Saturday, June 5, 2010

TGO Challenge Day 2: May 15. 2010 - Glen Desarry

Photo: The morning started out fairly sunny here at Sourlies Bothy. It was certainly enough good weather to let those who camped dry off their shelters after the showers of the night went through.

After a fitful night's sleep for both men and dogs the bothy began to really stir a couple hours after sunrise. At this northern latitude, nearly 57 degrees, that means sometime around 06:30. I had slept on the concrete floor and had an adequate rest though certainly far from the best night I have ever had. I dreaded putting my sodden shoes back on. I had dry socks but that is little comfort when you slip them and your soon-to-be chilled feet into shoes that were flooded with peat bog water the day before. No help for it though. Perhaps wearing waterproof socks in the future will help things feel better but I am not convinced.

As the sun slowly tried to warm things up I slowly pulled myself and my kit together. The guys who were out for a few days of hiking cleared out in bunches and my fellow Challengers were all but gone long before I was ready to depart. Only Rod and Mark (?) were left camped out down the path in a moderately flat and dry bit of land. That would turn out to be a very good thing for me later on. I hoped to hike the 18 or so kilometers to Kinbreach bothy today. That would include a couple 500-meter climbs along what I fully expected to be rugged paths. I had a feeling even the moderately level stuff would be tough going based on my experiences from the day before. I would be proven right.

Photo: Here comes the iffy weather out of the west.

Come mid-morning, perhaps about 09:00 I left the bothy and passed by the camp of Rod and Mark. I exchanged greetings with them and then struck out in search of the supposedly present path that would take me out of the valley over the first set of hills to the small lochans beyond. I meandered around slowly gaining elevation but not finding any semblance of a path. It was slow going as I felt I had to find the path. After all surely the path represented the best route and to not follow it could result in Bad Things happening. Rod and Mark caught up to me and together we found the path, near the top of the pass, and we slowly marched forward. They had already saved my bacon helping me retrieve my monocular which had managed to slip out of its case. Had I not been able to find that I think my Challenge would have been done then and there.

The walking paths of Scotland are not really made in the classic sense that someone built them. They're more akin to hunter and game trails. They have come into existence in large measure through centuries of traffic following the same route. As such they definitely do not posess any hallmarks of fine trail construction such as proper drainage or a concern for erosin. They exist and are mainained solely by the pounding of feet. In boggy and tussock grass filled land such as the Knoydart presents this means the narrow paths appear and disappear with maddening regularity. The paths are frequently flooded with mucky water too. They definitely do not sport ideal footing. The walking was painfully slow. Even slower, I feel sure, for Rod and Mark who were letting me join them. I've no doubt they would make much quicker work of the paths alone than with me along. To add to the fun the weather had been clouding over and we had the pleasure of on and off again rain. It was never very hard but enough to be irritating. More than enough to make my feet uncomfortable even though the pools that were forming were made warm by the heat I was generating. Still for all of that their is a beauty to this area with its small lakes and mountains framing the distant views. It won't put you in mind of the high mountain tarns of the American West but it has a charm nonetheless. I just wish the paths were not so squishy.

Photos: We worked our way along the shores of these two lochan and as you can see the weather stayed true to it's fickle nature. The rains were never hard but none of us was going to shed rainwear. The paths here appear and vanish with great frequency and the ground fights for your shoes and trekking poles It is slow walking.

Time passed. We came upon a couple German fellows trailed by a couple Scottish gals. I expect they were all heading for Sourlies. I am sure they were much closer to their goal than we were to ours. Worse I knew our goal required some serious climbing. I was beginning to entertain serious thoughts of changing my route. The Knoydart was just kicking my butt. To be sure we took our share of breaks to rest and to check the map but our actual movement was terrifically slow. It was, bluntly put, pathetic. I think it was even affecting my comrades. We plodded through Upper Glen Desarry, scaled the annoying wire fence at the river ford of the River Finiskaig (I think that is right, and why do they have a wire fence there?) and kept on plodding on. It would be mid-afternoon before we really began to drop down into Glen Desarry proper and early evening when we came upon the farms and posh home near Strachan. By this time I knew Kinbreack bothy was out and that in fact my route to that bothy and beyond was a goner. I would strike out down the road that skirts Loch Arkaig and figure out what to do next when I reached someplace like Achnacarry or better still Spean Bridge. My comrades were also modifying their plans to get to Fort William. We were all beat. I was surprised that they were wiped out too. It was about 19:15 when we found a spot that was reasonably flat and near water and, very important, nowhere near any cattle (we had to skirt a couple bulls rather closer than I think any of us really would have liked a little earlier). We got our shelters up just as the clouds dumped some more rain upon us. It was good to be under cover and have a chance to , sort of, dry out. What an exhausting day. I don't think we even covered 13 kilometers over the course of the day. That strikes me as rather pathetic. It seems impossible to believe too but I think it is probably true.

Location: Campsite in Glen Desarry

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