There seems to be some debate as to whether this valley was actually lost or merely hidden. My aim for today was to find it. That was a plan that didn’t start brilliantly.
It seems that my thermarest has developed a slow puncture. I know this because I awoke in the mist, in the wee hours of the morning, cold and damp on something quite squishy that only separated a few of my appendages from the ground. I know that I have to sleep like this again for at least one more night; this is not ideal.
Eventually I dragged myself out of my damp living quarters, had a wash and packed up for the day. At least wild camping tonight would mean that there wouldn’t be people gawping at my tarp.
I replanted my next few days to get to Fort William a day earlier. It would mean adding mileage to retrace my steps for the Ring of Steall, but on the bright side it would allow me to do Ben Nevis on a Friday rather than a busy weekend, so all good really.
My next mission was to find a B&B in Fort William for Thursday night. There I would be able to let everything dry, do some repairs, catch up with odds and sods that need sorting, get a good sleep and to have a shave. I really need that shave.
I have acquired an adventurer’s tan. The red and brown patches contrast with the completely untamed and very pale parts that have mostly been in shadow. I’m pretty sure one of those patches is my chin, if only because I’ve mostly had my back to the sun. Ah well, I don’t mind looking ridiculous as long as I’m having fun.
Back to trying to find a B&B – no luck. All the options on my list were full. Not to worry, I did what any other single male would-be adventurer would do in these circumstances without a support crew – I sent my mum a text before heading out down the glen.
My phone was off to save battery, so I had no way of knowing whether or not I would have a place to stay the next night. If I did that would be great, if not then I’d be no worse off than I was right now, so why worry?
Along I trotted and came to Coire nan Lochan. This turned out to be much harder than it looked. On the way up I met an Australian who who was here attending a conference via working in Japan. (Note to self: find a nice research grant and a conference in Japan.) we chatted while we rested, before he merrily made his way down the valley and I continued my struggle up it.
I don’t know whether it was the walking so far, a lack of caffeine and fried food, or me being generally unfit, but I found this ascent quite difficult. I was cut, bruised, bitten and burnt; the bits that didn’t ache were sore and the bits that weren’t sore were worse. I was also aware that I was probably flying low. I regularly have this awareness about 3 minutes after talking to someone. The thing is it’s very hot out here; walking with the zipper down provides a nice breeze; sometimes I forget to do it back up. I’ve probably given a fair few people along the West Highland Way a glance of my undies. I don’t mean to do this, when I’m out on my own it’s just more comfortable, I just need to remember to do it back up when I see another human being, or at least whenever I reach civilisation.
After a seriously long time I was finally most of the way along and was ready to make my way up Stob Coire nan Lochan. This took another long time and I was beginning to think that nine hours for the walk may turn out to be accurate. The path up that way is along a short ridge covered in large rocks rather than any discernible path; this made it slow going, although it would make the following walk along to Bidean nam Bian seem much easier. Half the day had gone and I was less than halfway around, maybe I should have got out of bed earlier. I’d done the hard half though, so continued around to An t sron via Stob Coire nam Beith.
On the way I bumped into a walker who had coincidentally also done Aonach Eagach the day before. He was travelling in the opposite direction to me, so asked what I thought about my route up as a route down, I then asked about his route up as my route down. It seemed that the start of my route down would be very steep, I could live with that.
Around I walked, happy to be along a ridge, even if I was having to retrace my steps back up to Bidean where I came across another two walkers travelling in the opposite direction. The same conversation occurred and then I went to conquer Stob Coire Sgreamhach. This was getting difficult. I questioned whether it was sensible as my ankles began to misplace my feet from time to time, but it’s on my route and I’m not coming back any time soon, so I had a quick rest and pushed on to the top, all downhill from here.
The steep drop into Coire Gabhail was easy. I made short work of it, stopping only to collect a couple of litres of water from a spectacularly clear stream. From there everything flattens and opens up. I promptly got lost. It was all downhill and I hadn’t followed the path, leaving me stuck on a non-path in the forest. Here I was lost in the lost valley. Well, not lost exactly, more like temporarily displaced. I knew roughly where I was and roughly where the path should be. I just had to keep walking until I had the opportunity to ensure those two points converged. They did.
As I came back up to the road I met the pair who were meant to be down the other valley. It turned out that one of them wasn’t willing to walk up Stob Coire nam Lochan and had found another path into Coire Gabhail. It wasn’t a marked path and was one they regretted taking. They were glad to have made it down safely. We chatted until they made their way to their car and I continued walking up Glencoe where I met a ginger-bearded man taking landscape photographs.
I continued on and made my way down the Lairig Gartain path. I’d wanted to come down this path as there’s a spot on the path up to Etive Mor that I consider mine. It’s not a spectacular place to sit particularly, nothing that marks it out from anywhere else on that path, just one that holds a lot of memories. I knew there wouldn’t be many great camping places but I was glad to be walking here. You spend a lot of time thinking on the road, but mostly about where to sleep, what might break, and less actual pondering than you might initially think. Here I had time to remember some absent friends. I didn’t make it to that spot. I no longer felt a need to.
I checked my phone for time as I was now exhausted. It was 23.00 and I was dead on my feet. Without the desire to add an additional climb to my journey, I wandered on to the next suitable camping spot, pitched my tarp and climbed into my bivvy. I settled in for what I knew would be an uncomfortable night, safe in the knowledge that my mum had managed to find me a bed for the following night.