Here follows a tale of a trip that did not go to plan, in any way whatsoever. Peter has written it up already in his inimitable style, so if you haven’t already read that, go right ahead and do so. Phil’s done the same, so check that out. I’ll wait here till you get back.
It started in the usual way, I was completely disorganised. I rustled together a vague array of gear from the ever-increasing pile in the garage, bundled it into the car and turned the key. Chug. Chug. Chug. Hmm.
The Hannibal Smith of the whole enterprise had been Gus. He’d rustled a quick trip together as part of his whirlwind tour of the highlands with Lennart Eckberg, the sustainability director from Haglofs who was visiting from Sweden and had a number of speaking engagements. An opportunity to head out on a Sunday night with a clear forecast. Adjustments were hastily made to packed calendars and arrangements were made. It would be Camban bothy.
The wee green car had been sitting idle for a while and much like me, wasn’t prepared to be going anywhere. With a struggle, it finally started. The battery was low but I had three and half hours on the road ahead, that’d give it a big charge for sure.
I opted for the marginally shorter route via Dalwhinnie which gave me the unending joy of the A9, which actually turned out to be a total cruise the whole way. Say what you like about the new average speed cameras, but it’s reduced the nutter quotient on that road substantially.
I popped up through Spean Bridge just as an inversion was forming behind the Commando Memorial, a stream of people in uniform heading down the hill from the just-finished Remembrance Sunday event. I paused briefly to pay my respects and then carried on my way.
The drive through Laggan and into Garry had me popping in and out of the cloud as the rich red of the setting sun bathed the hillsides in alpenglow. The omens were good.
I pulled in at the Morvich Outdoor Centre bang on time, the first one there. It’s not unexpected for Petesy to be late, in fact I’d be disappointed if he wasn’t given that he has a reputation to uphold. I got my kit organised and sent a text out to Gus, to see how far out he was. They’d been delayed at Lochinver and had been late leaving so would be another hour. Peter had been held up by an accident, so he would be extra-late too. Not to worry, I stuck the stove on and got my spag bol on the go. The sun has set and it was starting to frost up on the car roof, so it was time to get the car started again and keep warm.
The battery was either done or the alternator needed the day off as much as I did. Either way, I was going to be stuck until the morning. I updated Gus on my situation and he advised that the road was now shut at Stromeferry and he couldn’t get through to meet us. He’d have to backtrack and head right back over to Garve and round to Cannich on the Affric side, a colossal detour. That also meant a much longer walk in for them, and to further complicate things, they were map-less. Gus and Ian from Gearpest had cycled in from Affric earlier in the day, so they’d be at the bothy already. Phil and Viks were cycling in from Cluanie and would be likewise.We’d now have teams walking in from both sides to meet in the middle.
By the time Petesy’s pick-up hoved into view, I was wrapped up in my down jacket. He didn’t have jump leads, and even if he did, the bonnet catch on the pick up was broken so we couldn’t use them. I’d worry about the car in the morning. Peter did the same decanting thing I’d done a little earlier, turning a random pile of stuff into a packed rucksack. He’d also used the classical method of provisioning, stocking up on pastries, donuts and assorted goodies at the Co-op in Ballachulish. Bothying rucksacks are heavier than the norm, the lack of tent more than accounted for by bottles of booze and additional scran. The weight was noticeable and my knee was the concern. Would it hold out on a 12km hike with a heavy bag? Only one way to find out.
We were ready to roll and moon popped up over Ben Attow just in time to welcome us to Gleann Lichd. Or Glen Licht. It depends which map you use. Either way, it was somewhere I’d never been before. The banter flowed as we crunched and puddle-dodged our way up the glen, the moon highlighting the dark skyline of the five sisters.
Walking at night is a wonderful thing, however it does have an amplification effect. When your world is reduced to a pool of torchlight, each km seems a little longer and the hills a little steeper. As we traversed above the waterfall, the lateness of the hour and weight of the packs started to catch us, and we began to look for a light in the distance. What we saw was Mars, rising over the shoulder of Ciste Dhubh, but there was no light in the window of a bothy. Ice had started to form on the rocks, so we had to take a little more care and that extended the final few klicks even more. Finally a black triangle appeared, darker than the other dark around it. We had arrived.
Gus and Ian had the fire going and were well into a bottle of Dalwhinnie. Phil and Viks were in their sleeping bags, they had to abandon their bikes in the massive boggy section on the way in from Cluanie and would have an alpine start to get back out. There was a fella in the adjoining room on his own, clearly feeling less sociable. We left him to it.
