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reveries of an amateur long-distance hiker

Walking to Cape Wrath, Day 32, June 11, 2022

June 12th, 2022

Walking to Cape Wrath, Day 32, June 11, 2022

The weather predictions for the next few days were foreboding and, given my experience earlier in the trek, I discounted the severity of what was to come. The first few weeks every day they called for rain, but usually it was just scattered showers, no need to break out the rain gear. This morning started with a light shower and an easy trek up an estate road. Apart from a boggy bit between the estate road and another (linked by a forestry road) it was a pleasant saunter up the Oykel river, a renowned salmon river that, owing to low water from the dry last few weeks, had been largely abandoned by fishermen. After passing the amazing Benmore Lodge (and greeting a pack of hunting dogs), the road began showing markers by the river— a number, small bench and parking turn-out marking a salmon fisher’s designated spot.

I’m afraid that was the highlight of the day, not because I didn’t have an adventure and see some amazing sights, but the weather came in hard with non-stop driving rain and often gale-force winds knocking me off the path (when there was a path). Even though I was a walking ad for ZPacks rain gear, I was completely soaked in no time (to be fair, no rain gear could have stood up to that weather). Navigation would have been difficult in clear weather, it was nigh impossible in the rain—I kept loosing the path or the line.

The trail took me up a number of watersheds, skirted the edges of others, before turning in unexpected directions— the mist made direction nebulous anyway. This area, while still boggy, is much rockier. Clearly glacial, the paths remind me of the Pennsylvania section of the Appalachian trail, though the mountains in no way resemble that state. I’m sure I passed some magnificent landscapes today, but they were all buried in the mist.

This leg was supposed to end in Inchnadamph, with tomorrow’s heading back up the same path for a bit. As there were no accommodations or facilities there, I opted to hike a bit into tomorrow’s leg— a mistake. I still felt strong and was comfortable with a couple more miles, but the alarms should have gone off when the path climbed quickly toward a bealach. Unlike most other places I’ve trekked, in Scotland once you are at any elevation there is almost no cover— no trees or steep stones to tent behind. The landscape is scoured by the winds with plenty of growth ankle high, but nothing that will break the weather.

Foolishly I decided to press on, hoping that in the evening the weather might calm down, or that a sheltered wild camping spot would miraculously appear, or the “small shelter” mentioned in the guide would be open and sufficient. All those hopes were dashed. The shelter was indeed open, but was a mere sod-covered roof over a 5’ narrow bench with some rocks chinked in the sides to form a sort-of wall. Disappointed in myself (and feeling the intense cold), it was there I decided I had to camp.

Trekking is supposed to be an adventure, which in some of its etymological history includes embracing chance and taking risk. My adventure today was tempting chance and was an unnecessary risk. Still we must make the best of bad decisions, so after shucking off dripping clothes and finding dry ones in my pack, I made a bed more or less on the narrow bench (I fell off once, hitting a rock and spraining my wrist). Crawling into my sleeping bag, wearing most of my warm clothes, I felt the warmth slowly return. The day’s exertions erased any appetite, so I choked down a few dry crackers, curled up in a knot (unable to stretch all the way out) and tried to sleep, all the while feeling my gear getting wetter and worrying that I might roll off onto a rock again. Still, I could not help but smile at all the day had thrown at me.

T. Hugh Crawford

June 9th, 2022

Walking to Cape Wrath, Day 30, June 9, 2022

ZERO day in Ullapool. Woke to a large cruise liner moored in the harbor, so town (the village) is a bit more crowded than before. The hostel here is well-appointed and well-run. My bunk room had 6 middle aged men from six different counties, and I ended up in a good conversation with a bicyclist who does leadership training via adventure. Fascinating man. Then, as my only real tasks today are replacing my lost bandana and laying in food for the final push to Cape Wrath (a stretch that still makes me anxious), I wandered town after an amazing breakfast of salmon hash at the Cult Cafe, followed by a long and wonderful conversation with back home, and then a no-exaggeration epic late lunch of spicy seafood soup and a dozen langoustines at a food truck—Seafood Shack— they were fresh off the fishing boat and could not have tasted better. My food tour ended at the Argyll Hotel for seafood stew (Cullen Skink) and steak pie while a trad band played— good way to finish evening in Ullapool.

Have to admit my anxiety level is a bit higher than usual, given the daunting task of 4 straight 30+ km days in foul weather and sometimes trackless trekking. That got driven home when buying food at the Tesco—counting out ounces of protein measured against days of strenuous hiking. Some good news is the first night out will now include a meal at the Oykel Bridge Hotel and a night in their bunkhouse, all because the folks who work there are such great people. Still, this last week will be brutal.

But today was a quiet wander, watching the tourists from the Viking Cruise liner moored in the bay, and picking up little odds and ends to make this last big push a little more tolerable.

T. Hugh Crawford