Photo: Me outside the West Highland Hotel in Mallaig not long before it woyUld start raining.
What a tough day this has been. It started out so well and ended up well but the last few hours and handful of kilometers were really tough. But any good story really should start at the beginning and that means jumping across the waters of Loch Nevis and to the drizzle at the pier at Mallaig. The ferry that runs people to Inverie was jammed full of not only TGO Challengers but also people going over to wander the vicinity around Inverie for a few hours. I'm not sure how far those folks can get but the hour-long ferry ride is certainly a nice way to start a day of walking. The drizzle eased up permitting a mass exodus to take place from the stuffy cabin of the ferry and people milled around the crowded boat deck gazing out at the mountains that run down to the sea. The seas were calm and a deep green when the sun finally broke out to reflect off the water. Not a bad day to be out on the water in a powered or unpowered boat (we saw some sea kayakers). I won't go as far to say the ride put me in mind of travel along fjords in Norway or sea passages in Alaska but I am very glad I did it and even knowing now what comes next I would do the ferry again.
We offloaded a short ways, apparently farther than it once was according to Lou and Phillys, from the Old Forge Inn and pretty much every Challenger descended upon this most remote of pubs for a quick drink. If they had been serving food I reckon most of us would have eaten something too. Alas lunch did not go on sale until 12:30. Fortified with a pint of beer in me I set off along the country road out of Inverie joined by Graham, Ian, and Paul. At first the walking along the pleasant lane was easy as the dreariness of the morning faded away to a partly cloudy day. We slowly left the village and farms near the sea climbing into the mountains. At a local workers shack I parted ways with the others to move on ahead. I came upon Gordon coming the other way and we chatted a little before parting. Gordon has done the Challenge before but this time was doing his own thing throughout the region. I was soon completely on my own and climbing up into the mountains along the rugged path. It was a tough climb and I felt as though it was taking unduly long to reach the top of the pass as the clouds slowly gained dominion over the sky and the wind picked up. With a few breaks along the way I eventually made it to the top of the mountain pass in late afternoon (Mam Meadall). The descent down to the seashore and the ruins at Carnoch was wretchedly slow going. The path is narrow and steep. Partway down the seemingly never-ending descent Rod and Mark (?) caught up to me. They'd spent hours at the pub in Inverie and now were passing me by. Oh well. They hurried on past hoping to reach the shore before the tide came in making the journey much tougher. I knew I would have no such luck.
Photo: It isn't an easy path to the top looking back the way i have come
Sometime around 19:00 I got to the near side of the ruins at Carnoch and was befuddled by what I found. I knew a path had to be around someplace but I could not find it. I wandered around looking, getting rained upon by the sudden cloudburst, and eventually just struck out across the bog and tussock grass through the stream and past the ruins. I found a couple people in a tent and they told me where the bridge over the river was. I misunderstood or misheard and wasted more time going left instead of right. Then I was in the muck and mire near where I thought the bothy was. It was not where I thought it should be. At least I saw no sign of it though I did pass a copule tents. This is when the wheels really came off for me during the waning hours of the day. I plodded on, slipping into a couple deep warm bog holes, looking for the bothy whose location I thought I knew. I had developed tunnel vision ignoring the fact that it clearly wasn't where I thought based on my GPS and map reading. I meandered about looking for Sourlies bothy and just did not find it. Then Stephen, a local fellow out with friends for a few days of peak bagging, came down and set me straight. Together was slogged through the tough ground away from the shore towards slightly more firm ground. We pushed on around the headland as darkness settled upon the land and in time found a halfway decent path that slowly took us to the bothy. It was around 22:00 when I strolled into the bothy totally ready for the day to be over with.
Photo: it is late afternoon and I'm descending the rutted swutchbacks towards the ruins of Carnoch. I still have a good 6km to go though somehow I got it in my mid it was more lie 3.5km (misread my notes).
My big problem with the last few hours and kilometers of the day is that I refused to acknowledge the reality of things and perhaps relied too much on my belief I had properly recorded information into the GPS and was reading the map right. I clearly did not and I equally clearly failed to use the most important tool anyone has: the brain. Some will say this points to a failure of GPS and in a sense that is true but it functioned completely properly. The true failure was my own. A classic case of losing focus on the real world and feeling sure I had made a mistake because my technology said so. Relying on technology is fine as long as you remember the limitations of the technology and remember that it is only as good as the person who wields it. In this case the user, me, made errors.
At the bothy I found more local folks out for a few days of backpacking and peak bagging. Clearly all good friends they welcomed me into the bothy where a small fire was burning. Even the two dogs who initially barked up a storm warmed too me quickly enough. No other Challengers were in the bothy. They were spread out around the lumpy and probably sodden grounds set up in their various shelters. I never saw any of them that night or the next morning until fairly late.
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