Mountain climbing as a pursuit appeals primarily to the very cautious and the very stupid, or ideally some imprecise combination of the two. We buy special pants, shirts, boots, and coats, and use it to climb into snowstorms and across fell lands, into places where if we were to fall and break a limb no one would find us for days. Whatever we might ascend to see, we mostly spend our time looking at the mountain itself. And we willingly do it over and over again. – Robert Rubsam
It started with 3 hours sleep and a 24 hour weather forecast of driving rain and plummeting temperatures. We were to head to Kinloch Hourn, dump the car and head out into the miserable, Highland weather into the last wild frontier left in the British Isles.
The Knoydart Peninsula can only be accessed by boat from Inverie, or a gruelling 17 mile hike with nothing in site but the rain rolling in over the munros and one, solitary bothy with the promise to change your sodden socks. The hills here are standard of those in Scotland – carved into glens by glaciers and covered by a higgledy-piggeldy network of dirt tracks that may, or may not, be paths for hikers, sheep or anything else lurking in the Highlands.
We were lucky for three hours. The rain threatened with a spit or two but mostly hid behind the sun, giving us false hope about what was to come next. We stomped by houses and moorings of people who obviously don’t like other people, crossed rivers and twisted ankles. Our final view before the monsoon poured was this. My camera didn’t come out again until we were having breakfast in Inverie.
“See those islands? That’s where the bothy is where we’re going to stop. Not too far!” Said Duncan, an old friend from our ski season days, through the driving rain. We arrived with waterproofs that were no longer waterproof, hands and feet so cold they had turned white and could barely move to undo shoe laces. We needed chocolate and tea and to down a dram or six to deal with what was coming next. All we had was a weary hello from a Scandinavian hiker hoping we weren’t there to stay the night.
With dry socks and the promise of cider and steak only four hours away, we stepped back out in the thundering weather, rapidly depleting light and up the Munro. The weather worsened, our spirits dropped. It would seem that three hours sleep is not enough to sustain a hike of this level. Stop. Go. Stop. Go. We reached the top and knew the view the books promised was there somewhere, but our head torches were only just lighting up the steps in front of us and the rain slicing into our eyes.
It was a long way down. But knowing we were on the home stretch made for longer strides and chirpier conversation. We knew there was hot food, booze and beds waiting for us in the very near future.
After 11 hours, we stamp into The Old Forge at Inverie, order a cider and the biggest, juciest steak on the menu and settle in by the log fire for the night. We were freezing, our whole bodies are battered to the ends of their means. Every part of us wet, scorched with the cold. We were frozen to the core and not even sticking our feet in the embers was going to thaw us out.
But we made it in good spirits and high hopes – after all, we’ll always be the same breed of cautious idiots that roam the hills day in and day out, whatever the weather, whatever the cost.