First of all, a massive thank you to everyone who has contacted me, supported me, made me feel better. I love you all, you lovely people.
In case you are wondering, I’m in Braemar.
Things I have learned and now appreciate.
- I am not always right
- I am not 25
- I am fragile
- I can dig deep
- I did not fail
Here’s a pretty picture in the meantime to keep your attention:
When I got to Kinlochleven, I caught up with a Dutch lady called Esther, who’s route was not dissimilar to mine, but different nonetheless. We left Kinlochleven together and resolved to keep each other company on the way to Loch Ossian. My route vetter had given me an alternative route to follow, in case it was boggy, but given how dry the previous two days had been, I elected a different route to guarantee a good water resource. We covered 28k over 13 long and sunny hours over Loch Eilde, to Loch Treig and on to Loch Ossian. It was glorious, and apart from a wade over a river, the route was superb. A bold and right choice. However, a brief note for anyone hiking this area: Vodafone….. is the only network.
Loch Ossian Youth Hostel was as magical as I remember. We arrived around 9.30, and were not last to arrive. The hostel warden came in and let me know that home wanted to make sure I was safe. I borrowed a Vodafone phone, and called home. I knew that EE and O2 (my back up) would be out of range for most of the following day towards Dalwhinnie.
The following morning we set off again, sharing a route until the head of the glen, where Esther would go over the bealach towards Loch Pattak, and I would head East and over to Ben Alder Cottage. Another hot slow one, but a great river for soothing the feet and topping up bottles.
I got to Ben Alder Cottage about 7.30pm. There were other TGO folk, and a couple of Doctors also staying in the bothy, and a bundle of Danish Army Veterans, young to old who despite having route marched from Kinlochrannoch, looked as fresh as if they had just been dropped in by Helicopter.
Sorted my bed in the bothy, had some food and bedded down for the night.
There. Is. No. Ghost.
But there are mice!
My knee was feeling a bit iffy, but I figured it would be fine by the morning.
Morning. Knee felt Ok. And the pain I’d had in my heel still from the marathon was waning!!! Good news!
I was tired though, and it was after 9.30 before I got on my way.
And that’s when it all went pear shaped.
The lovey sedentary walk along the lochside I remember, was not in evidence. As I struggled on, it got rockier, the path got narrower, and when I say progress was slow, I am talking an hour to go half a km. At one point I contemplated turning back, but the thought of the other route up to 800m was not something I was enamoured about, and in hindsight, I should have turned back. But did not.
I am not sure footed at the best of times, and I suffer from vertigo. I have rubbish balance, and I’m carrying a 3 stone rucksack. This route, now as I am remembering the rock outcrops from previous crossings, was well outwith my comfort zone. A few times I actually had to stop and meditate to compose myself. I found myself thinking what would Jo say, what would Jo say. Over and over. A couple of times I slipped, or dropped to my knees to lower my centre of gravity, and found myself unable to find the courage to get back up. At these moments I began singing something of a mantra that haunts me from childhood “stand up, stand up for Jesus”. I might be a Christian, but I’m not deeply religious, but it is better than calling yourself a fucking idiot. Which of course I was for deciding that I knew a better route than my vetter. I cursed myself, angry at my arrogance, and the very real fear that I would be airlifted to safety because I would be frozen to the spot. Then I remembered I had no mobile signal!!!! I HAD to keep going.
I am also thankful of heather. Not any person heather, Calluna Vulgaris to give it its rightful name. Because rest assured, that when you do slip, and the Loch beneath you starts accelerating towards you, grabbing the heather will save your life. And this day, it did.
I stopped for a while and rearranged my bag. My tent is on the bottom, and the tent bag is now torn from sliding on the rocks. So I remove my fleece and wrap it round the tent bag securely to protect it. I can’t have the tent torn. I’m suspecting I have lost the path now, and am just scrambling aimlessly over well worn deer tracks not suitable for human navigation, and on checking my map, I am off what seems to be the right route. So, do I plod on, knowing I will eventually pick the route up once I get by the rocks, or do I climb up, because it’s easier to see your route from above, than it is from down below? Go up. Next question…. do I leave bag here and and waste energy going up to then come back down for it? No. It’s coming with me.
I climb about 30m, and I see about 300m along, the path is on the grassy slopes leading away from me, so that’s what I am aiming for. It took an hour to do that 300m. I soon reached a deer fence and gate that signalled the end of my terror, and the beginning with a love affair for the grassy route I now find myself on, but I stop for a bit to compose myself for the 10 miles I’ve still got to walk.
Loch Ericht is Long. It’s now 4 hours since I left the bothy, and I’ve only travelled a couple of km. I decide I am only going as far as Dalwhinnie today, short of my target. About an hour later, my phone sparks into life as it picks op it’s first connection in about 60 hours, and I phone home. I am safe, but this is the longest walk……
I arrived at Dalwhinnie at 10pm, a broken woman, and my knee and foot have suffered from my rocky exploits. Esther has gave me some advice a few days earlier – don’t give up in the evening. Give up on the morning if it still feels bad. And on Thursday morning, I called it in. It’s the bravest decision I’ve made in years, and despite my disappointment, I’m glad I made the right decision.