“Tomorrow’s another day”. Is that what I said?? Yes, it certainly was a different day, with a huge storm having blown in overnight. After yesterday’s calm and dry weather, today was torrential rain and gale force winds! I’m not sure I got enough sleep last night though to really make a clear distinction about when yesterday finished and today began. At least the midges were definitely gone!
The rain started about 10pm last night and the wind shortly after. Unfortunately the wind had swung around so was coming from the west, straight up the loch (Lochanan Dubha) and broadside onto my tent. Given that I hadn’t done a very good job of pitching it, I was a bit worried. The pegs etc held fine, but I still spent much of the night with my back or legs up against that side of the tent to try to alleviate the pressure on the stitching. The front door was flapping wildly too as the slope meant I hadn’t been able to peg it out taut. I was still dry inside at least!
I did get some, but not heaps, of sleep, and woke at 5:30am (fairly normal), all ready for my lovely 1 hr morning sleep (I’d been finding I got the best sleep just before I got up in the morning). Unfortunately the wind was still howling and there was no way I was getting back to sleep. I also had a potentially big day so decided to just get on with it.
There was a lull in the rain so I packed everything up, but just as I was ready to go outside the rain started again. It was also very very windy. I packed up as much as I could, including unclipping my inner from the poles so I was just sitting under the fly. I sat there, bracing the tent against the wind waiting for the wind to settle and rain to let up. Eventually it did, so I could get out and pack the rest of the tent up as quickly as possible. I was VERY careful not to let anything go (eg tent fly) in the wind!
I headed off but it was already looking grim. There was driving rain, wind and very low clouds so very limited visibility. Also the ground was soaked through and the rivers were flooding. In one patch of particularly driving rain I decided that maybe I’d be sensible and seek shelter rather than standing out in it. I found a little creek gully on the edge of the road and went and stood in there under the trees. It was dry and quite sheltered. . . . but then I got attacked by midges again!! I decided I preferred the rain and started walking again!
I got to the Stac Pollaidh track and came up with a plan. The track does a circular loop of the hill with the path to the summit on the far side. If I was heading to Suilven, as planned, I would also be leaving from the far side. I would walk around the track and if the weather looked OK by the time I got to the other side I would push on. If not, I would walk back out along the road and call Scott to bail out from the A835 (there was no phone reception out here).
The track was OK, but very wet (think first test hike, Bibulmun Track style wet, with the track turning into a river). The cloud cover was at about 200m (based on where I was at on the track when I stopped being able to see anything). Stac Pollaidh was pretty cool still – there were huge rocks looming out of nowhere! I got to the flat before the summit (before having to climb around and over a bunch of spires) and decided that it would be stupid (and dangerous) to go any further. It was VERY windy and there was no visibility.
I came back down to the circular track and decided to bail out. If not, I had over 30km of off-track cross-country walking including 2 big river crossings. The ground was sodden, the rivers in spate (flooding) and the fog would’ve reduced my navigation to compass only (no landmarks). Plus, I was already wet (not soaked, my waterproofs were holding up, but definitely damp), tired and there were still bugs out. I also didn’t know if the weather would let up any time soon.
If I think about all the planning that went into this . . . 3 months, just to bail out on day 2, . . . . I feel like I should be more disappointed about it. However, I always said that the purpose of this trip was to enjoy myself, not to prove anything or achieve anything. I may’ve been able to keep going, but I would’ve been pretty miserable a lot of the time. Also, there were safety issues (river crossings, cold/exposure and navigation in fog) and I would be off road so, even if I could get phone signal, it would probably take a helicopter to get me out. I wasn’t prepared to be “that person”. So, I felt bad about making Scott come and get me, and a little disappointed, but all-in-all, pretty happy with my decision.
I started walking back towards the main road, trying to hitch a ride. Despite quite a few cars going past, nobody stopped to give me a lift! Given that one of my original exit strategies had been to hitchhike back to civilisation, I’m glad now that I had Scott as a support crew! Eventually, about half way along, a lovely young couple from the Lakes District stopped and gave me a lift. They had been up here kayaking and were on their way home. This meant that they were turning south on the A835 so I got them to drop me on the corner and thanked them profusely. On the way out, my decision to bail out was supported when we crossed the Allt Liathdoire which had been a babbling brook yesterday and was now a raging torrent!
I called Scott and he said he’d come as soon as possible and get me. He was about 2 hours away, so I walked as far as I could up the road towards him (that two hours walking probably saved him a whole 10 minutes of driving!) The road walk was not too bad. It was reasonably quiet and the weather had settled a bit. Actually, it looked like it started to clear as soon as I decided to bail out! It was still very low cloud though and looked pretty grim towards the coast. I got as far as Elphin, where Scott picked me up and took me back to Durness.
For now it was time to rest and recover – tomorrow I’d have to start working out what I was going to do from here.