September 5, 2008

The Great Glen Way and Ben Nevis

August 30

A stone wall outside of Inverness
"Some sun
Rose at 7am. Took the train to Inverness at 8:30. Arrived at 10. Left Inverness at 10:30. Took the Great Glen Way out of the city and hiked until 6pm with two stops. Stopped at a forest preserve picnic area. Supper, read and bed at 10pm.

Train: £11.00”

Heather covering the hills
It was interesting to get out of the desolate highlands and the train ride gave us an opportunity to get a sense of what the more populated areas of the highland region looked like. We got our bearings in the train station in Inverness with the help of a mounted map of the city. I continued to use train station maps to supplement my own maps for the rest of my time in the UK. At times they even became my only means of navigation. It wasn't difficult to find our way to the head of the Great Glen Way. This would be our course for the rest of the way through the highlands. We had a substantial climb out of the city and my foot did quite well. Though the Way follows a major fault-line through the highlands which is in many ways quite distinct from the rest of the region's geography, we began by swinging wide into the heather covered foothills. Several miles into the hike we began looking for a stopping point and found a backwoods campground. We decided to continue on because of the small fee, but had a chance to chat with the owner. He told us, to our dismay, that Scotland was in the midst of a serious drought that year. We made our way to the picnic area, set up, and started some lentils and barley. The area had a small creek flowing through, offered us some flat spaces and, fortunately no groups were using the facility.

August 31
Loch Ness

Camp above Loch Ness
“Clouds; rain all day   

Rose at 8:30. Breakfast and out by 11am. Walked until 5:30. Set up camp. Read. Went to bed. Asleep at 6pm.”

The brevity of my entry attests to the dreariness of the day. Either I was wet from the rain or I was wet from sweating inside my rain coat. It was the only day I remember where my gear got damp. My sleeping bag was a little damp on the outside, though not enough to effect its performance; and worst of all, my sleeping pad was soaked. I had to carry my pad on the outside because of its bulk so there was no protecting it from the rain. I don't remember making supper. It was a depressed sort of night. The first few hours of sleep were intermittent and uncomfortable because of the damp.

September 1
Fort Augustus

Nearing Fort Augustus
“Sun in the morning; rain in the afternoon; sun in the evening    

Rose at 9. We slept a lot. Washed clothes. I forgot my wool socks where they were drying. Hiked to Invermoriston. Stopped by the river took some pics a while. Hiked to Fort Augustus. Got some supper in town. It rained a lot while we hiked. Hiked out of town along the canal until we found a spot to set up. Ate a little more, read, and went to bed. 9:30-10pm. I’m low on lunch stuff.    

Groceries: £2.70 + 37p”

It was a long hike. It was the only part of the Great Glen Way that followed the main highway, though only for a couple of miles. My foot had healed enough to carry me until my legs almost gave way and then a little farther. Fort Augustus was a nice little town, in large part because of the quaintness of the canal. We didn't find much for food, but it was variety. It was difficult finding a site that was both hidden and comfortable. I think it was the first time we had hiked after dark since Edinburgh. We camped right next to the canal.

September 2
Loch Oich

The infamous "grubs and dirt"
“Partly cloudy all day; 53° at 1:30pm    

Rose at 9:30. Started hiking at 1:30pm. Hiked until 5:30 with two stops. Set up and cooked beans and barley. It took a long time. I read.”

We took our time in camp. That night we had black beans and barley. The beans took around 1 1/2 hrs to cook and when they were finished they looked, as Ian commented, like grubs and dirt. We each flavored ours accordingly. Mine was a success, though I would never be able to recreate it, and Ian's just had too much garlic. He didn't finish it either and saved it for supper, a fact which amused my anticipating imagination.

September 3
Chia-aig Falls

“Lots of sun; warm; some rain at the falls  

Rose at 9:45. Began hiking at 12:30. Took a lunch break overlooking Loch Lochy. Towards the end there was a sign for a fall a mile out of the way. We hiked up and took some pictures. Decided to camp there and swim in the morning. Added Edam to the pasta and soya mince. A good addition. Read and went to bed at 10pm.”

