I needed to follow to take me to the forest I was going to ascend through. The evenings are so light up here that I hadn’t expected a problem finding somewhere to pitch, but as rain clouds descended it became incredibly dark and I was starting to be a little concerned about finding a site. As I ascended the forest track and my body started to work, I started to feel much more unwell. I was dizzy and very sweaty, and was getting stomach cramps and nausea. It occurred to me that starting so late meant that no one else was going to be walking up here, so if anything happened to me the chances were no one would be nearby until the next day. Also, I’d made a mistake in that no one was expecting to hear from me that night as I thought it looked very straight forward. Given that, I decided the safest option was to descend to the carpark which was near to houses, and to pitch there.
All the paths and the grass verges were covered in sharp gravel, which I hadn’t expected. My heart was sinking and I was getting worried I wouldn’t be able to pitch. The rain was coming down and I was getting soaked. I found a small patch next to the river and got into my tent. As I lay there, it occurred to me that it was raining heavily and I hadn’t checked the flood area of the river. I looked out of the tent, and immediately realised that there was flood debris on the opposite bank at a much higher level than mine. There was no way I could stay there. Although most likely safe, there was a chance it wouldn’t be, so I had to move on. I literally picked up the tent and walked it to a grass verge nearby – the only other possible place. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite fit and I couldn’t peg it in at all. Ill, miserable and wet I was trying to work out what to do, when the midges found me!
My only option was to head back to the road an try and find a B&B for the night where I could warm up and try and rest to shift the sickness I was experiencing. I called my partner and the nearest ones were Ballachulish, some miles back down the road. She texted me some local taxi numbers, but there aren’t any at 10.45 on a Sunday night in Glencoe! It was pitch black and wet and I was in quite a bad way physically. I began the long slog along to Ballachulish. Eventually I arrived, in pain and sweating with nausea. The first B&B I came to at 11.20pm refused me a room. I guess I looked awful! The woman told me to go into the village “just up the road” to the next B&B. 15 minutes later, as walking was problematic, I arrived. It was full. All the B&Bs nearby were full. I sat at the side of the road, wet, sick and utterly miserable. I just couldn’t get my brain in gear to know what to do, short of pitching in the middle of the village playing field!
Eventually all I could do was walk the extra mile or so to Glencoe and if no where there had a room, at least another mile further was a campsite where I could safely pitch. I know a mile doesn’t sound far, but feeling as I was, it may as well have been 100 miles for how attainable it felt. But there was nothing for it. I had to gather my energy, mentally kick myself in the backside, and just keep walking.
Eventually I made it to the Glencoe Hotel, a bit after midnight. There were some lights on in the hallway, but the bar was in darkness. I rang the bell but it didn’t work, so I knocked. Nothing happened. I felt utterly desolate, and then, miracle of miracles I saw someone in a back room! I knocked on the window and he came to the front door. I said I was ill and asked if they had a room, and he said yes there was one left. I literally could have cried with relief. The chap said that he was just leaving and if I’d been 2 minutes later he would have been gone and the place in darkness! He brought me inside and just gave me the key, saying I could sort the details out in the morning. I was so grateful and lugged myself up the stairs and into the incredibly nice hotel room. I can’t describe the feeling when I opened the door and stepped inside, knowing I was safe and warm and had somewhere to be for the night. I quickly hung my sodden tent out in the shower and put all my wet kit out to dry before calling my partner who was desperately worried about me. I sank into bed, coccooned in cotton sheets and luxury that I hadn’t expected to be experiencing. The room was £85, which was more money than I had really, but I was lucky to have found anywhere, and it was worth every penny. So here I am, ready to sleep and grateful to have somewhere in which to do it.
1.30pm – Wow, what a night. With trying to get all the details down before I fell asleep though, I forgot the most important thing that happened yesterday!
As I arrived at Glasgow and stepped off the train, my amazing partner was there waiting for me! She’d come to see me for the 40 minutes that I had between train and coach. I have never been so happy as when we hugged. We got to the coach station in 15 minutes and sat holding tightly to each other, hurriedly sharing stories of the past week, looking at pictures from what we’d both been up to. The bus was late and we had a little more time together than was expected, which was amazing, but when I had to say goodbye again I felt awful. As I got on the bus, a little boy asked me why I had red hair, and I was talking to him about it and my piercings as the bus started moving. I quickly jumped up and looked around for my partner to wave goodbye, but couldn’t see her. I went to each side of the bus, face pressed against the glass, searching the crowd. She was gone. When I spoke to her later, she said she’d been waving to me from the front of the bus but she’d seen I was talking to someone, so she’d left. I think my heart broke a little bit again, when I realised that she didn’t know that only seconds later I was trying to find her.
