I'm into the swing of things now, sometimes walking in a quiet meditative state and invariably being filled with joy and wonder at the start of each day. I try to be walking before 6am and love the early morning light (when it isn’t drizzling).
Most days seem to involve around 12 hours of walking to cover a daily average of more than 32km (20 miles) but there are periods of pain and tiredness… my feet have hurt from Day One, although the blisters haven’t worsened, and some of my aches have aches. Worst are the back pains from my heavy pack. And yet, there isn’t much I could have left out.
Missing is a small and very light computer with which to write these blogs.
This morning I awoke to a beautiful wild scene overlooking a stunning loch that had me thinking of a cold early swim. But then the midges arrived and I packed up as quickly as I could and started walking briskly.
Because I’d camped wild and fled the scene without breakfast, I started to fantasise about a hearty helping of scrambled eggs on toast and when I encountered The Inn at Ardgour, overlooking the slipway to the Corran Ferry, I knew my prayers had been answered. There were some odd looks at this rumpled backpacker among the smoothly groomed breakfast clientele but the charming Sarah made me feel very welcome. Reading the hostelry’s brochure it quoted the Gaelic ceud mile failte, which means 100,000 welcomes.
Great. How about a shower, I inquired? Sarah came back looking disappointed and said the manager said that would be £35! That would have been a new record for me, but it did remind me of a hike through the high himalayas to the foot of Everest where each successive hot shower became more expensive as we got closer to Chomolungma, Mother Goddess of the World. But £35? Thanks, but no thanks. Sarah quietly suggested that when I got to Fort William I could get a free shower at the public swimming pool.
I strolled on, one step at a time, every so often peeping at my pedometer to see how many steps and kilometres separated me from climbing out of my bivvy bag to now.
At Fort William I celebrated with a hot shower and dinner at an Italian restaurant, choosing pasta to prepare me for my assault on Ben Nevis, Britain’s highest mountain at 1,344m (4,406 feet). In Nepal this wouldn’t be high enough to warrant a name, and definitely wouldn’t be considered a mountain, but it is not to be underestimated and has claimed many lives.
My friends Jonathan Caddy and John Willoner had insisted that I shouldn’t go up via the usual tourist route, which is like going to the beach without seeing the sea, and little more than a dull trudge.
The weather was fantastic, which is very rare, and I ignore the Tourist office’s entreaty not to peel off on the route to the North Face with it’s high and sheer cliffs. What an awesome approach this turned out to be, with only two others in sight as we clambered over a seemingly vertical boulder field to reach the summit of Carn Mor Dearg, one of Scotland’s top 10 highest at 1,220 metres (4,003 feet).
Many a time my heart was in my mouth and looking across a narrow ridge to Ben Nevis I felt insignificant and very mortal in the company of this forbidding magnificence. A couple of hours more and I was there, marvelling at the beauty and scale of this mountain. I felt very privileged to be there on a perfect day with breathtaking panoramic views in every direction. Wow!
Taking the normal tourist route down I had to agree that this did little credit to a great mountain and paled beside the grandeur of the approach from the North Face.
In kilometres this was my shortest walking day at just 25km (15 miles) but it had taken more than 10 hours! Yay!