Waking up dry, warm and able to stand as I sort my kit is a luxury I’ll never take for granted. That and being able to turn on a faucet for water.
The mist is down today and I’m so glad we had such a great day yesterday. Sure, it rained, but there were clear spells with gorgeous light in full sun. Today, the Munros are in cloud.
We sit in chairs for breakfast and are warned by the English couple the seven miles to Kinloch Hourn is tough, even if it only follows the loch around. And making matters worse, the end has no bothy and the B&B is sold out. There is a café (usually called simply ‘kaf’) at the end, but it’s shut more often than open.
We bundle up in waterproofs and a good attitude as rain comes down already. It’s easy on a road past wetlands and seaweed/filled beach. You should see the Isle of Skye on a clear day, but we’re lucky to see the ridges close by.
Soon we leave this road and head right up on the head. The trail is clear if rocky and wet, but I splash through most everything at this point, my double socks glistening with bits of sand and shiny grit. So far, the strategy of a polyester compression sock with running socks over it is working, keeping chafing at bay.
We’re now an unlikely trio, though we seem to move at about the same pace. The bump in my head has receded, likely because it was my metal cup that broke the fall and I only suffered a glancing blow. But my hand is stiff and might have come down hard in the fall too.
We’re told this section will take four hours and right away Ted wants to know the terrain. I tell him it’s three big climbs and five small. The trail is obvious and the rain stops enough for us to see the shape of the loch and the mountains holding it in tightly.
Houses appear along the way, some with a motorboat anchored nearby. It’s lonely here, yet surprisingly lovely. Bracken ferns are everywhere, mostly brown now and curling at the edges. Ted walks ahead and is swallowed whole in one overachieving tunnel.
Trees with bright red berries are the brightest bit aside from Ian’s blue jacket. A pine with spreading branches out of Dr. Seuss creates an arch to walk through.
It’s not a day for rainbows, but the rain abates when we hit the first of the climbs. It’s only 100 feet or so up, and the trail is easy going. But down is another story, the path like a trench where rain water logically collects. We all take care after yesterday’s wipe out, some of the steps huge from rock to muddy bit and then grass under a few inches of water. At a wooden bridge, Ian slips as if on ice and nearly loses his balance.
Someone has cared for this trail and built rock supports so the trail won’t erode into the loch. At one bay, a cormorant swims past, an eye warily trained on us before he dives under.
What I think is the second rise but actually is the third, takes us higher still with a view to cliffs and two birds – hawks, eagles, buzzards? – soaring above. I plod through puddles, but nothing is very deep like yesterday.
We cross several burns, raging now from the recent rains but not dangerous. The sheer quantity of water is hard to imagine – in the loch, crashing off the cliffs and spitting on us from above. A couple comes the other way happy to be out on a day walk and he comments that it’s mild today. Very, very wet, but I see his point since it isn’t cold.
The path hugs the shoreline, going up at an angle on rock. It’s tough all wet and wearing a pack, but we manage to shimmy up, Ian giving Ted a hand with his trekking pole.
I’m happy I was wrong that we don’t climb another head but rather enter a rhododendron tunnel, bright green and damp. But it’s the final challenge before we’re let out on a road. I see buildings and charge ahead, hungry for real food and starting to feel soaked through.
Ian is skeptical, certain we’ll be disappointed, while I hope they’ve had a cancellation and we’ll get a room. A man is sitting inside when we arrive, the rain pouring down now. He tells us they’re closed.
Ted steps forward, replying how he phoned and is disappointed. The man’s wife appears to tell us her mother has died. I fear Ted might sound scolding so butt in to say how sorry we are, and that I’ve come from America and heard such lovely things about their cafe (actually a tea room)
The woman is furious and snaps at me that she didn’t bank on her mother dying. Oh dear. I had no idea I was being offensive. I apologize and step back into the drenching rain.
That’s when Ted makes himself look old and suffering (at least that’s what he told me later) and they invite us in, but not without leaving our rucksacks, shoes and waterproofs in a store room and coming inside wearing borrowed crocks.
By the time we sit down, cheese sandwiches are made, hot coffee is steeping and three large slices of chocolate cake arrive. We’re warm and dry, well fed and well watered too after we order three pints. But the stay is short-lived and we’re shooed out to make room for the guests – a group of geologists.
There’s a faucet in the courtyard to fill up and we wander across the bridge to a grassy patch with a pay box to camp. I find the patches without puddles and we wait for a brief clearing to set. The poles are bent and one side sags, but I soon fix it my shoving my trekking pole in place to keep the rain fly off the inner bug net.
Mossies cluster so it’s quickly in, each of is with our own door and vestibule to store our packs and shoes. The floor is damp, but on the thermarest it’s dry. It’s a huge space, big enough to stow all the wet gear.
The rain comes in spurts followed by short spells of clear sky. The river is loud and a few gusts keep things cool. I imagine it will be dry enough and warm enough here, but is tomorrow’s hike even possible? The road out winds a slow 22 miles, and the trail ahead is a rough and messy 12 or so to a B&B with two tough river crossings in the middle.
All that can be done now is prepare for an early start and decide in the morning whether to continue. What an adventure!