Anyway, I’m not at the Independent Youth Hostel in Glencoe. I spent ages this morning trying to decide what to do, whether to start walking or not. I had sat in the breakfast lounge at the hotel looking out over the Loch towards the bridge I’d walked from the night before, eating the extremely tasty breakfast included in my room fee. I felt ok and had almost decided to leave, but when I got back to my room I was ill again, and that made the decision for me. I showered and packed my kit and sat in the lobby so I could call Clare and see how she was doing. Apart from a slightly sore back she was ok, but advised that I stop for a day or two to ensure I was well before I started walking again. I agreed totally, and she reminded me of the more affordable youth hostels just a little up the road. I got my pack on and stepped out in to what turned out to be a baking hot day.
Following the path through the village and then along the river, it quickly became evident that I wasn’t well enough to do any walking today. Although I’d be sweating anyway with the heat, I was really drenched and was struggling with fatigue and nausea. It was only 1.5 miles but it felt like forever and I arrived at the hostel in serious need of a bed and some sleep. I’d definitely made the right choice. So here I am in the bunkhouse enjoying the solitude. It’s not really open yet but they booked me in anyway so I could get into bed! At the moment the room is all mine, but with 8 beds I expect it won’t be empty for long. I’m kind of hoping someone will bring some tea bags! I made a cup at the hotel in my flask, but dropped it when I got here! What I wouldn’t give for a nice cup of tea! At the moment I’m pondering whether to miss the Glencoe section and go straight for Rannoch Moor as I’m now going to be quite behind, but I’m not sure about it. I’m also incredibly frustrated as it is a beautiful day outside. The sun is hot, there’s just enough of a breeze to keep the midges at bay, and I’m in Glencoe! I wish I were walking so much, but actually I should be asleep. I feel like I’ve been punched in the stomach, and am looking forward to drifting off and dreaming.
7.05pm – Well I slept all afternoon. Some lovely people from the Netherlands have arrived. They went to the shop and came back with loads of fruit for me, which apparently is customary for people who are ill. It was great having the vitamins though, and having a bit of a chat. The couple have been biking all around the North of Scotland, and are off to Mull tomorrow to look for eagles and otters. They’re really pleased that the weather is so good. Miriam says that every time she comes to the UK the weather is amazing, so she doesn’t believe it when we moan about the rain and the cold! They’ve given me tea bags and shared their milk with me. I couldn’t ask for better bunk-house buddies.
10.50pm – Wow, suddenly it’s late! I’ve spent the whole evening sat in the sun working out distances and timings for the whole of the Glencoe section of the walk. The sun was warm, with the red light glancing of the mountain peaks as they towered above me. Above the summits as the sun sank below, clouds were up-lit with orange and gold, a last reminder of the glorious day I’ve largely slept through.
I’ve been chatting intermittently to Phillipe, a 65 year old French man, who I had to ask to keep his shoes outside the dorm! Luckily he wasn’t offended. At the moment he’s snoring. He’s a very interesting man who lives near Mont Blanc and does an epic walk every month. He’s just done the French ‘Stevenson Way’ based on another of his books. We had that intersting moment earlier when we started talking and then realised that neither of us really knew enough of each other’s language to have an actual conversation – you both wish you hadn’t started, but now you have, you both feel obliged to continue.
I’m laying in bed and from a narrow slit of a window I can see trees and a mountain – it makes me really happy. I feel extremely anxious about tomorrow though. If my stomach is still bad I may have to go home as I can’t just hang around waiting to see if I feel better, spending money I don’t have on a room. I have identified two possible exits if I do walk and get into difficulty, but really I just need to be well enough to not need them.
The independent hostel at Glencoe where I’ve been recuperating.
8.30pm – So, I didn’t go today. I had cramps all morning and spoke to one of our medics who advised I should give it at least another 24 hours. I had thought about calling NHS direct, but realised they probably wouldn’t understand why I’d even be considering hiking out into the hills with an iffy stomach! At least our medics are used to us doing crazy things.