Since we were walking it wasn't an easy decision to go a mile or more out of the way to see a falls. Fortunately, our very relaxed tempo allowed for that sort of aside. Boy was it worth it. It was a very private area with a two tiered water fall and a picturesque stone bridge. I spent a lot of time trying to capture the ideal waterfall picture with limited success. I also went exploring down the creek a ways and into the forest beyond. It was made up of very densely intertwined brambles, the kind that probably inspired fairy tales. It was something like the kind of wood a princess might lose her way in while trying to escape from a wicked witch. I went to bed dreaming of the acrobatics we would be performing off the cliff the next morning.

September 4
Fort William

Jumping into "The Witches Caldron"
“Mostly sun, rain in the afternoon; 44° at 6am; 48° at 10:30pm lots of stars, weird    

Rose early to go swimming. Made tea and ate to be warm. Boiled water for afterward. Went to the lower catch pool. Waited until we had more light. I swam out to test the depth. It was too shallow for jumping. Swam behind the falls. Went to the upper catch pool and swam. It was much deeper so I jumped off a few times. Ian swam a little at the upper. I was very cold, especially my hands and feet (which I banged a few times on the rocks. More pictures and then tea and breakfast - cous cous. Read for a while and packed up at 11am. Started hiking at 1:30pm. Left my thermometer, went back but couldn’t find it. Hiked along Loch Lochy and the canal, weaved through Caol and Inverlochy until we got to Ft. William. My feet were really tired by that point. Finally found a Tesco to get food for tomorrow. Ate supper in the park next door. Walked down Highstreet to find a toilet. There were a lot of cool pubs. Ft. William seemed more local with less tourists. Louder but also interesting. At 9:30 or so started to hike out of town to find a campsite. It took a while and my feet are now dead. Set up and hit the sack at 11pm. Long day – a little chilly early in the morning. 5ish –    
Groceries: £6.96 & 2.00”

While I was disappointed that we couldn't 'water slide' down the falls, I look back with fondness at that morning. True, I think I was hypothermic afterwards (it took me at least two hours to warm up) but it was great fun and felt a little dangerous. We decided to get up early to swim since it was a public attraction and we were swimming in our underwear. It had been the coldest night of our trip and I had to put on all my clothes to stay warm. Between the cold, early morning and the frigid mountain water, it took some courage to take the plunge. Still, it was worth it. It was a long, eventful day by time we set up camp outside of Fort William. The Fort William area was larger than we anticipated and it was painful to keep walking through town to find food. As always, our efforts were rewarded with some time to relax in town, a satisfying dinner from Tesco and a good campsite near our starting point for Ben Nevis.

September 5
Fort William

On the Summit of Ben Nevis
“Sunny morning; clouds & blue afternoon.  

Rose at 9:30. Packed up and stashed packs. Took off for the Ben Nevis Trail. Started at 11am. Took 2 hrs. 5 mins. To reach the top. Passed a lot of people on the way up. Spent 2 hrs. 5 mins at the top. Windy and chilly. A lot of people and walls and such at the top. Took 1 hr. 35 min. to the reach bottom at 5:42pm. We jogged down. Walked into town and hung out. Ate supper from Tesco. Bought another pad at Wilderness St. Hiked back to our packs. We forgot our headlamps so we had to feel our way through the trees and grass. Set up a little ways from last night. A guy in a pickup kept driving by and shinning a spotlight into the fields until about 11pm. Must have been looking for wild campers. I disguised our stiff with shrubs, then he stopped. Read a few minutes, ate a little and went to bed at 11:30. Saw the stars again tonight. Called G&G Fisher and Mom.  

Groceries: £5.37; Pad: £4.99; Withdrawl: £30”

I've never seen so many people climbing one mountain. There were probably two hundred or more at the top in the hour we spent up there. I was surprised to see sheep ranging around three thousand feet. We split a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc over lunch and ate while huddling behind a wall at the summit. On the way down we saw and heard a shepherd herding sheep. He used some very elaborate whistling to direct his dog. Even though I ran down my foot didn't really bother me.

Upon reflection, I wish we had spent some time in some of those pubs in Fort William. It would have been a genuinely Scottish evening and I think the experience would have been worth the cost of a Scotch. It's definitely a town I'd like to go back to explore. I bought the camping pad because I was afraid it was going to keep getting colder and I also thought it would be nice to have a pad inside my pack to use as a buffer from my blue foam pad when it got wet. It is now my only remaining souvenir of the trip. So sad. That night we saw the stars. The fact that I note as a special occurrence helps illustrate how overcast our time in Scotland was. I often idealize the trip, but it's good to remember that things weren't always sunshine and bluebirds, rather it was rarely the case.

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