Our thoughts turned to Gus and Lennart, they would be slogging in from Affric with no map. The other Gus and Ian volunteered to go and track them down at Alltbeithe. We settled in and got some food and drink going.
Refreshed and warmed, Peter and I headed out for some photos. It was a gorgeous moonlit evening, frosty and clear; the kind of night that no camera can capture the feel of properly. We snapped away for a while, then headed down the track towards the youth hostel, forming a search party for the search party. Soon, four lights approached along with some weary but cheery travellers. We all sauntered back to bothy in good spirits. It was a little after 2am.
Some soup was rustled up and Lennart and the Gearpest boys hit the hay. Gus, Peter and I sat up by the fire for a while, with red wine and whisky and giggled like schoolboys and tried not to wake everyone else up. By 4am, we were ready to retire.
It wasn’t long after we’d got into our bags than Phil’s alarm went off. Ouch. They did a good job of heading out without a racket and I felt sorry for them having to head off at such a time to bog trot back to their bikes.
I was woken by the dawn light peeking in the window and our fellow bothyer slamming the front door. A couple of hours sleep would have to do, it looked gorgeous outside.
The glen was glazed with frost and the moon was just heading home. The view was only slightly marred by the sight of Petesy in his pants and bothy shoes combo.
The bothy stirred, breakfast was rattled together and Gus tortured us all by cooking up steak and mushrooms, which had been the planned dinner for the night before.
A bench was dragged outside and we slowly gathered with food and coffee to get down to business and talk sustainability. Lennart gave us the lowdown on Haglofs approach and it’s one that other manufacturers could learn from. You’ll know from some of the coverage of their range that I’ve done that Bluesign is something they feel strongly about, and rightly so. Their goal to have 80% of their clothing Blusigned next year shows clear commitment to those principles.Knowing that your kit was produced sustainably is a comfort if you care about the planet and the people and animals that populate it. I for one would prefer to know that the planet wasn’t polluted or someone was living in squalor just to make me a cheap jacket
These are tough times however, cost is always a factor and people are feeling the pressure. Haglofs aren’t ramming home a message that you must choose sustainable production method, they are simply informing. If you know how and where these things were made, you can make some informed decisions about purchasing. They’re being open and honest and it’s down to you to choose. That’s got to be a good thing. Watch out for their ‘Take Care’ hangtags they next time you’re in your local outdoor store and think about where all this kit comes from.
Down production was a big topic too, live plucking continues in the industry but the public at large are seemingly unaware. Do you know where the down in your jacket came from? Haglofs kit has a little tag inside with the down batch details so you could trace it if you want.
Ultimately ethics come with a price tag, but maybe it’s worth saving up a bit longer to feel that you’re doing the right thing for the planet you love so that those who follow can find the same joy in the outdoors that you do. The message on the bothy door said it: Please keep the place tidy.
Eventually the time came to go. Lennart was due to speak in Fort Bill at 5 and they had a long walk back to the car. We tidied up and goodbyes were said, the majority heading east and the two of us heading west. Peter and I closed up the bothy and headed back down the way we’d came, only this time the Glen was bathed in sunlight.
The Glen was trail of wonders and one that I will surely revisit. The route of the night before was much more benevolent in the sun and it was pure gold from start to finish. You could spend years exploring the coires and nooks along here and never be bored.
As we made our way back down to the farm track we talked about how a simple glen walk can bring back the feeling of joy of being in the mountains, sometimes you don’t need to be up on the summits. The knee? It didn’t bother me at all.
Eventually the outdoor centre loomed large and thoughts turned back to the car and it’s inability to go anywhere. I searched the centre to see if anyone had jump leads, but it was deserted. Ultimately a call was made to the AA and they said it would be and hour and a half. They were sending someone from Morar motors. Morar? we thought. That’s a long drive. Peter dropped the tailgate on the pickup and we go the stoves going for noodles and a cuppa. Peter was star, he had his own family to be heading home to but he kept me company and we chatted and scoffed and shared the joy of being out and about. Very quickly after the cuppas were finished a recovery truck came careering along the road, a good hour ahead of schedule. The driver was a most excellent dude with a good line in banter who soon had the Skoda turned over and had declared that the alternator was fine but the battery was buggered. It would be a non-stop drive home for me.
I said my cheerios and made off down the A82, flying through the Coe in the dark like I’ve done so many times before, with a feeling of deep satisfaction. None of it had gone to plan, but it was a fantastic outing in the company of fine people to a wonderful place. I’d like that to be sustainable too please.