.............not all those that wander are lost..............

Monday, 21 May 2012

Running on empty.............

There was a slight hint that things might not go as planned - my Neoair burst and deflated, leaving me trying to sleep on Louise's lounge floor......I replaced it on Thursday morning in Inverness before we caught the train to our start points. I bought a Vango Ultralite self-inflating mat - thankfully it is quite comfortable and seems much tougher than the blow-up neoair - also much cheaper!

This is not going to be an account of the few days of Challenge 2012 which I managed to complete but more a reflection of why it all went so badly wrong and why I was very relieved to find myself on the bus home late on Tuesday afternoon......

After the sleeping mat incident things settled and I enjoyed the first couple of days walking to Kinloch Hourn and beyond. The Granite Gear rucksack was exceptionally comfortable to carry and didn't seem too heavy. I didn't miss a top pocket as the OMM chest-pouch was a great substitute. It enabled me to access my small bits and bobs without having to take off my rucksack. The Keen boots were grippy, comfortable and supportive.

The ground was wet, well, saturated, with water standing in pools everywhere and any burns I had to cross were full and fast. A dry wild camp site proved difficult to find on the first night so I eventually went with two other Challengers right down to Kinloch Hourn and camped in late evening sunshine just before the bridge, this made my day a lot longer than I had planned.

I stopped short on the second evening, realising that a crossing of the River Loyne might just be too difficult for me on my own. The sky seemed dark and threatening, with occasional squally showers. A passing Challenger told me the weather forecast - heavy rain and a south-westerly gale, maybe gusting over 80 mph.
The pitch I chose at the old Altbeithe cottage was as sheltered as I could find.

By 5 am all hell was breaking loose - and I spent two hours listening to the wind howling like some pre-historic beast and trying to tear the tent out of the ground. After packing up inside the tent, eating a cold breakfast, there was a lull so I finally went outside, foolishly losing my concentration and the wind succeeded in taking the tent....I'll never forget how it flew up, kite-like, still complete, and was carried over the barbed wire fence and up the hill away from me. There was some very bad language.........................

I haven't run up hill for a long time but fuelled by adrenalin and panic - I set off.  Ploughing upwards through bog, tussocks, dips, mounds and hollows I would almost reach the tent when the wind would take it off again. A last effort found me climbing a waterfall and finding, resting in a small river gorge, my tent, still assembled, waiting for me........

Getting back down, grimly clutching the tent, I was knocked off my feet several times by the gale but finally made it to the house. Three other Challengers had come to meet me, realising what was happening but not being able to see me, and helped me fold the tent and finish packing up. The next few hours we all struggled along the road, fully exposed to the terrible gusts of wind and monsoon-like rain. Even the Paramo gave up, my feet were completely soaked, and I could hardly see through my wet and steamed up glasses. Stopping for food or drink or respite was not an option.

The walking on Monday was hard going. My feet were badly damaged by a day spent walking in water-filled boots. A mistake in my route made it necessary to almost double back to Invergarry leaving me the endless canal-side walk into Fort Augustus. I arrived at 9 pm, foot-sore, and too hungry to eat any supper.

Struggling up the road in the morning, eventually reaching Loch Tarff, being hit in the face by a heavy shower of sleet, hail and snow - I asked myself a simple question. Are you enjoying this? And another, are you looking forward to the next few days' walking?

The answer to both these questions was an emphatic NO!

I went back to Fort Augustus and caught the bus............

Why did this happen? I have thought about it.....

I allowed myself to get too tired...My mental and physical tanks were emptied by the frantic race to retrieve the tent......I made a bad decision about following my route in bad circumstances  despite there being an easier alternative....I didn't eat or drink properly nor rest enough.....I should have stopped before I had to walk the canal tow path and done that the next day....I should have put on my gaiters and waterproof socks before walking in the storm....If I'd carried my bothy-bag could I have sheltered inside it?.......I should have waterproofed the OMM chest-pouch more carefully as everything inside it was soaked through.....I could have sprayed the rucksack too, so that losing the use of the pack cover (it was too windy to keep it on) didn't have such consequences (a wet rucksack is surprisingly heavy!)......and so on.....

I did feel that I was putting myself in danger by carrying on, so, although the decision was hard, I still believe it was wise........



9 comments:

Alan R said...

What a bugger Laura. You did well to have the tent in one piece let alone catching it.
I can tell you that waterproofing the OMM chest pouch solves nothing it will still fill up with water. I did tell Mike Parsons at the time i reviewed it that it was an fantastic piece of kit for backpackers but it needs to be waterproof. He said on the next update that they would see about it. Obviously nothing was done. I am not sure that Mike is still with OMM now.
I use one of those thin elasticated cords on my rucky cover but i admit that i havn’t been in 80mph winds as far as i can recall.
Your safe though Laura and your the important bit of kit.

Laura said...

Thanks for your kind words Alan. Yes, I'm safe and still glad I gave up when I did. Today I've had a great day entertaining passing Challengers with soup and tea and chat! There's always another year and it all goes in the box marked 'experience'!

Geoff Edwards said...

That sounds really tough Laura. What makes us carry on when we know we should stop and get warm and fed. I think us mountaineers are just too stubborn sometimes.

Laura said...

Thanks for your comment Geoff. It's always hard to decide to turn back or not to continue...However, this time good sense prevailed - a couple of days of heavy snow and more wind didn't seem an attractive option!

Louise said...

XX

Gayle said...

What a time you had of it this year! On the bright side, surely the next one has to go better?!

It's just too easy to let the tent blow away, isn't it? I looked up from packing something into my bag on the Pennine Way trip last month to see Mick running after the tent that he'd just unpegged - fortunately, on that occasion it didn't get too far before the lie of the land stopped it.

aroundthehills said...

It sounds like an awful experience, Laura, so I'm glad to hear you're safe (and that you caught your tent!). With hindsight, it is easy to say that "I should have stopped for food", or "I should have changed my clothes", but it's often hard to think that clearly when the weather is sapping every gramme of motivation and common sense out of you! I'm sure you'll be back in fine fettle next year.

Lynsey said...

I'm so sorry you weren't enjoying this year's challenge. I was looking forward to catching up enroute! You will have to get a place on 2014 when I can next do the challenge!

Lynsey

John J said...

You made the right decision for YOU at the right time - I'm just really sorry that this year didn't work out for you.

Thanks ever-so for the lovely lunch though - it really hit the spot!

Lottsa luv,

JJ