Reverse! Reverse!

It’s good to know that I can still manage an alpine start. We were supposed to leave on Friday, but there was too much barbed wire to cross so we had to wait for the weekend to turn up and throw a plank over the obstacles. I probably should have seen it as an omen.
I met Phil and Sandy at 0600 and once the gear was sorted we headed North in my motor. Nice for a change, I haven’t done much of the driving of late. The road was empty and we made good time through the rain, the cloud never far above us. We passed Buachaille Etive Mor, normally a landmark, today it had the merest hint of pointiness.
We found ourselves pulling over and trying to find somewhere to get breakfast and some supplies before 0800 via Sandy’s iPhone, but as Phil pointed out, Morrisons in Fort William was warm, dry and had available to us; the breakfast of kings.
We dined well, had cuppas, more cuppas and looked over the map (I’be been over to see Harvey’s at their Doune HQ, more of that later).

I needed some food, Sandy was looking at two days in cold, wet feet, so we went shopping. Ellis Brigham is just round the corner so we headed there first. For a chain store it’s actually got some good kit, probably one of the few I could walk into naked, get kitted out and walk back out prepared and happy. Sandy got into the waterproof socks and then the footwear, we spotted some new Keen Targhee Mids (now with a two-year waterproof guarantee, more later) and those new Salomon boots that look like the XA’s.  We looked at them and the three of us immediately remarked on the height of the ankle cuff, it’s almost knee-high, it’s a helluva thing. It looks like Salomon have dropped the ball, and also therefore, it looks like the Fastpackers are going to be as good as it gets from them.
“Yes, but they’ve got great support” Fired in the assistant.
Phil straightened up to stay out of the line of fire, Sandy put his head in his hands quietly muttering “No no no no…”.
“Support? On an ankle? Restriction you mean?” I offered after a little thought as to whether engaging the boy was a good idea as customers were squeezing various boots in their hands mere inches away,
“Yes, you need support, what, are you going to wear trail shoes in the mountains?”.
You can see where it went from there, and ironically the whole conversation took place next to the Fast & Light stand with all the lightweight cross functional gear looming bright green in our peripheral vision.
“There was even a thing in Trail magazine with this guy saying you can wear crampons with trail shoes…”
I paused and thought about how to tackle that one without looking like a dick.
“…yeah, I probably wrote it”. (Feb ’08 Lighter column).
One Achilles tendon cut, he went down onto one knee,
“Yeah, well, what crampons can you use…”
“Kahtoolas, either type, any Kahtoola gear in fact, Grivel’s AirTech Lite’s, they’re bendy enough”.
Now, I’m not saying folk should like, or approve of anything that doesn’t fit with what they personally believe, but the fact that Fort William’s leading technical store doesn’t appear have the product knowledge or awareness necessary to give cutomers the full picture is really bloody annoying.
There’s still a battle to be fought here, folk need to be armed with all the options before they chose. Maybe I’ve gotten complacent in recent times, but that visit to EB’s has lit a fire under my arse.

We laughed all the way to Nevisport and soon enough we were back at the motor; Sandy with his Keens, Phil with his mini gaiters and me with munchies.
After more driving through the rain we were soon parking up opposite the Cluanie Inn. We stood around the open tailgate door changing footwear, tweaking the packed kit and finally donning waterproof trousers. All the time the rain changed from light to heavy to sleet to wind blown sleet. By the time we left the motor we were wet, our packs were wet and there was none of the excitement that usualy accompanies setting off. There wasn’t even a grim determination, there was maybe just an air of inevitability. We were there for fun, but also for a reason, I had to photograph the route.
It was too wet to take the camera out, never mind see any hills to take shots of. The track into Glen Affric was a shallow burn, water running past us like the contents of a burst attic storage tank exploding through the ceiling and gushing down the stairs. We were camping, taking in the grandest of mountains, crossing swollen rivers.
We stood at a high point on the track and blinked through the freezing rain down the length of An Coarann Mor. Indistinct shapes rose steeply at either side into a blanket of grey. Misery, pointless misery.
Even if we went in, I’d still have to come back and do it again when it was clear. To climb the fantastic hills we were heading to in this weather is a waste, and none of us had the heart for it.
To quote myself “We folded like a damp cardbord box under the weight of a falling wino”.

