Day 4: Glencoe

It was a cold night. The first night I’ve felt the cold… only to find Heley had already stolen my fleece.

We awoke to the sound of other walkers admiring our chosen camp site. A sore, tired start soon picked up. The landscape was barren, a wee desert, but beautiful nonetheless.

Four days into the wilderness and Heley tells me I am going for the sexy caveman look.Well, OK, maybe she just said that I look like a caveman. I need a shower. I’m not the only one though, but I’m far too polite to comment on that.

The muscle pains that were plaguing the previous day seemed to have lightened. Particularly Heley’s calf which, at times, had looked to threaten our ability to complete the trip. Bouncing along we even ran a couple of hundred meters, rucksacks and all. We only really ran to overtake another walker (taking the day’s count up to 11), before dashing into the Kingshouse pub for lunch.

We shared a chips and watched our overtaken walkers begin to accumulate in the pub after us. As we were leaving our two old men entered the pub, and we bid them farewell as we diverted off the West Highland Way and down into Glencoe.

We wandered down the Glen and made our way partly up Buachaille Etive Mor. Time was short so we never made it to the top, yet with the promise of more spectacular views around Glencoe tomorrow we quite happily took in the scenery from three-quarters of the way up.

We mostly followed the road down to the Red Squirrel Campsite, and arrived by 7.10. It was earlier than expected, but probably for the best. It had been a beautiful day, cold and windy at times, but definitely a high point of the trip so far. The previous day’s aches and pains seem all but gone, or perhaps we were just noticing them less.

Tent’s up and we relax only to discover yet another problem. We’ve got another possible journey threatening injury.

Will we cope? Will we need to postpone the trip? Heley is determined to at least finish the West Highland Way, but how much further can we make it?

Stay tuned for another exciting episode of Hitting The Hills.

First Aid for the outdoors

Broken JawLast weekend Heley and I had our very own first aid training. We managed to wrangle ourselves a private lesson with a retired first aid instructor. Apparently the St John’s iPhone app and re-runs of House do not count as first aid training.

We chose the lesson over a “First Aid at Work” course because the wilds provide their own distinct problems. Phone signal and conveniently placed hospitals are often a requirement when doing a first aid course. Heley and I won’t always have that luxury. There are parts of the route that for all intents and purposes may as well be marked “here be dragons”. Basically, we’re working on the principle that anything that can possibly go wrong will just so happen to go wrong at the worst possible moment. It’s not paranoia if the hills really are out to get you.

A lot of our questions were based around intense and terrifying emergencies, for example what to do when your shin is neatly aligned at ninety degrees to itself. We asked when to stop and whistle, when to make notes of GPS co-ordinates and go for help, and when to just flail around and panic.

There are other injuries to worry about though. Even minor day-to-day injuries need special attention during a 380 mile walk. A blister on the foot, a cut on the hand, a slight sprain or strain: each can pose a problem along the way. Improper management can easily lead to problems further down the line. Failing to complete the trip because one of us has gangrene would be a tad embarrassing.

The first aid course itself was entertaining. I was declared unofficially dead whilst Heley was putting me in the recovery position; apparently I wasn’t breathing loudly enough. I’m in serious trouble if I lose consciousness at any point during this journey.

On the other hand, Heley is likely to tie her own bandages in future. I had particular problems with the arm slings. It’s not just that my bandaging is untidy, it’s also ineffectual.

Heley feels the cold easily, so we learnt about the risk of her stealing my warmest clothes to prevent hypothermia. I go from white to bright red at only a hint of sun, so Heley may get the chance to pour cold water over my head. I just have to hope she doesn’t choose to hold my head under the water as she clearly has issues recognising whether someone is breathing.

Overall, we learnt a lot and laughed a little more. Hopefully we’ll get a chance to practise a few things before we set off. Even more hopefully we won’t have to use much of what we learnt. The departure date is rapidly approaching and once again we are a little more prepared.

Gore-tex Boots vs. Trail Runners

I should have done an A-B test with a different shoe on each foot!

Heavy Gore-tex (top) vs Inov-8 Roclites (bottom)

Final Score: Phill 17 – Heley 1

Walking over 350 miles requires good footwear. There’s no way we want to cut short the trip because one of us has foot rot.

When we first looked at boots our immediate reaction was to look at waterproof footwear. I was divided between boot or shoe, waterproof or not. Heley was keen on shoes rather than boots, but leaning towards the gore-tex waterproof models.

