Day 4 – Aonach Eagach

This was a day I had been looking forward to since I had planned the 2011 trip. It was considered too tricky at then and for various reasons that and Bidean nam Bian were left untouched. Completing this today would leave me a full day ahead of schedule, but potentially facing five days with an awful lot of up at the cost of some across. By Sunday evening I shall hopefully have covered 170 miles and have reached half of my cumulative ascent for the trip. That’s a long way away yet.

I awoke in the wee hours of the morning to find myself buried in mist. Damp and dismayed by the thought that the cloud may be here to stay, I rolled over and went back to sleep. Rinse and repeat until about 9 am (a guess wildly based purely on the fact there were other walkers from Kings House beginning to trickle by) and finally the mist had dispersed.

I was in no rush to get moving, partly in the forlorn hope that the sun would dry everything before I packed it away. It didn’t. Eventually I gave up waiting, so tonight I’ll be climbing back into the damp. It may be baking outside, but nothing dries inside a rucksack. After marshmallow breakfast I was off.

In next to no time I was wandering down to the Glencoe. The ascent up to Am Bodach was much harder work. It felt a bit steep for these tired legs and it felt at though all the power had drained away.

On my way up there was a kid and someone who appeared to be his older brother coming down. The kid was picking a needlessly difficult route down and ended falling a me sliding a few metres. A lesson about overconfidence that I would later completely ignore by running along the first bit of ridgewalk. At the time I waited to see if he was ok, and a small part of me was concerned that I may have to help him off the hill and that once more circumstance would dictate that I again miss the fun bits of my walk. He was fine and I left him to be admonished by his older brother who proceeded to warn him about how bad that would have been had there not been grass to slide along.

What seemed like an eternity later and I was at the start of the ridge. It’s a hard walk but the views are stunning. I came across three pairs of walkers, none of them were attempting it with a full set of camping gear on their backs. Indeed, there were a few tricksy bits, and one the exposed scrambles my gear twice offered to provide a quick route off the ridge. First a walking pole got caught, then my rucksack on a narrow scramble down. I declined the offer, if I were to fall off the ridge it would make the rest of the walk a lot more difficult.

There are a few challenging bits, but I think what made it hard for me was the distance as much as tricky scrambles. It felt like it was taking forever and, as fun as it was, it was becoming hard work.

Wary of dehydrating, I drank liberally from my water supply. Halfway round I was down to my emergency half litre. It was enough to see me through but also amazing how despite there being patches of snow on the north face of Bidean, a few of the streamlets below looked to be drying out – not that there were any up here on the ridge. I have now upgraded my level of concern regarding water supplies on the Cape Wrath Trail – I’ll worry about that when I reach Fort William.

Another concern is the durability of my trail runners. actually, I know they are durable; I took them around my last trip, but they’ve now accumulated well over 500 miles of tough terrain and who knows how far of just bumbling around Cambridgeshire. I’ll make a call on what to do about them in Fort William too. I hope they last, but if I had planned this trip earlier I would be wearing something with a few less miles under them. My other gear issue so far is one of my shiny new Fizan walking poles is stuck so that I can’t change the length. Well, at least it’s the right length for walking.

I don’t know whether it was tiredness, my footwear slowly losing grip, or a particularly challenging route down, but never have I slipped onto my backside quite as much as I did on that drop down from Sgorr nam Fiannaidh down a scree path alongside Clachaig Gully. It probably didn’t help that I chose a trail that didn’t exist on my map, but it did happen to be the shortest way to the nearest pub. It was a long descent, possibly into madness, but at least one that eventually lead to a glass of coke.

As I left the pub, I encountered two walkers from the ridge. They asked which way I had come down and looked slightly horrified when I told them. Apparently that route has been closed off a few times, people dying down there and whatnot. I don’t know about that, it was a route that required me to be careful and was a bit awkward, but didn’t seem too scary. I’m not sure if we were thinking of the same place, but at least I felt a bit better about slipping on my ass a few times. They asked me if tomorrow was a rest day and again looked slightly concerned when I told them of my plans for tomorrow. They were exhausted after Aonach Eagach and their friend who had done the Bidean walk had taken nine hours and was equally shattered. They told me to be careful up there and wished me luck before bidding me farewell Nd once more I was on my way.

I made my way down to the Red Squirrel Campsite. So far it’s the only campsite I fully approve of. (OK, the wigwams were cool too, but the camping area didn’t seem so nice.) There are people around me with wood fires burning, leaving a pleasant smell of woodsmoke in the air. I’m in a quiet spot, the same place as two years ago – what can I say, I’m a creature of habit. As I write this sat next to a river, the sun is setting to my right. If every day ends like this I won’t want to go back!

I’ve taken advantage of the campsite (and their new shower facilities) to clean myself and my clothes, so at least I don’t have to smell myself anymore.

A brief check of text messages from the outside world tells me a work colleague and her new bairn are doing well, which I was glad to hear; my little sister has passed her first year of Uni, so congrats to her, and thank you to everyone who has sent me a message so far wishing me luck. Also today I saw some foxgloves – they reminded me of my mum, she likes foxgloves, or a least I think she does. Either way I think she’d like to think I thought of her. I hope you are all enjoying yourselves wherever you are. I’m still having fun out here.