I slept for most of the morning then went for a walk into the village for lunch and to buy dinner for tonight. I also got some postcards, which I thought would be nice to send home. I got some 20ps so I could use the computer at the bunk house and put the Mull section up on the blog, and then sat in the cafe and read a paper. Really low-key day of relaxation and rest, which was much needed.
Glencoe Village with the Pap of Glencoe rising in the background
I spoke to my partner later who told me that her work had confirmed she could move with me. Just before I started the walk I was offered a job in England and we’ve been waiting to see if she could move to. I was so excited, but it did make me feel like I needed to be at home with her so we could sort out somewhere to live and get things packed.
It’s been another amazing day here with the weather, and I wish I’d been walking. I’m anxious still about getting walking again, but feeling quite a bit better. Not 100% but then I think tomorrow I either have to walk or call a halt to it all. Going to get my stuff packed now ready for the morning so I can go if I feel up to it. Fingers crossed! The biggest problem I have right now I think is the psychological hurdle of getting going again. Now I’ve stopped, and there’s been the potential of ending and going home, it’s extremely hard to get moving. But I must be sure that if I were to go home, it’s really because I am ill and not because mentally I’ve convinced myself I should. I think whatever happens, unless I’m actively very sick, I should get walking tomorrow to kick that mental block into shape!
18.21 – I made it! Back out on the trail today, and I feel much MUCH happier for it! Even more exciting, I got a lot further than I expected and will be able to get back to Glencoe tomorrow without needing a second night out on this section! Turns out on flat or undulating ground I do about 5kph even with the pack, whereas all my timings were for 3kph which is ordinary mountain or boggy ground (serious uphills are down to 1.5-2kph). So today took me around half the time I expected it to!
I woke around 8am and still felt exhausted, which didn’t bode well for travelling, but I managed to drag myself out of bed. I thought I’d see how I felt after breakfast, and although a little sore, I felt ok. Ultimately I figured I should try as I was going stir crazy just waiting and it was making me miserable and depressed.
Around 9.15am I was ready, but a bit gutted I’d missed the bus out to Ballachulish. I thought about walking but wanted to take it realtively easy and not add an extra few miles to my trip today. I made my way to the village, and my pack didn’t feel too heavy which was promising and meant I was feeling a lot better. I wasn’t too sweaty or tired and felt stronger than I had even the week before on Mull. At the village, I went to the petrol station and tried hitch hiking for 20 minutes before giving it up and heading to the bus stop to wait in the sunshine.
Loch Leven with the bridge in the distance
Glencoe village cross-roads and the Pap in the background
The bus came around 11 and I was on the way again, in excellent spirits. It was strange going through Ballachulish again. I felt a bit upset – I guess it was a place I now only remember as somewhere I felt intensely hopeless and alone. It looked so different in the day light, much smaller, and less intimidating. That feeling of upset stayed with me as I got off the bus and walked up the same cycle track I’d descended a few days earlier. At the carpark I went and looked at the place I’d first pitched my tent. The ground was as I’d left it with no sign of water encroachment – clearly nothing untoward had happened. Still, better that I’d made a safer call and been wrong. And I had needed a few days to get over the bug.
As I passed the point I’d last seen 2 nights ago, where I’d decided to turn back, the sun came out and my mood lifted. It was a new day, it was early and I was now on new ground I hadn’t walked on before. I was on my way. After only 100m however, a sign at the side of the path said I couldn’t go any further due to forest works taking place. I was gutted, but I wasn’t prepared to come all this way to turn around. Recalling my experience on Mull of sneaking past them, I thought I’d give it a go. Up the track I went, passing workers vehicles, empty and silent in the sunshine. I continued on and was about 2km into my journey when rounding the hillside on the last short stretch to the mast and the open hill, I heard people. A sign ahead said essential road maintenance! Bugger. If they were working on the actual track there was no way I could get past unnoticed. There was no way up or down to circumvent them either, and I could hear heavy machinery just round the bend. After an hour of walking, I had to turn back to the carpark. Again.
