|We may have the end in our sights, but the mental toughness required for this challenge doesn’t seem to be abating! We drove up the night before and slept in “our” now familiar Garve car park (electricity and indoor plumbing, oh my!) after the now obligatory pre-Munro pizzas at home. We stayed up a bit later than planned, glued to the car radio listening to the tragic news of the helicopter crash into the Clutha Pub in Glasgow. This shocking event certainly put into perspective how fortunate we are on a daily basis.After a too-short night sleeping in the car, we pressed the snooze button more than a few times until Jamie managed to drag them both from sleep. We drove round to the car park on the south side of Loch Maree. Kayaks in and we paddled across the approximately 500 metres to the shores on the other side. We’d taken the decision to paddle just in our hiking clothes and carry spares, on the off chance that one of us went in the drink. This meant we weren’t quite as fafftastic as usual; only shoes to change and we were on our way.
A brief bash through gorse and we picked up a well-worn trail that would eventually lead to Shenivall Bothy if we’d been interested in heading back to it. Rather, we diverted off the trail and headed up from the east, hitting the snow line around 800 metres but soft enough that it didn’t pose us any difficulty. The cloud was also around this elevation and we had long since left anything remotely resembling a trail so some navigation was required. As we neared the summit we saw two other hillwalkers approaching, going in the opposite direction around this horseshoe route. I think they were a bit perplexed when we told them that we’d set off two hours later than they had, which just goes to show the time we saved by our 10-minute paddle earlier.
We descended Slioch from the southeast ridge, then took a direct line aiming for the kayaks. This was much steeper and slower going than Jamie might have liked, but we got back to the boats for another 10-minute paddle back to the car, this time with much stronger wind than on the way out. Back to the car by 3:15 with a quick loading of the boats onto the roof before setting off for Number 2 of the day.
En route we realised we wouldn’t have enough fuel to get us back to Inverness later so a little detour to Contin before heading to the car park at the weather station at Loch Glascarnoch. We arrived at 5:00 pm, when it was officially very dark out! The car was shaking with the wind and it was no secret that the route up and down this Munro includes a river crossing that comes with its own health and safety warning (every route description we saw comments on saving this crossing for a dry day, which wasn’t exactly what we were venturing out in!). Andy made the astute comment: “We’ve done some really stupid things this year but this is definitely up there with the stupidest.” We decided to venture at least as far as the river and re-evaluate plans from there. It was pretty clear that if his had been any earlier in the Challenge beyond a shadow of a doubt we would have cut our losses and headed home without even making a start, but with only a few more potential hiking days between now and the date we’ve set to finish – not to mention the crazy amount we’ve spent on fuel driving to the far northwest reaches of the country – we decided to at least give it a go.
On arriving to the river Andy was feeling pretty confident, stripping down to his skivvies and donning the wetsuit booties in an attempt to be dry while walking for the duration of the night. He plowed ahead and wasn’t particularly interested in waiting for Jamie to sort out the camera settings to get a shot of him crossing the river; he was standing in his underwear in below freezing weather after all! Jamie’s feet were already soaked from the earlier walking due to her now holey boots. She made a lazy attempt at concocting trouser-protectors out of bin bags but the current was so strong they didn’t stand a chance. We both made it safely across the waist-deep water; poles were a necessity as the rocks beneath were incredibly slippery!
From the other side the going got tough as it got really, really windy. It was obviously already dark before we’d even stepped foot from the car but to add to that was a bitterly cold and constantly strong wind that occasionally threatened to take Jamie clean off her feet. The summit was not the easiest to find in these conditions as it’s a bit of a plateau and our headtorches served only to illuminate the rain and mist rather than shed light on anything like a cairn but we got there with Andy’s fab navigating – just long enough for a super quick bite to eat and a quick dash back down to get out of the wind. There’s not much in the way of shelter atop this one so we weren’t lingering for long. The descent was motivating in that the wind began to ease off eventually and before we knew it we were back at the infamous river crossing. At least this time we knew what to expect and we only had another kilometre to go before we would be back at the car. So, with that in mind, there was no hesitating this time around and we went full steam ahead through the still-waist deep water. The last section always seems to take longer than you remember on the way out, but that may also have been because it was approaching 10:00 p.m.! Back to the car for a speedy turnover of clothing and stuffing of leftover pizza down our faces before driving home; the shared drive got us back to the house at 2:00 a.m. As our luck would have it, the next day seemed graced but beautiful sunshine, but Andy was working so was at least able to enjoy some time outdoors, being reminded that it is possible to be outside here without being blown away!