"You don't have to be a theologian to see that in our cushioned world, a little bit of physical discomfort isn't necessarily a bad thing. Dawn is fine from between two boulders at the top of kirk fell; but better by far when the new sun is not just brightness to the eye but also the drying out of the sleeping bag after a night of shivering misery. And the day when you park at Pen-y-Pas, walk gently up Glyder Fawr without any blisters, and eat a sandwich in the sun-this is not the day that burns afterwards in the memory."
Toddy mailed to say he was getting religion. I reached for my copy. One of the better aspects of turning forty, at least in my case, has been the onset of forgetfulness. I can now read books a second time and not quite know what's coming. My wife dislikes Ronald Turnbull's The Book of the Bivvy. Not because of it's content but rather because she's had to sit and listen to me chuckle as a read it. Twice. It's a great book, Quirky, but great. Turnbull's writing resonates with me. Retrospective delight in discomfort and misery is a recurring theme I can somehow relate to. On Tuesday I'm heading off to Scotland to get me some of that. In what is surely the holiest of scriptures to those who follow the cult of the bag, my trip appears to have been prophesied:
"There's no better way of walking eastwards than off Ben Nevis over all the Grey Corries"
R. Turnbull (after I Waller)
Corrour to Fort-William via the Grey Corries, The Aonachs, Carn Mor Dearg and Ben Nevis. That's the plan. Not an epic (wouldn't dare claim it was an epic even if it was, some folk take a very dim view of that sort of thing you know) but an old standard. All being well, Tuesday afternoon will see me stepping out of the train at Corrour, and the evening of the same day setting up at the eastern end of what's billed as one of the finest high level routes in Scotland. In Scotland and therefore in the UK. After years of running my finger over the cartographers representation I'm now going to walk the real thing. For two days and nights, weather and legs permitting, I'll ride the dragons back, fuelled by thoughts of pies and warm beer, all the way to the glitz of Britains self-proclaimed outdoor capital. The Glasgow train train stops at Corrour and also at Fort William making a linear route possible. I like linear routes. There's something fine about heading somewhere rather than walking around a bit. A nobler goal? More travel than tourism? You'll notice that we're heading in the opposite direction to the quote. I guess if it's good West to East it's good East to West to and I like the idea of walking out of the wilds and towards the showers, bunks, hot food and beer that are all to be had at the Nevis Inn. Besides, this way Ben Nevis, visibility permitting, will be in my sights the whole way.
"When it's too wet for the bag, the bothy: when the bothy's burnt down, back into the bag"
In a bivvy bag you're never far from wet. In a bivvy bag in Scotland closer still. Bag alone isn't an option. Down sleeping bags and wet don't mix and, given that I get out so little, I'd prefer to postpone bailing out to the very last. Holding the wet at arms length with a sheet of spinnaker is a better tactic by far. I like the bivvy tarp combo. Bivvy when it's fine. Pitch the tarp when its not. Somewhere to cook, shelter enough to get out of wet clothes and into the bag dry. Shelter minimalist enough to maintain the illusion. Bivvying with a safety net. If it really goes wrong then bail out. This time out Glen Nevis, with a cluster of bothies at it's eastern end and Fort William at the other, provides the low level alternative.
"When I set out over the hills of Southern Scotland, I was chasing a record of Colin Donnelly. Donnelly is one of the fastest hill men in Scotland and roughly twice as fast as me. Each day he ran - very fast - from 9am till 5pm. Each day I ran - rather slowly - from 5am till 9pm and I ended up two days ahead. You don't go far by going fast. Going fast just gets your tired. You go far by going for a long time."
The route isn't that long. In total 40km with around 2600m of ascent and 3000m of descent. For the very fit and determined doable in a day? For many I think, doable in two? For a couple of desk bound forty some-thingss though, after the easy 14km walk in from Corrour what'ss left is two big hill days. We'll be going slowly, stopping to refuel and using the long Scottish Summer evenings cover a few kilometres more before laying down to sleep. Slowly, not because it delivers tactical advantage but because we've no choice. It's nice to to know however, that what we are forced to do is the right thing to do.
"A sack below 14kg is the one luxury that matters"
If a pack weighing less than 14kg is a luxury then one under 10kg must be bordering on hedonistic. For a trip of this duration, demanding just three days and nights worth of food, I'm expecting to be starting out with under 10kg on my back. For me 10kg is a magic boundary under which the weight I'm carrying doesn't seem to matter any more. The Golite Jam, carries well enough at these low weights and will get a run out because I like the low weight, the bag and the big front pocket. In it will be an MLD Grace Du, MLD event Alpine Bivvy and for once a cannister top gas burner (the Go Systems Fly Ti). They say a kilogram saved of the feet is worth five in the bag. It's been a couple of decades since I wore anything other than boots on a hill. This time the Hanwags will stay in the garage and instead I'll be wearing Inov8 Roclites. Trail shoes of sorts: Roclite 288's or in other words trail shoes masquerading as boots. Whatever you call them they shave just shy of 900g off the weight on my feet. At a 5:1 advantage that should make a difference. I let you know how it goes.
"It's not what you eat it's where you eat it"
R. TurnbullI like my food. Much better is if it's both what you eat AND where you eat it. How about a spicy chicken Jalfrezi to go with that hill top view of the sunset? Anything's possible in this day and age. Just-add-water freeze dried food, once a necessary evil to keep the pack weight down, has got much, much better. So much so that I'm inclined use it even on these relatively short trips where the weight saving isn't so critical. The man from Fuizion has made another delivery to the low lands.
"It's about the charms of dispossession, about having a lovely light rucksack during the day and an austere and funless evening"
That sums it up really. The light pack and lack of clutter and distraction should help me focus on the landscape and enhance the joy of moving through some wonderful country. The relative difference between day time fun and evening austerity as well as the absolute measure of both will depend largely on the weather card we get dealt. Right now, in the period when the forecasts cross the line between pure fantasy and just inaccurate, it's all looking decidedly Scottish! At least the evenings will be spent in good company.