On gaining the carpark I weighed my options. I felt I should walk by road round the hillside to the left and continue as planned, although the extra distance plus the doubling back I’d done would add a few hours to my journey. OR, I could go right to Ballachulish and walk in via another valley that would take me much further on in that section and save me lots of time and effort. I decided to let fate decide in a way. Via Ballachulish I’d get to a cairn between the two forests where I could stay the night, with only one day of walking left on the Glencoe section to do, which meant I would finish at Glencoe tomorrow (Thursday) night! If I went left, I’d most likely end up at a bothy before that, then sleep a second night out ending in Glencoe on Friday. When I was at the hostel I’d spoken to my partner who was going to look at coming to Glencoe for the night on Friday to see me. I decided to call her, and if she was going to do that I’d go left, and if not, I’d go right, shaving off some of my journey time. After some connection problems we spoke and she told me she wasn’t coming. It just wasn’t practical in terms of time or money. I hadn’t realised then how much the thought of seeing her after this section had motivated me to get started again, and now it wasn’t happening. But motivating or not I was here now, and although disappointed I was still feeling pretty good.
I looked at the map again thinking to head to Ballachulish and in to the back of Glencoe that way, when I noticed that going the full route to the left took nme through Glen Duror and thus Appin! Suddenly it occurred to me that I couldn’t ever claim to have done the Stevenson Way if I’d missed out such a key location from the book! With that in mind and spurring me on, I turned left down a track towards the main road.
As I arrived two things struck me – first that it was a much busier road than I’d expected, and second, that it had no pavement and lots of thundering logging trucks. After walking into Glencoe village today, as well as the doubling back I’d done, I had walked quite a few extra miles already so I decided that the safest option would be to hitch hike round to Duror rather than attempt the road. A pink mohawk and piercings once again made it difficult to get a lift, but after 40 minutes an extremely kind local man pulled over and told me to hop in. Not only did he drive me to Duror, but he even took me up to the car park at the start of the forest, meaning I avoided some horrible pavement walking!
At about 2.10pm I started walking, and kept a fanatical eye on the timings I’d worked out before. Unbelievably, they were completely off. Even with continuing to stop for pictures and to look at different features, I was walking at almost twice the speed I had expected. A section I had predicted to take 3hrs15 only took me 2hrs10! Being so much speedier than I’d planned meant that I whizzed past the bothy and ended up at the cairn I would have got to if I’d travelled via Ballachulish! At just after 4.15pm I was done, and decided to pitch just NE of the cairn. It was the last flat ground before the next forest, and I didn’t expect there to be anywhere in that where I could sleep. I did contemplate moving on to completing that next forest section too, but given it was my first day I wanted to take it easy. Looking around for somewhere to put up the tent I discovered what could only be described as a beautiful campsite! Flat areas of short green grass, almost no thistles, no uncomfortable tufts! It looked like the area had been mowed! Then I noticed the holes in a bank nearby and realised that I had a lot of bunnies to thank for my comfy pitch!
I’m sat in the tent now, and I’ve worked out that I’ve made around 18.65km today, since around 11am. I’m ecstatic with my progress. I feel generally ok, although as the afternoon wore on I’ve become a bit nauseous. That isn’t leaving me and I don’t fancy any dinner, but I’ve made myself eat anyway. I plan to sleep early tonight and get an early start in the morning, when I’ll be aiming to do 19.11km. I feel hopeful about it, although there is a lot more ‘up’ involved in the next section than there has been today. I’ll stop at the other side of the next forest for a proper break before starting the serious ascent, and see how I feel. Dinner in the Clachaig Inn tomorrow night sounds wonderful. I hope the weather is good. It’s been ok today. Very windy now, so I think it will be a loud night in the tent. I can hear sheep nearby and the occasional bellow of red deer. I just picked a tick off myself that was looking for a good place to bite but hadn’t quite made it yet. I am so happy I did this today, and hopefully will get a good day of walking in tomorrow.
Enjoying the lovely flat freshly mown pitch!
Getting some evening sunshine. Note the rucksack strap lines! Lovely view to the Pap of Glencoe in the background.
9.11pm – I dozed for a bit and just woke up so decided to go and brush my teeth. The wind has completely dropped, and within seconds of leaving the tent I was engulfed in a dark cloud of biting midges! Now there are about 20 in the tent with me! I hate the little bastards. If the wind doesn’t pick up again, I’m going to be in trouble in the morning!
6.09am – Well, it’s a reasonably good morning here in Glencoe. No wind sadly so when I unzipped my tent a million midges made a dash for me! I decided I could wait for a wee, and will tat down at the last possible moment. Just about to have breakfast and then get going – lots of miles to do today! Sadly I slept terribly, mostly because I’m cold I think. I am definitely going to invest in an ultra-light and very warm sleeping bag when I get home.
I read the other day that up to 40,000 midges can land on an exposed arm in Scotland within one hour, each biting up to 11 times a second. Bastards.