There’s little scientific evidence that boots are better than shoes for lowering the chances of injuring yourself. We decided we were best off choosing what we felt most comfortable with. We chose low-cut footwear rather than boots.

Waterproof or not

Over 3 weeks your footwear is going to get wet. Even the toughest most waterproof boot has one place that lets water in – how else would you get your foot in the shoe otherwise?

If the weather is bad and you are walking through mud and puddles, water is going to get in, even if wearing gaiters. If the weather is beautiful then the sweat from your feet has nowhere to escape either. Essentially you are walking with your feet in little water-collecting buckets. Your feet will get wet, and your footwear will be slow to dry.

Using trail runners allows your shoes to drain quicker. Sure, your feet are going to get wet, but over a long journey they are going to get wet anyway. The advantage of lightweight breathable shoes is that you can walk the boots dry. The water seeps out as you walk, and they are quicker to dry when than waterproof boots.

Gore-tex boots are better for shorter journeys, where you have a chance of keeping dry throughout the trip. They’re also recommended for situations where conditions are going to be below freezing.

The Ely warm-up trek

Heley had already got her lightweight inov-8 Roclite 268s by the time the Ely trek had arrived. I was still in my old Karrimor gore-tex boots. Bombproof maybe, but it seems the right boot had a leak. Five miles into the first day, walking through pouring rain, Heley’s feet were still dry; Heley being the one not wearing waterproof shoes.

My right foot was damp, and by mile number eight it was downright sodden. Ten miles in and water had managed to get into my left boot too. Heley’s feet were now wet, but she was still comfortable, water left her Roclites as easily as it went in. I was now walking on the newly formed puddles in my boots.

Every few miles I needed to stop and wring out my socks, in the hope of another half a mile before the puddles in my boot reformed. There was no way these boots were going to be “walked dry”. In the end I gave up.


Sitting down after the walk, Heley had one blister, which could have been prevented had we stopped when she noticed her foot rubbing on the 2nd day. Heley never complained about cold feet, and for the best part of 50 miles her feet were fine. She may not have been happy about the weather, but there were no complaints about the choice of footwear.

I had no complaints about the weather. I grew up in North Wales, I’m immune to rain. I did have some complaints about the footwear. Walking in waterproof boots is wonderful until they get wet. Then you’re in trouble. There was little I could do to dry the boots out, and short of carry another 50 pairs of socks I was stuck with wet feet. I hobbled home to a blister count of 17. This despite wearing a good pair of wool socks and a nice pair of liner socks too.

The choice we’ve made is to go with lightweight trail runners, which may not be waterproof, but are quicker to dry and allow water back out once it’s got in.

Trek preparations and the banning of Tilley hats

It’s almost time for the first practice trek, which by happy coincidence totals almost exactly 42 miles.  The weather forecast suggests rain, so at least part of it is an authentic replication of the 4 days in Wales and 22 days in Scotland.

Tilley Hats - even dinosaur adventurers used them!

Tilley Hats - somewhat necessary for an adventure.

I have a rather inflamed knee. My kneecap is what can best be described as wobbly. Given that my shoulders are also considerably crunchy, I’m not entirely looking forward to this first trip. I’m going to be eating ibuprofen like candy next week to help manage the inflammation. I’m inflammable.

It’s my first time in a tent on a campsite in the last ten years. That’s going to be a little bit weird. I’m far more used to being up a hill and under the stars. A tent is going to be necessary, so I better get used to it.

We’ve almost nailed down the route and the kitlist. It’s now just a case of making sure it all makes sense.

The route is looking likely to take us an extra day, 22 instead of 21, and an extra 30 miles, pushing us up to 380 miles. That extra time and distance gives us a walk around Glencoe, up Ben Nevis, and around Cawdor and Dunnottar castles. Those were bits we were keen to see, and I doubt we are likely to repeat this trek, so we’re taking the time out to do the interesting touristy stuff along the way.

The current kit-weight for two people (excluding food and water) is 20 kg. I’m hoping that we manage to cut that down to 18 kg, partly because I like food, and the less we take the more food we can carry.

I still need to get myself a sunhat. I have no hair and even a hint of sun turns my skin crimson. I was, however, completely and totally banned from ever owning a Tilley Hat. I feel as though I have been robbed of a lifelong dream. It wasn’t even just Heley who banned me from wearing one. Daphne, my girlfriend, supported the ban and I’m pretty sure that Hatty, my little sister, only wanted me to get one so that she could mock me once I was wearing it.

How can this be a proper adventure without a Tilley Hat?

Image courtesy of Binaryape