Tuesday, 9 August 2011

West Highland Way 3 Day Attempt May 2011

I had been toying with the idea of doing the West Highland Way self supported over three days for sometime now, well from the time I read PTC's excellent account which can be read here Day 1, Day2 and Day 3. The idea of being able to walk the West Highland Way over basically a weekend appealed.

I had walked it over 6 days the previous year and knew this was going to be no mean feat. I knew that the start was going to be tough as I was going to be going South to North. So that basically ment that I was going to be doing Conic Hill and a good section of Loch Lomond on the first day. After Loch Lomond I was hoping to up the pace and the mileage.

I had still been packing the previous night at 1.30 am unfortunately my dad was picking me up at 6.30 am to head through to Milngavie. So I made the final adjustments and headed to bed. It felt like I had just dropped off to sleep when the alarm went off at 6am.

At least the rucksack was good to go and i just needed to fill the water bottles. So after a quick bowl of Weetabix I was ready to go. Just as well as my dad was 10 mins early for me. The drive over to Milngavie was a good one. No hold ups at all even when we hit Glasgow. It was good to have a good blether with my dad unfortunately the journey was far too short and we were soon at Milngavie Railway Station.

With a final wave and a thanks my West Highland Way adventure had started. The weather was cracking but I knew that this wasn't going to last as there was another bad weather front was to move in later in the afternoon. So the quicker I could get to Conic Hill the better.

So I headed off into Mugdock Country Park. I didn't even make it 800m and came across my first storm damaged tree. Once I navigated around it I was off. The walk to Drymen was brisk and I soon had Dumgoyne in my sights within an hour. The shoes sock combo felt good and the legs had finally warmed up around the 8 mile mark.

Once I got to Gartness I knew that Drymen wasn't far off so I picked up the pace a bit along the country roads. Just before Drymen I could see over to Conic Hill and that the storm clouds were starting to gather ominously over the west side of Loch Lomond. So after another quick drink it was onwards along the last mile or so of road into Drymen.

Unfortunately due to damaged trees in Garadbhan Forest it was closed to walkers so it was a walk along the road to Milton Of Buchanan with all the 4 x 4's and caravans. Fortunately this was short-lived and I was at the turn off that leads back into the tail end of Garadbhan Forest. After a quick bite to eat and a rest it was a quick walk up the farm track and then  onto Conic Hill.

It was just past lunch time and I was passing the spot where we had camped last year. So the pace was going well. Unfortunately the weather was starting to turn and the Shell was now being put on. Just as I got to the foot of Conic it started to absolutely chuck it down. There is a lot to be said about getting an absolute kicking from mother nature and knowing that you are wrapped up all warm in your shell and technical clothing. Call me a sadist but I love it.

I was absolutely gob smacked to see a family making their way up from Balmaha wearing Ugg's, trainers, jeans and fleeces. The weather was starting to turn really nasty and I was thinking that they must have all been soaked through. How to put your kids off holidaying in Scotland in one easy step. The worst of it was that the wind was now coming in from the North West as forecast and it was starting to turn pretty cold. "Just another typical Scottish summer" I thought to myself as I made my way down Conic Hill.

The poles really helped with the decent down to Balmaha and I was soon in the shelter of the forest. There were a couple of really miserable looking Polish walkers sheltering in the forest sharing a loaf of bread as I passed. I gave them a quick wave and headed onwards along the way to Rowardennan. The weather had now really closed in and I knew that Inversnaid was not going to happen so I decided to stop at Rowardennan for the night. But that was still at least 5 miles or so away now.

The last time I was along this stretch I absolutely hated it. But this time it was an absolute pleasure to walk it. Which was quite ironic considering the weather. I managed to get in tow with what looked like a couple of squaddies who were carrying absolutely gigantic rucksacks. At first they thought I was staying at B&B's due to the size of the rucksack. But when I told them that i was camping it they were absolutely gob smacked at the size of my rucksack. They decided to call it a day at Cashel and I headed onto Rowardennan.

It had really started to piss down at Ross Point and i had started to think to myself "I was absolutely mad to be doing this". But I knew my stop for tonight was not far off now. So it was one last push towards Rowardennan.

I was going to go into Rowardennan Hotel for a quick pint but the thought of food and a warm and dry sleeping bag won hands down. When I arrived at Rowardennan car park i re filled the water bottles and found a spot in the trees to camp. There was a nice sheltered spot beside a rather large family tent of crying kids and stressed parents. I know why no one had decided to camp beside them. But as having two kids myself and feeling absolutely knackered the rabble from the tent beside didn't bother me in the slightest.

After a grand feed and a brew it was outside for a quick pee and then into the warm down bag. I had opted to bring the Multimat roll mat rather than the Thermarest to save some weight and to be honest with you all. I slept like a log and didn't find it uncomfortable in any way. Maybe I should start using it a bit more. Well when I first started camping all those years ago there wasnt really any other option to roll mats and if there was it weighed an absolute ton.