12.10pm -This morning was hillarious! Whilst waiting in hope for the wind to pick up before tatting down, I noticed that my tent fabric appeared to be flickering. When I looked closely, it turned out that the aptly named ‘fly sheet’ was covered in literallythousands of midges, and I realised that taking down my tent was going to be an interesting and probably unusually painful experience today. I rummaged in my bag for my head net thinking I’d outsmarted the bitey little gits, but as I pulled out the small stuff sack, I noticed that it said ‘mosquito net’ on the packet. With a sinking heart I emptied out the net and held it up to a nearby midge. As if to oblige, it promptly crawled through one of the mesh holes. Even a morbidly obese midge would have had no problem. Hmm. There was nothing for it but to accept my fate and crack on.
With everything ready, I unzipped the tent and ran outside, through the swarm, and up a hill. My tent was covered and they were restless. They could obviously sense the CO2 but not actually work out where I was. Seconds later, a new batch from another direction did find me!
The next 40 minutes was spent in a kind of strange dance. I’d hyperventillate and then hold my breath, rush in, grab a tent peg whilst being bitten on the face and then run in a different direction. Repeat. If anyone had seen me, they probably would’ve wondered if I should have been out alone.
At 7.55am I finally set off, with a lot of painful itchy bites all over my head, neck and hands. Crossing the river, I couldn’t find the path on the map, but found my own way throught the bracken and bog up the steep sides of a ridge to it’s crest. Working my way along a deer fence I located the gate and entered the forest on the other side. It was 9.10am. The forestry commission had cleared this section leaving branches, debris and deep ruts across what would have been a path, which made progress very slow. Soon enough though I entered the trees, feeling very smug and happy with my contour interpretation so far. In a light and gentle drizzle I descended a beautiful grassy path along a firebreak in the trees, keeping an eye on my timings for distance. Gossamer webs clung to my arms and face and a woodpecker rattled it’s call somewhere to my right in the trees. It was a staggeringly pretty morning.
Meeting the forest track I continued along on the way. I noticed I was feeling a bit queezy, especially when I tried to eat or drink anything. But otherwise I was feeling ok. I was making excellent progress and thought my timings were spot on. Roughly where I expected, albeit a little early, my map notes showed a track to the left, which was matched by what I saw on the ground. I had a look a little way ahead but couldn’t see a different path so assumed this was the right one. I headed downhill but the path started going the wrong way. I gave it 1km then turned back and went South off path, thinking I was in the right place. I half crawled and half hacked my way through the trees, the ever boggy forest floor saturating my boots under foot. Branches grabbed me and snarled round my platypus hose and rucksack. I came in to a fire break and sank into a marsh. Horrified, I wondered if this was the track I’d been aiming for! I decided to keep working South, knowing eventually I’d either reach the real track, or the river, in which case I’d know to come back to here. 10 minutes later I was stood on a hard gravel road through the forest, feeling intensely relieved. 150m behind me along the road were the buildings I should have come out by. I’d left the previous track too early to go south, but when I went to look, the path I should have found down to this one was gone, where the forestry commission had uprooted the trees and any semblance of a footpath.
I planned to stop for a short break, it was 10.30am and I’d been going for an hour and a half. Sadly it wasn’t to be as the midges had their own plans for me, and 5 minutes later my pack was on and I was trudging up the roadway. The drizzle fell but it was too hot for my waterproof jacket – though I kept the trousers on as tick protection.
I walked on, being overtaken once by a forestry van. I did think about hailing it, but seeing as I’d hitch hiked the day before I wanted to do all the walking myself today. Passing over a bridge I stopped for some minutes to watch trout below darting between the rocks and in and out of patches of fleeting sunshine.
As I continued, I thought I should get the map out again and think about my timings. Stupidly I then thought I didn’t need to bother as it would be obvious where I needed to stop. My map notes said “follow track to end, and then go right to deer fence”. I figured I’d know where the track ended. Then I realised that was the sort of naive assumption that led to trouble, but I was so sure it would be fine, I forgot that I should have been keeping on top of it anyway, because in hill country you never ever really know. I was stupid, and I didn’t check, because I was tired and couldn’t be bothered.
The track continued on round multiple bends. Eventually it ended and a small footpath continued onward. I was a little confused by the instructions to turn right when the track ended, but in my mind the ‘track’ had ended and that was a footpath ahead. I ignored the small voice that also said the end of the track was far too soon, and following a fire break I made it downhill to the deer fence. From there I could see along the fence to the far tip of the forest I was heading to. It seemed a long way, further than I expected.
