photogrpahy courtesy of LHOON
It was the morning after the night before. One of those nights. One of those mornings. Bauwk. I was a guest at a wedding. It was a friend of my now wife's parents. It was at the Crutherland Hotel not far from my house. It was meant to be a quiet night. Nothing to be worried about. Aye right. I got foo o' the beer and the vodka. This always a bad move, for me personally. Me and spirits don't get on. A lesson I thought I had learned along time a go. There is no fun in shouting for auld hughey in the morning.
Safe to say I was in no fit shape to get out of bed or anything else for that matter. Luckily I had the foresight or is it hindsight, to pack my gear. I got up and met Hughey in the bathroom. Which was strange because I thought I had left him back at the hotel the night before. Oh well or more to the point unwell. I then met his brother, dry bauwk in the shower. Not someone you want to be sharing a shower with, I'm sure you understand. It wasn't going well. I had a lift to meet. One of those, meet a friend of a friend at such a place at such a time. If I got there first I'll stick a stone on the dyke, if you get there and I'm not there, knock it off and I'll know you've been. However If you get there first you put the stone up and I'll knock it off. You get the idea? Not the best start to a weekend in the hills.
What was worse, I wasn't meeting the guy until 14:00 in the afternoon and I was off, he was working a half day. It was the Septemeber weekend and my dad had pissed off to Spain to play golf with one of his brothers and a couple of mates. I hadn't been late to bed, the Thurday wedding finished at 00:30 dark. I was only at the reception. I crawled into bed and had passed out before 1 am and like heyzeus, had risen late and was now running late. Thankful of the aformentioned foresight but it's not great to be meeting someone you've never met and being late. Fuck.
I was seriously considering a call off. I was not good. Green about the gills and greyer than Gollum. After a good slapping about the chops from my now wife. Only joking she doesn't batter me. Just sometimes. No she doesn't but I do think she told me to man up, grow a set or some such wise sage advice, as usual. I got my shit together and myself squared away. I wasn't on a even keel, far from it. But close enough. She got me back on track and back on time.
I was deposited at the preordaned pick up point. Tuck and roll. I was earlier than I expect but later than I wanted to be. It meant I was standing round like a spare lamp post in my trilby hat, pink carnation and a copy of the Evening Times tuck under my left oxster. We had never met and I've seen it in the movies. That's how they do it. I was there first no one waiting. Perfect, as I thought I was going to have to go round the wall and have a serious shouting match with Hughey. It passed, the wave of nuasia washed over me and was gone. Shiver. Sweat. Shake. Where's a clothes line when you need one.
Seriously though, I was grateful for the walking gear. I worried that the polis might mistake me for some we junkie roon the back o' the hospital looking to tan motors for the cd players. Cash Convertors. Especially in my current state, shaking with an unholy palor. The guy I was meeting worked in the hospital labs at the Royal Infirmary.
I should probably stop now and explain where we were going if the photograph hasn't already given it away. Hopefully the cat is not out the bag. We were off to An Teallach but not climb this magnificent mountain.
From the centre of Glasgow that's about a five and a half hour drive. This bit I was not looking forward to. A very long drive in my current state, was not going to be fun. Nevermind for me but my walking buddies were going to have to put up with this stinking wet washing until it had dried out.
The plan was park up on A832 somewhere around Dundonell with one of the cars and park the other over at Kinlochewe also on the A832. Then spend the next four days walking over to pick up the car Kinlochewe. One night in the bothy at Shenavall and the other two nights bivying. Then drive back round, pick up the car at Dundonell and drive home. Cracking plan for the weekend.
I was waiting but not for long. The guy I was meeting duely turned up. Spot on time and the other two turned shortly after. They were coming from the west of the city so the had made there own arrangements, on who was driving and who was picking up who. The hand shaking and ribbing commenced. Jokes were told. Exagurations exagurated and then we were ready. Packs in the cars. Nothing for it but to go.
Off we went. Heading north. Heading for the A9. It had been decided to stop at Dunkeld for something to eat as none of us had eaten any lunch, I hadn't eaten anything and had drank very little. I was happy with this, it gave me a little longer to recover.
We made Dunkeld in good time, the traffic wasn't too bad. The banter continued along with the tales. I for some reason didn't go for the fish supper but for a massive sausage supper. I was a lot more hungrier than I had thought. Glad to be eating and so was my body. It was going to need the fuel and it knew it.
Back in the car after the late late lunch. Feeling a bit better after a big creashy supper. Something in my stomach. I probably should have done this earlier but the thought of seeing my breakfast again was a non-starter. Now it was time to settle in for the rest of the drive north. I always find that in the car you pass a lot of scenery and a lot happens but as a passenger you take very little of it in. The miles dropped off and the clock ticked on.
We arrived early evening at the lay-by. Later than expected was the impression I got. I was a follower on this trip not a leader and didn't have a look at the maps. I had no idea the distances or where we were actually going. I was along for the ride. I was looking forward to it. I was informed that we should make the bothy before dark. Should. Fair enough.
Having deposited my other dry set of clothes in the boot of the other car that was left at Kinlochewe. I usually only have two sets of clothes with me, a wet set and dry set. The dry set is for sleeping in. For some reason I thought it would good to have some nice fresh togs to get into after four days in the same gear. So much so it's now a standard procedure for me.
I re-jigged my pack, got it up on my back and settled it. I think I was carrying about twelve kilos for the three nights. It was heavy but not that I really noticed. Sit down at the back and take a breath. This is before I started weighing things and before I started trying to follow lightweight enthusiasts. Lets be honest it makes sense. Less weight more fun. Well the weight was the weight and that was what I was carrying. This included sleeping bag, bivvy, stove, gas, food, pot, water, dry clothes and a heavy weight fleece to keep the chill off at night. I could have probably fed all four of us quite easily with sheer amount of scran I had. It's a lesson I need to learn but I like my food. It'll probably be what makes the biggest difference to my pack weight. Not so much the weight around my middle.
