More of a challenge than expected

The plan was simple.

We’d spend Thursday travelling from Fife to Fort William by train, with a short walk to the Glen Nevis Youth Hostel. Friday, we’d walk from Fort William to Staoineag bothy. Saturday, we’d walk to Culra bothy and finally, on Sunday, we’d walk out to Dalwhinnie.

Things don’t always go as planned, though.

The plan for Thursday went perfectly. My friend Bill and I boarded the train at Inverkeithing at 10:39am, and 2 changes later, we arrived at Fort William a little after 4:10pm. A wee trip to the shops (I just can’t help myself!) later, to collect a couple of bits that Bill had forgot to pack, and then we were off to the youth hostel. We arrived before 6pm. Job done. A nice, uneventful day (though long and boring, in the whole!).

Friday dawned and the alarm went off as planned. Down we went to the canteen for a cooked breakfast, to see us on our way. Duly eaten, off we went.

The forecast was for a little fog first thing in the morning, to clear and leave a generally cloudy day, with sunny intervals. The forecast was wrong. There was barely a cloud in the sky, and watching the sun come up on the distant peaks as we walked was really amazing.

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The walk along Glen Nevis was relatively uneventful, with the minor interruption of a small herd of highland cows. This actually worked to our favour, to a certain extent, as they kept the cars at bay, so we could walk a fair bit without being forced from the road!

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All around us, as we walked, the views were spectacular.

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The road ended, and then the walk really began. We quickly passed through Nevis Gorge and Steall Falls, and then into the open glen. The views were spectacular, with views of The Ben from angles I’d never seen before, and some generally stunning views. Bill kept saying that he felt like he was in a scene from Lord of the Rings or the like.

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As the day progressed, the walking got more and more difficult. With the clear sunshine and warmth, the valley was getting rather warm. It wasn’t long before I was stripped down to a baselayer (and the Tuff pants were getting decidedly warm!). The drawback of this was that any hint of a frost on the ground had disappeared. The walking got more and more difficult, as it got more and more boggy, and each mile felt like a struggle.

Between my poor footwear choices (this really wasn’t the path for shoes, as opposed to boots) and Bill’s load (he hasn’t quite embraced the lightweight revolution, so he was more than a little overburdened!), it was proving quite a challenge.

At the same time, even though Bill was struggling with his pack weight and I was less than impressed with my soaking feet, we were still surrounded by some truly amazing views!

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Eventually, we passed the Meannanach bothy, which told us we were close to our destination. A quick look back highlighted just how amazing the views had been!

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We arrived at the bothy at about 5:30, both feeling a little the worse for wear. We’d originally planned to sleep in the tents outside, but decided a bothy night would be best. I suspect we were both in bed at about 8:30pm, knackered!

Saturday dawned, and I have to admit to feeling quite a bit refreshed. A fresh pair of socks on dry feet was all that I really needed. We’d tried to help Bill reduce his pack weight by getting rid of some of the excess that he’d packed (yes, he’d packed 2 400g tins of stewed steak amongst other unnecessary items!), so things should have been a bit easier for him, too.

The day wasn’t anywhere near as stunning as the Friday had been, but as it was quite a bit cooler, it was a lot more comfortable for walking in. The path initially carries on next to the river for a mile or so, with the same issues that we’d had the day before (it was boggy, having to jump channels, clamber over rocks, etc), but eventually came to a simple track, next to Loch Treig.

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From here, the walking massively improved for a few miles. Sometimes you forget how easy it is to walk on a landrover track. The views back down to Loch Treig were quite impressive, too, with the occasional break in the cloud.

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As this section of walking was predominantly uphill, it was at this stage that Bill decided he’d had enough and was giving up once we reached Corrour station. I don’t believe in trying to pressure people to carry on, so I was happy to go along with this.

The last couple of miles to the station were back to boggy quagmire, and yet again, my feet got soaked and ruined, so I have to admit, I was happy to end the walk. Had I carried on, I doubt my feet would be particularly pleasant by the end of the day! Besides, the section from Corrour through to Dalwhinnie I’d walked last year, so I wasn’t going to be missing anything I hadn’t done before.

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All in all, this was one of the best walks I’ve been on, in terms of scenery, but one of the worst, in terms of conditions underfoot. I think both Bill and I came out of that having learnt things. In Bill’s case, I suspect the load will be getting lighter in the near future. In my case, I think I’ll be relegating my trail shoes to day hikes, where wet feet aren’t nearly as much of an issue. I’m now on the lookout for a decent pair of leather boots (I don’t like fabric boots. Yes, they tend to be lighter, but they simply don’t have the longevity of a decent leather boot) for backpacking.

I also realised that I was being maybe a little over enthusiastic with my camera gear. I took my tripod and all 3 lenses with me, though all bar 3 of the photos taken were using the 20mm pancake lens, and the tripod was only used a handful of times. I think in future, I’ll just get a smaller case and bring only the basic camera and pancake lens, leaving the kit lens, zoom lens and tripod behind (and saving me almost 2kg in the process!)

Am I disappointed that things didn’t go to plan?

A little.

I’m glad we went, though, and even though it was more challenging than I expected, it was definitely a worthwhile walk, which I’d be more than willing to do again!

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6 thoughts on “More of a challenge than expected”

  1. Stunning pictures Grahame, and your article made me giggle a few times! I agree 100% with everything you said, I was definitely carrying too much weight (even without the steak), so I will be investigating lighter options for the future and embracing your “revolution”. You have given me a lot of good advice which will make any future hiking a great deal easier for me, I don’t think I’ll struggle nearly as much on future walks (although I certainly need to get back to the gym!).

    Thanks for bringing me along on this one, I really enjoyed it. I now have a new kind of respect for Scotland’s countryside, one which you simply cannot get if you never leave your car!

  2. What an inspirational trip! The views are to die for – just a share the ground conditions weren’t more favourable. I’m interested in trying a pair of trail runners, but definitely when summer rolls around as opposed to early spring in the highlands!
    I’m looking forward to reading about your next trip, keep it up.

    1. Thanks!

      Trail shoes work for a lot of people, and I’ll still be using them for day hikes. That’s one too many backpacking trip that’s ruined my feet, though, so I’ll be returning to (probably quite hefty) boots sooner, rather than later

      1. Seems a lot of the ‘UL’ guys are bog trotting in them – madness I say! For about half of last year I was walking through all sorts of conditions in a pair of Merrell Moab Ventilators and ‘enjoyed’ wet feet far too often, so I made the leap to a pair of fabric, gore-tex boots and haven’t looked back. Might try some trail runners for a trip to Australia this summer though.

      2. I considered fabric boots, but they simply don’t match leather boots in terms of longevity… I’m not sure I’m ready to pay the same price for something that lasts half as long.
        In saying that, they’re definitely lighter, and probably the best middle ground between trail shoes and clumpy leather boots.

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