After 20 minutes of bog hopping over challenging ground, I came to some ruins. The ruins I should have descended to if I’d continued on the footpath from earlied. I was an idiot. Luckily my error didn’t seem to have added too much time to the journey, and more by luck than judgement, the journey was continuing as planned. Passing through the ruins, creepy and moss covered, with dead pine brances scraping my arms, was an eerie experience, and I was glad when I worked along to the deer fence again. Going was slow and wet, and it was with relief that I reached the forest edge just after 12pm. I’ve just eaten, as here it’s windy enough to stop and have a proper refuel before the slog ahead.
At this point it’s worth mentioning that I was going a little bit crazy. My mind doesn’t like to be unoccupied and the isolation was doing strange things to me. Although I was concentrating on my route and on the walk, on another level I had constant ‘noise’ making up for the silence. Repeatedly I had the odd line or two of a song stuck in my mind. It would be there, over and over again for an hour or so, then another would replace it. Not whole songs, just a coupld of lines from one. Today, I didn’t mind the few lines from Disney’s Robin Hood, but I strongly objected to Shania Twain. Yesterday I was bothered by Kings of Leon!
Anyway, from my position here I’ve been looking closely at the map and have realised what I can see is just the first saddle, 1/4 of the way to the top – not the actual saddle/bealach I’m aiming for! I have to make a decision which has been bothering me. If I follow the intended route, I have to contour round a very steep headwall high above a corrie. I’m not too worried – I don’t like heights but I think it would be fine – but the ground is very wet and I’ve noticed that despite having very good walking boots, they aren’t gripping very well, which is concerning me. To my left, a safer, less steep, and quicker option is available. I think I’m going to go for the proper route via Bealach Fhionnghaill, rather than the ‘easy’ way via Bealach Easen. It’s almost 1pm and I’m gonna get started.
11.30pm – The ascent was long and I was feeling really quite unwell when I started. Every time I’d eaten or drunk anything today I felt sick and had a bit of a struggle to keep it down, but I’d managed, so thought I was ok. I thought I could get across and traverse the steep section by 3, thus being at the pub by 5pm! On the way up, I was sweating a lot more than usual, and concentrating on avoiding the many froglets that crossed my path. I was making great time, and after half an hour I was half way up!
It got harder and harder however from then on. The wind dropped and I literally felt like I was burning up. My face and head were boiling hot and when I poured icy stream water over my head it instantly warmed up. I was feeling more and more ill, but kept going knowing that in a few hours I’d be at the bar having dinner.
Eventually, exhausted, I reached the bealach at the top, and looked at the traverse I’d have to make. I was apprehensive but thought it probably wasn’t as steep once I had got over to the wall than it looked from here. I needed a rest but made it quick as I was anxious to get on with the section. My map notes were very clear here – don’t take a high line, drop well down below the crags. I should have listened to my apprehension.
The crags on the side I was to avoid jutted out high above the valley floor and there was nothing in the world that would make me want to be above them. I set out, thinking I was heading in the right direction to skirt the bottom of the rocky buttresses, and although nervous, was making good progress. At some point the ground became extremely steep, dropping away to my right for hundreds of metres. I kept on and rounding a corner saw the bealach I was heading for – below me in the distance! I had taken far too high a line without realising. Looking down to my right, I could see the edge of the ground and then nothing, and I realised with horror that I was high above the crags, and one slip would send me over their edge in to the valley below. I was struggling to maintain my footing on the wet grass and more than once I started to go, digging my poles in hard to stop me from loosing the ground. There were also boulder flows to cross and these turned out to be fairly unstable on the steep mountain side. Crossing one, carefully placing my feet due to the ankle-breaking holes between them, one slipped from under me, shifting all those around it, and above it. Some crashed over the edge of the crag and I heard them echoing as they hit the valley floor. My heart was in my mouth as I realised the consequences of dislodging one of these flows and being carried by it to the valley floor. It would most likely hurt. Alot. And I would probably be unrecognisable by the end. At this point, I did the only thing I could. I wedged myself into some rocks, and got out the satphone. I left a message on Tracy’s answerphone, and one on Clares. The message gave my exact location, the time (3.10pm), what I was wearing, what I was doing, and a time an hour later when I planned to call back. In the event that they didn’t hear from me however, it also instructed them to call for help.