Day 2

I woke up around 7 am and was on the Way before 8am. I was wanting a huge day today so I picked up the pace really quickly. The walk from Rowardennan to Inversnaid was really enjoyable and really quiet. The weather looked like it was going to be a bit better today. The showers were still heavy bit at least there was a good bit sun in between them. So it was great to get the shell off and enjoy a bit natural warmth.

I stopped of at Cailness and took on some water and paid my respects to Bill Lobban by putting another rock on the cairn. Some people had scattered Bluebells over it which I thought was a nice touch. I made Inversnaid  in just over a couple of hours and was quite happy at the pace I was making.
I used the walkers entrance into the Inversnaid Hotel and was greeted by a rather friendly Polish bar man who was more than happy to fill my water bottle. I thought I would treat myself to what has probably been one of best tasting tins of Irn Bru that I have ever had.

I really enjoyed the ups and downs section mainly because I had a lot smaller and lighter pack on my back. Plus the sun was now shinning for longer periods of time. I got blethering to a guy who was walking the way for an eighth time with his dog. He had actually been walking in the Fort William area when the bad weather had hit us on the mon and said that he had spent a rather rough night up a Corrour. I knew I wasn't far from Doune bothy and he confirmed it. He said he was heading for Rowchoish bothy and then going to bag Ben Lomond the day after. God knows what state that section would be like after the recent storms.

I was going to use Doune bothy to address a couple of hotspots that were forming on my right foot. My feet had held up well to the distance walked and I knew that the usual Compeed and climbing tape would take care of this. The look on the bothies inhabitants faces when I burst in and proceeded to take my socks and shoes off were priceless. A quick patch up and I was as right as rain. I took on some more water and a couple of energy bars and headed for Beinglas Farm.

Just about 2 miles out of Beinglas farm there is a way marker dedicated to  Dario Melaragni which I thought was a fitting way to remember him for his work and dedication to the West Highland Way Race. This is also a great place to take a breather and enjoy the splendid views down Loch Lomond.

At the top of the forest that leads down to Beinglas Farm there is now a rather large tree crossing the path of the way. I could have crawled under it but that meant removing my rucksack and to be honest I couldn't be arsed doing that again so I decided to go up and around the root of the tree. Other people had done this already as the makings of a path were starting to form. I slipped and slid through the mud and made my way up to the top of the root at the top I noticed that there was a lot of mud on the other side so I tried to support myself with my poles. I got a good foot hold with my right foot and then followed with my left foot. Which promptly slid away from me down the slope. My right leg then followed but unfortunately my knee twisted while it was doing this. The burning pain in my knee and the fact that it took me over an hour to walk a 10-20 min walk to Beinglas Farm confirmed that my West Highland Way walk was over.

When I got to Beinglas I got myself cleaned up and phoned the cavalry to come and get me. I was really disapointed to have to pull out but there was no way I would finish the walk by Sunday. At least by the time the cavalry arrived I was able to enjoy a swift pint or two in the campsite bar before heading to our relatives in Killin.

In conclusion it was a great walk even though I had to pull out injured. I think I would have been more pissed off if I hadn't walked it before. But I wasn't going to risk further injury by soldiering on. On closer inspection my knee had swollen quite badly. I was quite pleased with the pace and the distance that I had covered. So I will definately be back next year to have a crack at it again.

Stuchd an Lochain Wild Camp 17th April 2011

It had felt like an age since I had been last out on the hill. But a month of snot, phlegm and coughs had swept through the household and put any thoughts of getting away firmly on the back burner.

I had been toying with the idea of revisiting Stuchd an Lochain for sometime now, so when a good weather window presented itself at the beginning of the month I grabbed it with both hands.

This was to be the Laser Comp's first outing as well as some other new bits and bobs. I was planning a high level camp and was really looking forward to see how well this tent would cope.

The drive up the A9 was fantastic even though I was travelling a lot later than I wanted to. But I was in no rush, as the weather was absolutely stunning and the tunes that Sara Cox was playing on Radio 1 were
fantastic. At this point I didn't have a care in the world.

At Ballinluig I joined the tourist convoy to Aberfeldy then headed up Glen Lyon. In all honesty after Aberfeldy the roads were actually surprisingly quiet going up Glen Lyon or was it because I was surprisingly late on the go. Once past Meggernie castle I caught up with a couple of cycling groups who kindly let me pass. "Ach cyclists are not all that bad" I thought to myself when i gave them a friendly wave as I turned off for the road that leads to the hydro at the foot of Loch an Daimh.

When I arrived at the car park it was heaving with cars and Vans. I had spotted a good space on the road in but didn't have to use it as I got parked quite close to the Dam. Yup the good weather had brought out a lot of walkers. As I got my gear together I started to think at how busy it was going to be up there. But I knew once I was over the other side of Stuchd an Lochain I should pretty much have the rest of the place to myself.

I had managed to squeeze all my gear into my OMM Classic Marathon 32l which was a personal new record as I used to fill a 70 litre rucksack for an overnighter.

