This post is a summary of our "Journey for the Wild". The event was a walk/bike/sail/kayak covering over 2,500 miles with the aim of raising awareness of The John Muir Trust - a charity which conserves the wild places of the UK. Our leg from Oban to Fort William consisted of 6 days, 120km, many mountains and lots of blisters.
Day 1: Oban North Pier to Ben Cruachan
26 kms / 750m ascent
"Innes, the straps of my rucksack are digging in to my shoulders....." Such was my plaintive cry as we struck out from Oban North Pier headed for Taynuilt and then a high level camping spot partway up Ben Cruachan. But rucksack issues aside, life was good - it wasn't raining, we had a plentiful supply of food and there was a hotel at Taynuilt we had earmarked for a late lunch. Even the discovery that our precious macaroon supply was in fact 2 days out of date and tasted like washing-up liquid could not dampen our spirits (apologies to the ducks to whom we fed said macaroon). This was the calm before the storm of course - the wander along a pretty country road and the last (hot) supper before we got up into the hills and the wilderness. We were fresh of leg and full of belly and we hoovered up the miles. After a slight tussle with the new tent, we settled in for our first night under canvas somewhere in the clouds.
Day 2: Ben Cruachan to Beinn a'Chochuil
14 kms / 1700m ascent
Mood: fair to middling
Ben Cruachan was in cloud when we woke up. It clears by the time we reach the peak later on that morning. Good views of the Cruachan reservoir. I feel sleepy and doze off leaning against my rucksack. Don't want to move but Innes makes me. To be honest, the day is a bit of a blur - lots of hills and lots of plodding up them. The only thing I clearly remember is the last half hour or so when we are searching for a camping spot just before Beinn a'Chochuil (or Ben Chocolate for those unable to pronounce Gaelic!) - the light changes and everything is illuminated. Somehow it makes all the plodding worthwhile. Life is beautiful.
Day 3: Ben Chocolate to Glen Etive
27 kms / 1000m ascent
Grey skies and moisture in the air. A slow start but we quickly gained some more height and finished the last of the Cruachan hills, Ben Chocolate (!) and Beinn Eunaich . Then a couple of Corbetts and the promise of a path down to the track which would take us round to the head of Loch Etive. But the path proved impossible to locate and we stumbled and bumbled our way down through grassy tufts and heather to finally reach the magical track. Being at low level again brought with it new problems - namely the Midge. It was time for some Avon Skin-So-Soft and a fast pace. Loch Etive was a sight for sore eyes but stopping to take in the view was for the foolhardy only. So it was off the track and onto a narrow, boggy path which ran alongside the Loch. Heads down now. Innes stopping occasionally to take photos. I resort to my mini disc player to spur me on. 14 miles of bog and Midge and beauty. Dusk falling. We are not speaking now - both having inner battles. And finally, past the bothy and up onto the Dalness road where we throw the tent up and collapse inside. I am briefly convinced we can flag down a car and hitch a lift to the Kingshouse hotel. We have oatcakes and peanut butter and listen to the rain instead.
Day 4: Glen Etive to Glencoe Youth Hostel
15 kms / 1150m ascent
The day began with a black haze of Midge which hung outside the tent, waiting. I peeked out of the ventilation flap and was greeted by a slug sitting on my rucksack, waving its antennae at me. Our bodies were broken. So were our last oatcakes. Innes went into impressive organisational mode and directed a military operation of packing up sleeping bags, thermarests etc without disturbing the black haze. We dismantled the tent in seconds and ran along the road towards Dalness, trailing the Midge behind us. The cloud was down. The only thing keeping us going was the thought of a hot meal at the Clachaig and a shower and a proper bed at Glencoe Youth Hostel. Most of the ascent and descent of Bidean Nam Bian is a blur. Innes was "walking on hedgehogs"; I was feeling sick. All thoughts of the Journey had faded away - we had retreated into ourselves; it was not about getting from Oban to Fort William; it was about getting from this rock to that rock or from this patch of heather to that patch of heather. It was a Journey in miniature. And then, the healing process. The body is a marvellous thing. Food and shelter and a read of the papers and a phonecall to mum and dad. Strange being back in civilisation. A nice lady in Glencoe Youth Hostel offers antihistamine cream for our midge bites. The hostel warden is interested in the Journey and wants to talk about hills. The bigger picture reveals itself once more. The Aonach Eagach awaits.
Day 5: Glencoe Youth Hostel to Kinlochleven
16 kms / 1700m ascent
The weather is perfect as we make our way up the Clachaig Gully. We pop up onto the ridge and there are goats standing on the path! I take this as a good omen. The ridge stretches out ahead of us, all glorious pinnacles and fierce jagged edges. The cars whizz by down in Glencoe, oblivious to the "pavement in the sky" as Innes calls it. I feel like a child who has found a secret passageway. I want to click my heels together; instead I eat some Bourneville and grin. Innes is raring to go - he relishes the airy places offered up by the ridge. I am more cautious and irritated by my heavy rucksack which swings out at the most inopportune moments. We dance the dance of the Aonach Eagach - quick quick along the little paths; slow over the spikes and down the chimneys. Everyone else is moving in the opposite direction - from Am Bodach to the Clachaig Gully. We pass with smiles and hellos, this secret club walking the secret pavement. It is a great day and even when we pass the traditional endpoint of the ridge and continue our long walk over the less trodden hills of Sron Gharbh and Sron a Choire Odhair-bhig to pick up the path of the West Highland Way into Kinlochleven, spirits are still high. The dark days of Glen Etive are all but forgotten and we think ahead to Glen Nevis and the end of our Journey.
Day 6: Kinlochleven to Glen Nevis Visitor Centre
15 kms / 1000m ascent
Words by J. Martin, Photos by I. Martin
Our Journey from Oban to Fort Bill - Sunday, September 10, 2006