Wednesday, June 15, 2016

8 outta 10 ain't bad

I was going to title this blog, “Move along, nothing to see here!” but as will become apparent later that wouldn’t have been quite true. So I plagiarised a Meatloaf song instead – for those of a certain age, and mindset, you will appreciate that I did rather better than Meatloaf did!!!!

The aim of this training session was to REALLY test myself over a prolonged period, so Guy and I returned to the Mamores with a different strategy to last time. My aim was to tackle the whole ridge travelling light, whereas Guy was going to tackle a shorter section having recently completed the hundred miles of The South Downs Way recently.

Flying out of Luton to Glasgow on the Friday night to pick up a car and drive through to Fort William seems like a good plan, until there are delays. I won’t bore you with the detail, but arriving around half past midnight when you aim to be on the mountain by 6:00 is not ideal. A very truncated sleep followed; including a suggestion by a wide awake me to get going at 4:30, rejected by a tired Guy.

On the hill at 6:15 wasn’t a bad effort but thick cloud on the summits had been forecast and so it proved. It took a little over 2 hours to make the first summit, a route I remembered well from last year’s expedition and the broken stake where Jim tried to climb the fence remained. I have to be truthful and say if I don’t see that ascent again I wouldn’t be too disappointed.  With nothing to see I cracked on through the cloud, grateful for the assistance of my GPS app.

To be honest ticking off the first summits, having been there before in better conditions, was at best perfunctory. The aim was to spend at least 12 hours on my feet, so I took a decision to miss out Sgurr a'Mhaim because I had done it before in our last attempt and it was out and retrace steps and would gain me nothing. And so onwards to Am Bodach, as far as we got last time around.  As I approached the summit there was the vaguest essence of watery sunshine trying to peak through the gloom. On the summit I could see the vague outlines of the summits I had just done, but not much more. Suddenly I turned to leave and was greeted by this:

Arguably one of the most amazing sights I have ever seen. Crystal clear peaking above the clouds Bidean nam Bian, what a sight, the snow patches on the summit making it look like a killer whale surfacing in the ocean.

Sadly there was no time to be lost, so back into the cloud I went bagging summit after summit until An Garbhanach, where I saw the first people of the day, two fell runners, sadly for me I couldn’t locate the route to An Gearanch, despite map and GPS, so rather than dally (it was another out and back on the ridge) I took the decision to return another day.

Shortly after this whom should I meet but Guy on his way down from what he thought was the summit of Na Gruagaichean. The reason for his error was easy to see when I arrived at what he thought was the summit and was confronted by this:

Quite surreal, however, the real summit was a few hundred metres higher up. Guy could probably feel his ears burn as I cursed having to haul myself through a horrid boulder field.

As I mentioned, in the cloud I was having to rely very heavily on my map and GPS and the route I was following is one which isn’t so widely used and thus often there were no paths. Leaving the summit I have to say that for a good half hour to an hour, I was worried that I was way off-piste, considering a call so that someone could check my location using my phone. Thankfully I had no signal so was forced to trust my instincts and as if by magic I was back on a path – phew! There I met 4 lads from Notts who were keen to get back for the football – no idea why?!?!?

As I left the summit I met the last people I would all day in circumstances which showed how poor visibility was. They were less than 10 metres away, but clearly hadn’t seen me and I heard them more than saw them as they discussed where the path I was on ought to be. To their surprise a voice from the gloom pointing them in the right direction must have been quite un-nerving!

At 18:30 I made the final summit, 12 hours and 15 minutes after starting, now all that remained was the long slog back to where Guy would either be waiting or else where I would text as soon as I got a signal. By this time I was pretty tired and the descent involved a lot of slips and slides which I could have done without and then having to take socks and shoes off to wade across a river. It was a boggy trudge back I can tell you. Then when I got to the car park unsurprisingly Guy wasn’t there, watching the football I was sure, but no phone signal so I had some walking on tarmac to do until I picked up a signal. Whilst it was still light I didn’t expect anyone to be around at 21:00 so when a minibus approached I hoped for a lift and was terribly disappointed when I was passed without acknowledgement on the tiny single track road – clearly not a native or REAL outdoor enthusiast!

After a mile or so my phone exploded with incoming messages and texts and after much fumbling managed to get a pleading text out to Guy, who came and collected me at 21:45 (perhaps it was serendipitous that Russia should equalise then!!!!)

As a graphic illustration of how out of sorts I was, I couldn’t even eat half of my haggis and chips and I only had two pints whilst watching the highlights in our room – an epic day, proving that I am certainly fit enough to do The Matterhorn. Now the only things that will stop me are the weather and how I react to altitude, none of which I can control. Someone more erudite said, “all you can do is control the controllables”, so now after a few days off it will be back to the usual training regime with just over two months until departure.

Thanks for reading

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