I realised there was no way I was getting across to the Bealach, and fear was rising in me. I needed to move before it got the better of me and I was either crag-fast against the rocks or acting rashly in panic. Using my poles, which once again were a life line, and keeping three points of contact at all times, I very, very slowly picked a line down to the valley floor,a nd worked my way along it. My right knee which had an old injury was buckling on the steep ground, and my wrists were in agony from twisting against the poles. I had almost no grip on the wet grass and rocks, and there were certainly times when I slipped that the only thing keeping me attached to the valley wall were the poles. On one slip I badly wrenched my shoulder, digging in a pole as I fell. On another my right leg went downhill whilst my left stayed up, giving me a painful groin strain. Exactly one hour later, I made the valley floor, exhausted and shaking with fatigue and adrenaline.
I had two options, either to work up the headwall to the bealach I’d entered the valley from, or to walk out of the valley down Gleann Charnan to the road in Glen Etive, and try and hitch hike for a lift back. If I went back the way I’d come I could try for Bealach Easen if I had energy, and thus Glencoe, or pitch up and do it in the morning. If I walked out, I would most likely spend the night in the middle of nowhere, miserable, lonely and depressed. I desperately wanted to stay on track.
I left another message on Tracy’s answerphone saying I was ok, and then called Claire. She answered, and suggested I walk out, as on looking at the map it seemed the Eassen option was as steep as the headwall I’d just been contouring. I agreed, but after I got off the phone I had a look and decided I would go for it. Although exhausting I wanted to get to civilisation, and a bed somewhere, if at all possible. Looking at the bealach I had to work back up to it didn’t seem so steep, and there were lots of relatively flat areas to rest. In terms of Easen, if it wasn’t possible, tomorrow I could work back through the forest to the cairn and then out to Ballachulish.
As I started my heart was thundering in my ears and my head and torso were on fire again. My legs were shaking with exhaustion and my throat was paper dry. The nausea was also worse than ever. I clambered over a rock and startled a lizard which darted away before I could properly identify it. Eventually, shattered but relieved, I made the bealach, and looked down at the kilometres I would have to re-trace. I collapsed in a cloud of midges.
I stayed there for 15 minutes cooking my emergency wet ration pack – a calorific meal of beans and bacon which I thought would give me a much needed boost. It was gone 5 and I hadn’t eaten since 12.30 despite all the ascent I’d done. I was feeling very very sick but forced it down. Sweat was literally pouring from me and I realised I probably felt so sick today through dehydration. I checked and my water bladder was almost empty, and I only had 1/2 a litre left. Despite drinking my usual amount, it struck me that I should have been drinking much more, as I was still dehydrated from being ill for the preceeding days.
The descent was arduous on my painful feet, sore from the previous descent and the slipping. I soon realised I’d need a lot more water so stopped to get out the Katadyn filter. As I pumped the midges swarmed, but I was so utterly spent, that I couldn’t feel them anymore. I drank 1/2 litre there and then, fighting hard the urge to vomit. I filled another bladder and carried on, avoiding a newt as I went.
As I neared the forest I contoured round to meet the fence further up, and avoid unecessary descent and ascent. Where I met the fence I stopped to call Claire. I was feeling exceedingly unwell, and I realised that no one knew where I was. The only person who thought they did was Claire, and if anything happened she didn’t know I’d changed my plans so would send help the wrong way. It was 6.30pm and I figured I could get to Clachaig by 10pm if I could just keep going. I said if she hadn’t heard from me by then, I was in trouble. I toook a good glug of water, and started up.
As I’d been descending the steep section, and again now, my mind was wandering – picturing what I’d be doing when I got to civilisation, what I’d eat and so on. I had to repeatedly rein it in and focus on what I was doing, being aware that I was so tired I was at risk of making stupid foot placement errors. The up went on and on. I’d fix a point 10-20metres away and work slowly towards it then stop for a minute to get my breath. I did this for the whole ascent and it took a very long time. At one point a herd of deer ahead stopped to look at me, seeimingly confused as to why I was there so late, and obviously not finding me a threat. Then a stag behind me bellowed, and they moved on.
I was saturated, and burning again, but I kept going, albeit slowly. Bealach Easen was the bealach that just kept on going. Ever time I thought I was at the top, I wasn’t and it felt so cruel. My thighs and lungs were burning and I was shaking. There wasn’t one bit of me that wasn’t exhausted and in pain.
