(only part way)
Every so often along comes one of those days when all the planning that goes into a walk is beaten by circumstances beyond your control, and I think it does us good as hill walkers to admit this. Usually it's the weather but sometimes it's something else. I've been relatively lucky during my Scottish hill walking adventures with the weather. Only on about ten days has bad weather led to me having to abandon or significantly change my plans. On a few occasions I've messed things up by not starting early enough in the day, overestimating how far I could walk or wasting time on a walk chatting to other walkers.
However, in all my hill walking I've never had a day when half way through the walk I've just realised I can't (and don't really want) to go on. This happened to me in September 2014. Read on!
It probably all started to go wrong 36 hours earlier. I'd travelled up from Middlesbrough to Strathcarron by train on a Saturday but, rather unusually, had slept quite poorly that night. The following day I'd had a long 15 mile walk and climbed Maol Chean-dearg in near perfect weather conditions. Did I sleep well that night? Not a bit of it.
In order to climb my next two Munros I needed to get up at 6.00am to get the train from Strathcarron to Achnashellach where I started the walk to Craig at 7.15am. Now most walkers start the walk to Sgurr Choinnich at Craig but I needed to walk another 2.5 miles from the station, thus making what is a long walk even longer. So already feeling rather weary off I set from...
...the level crossing at Craig, where this donkey seems to be in permanent residence, judging by the number of photos I've seen of it on the Internet.
The vehicle track up the valley of the Allt a'Chonais has been "improved" with the rough stone surface covered with compacted earth to allow access to the Achnashellach mini HEP scheme which, at the moment, is making this valley rather an unpleasant place to walk in.
Looking back down the glen with Sgurr Ruadh in the background.
The vehicle track climbs steadily and, because it's smooth, is easy to walk on.
Towering above the head of the glen is the former Munro Sgurr nan Ceannaichean now demoted to Corbett status.
The track now starts to descend slightly into the hidden valley of Pollan Buidhe, with Sgurr Choinnich to the right.
The drilling and construction centre will hopefully soon be gone and perhaps the disturbed land will be restored to something better than the state it's in at the moment.
Instructions to the construction workers!
The track comes back down to the stream and this wire bridge is passed - do not cross this as it's not the one you need to get to Sgurr Choinnich.
The older estate road continues up the glen with the two Munros Sgurr a'Chaorachain (on the left) and Sgurr Choinnich (on the right). My plan was to climb both of these and, at this stage, I could see no problem with that provided I could cross the Allt a'Chonais either on the wire bridge or on the stepping stones.
The track to the hill is pretty obvious at this cairn...
...and leads down to the water over slightly boggy ground.
I'd been a bit concerned about reports I'd heard about the bridge but it has been improved and tensioned with chains secured into the far bank.
Now, I've never used a two wire bridge before. I once got halfway over the three wire Steel Bridge in Glen Nevis before I was summoned back with the words, "I'm not going over that!" Try walking backwards on that bridge...
I've never read anything about the technique for crossing one of these bridges so I had to experiment. Now, unless you know a better way, here is how to cross one. Put your feet together on the lower wire with the wire wedge against the front of your heel. Lean forward slightly as your hold the top wire with both hands. This might seem odd, but you actually need to get your centre of gravity forwards. Lean forwards, probably about 10 or 20 degrees from the vertical, and look down at the water and repeat a 100 times, "I'm not going to fall in there!" Anyway ,even if you do all that's likely to happen is you get pretty wet.
Then move one foot at a time (always pushing the front of your heel hard against the wire ) and then move one hand at a time. Keep doing this so you always have three firm points of contact and make your way across the bridge. Don't move too far with each sideways step and if you feel yourself tilting backwards, because of the weight of your rucksack, simply lean further forward pushing the top wire away from you. Remember to keep looking down at the water....
This particular bridge has the luxury of a nice plastic tube over the wire but, if it was bare metal, I'd put on some thin gloves.
Stepping on and off the bridge needs a little care as you don't want to slither down the bank into the water.
Now I thought I'd hate this but it was actually quite enjoyable and another "hill skill" learnt.
To get to this point had taken about three hours from the station.
The stalkers' path climbs up above the Allt Leathad an Tobair with the next target of Bealach Bhearnais in the distance about a mile and a half away.
At this stage I was still feeling alright, although I had noticed that the clouds were moving fairly quickly so it was likely to be a bit breezy higher up.
Looking back downhill towards Sgurr nan Ceannaichean.
It was somewhere around here that I suddenly began to feel incredibly weary and lacking in motivation. Ahead is the Corbett Beinn Tharsuinn.
I decided that I should reach the bealach and have something to eat before going any further.
There's a curious section of stone wall here which isn't marked on the maps although is visible on Google Earth.
I'd actually taken four and a quarter hours from Achnashellach and about three and a quarter from Craig which was probably only about half an hour longer than using Naismith's rule. Some of this could be accounted for by my waiting for vehicles to pass on the road and crossing the bridge where I'd spent some time securing things in my bag so clearly something else was wrong for me to loose all motivation.
The answer was almost certainly that I was incubating a sore throat and cough which appeared about 36 hours later.
Whilst I had my lunch I looked at the two hills and decided I really didn't want to go up there (Sgurr Choinnich is on the left and Sgurr a' Chaorachain is at the end of the ridge). Strangely, though I was a little disappointed (they would have been Munros 147 and 148) I felt incredibly relieved at the same time.
Of course I now had to return to the station. I walked slowly (taking about five hours) as my plan was now to catch a train at about 18:00 to Achnasheen and then return to Strathcarron by the evening service to Kyle of Lochalsh. This would avoid having either to try to hitch hike or sit on the chilly station for several hours. Knowing I could get a hot drink and snack on the train also helped!
Despite everything I still enjoyed the day but clearly my third day's walk was not going to be climbing any Munros.