We crossed the road from the layby and throught a gate, starting up wards. Onwards. Each of us trying to get into our natural walking rhythm. I fell into mine quite easy, at the back. Last. Like I've said before, I'm short and have stride to match. All was well. I felt okay. I had drank plenty of water in the car on the road from Dunkeld and just created a small burn in the lay-by. A big streak o' pish comes to mind.
It was a fine evening for walking up into the wilderness and on to the mountain massiff that is An Teallach, the forge. It was dry but with patchy clouds. The clouds were high. Not the usual, lower than 3000ft we get. We were gaining height quickly on this path and the views of the massif where getting better with each step. Beautiful. I remember walking over pink like granite slabs. I maybe wrong and it was elsewhere but it just sparkled in the evening sun.
Things were now starting to be a struggle for me. I was stopping and drinking more water from my nalgene bladder and the guys were having to wait a points for me so the didn't get out of sight. It was a plod. One foot in front of the other. A slog. I was feeling worse with every step. The hangover was returning and it wasn't funny like the movie. To top it off the clouds were dropping down and becoming less patchy. It was like An Teallach was gathering them in his arms and turning them dark and angry.
It was going to get dark earlier. The sun was already setting. That time of year it sets before 20:00. We were in the wilderness with some very high mountains between us the sun. Making it darker even faster. Then it started.
Plop................. plop................ plop............ plop..... plop..... plop.... plop... plop... plop... plop.. plop.. plop.. plop.. plop.. plop. plop. plop. plop. plop. plop. plop. plop. plop. plop. plop. Until it was like sheets of water dropping. Like tipping out the bath onto my head. Hood up and thanks to the little gods of the outdoors for Goretex. On we went as the light faded and the path started to disappear.
Then the light was gone. Completely. Gone. Black. Black like I don't like. No stars, no moon. Nothing but rain in the sky. It was weird because the light had been fading slowly with your eyes growing used to it but all of a sudden. GONE. Off came the packs and then one by one. Click. Click. Click. Click. The four of us found our head torches and switched them on. We still had aways to go to the bothy. This was going to slow us down.
It was going to slow us for two reasons. One I had never done a night walk. Never. It's different. Everything slows down because the track just disappears into the heather. It vanishes. Foot placement becomes crucial. The guys were great. Nothing to worry about. Just follow the torches and keep talking. If you have to stop, shout. If one stops we all stop. We'll get there but it'll take a bit longer. Follow the leader, leader.
After about an hour of this I was done. The night before was coming back to haunt me. I was tired. I was hungry. I had lost track of time. Like I said, in reality only an hour had past but felt like I had been walking all night. If I turned my head to the side to look into the void, I stumbled. If I looked up I stumbled. I had tunnel vision. I just had to stare at my feet and keep walking. It was like I was hypnotised by the white blue light of the torch. Only the light bouncing on my feet mattered. Every so often I would stop look up and see the glow of the other torches and then stagger on after them.
I remember all of a sudden being acutely aware of some running water on my left handside but not level with me. It was below me. Running angry and fast like little burns do when the rains are heavy. All dark brown full of silt and stone, with mean white crests breaking against rocks, pools and bends. That was when I noticed I was walking downhill. When did that happen? We must be close. The bothy would have to be near a water course. Then I was alone. I froze. Terror. I was alone. No torches to be seen in any direction. Nothing. Fuck. FUCK!
PANIC! Sheer panic. Like nothing I've a felt since or before. What do I do? Turning wildly in circles trying to get a bearing. That wasn't going happen. My mind started racing, did I miss a junction in the track, was I that out of it? What should I do? Stay? Stumble on blindly? I had no map and no idea where is was. I could have been on the moon for all the good it would do me. FEAR.
I was really starting to freak out. PANIC! I started shouting but it was getting drowned out in the downpour. What do I do? I'm standing there in the pitch black alone and I'm scared. Really scared. How stupid was I getting lost. All I had to was follow. How hard is that? So stupid. Why did I have to get so drunk the night before. I'm lost, the guys will panicing. They be wondering what happened to me. What will they do?
I was resigned to the fact there was nothing I could do. Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Nothing to do but bed down till the sun was up. Wait for Dawn to show her face and see how the land lies. With this realisation the panic began to fade. The fear was still there but the panic was over. Calm. I unslung my pack. Time to get the bivy out and be as comfy as I can.
It was then I noticed something funny. The darkness wasn't sucking up the light like a black hole. The light was bouncing back. It was hitting something right at the edge of the beam. Must have been about thirty metres away. I then thought I was losing it. Something opposite of those in the desert, my mind was playing tricks on me but like a magnet it had a hold of me and was pulling in me in.
Step after step I got closer and the shape became a wall, then a gable end. Relief. Pure Relief. I had made it. I hadn't lost the rest of the guys. One by one they had entered the bothy. It must have been just out of reach of the beam but in my panic I must have moved closer and it caught the light. I made my way round to the door and entered the shelter and safety of Shenavall. No panic, no fear. I could hear voices in the front room. I went in. The fire was still burning and the other guys were settling down. Happy.
"You took your time, that must have been some shite?", "We heard you shouting but left yi tae it, yi can wipe yir ane erse. Yir a big boy". Bastards. There's always a funny bastard. Always.
There's not much to tell of the weekend after that. No walks walked. No mountains climded. It rained. I never saw the tops of An Teallach or Beinn Dearg Mor. We spent the next couple of days collecting fire wood and hanging round the Bothy. Hoping the clouds would lift. They never did. The company was great, the banter good. A great weekend.