Eventually I reached the wide saddle at around 7.30pm, and made my way across to the other side. From the top, the views in to Glencoe and beyond to Ben Nevis were stunning, but I was too tired to enjoy them. A random gate with no fence attached marked the descent route and I followed a good path down from this.
It was a hard descent with every step causing pain to my swollen and blistered feet, but I daren’t stop in case I couldn’t get moving again. I was so happy when I met a track in the valley floor that would lead to a road. It was 8.30pm and I figured I would make the A82 by 9!
The track was agony, such a hard surface beneath my wrecked feet, and I was partly staggering, but I made the main road by 9 and headed right. I recalled a footpath from the last time I was here, which went from a car park the river to the pub, and which would save me too much road walking. Luckily my memory from my previous visit was accurate. I hobbled over the bridge and in to the woods. A group of cyclists were attempting to camp by the river, but were instead running around swatting at midges. The area smelled of deodorant which they were using to try to deter them. It wasn’t working.
Eventually, at 9.30 I found the pub. There were no rooms available, well, none I could afford, but I collected my ration parcel and slowly made my way into the bar for some much needed fluids. I must have looked awful as everyone silenced and turned to watch as I dropped my bag on the chair and practically crawled to the bar. Lemonade has never been so good as it was right then! I texted Tracy and Claire and finally took the weight off my feet.
I was contemplating the seemingly impossible walk of 1.25 miles to the youth hostel, when I saw a couple were just leaving. Not being in any state to politely hope someone would offer me a lift I stopped them and asked them if they were going left towards the hostel. Amazingly they said they weren’t but that they would take me where I needed to go! I was immensely grateful, especially given how badly I must have smelt! They even brought the car round for me. I asked them to take me to the youth hostel which I’d try first, which was just next to the camp site if they didn’t have any room. The amazing people took me there, and then waited so that if there weren’t rooms, they could take me to the campsite!! Luckily, and with relief, I found they had a bed left, and immediately took it.
I got my bags and went in. I made the bed, showered and am now sat in the kitchen with my feet up on a chair. The bottoms of them are bruised and burning from all the many extra miles and extra descent I’ve done today with such a big pack. What should have been 19km and about 7 hours, turned in to 31km and over 13 hours of walking with 1300m of ascent! I have injured my feet, injured my knee again, hurt my shoulder, and to top it all off, I still feel really really sick. I don’t think my body was ready for walking from being ill. Let alone all the extra unplanned walking today. I need to sleep.
I woke up and had breakfast, trying to decide what to do. There was no way I was walking anywhere today, I needed to rest. More urgently though, I was wondering whether to step out of the walk. It was clear that aside from the exertion yesterday I still wasn’t very well, or at least not well enough. The thing that saved me yesterday was my training. We are trained in RAPID to keep going, no matter how tired, or how hungry, we keep going. That saw me through, and got me back to Glencoe in one piece, and I am very grateful for it. But in terms of moving on into the next section, I was thinking very seriously about it. I had lots of niggling problems, which although not serious in themselves, and not a problem in a more populated area, could be extremely risky in Rannoch Moor. I was about to head out into the true wilderness, and there would be no escape routes, even long ones like I’d done the night before. I needed to take advice so I spoke to Claire. I also spoke to her partner Jem, an outdoor instructor with years of weighing risk and making these decisions, and who also knew the area I was going to walk in to. His feeling was that for the sake of safety, I would need to be 100% before starting that route, and right now I wasn’t. I had to agree with him. Continuing the walk would mean that the strains and injuries I’d attained would only worsen without a chance to get better, and starting the most remote section like that would be potentially dangerous. With a heavy heart, I had to make the call to step back from the walk. I got on a coach, and headed back to Edinburgh.
Well, I’m home. I feel ill, and am resting and properly rehydrating. Although the weather looks good this coming week, my knee is still stiff and my feet bruised and I recognise that the amount of walking I’d need to do with such a heavy pack would only exacerbate these issues. I am gutted, and feel I have let everyone down – the people who sponsored me, my friends, and my team. All I can say is that I have made the safe decision, and I believe it to be the right one. Although I won’t be finishing the walk this week, given the illnesses and injuries I’ve had to deal with, this is really the only option. I plan, over coming months, to find time to complete the rest if possible, but will just have to do it in stages rather than as the whole walk I’d intended. I hope to be back out there soon. Fingers crossed.