We stumbled back to the Cluanie, relieved, disappointed and wet. Heading South there were some gaps in the rain and after telling tales of the Mile Dorcha which we passed on the other side of Loch Lochy on the way up, we decided to take a detour and see it. It’s a stretch of the road to Loch Arkaig in a steep sided glen which never gets direct sunlight and consequently is covered thickly in a spongy moss. It’s a wonderful spot and we pulled up at the Eas Chia-aig waterfall at its end, raging with fresh water and snow melt.
Taking advantage of the lighter rainfall we set up the stoves at the picnic bench and had dinner. This was punctuated by Sandy repeatedly burning his hands on his cooking gear, I still didn’t get the “why” of this, but the “how” was most amusing.

The bridge is famous as the stand-in for the Bridge of Orchy in Rob Roy with Liam Neeson, it’s where the redcoats tried to hang Rob Roy and he showed them a clean pair of heels and a bare arse.
The road back to Fort William from here is a joy, on the North side of the Caledonian Canal and devoid of traffic. It takes you back into the usual nonsense at Banavie, where on many other days we would have had a stunning view of Ben Nevis & Co, but not today.
Ft Bill was left behind and over Glen Coe the cloud lifted just enough for us to be persuaded to stop and point cameras at it. It was nice to see it looking a bit brooding, a bit unfriendly, it’s a wonderful place that suffers from accessibilty and familiarity. They should divert the road, or put it through a tunnel or something.
Our hearts sang as we pulled into the Real Food Cafe. Pints of coffee and bit of cake made for an ideal pitstop. Sarah filled us in about what’s happening as well, you’ll notice some building work going on when you’re in, it’s being extended and there’ll be new lower seats in a new area, and even leather seats by a fireplace. We’ll fight about who gets those later.

Holly had gone to her bed by the time I got home, and Joycee was pleased if a little surprised to see me back so soon.
An odd day, plans are for the birds and this proves it. Still, I was hanging out with my chinas, I saw the buds starting to open on the branches, flowers bursting through the winter carpet, we were chased up the A82 by a rainbow, we ate and drank plenty and drove nearly 300miles through the Highlands.
That has to be some sort of victory?

Aye, and I’ve got to get back up there. And soon.

17 thoughts on “Reverse! Reverse!

  1. Ahhh, we should never underestimate the importance of eating, surely this is the real reason we do this kind of thing, to justify fry-ups and cake.

    Despite your experience above my own weekend disproved the myth of the Five P’s (Prior Planning Precedes Plentiful Precipitation) I managed to plan AND get wall-to-wall sunshine.

    Or was it a case of the exception that proves the rule?

  2. One of the many great things about Scotland is that there’s so much stuff to see from the road*, on your way to the hills. Aye, it’s all very atmospheric, walking in the rain but it’s no substitute for being able to actually see the landscape that you’re in.

    You should’ve gone mid-week :o)

    *Not every road, obviously.

  3. Love the photo of the dining table! Must be half a years salary worth of gear per man just to go for a picnic :-) Can’t knock it though, multifunctionality is a good lightweight principal afterall. It’s supposed to be fun and it looks like you guys had some.

  4. “There was even a thing in Trail magazine with this guy saying you can wear crampons with trail shoes…”…….

    PTC strode across to the impudent youth, resplendent in his pertex cape and eVent spats,prodding him in the chest with his 55cm carbon fibre cane, “DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM ?” he thundered.

    Ha,sorry.Made me chuckle that.Wish i was a fly on the wall there.The targhees sound interesting.

