As the train pulls away the realisation that it's started pulls into the space between my ears. One day I'll stand and watch as a float plane shrinks to a dot and disappears, listen as the angry buzz of its engine fades away to silence, and learn how it feels to be alone, small, vulnerable and exposed in a true wilderness. Today, I watch the dirty yellow and blue of the Mallaig train chatter off along the line, the stinking diesel cloud drift away on the breeze and a mix of tourists and hill folk disperse. Most turn right heading, presumably, for the station cafe or the hostel along the way at Loch Ossian. Two chaps, one with the biggest pack I've ever seen, one in shorts carrying a tiny day pack and clearly built of sterner stuff, walk off the platform and turn left. There'll be no wilderness for me today. But, when I follow and make that left turn, I'll be taking the first step into some fine wild country. It feels good to be back!
Start as you mean to go on I always say. As soon as we've left the platform we pause for lunch. By my reckoning we need to cover just shy of fifteen kilometres before bedtime, but, although it's already afternoon, this being Scotland in July, we've got daylight to burn. Besides, I need to de-flight my rucksack and shared gear needs to be divvied up. A multifunctional lunch stop. Sausage and sorting stuff.
South of West, standing proud, is Leum Uilleim. Townsend says it's the best reason to come to Corrour. It'd be easy enough to to put a match under the plan head on over it's top and keep going West. That way lie the Mamores. That way lies another whole range I've been visiting in my head since I bought my first OS map of this place. As we head off according to plan I bury the thought. We follow the line a while. A little up and a little down. Movement enough to warm up, stretch travel-weary legs and find a rhythm. For a while it's wet underfoot and there's much dancing around trying to find a dry line through bog. A kilometre or more in it gets drier until finally we find ourselves on a better well prepared path. This one takes us down to Loch Trieg, around its South Western end , past the dire warnings of the Scottish rights of way society and onto the Creaguiaineach lodge from whence begins the climb up the ever so gentle incline into the Lairig Lecach.
It's a gentle start. We shamble along next to a slow moving Allt na Lairige across grazed grass under scattered, small oaks. Chewing the fat. Catching up. Swapping news. The weather is holding. Grey cloud is rolling up behind but here and now it's fine. We break, sitting on packs to drink and snack. Off again, the path narrows, the ground underfoot gets rougher and the grazing meaner. As we climb the cloud moves down to meet us and as we pass the knobbly tops of the Mealls we're ducking under a low ceiling.
We cut off early. Aiming across the slope to cut the corner and hit the Allt a Chuil Choirean with a couple of hundred meters under our belt but as we climb the Bothy swings into view. We've come further than I'd thought. I need to pay more attention. Stop bending the ground to fit where I'd like to be on the map. Brush the rust of my navigation skills. Still, if I'm going to make mistakes then sooner now than on the days to come.
We climb more steeply on the south side of the stream. The path runs on the North side but it's good to be on the wrong side, picking our own untrodden route. The climb takes us up a series of short, sharp slopes and across flat wet terraces. The mass of Stob Ban is slowly swinging into view but my focus is down not up.
Determined to get fit for this trip I'd been running. Instead of getting fit I got injured. Too much too soon? Too little too late? Too much too late? Whatever. For the last two weeks I've been limping through the days and resting in the evenings. Cold packs, hot packs, foot up on a cushion. As we climb this hill I'm getting the measure of things half expecting my achilles to go pop and having to back track and spend a night in the bothy and then catch the train home. But it doesn't and I keep climbing.
Turning North, showing our backs to the scree strewn slope of Stob Ban and our faces to the first climb of tomorrow, we cross the saddle looking for the lochan, looking for what the map suggests will be a fine bivvy. Quartzite slabs and outcrops decorate the way. As do pools of standing water. Level and dry appear to be mutually exclusive terms on this here hill. Zig-zagging we find nowhere suitable before we reach the lochan and the inviting green swath on the shores of the lochan, on close inspection, is saturated. A forrest of green stalks growing through mirror glass.
What to do? By now, there's a chill wind and it's carrying rain. Things always seem better on a full stomach so we decide to avoid the decision and set about filling the two we've brought with us. We find a spot under a high bluff, out of the wind, complete with a table sized flat slab, pull on waterproofs, tops and bottoms, confirm that Iain's cannisters fit my stove, and boil up water for a dinner and a brew.
We eat, in light rain, but nevertheless eat well and, each having assumed the other would have tea bags, wash it down with a mug of hot water. Only then do we consider options. We could carry on, use up some of tomorrows route looking for drier ground higher on the hill, but we'll have to carry water and I guess that'll expose us to more wind and soon enough bring us into the cloud carrying this rain. Deciding to take a last look I double back, climb around the bluff and scour the saddle looking for a bed. Ten minutes of to and fro turns up a a patch of gently sloping grass, big enough for two, behind a rock step that'll serve well to block one end of the tarp. We set up, crawl under a low pitch, and settle down for a long, wet night.