I think it was just after midday when I managed to head up the hill and the sun was now beating down with some ferocity. I soon met the cairn at the foot of the hill and followed the path up Coire Ban. The last time I was here it was absolutely chucking it down so to be following the rough path up in beautiful sunshine was a welcome treat. I stopped about halfway way the Coire and took on some water. I had put a zero tablet in my water and boy did it taste nice and refreshing. It certainly added that certain something to the same old water.

I tried to get into a rhythm with the poles but I just couldn't it felt like I had lost a lot of fitness with the previous months illness. So when the top of the Coire came into view it was a truly welcome sight. I picked up the path and the fence posts at the cairn at the top of the Coire.

I got the strangest of looks from another walker who was coming down off the ridge. I noticed that he had the same rucksack as myself. I think he may have been quite shocked to see that I had a sleep mat attached to the outside and the fact that my rucksack didn't look as stuffed as his one. There definitely has to be a lot to be said about this lightweight malarky.

Once on the ridge I was getting back into the rhythm and found myself on top of Stuchd an Lochain in no time. Unfortunately I wasn't going to get any views today as it had turned out really hazy. I sat on the summit for about half an hour and enjoyed some water and two out of date energy bars. I tell you Holland And Barrats sale section is a great place to get some bargains.

I was now getting a great view towards the Corbett Sron a' Choire Chnapanaich. I was shocked that I had only passed 3 couples and one solo walker on the way up here considering the amount of cars in the car park. Once watered and fed I headed towards Sron a' Choire Chnapanaich. The walk of Stuchd an Lochain was a pleasant one and as the breeze was now in my face and the views over to the two Corbett's were fantastic. I followed the fence posts down off Stuchd an Lochain and walked over Meallan Odhar. Once I reached the bealach between Meallan Odhar and Sron a' Choire Chnapanaich I was met with a considerable sized bog. Which turned out to be a bit of a nightmare to cross. Unfortunately I was speaking to my friends partner the night before who told me "How she wouldn't go walking herself as one of her friends had slipped and broken her ankle on the hill". This kept playing through my mind and I may have become a bit over-cautious with my footing which may have slowed me down a bit.

The one thing that I had noticed on the ascent of Sron a' Choire Chnapanaich is that the wind was starting to get up quite considerably which was good for walking as it was cooling me down but was bad for the idea for the high level camp. So I made the decision to drop down to the shore of Loch an Daimh once I had topped Sron a' Choire Chnapanaich.

I had read in an old Cameron McNeish book that you can drop of the front of this hill dow to the shore of Loch an Daimh. I belive that he calls this descent as "steep", I walked to the edge and decided that it should be more described as "nigh on vertical". I didn't quite fancy it due to the now tired legs that were showing the tell-tale signs of cramping.

After a quick squint at the map I decided to drop back off the hill to about the 620m mark the follow the F'eith Thalain down to my camp site for that night. On the way down I managed to fill my now empty water bottles. Due to the amount of sheep and deer that were kicking about I thought it would be a wise choice to use the chlorine tablets which had been firmly buried in the depths of my rucksack for sometime now.

I think it was the back of six when I got to the camp site for the night and it was time for the Laser Comp to have its first of hopefully many outings. The tent pitched no problems at all first time and the titanium v pegs that I had purchased from Alpkit took the ground superbly. Once pitched it was time for a brew and some food. This was going to be another new experience as I wasn't the usual freeze-dried stuff that retails about a fiver a meal. I had opted for a couple of meals that I had read on a mountain marathon website. These consisted of a Knorr Chicken Noodle Soup with an added sheet of Sharwoods Egg Noodles and a Sainsburys Basics Custard with a Nutrigrain Bar broken up and put inside it. All I have to say is that it tasted absolutely fantastic and when I topped it off with another brew and an Eat Natural Bar. I felt like I had eaten like royalty. I was well stuffed and just lay on top of my sleeping bag soaking in the views up Loch an Daimh. Before I knew it was starting to get dark so a quick pee and it was off to bed.

I had a patchy sleep that night due to the aching legs and the sudden wind that got up about 12am. Boy can those Laser Comps rattle (note to self, buy some ear plugs). I think I managed to get a good kip from about 2am until about 7am when the familiar sound of heavy rain hitting of the tent awoke me. I needed to attend the call of nature but I lay there for the best part of an hour before I really!!! needed to go. Fortunately the rain had eased a bit so after having the morning ritual. I decided to pack up and head off around the loch munching my Bakewell Flapjack as I went.

I was heading for the Munro Meall Buidhe but decided against it due to the deteriorating weather. So I headed off around the loch to meet the Landrover track about halfway along the northern shore of the loch. The walk was brisk and my heart-felt happy with what I had accomplished. I will be back in the near future to top Meall Buidhe.

I stopped off at Bridge Of Balgie for a Lucozade but had to settle for a Coke as their selection of juice was quite limited. The chilled sugary juice was still a  welcome treat that I savoured all the way over to Killin. I made my usual stop off's at the Outdoor shop and the relatives before heading home. Good times...