  5. Aye, the Targhees were good. Although not the full trip, they got several kilometers straight out the box no prob and I even wore them home. I’ll do a full review when I’ve got some miles on em.

    The bloke in EB’s obviously didnt know that you’re only supposed to pick fights you can win! Mind you I’m still sniggring everytime I think about it ;-)

  6. Ach aye, not a bad day really. We were over-equipped for dinner that’s for sure :o)

    The EB thing was funny, what were the chances of those circumstances all lining up?
    Fort William really needs West Coast back, or another independant store.

  7. It’s heartening to know you got much the same weather as we did the other week up in that neck of the woods! ;O)

    It didn’t know if it was winter or summer this weekend in N. Wales – t-shirts on the hill one minute, down jackets the next. And definitely sub-zero overnight Saturday, a crqcking frost on the tents in the morning.

    “Yes, you need support, what, are you going to wear trail shoes in the mountains?”.
    Fantastic!! :)))
    Well I did Tryfan North Ridge and Crib Goch in mine this weekend, and lived! Actually you could hear the rubber of the 5.10 Camp Fours unsticking itself from the rock at each step :))
    The guy in the Keen Targhee Mids really struggled though – death-soles to rival Merrells, no grip on the rock at all. Be warned!!

    Btw, we needed an Alpine start on Sunday just to get a space in the Pen y Pass carpark :O)

  8. Pity the weather put paid to the weekend plans but glad you had some fun anyway

    Sounds like you had fun too Matt :-)

    I’ve worn my Keens most of the winter but haven’t had any issues in fact they are so comfy. Doubt I’ll be trying them on rocky stuff as we’re getting back to the shoes & waterproof sock time again so the CTC’s will be back on though I am tempted by a pair of the Camp 4’s

    I thought I’d be able to get out to play this week but it looks like the weather may put paid to my plans too :-(

  9. I loved my Targhees but they went back,to EB ironically,last year sometime when they leaked almost immediately,so i’m interested to hear of this 2yr guarantee,Keen seem to acknowledge they had a bad rep with this shoe to be offering that sort of promise. I’ll watch for more…

  10. I’ve been watching the forecast. Glen Affric may be approached by boat from Cluanie if this keeps up.

    The Keen’s soles are great until they’re not, there’s no grey area in there. Once you know the breaking point of the grip you adjut fir it, you only need to go tits up on a wet rock once…
    I do like them though, I hope the waterproofing is sorted.

    Matt with his t-shirts and frost, Harrumph :o)

  11. “Glen Affric may be approached by boat from Cluanie if this keeps up.”

    Good opportunity. Trail’s stock ‘up Loch Quoich by kayak’ photos have been flogged to death!

  12. adi, it’s “KeenDri” which is probably Entrant DT. I have the original Targhee Mids with an Entrant liner and they’re still waterproof after many hundreds of miles. Hopefully the olf liner with the new grippier sole unit will be the combination of ultimate happiness.

    David, that boat comment seems to be prophetic, I heard when I was out that there’s been some roads affected by landslips up north, I’m away to find out more…

  13. Anyone had experience of the “Targhee stink”? My (entrant) pair were a revelation on a fortnight’s wander around the Lakes last spring. I’d never known such comfort & the grip wasn’t too bad but after 3 days I realised the shimmering landscape wasn’t heat haze (it wasn’t even hot) but the eye-watering stench rising from the boots. Still it was great for keeping folk at bay ensuring a true wilderness experience so rare in the Lakes…..
    Seriously though, any tips? I don’t have this problem with any other hill footwear & have tried everything short of boiling them. I’m seriously considering binning them even though they have plenty of life left. I’d risk another pair if I had any confidence that the new liner material was the answer.

  14. Aye, a few folk have brought that up. I must admit that my old pair did have a strage aroma compared to other footwear.
    The eVent ones didn’t seem to have it, I’ll see how the news ones do. The test pair they sent are away back for exchange, wrong size. Ach!

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