This was to be the "day of crossings". Of 13 days of walking Day 2 was the one I was most nervous about. If the rivers were in spate several parts of the route could become impassible requiring long diversions. Dealing with wide and deep streams with a heavy pack and walking solo could be risky, and after many days of rain in the south of UK I was expecting the worst.
|'It is quite a haul up' - Fuar Tholl from Allt a' Chonais track|
The track up Allt a' Chonais differed from the map, wide in places, with new excavations created for an electric power project. Development work in the Highlands seems to require some concurrent environmental activity. Not just here but throughout my journey construction work was accompanied by 'environmental buffer zones'; here activity focussed on a vole colony.
It is a quite a haul up from the A890 main road before the track drops down to the riverside after about 5km. Here, crossing the river to open country to the south and providing access to the ridge Sgurr na Feartaig, is a double wire – the first of today's 3 wire bridges. A km or so further on another 2 wire bridge lines up with the path to Bealach Bhearnais. Here the top wire is quite slack making the whole structure uninviting. Despite my fears the river is not high and I ford it easily without water over my boots for all but the final step. When I reach to steady myself with the upper wire it gives way so much that I end up horizontal, inches above the stream, and save myself from immersion only by stepping on submerged rocks and filling my boots with water.
|wire bridge #1|
|wire bridge #2|
On the path up to the bealach I meet a couple of Scots TGOers, sceptical about the effectiveness of their Paramo gear when I noted our matching smocks. They tell me about 'some Germans' who arrived at the Bhearneas bothy around midnight. From the description I recognised my Dutch friends from two nights before - I shared a room with Charles, David, and Hendrik in the Youth Hostel in Torridon. I discussed with Charles how their plan to reach Bhearneas bothy on the first day might be too ambitious; anyway – they made it! Near the bealach I met John Burt TGO veteran in another red Paramo smock who strongly recommended arriving in Montrose on Friday.
From the Bealach the route is off-path. To the SW the ridge up to Beinn Tharsuinn is reasonable under foot. The configuration of the top though is a little hard to understand in mist and both compass and GPS were necessary to easily reach the bealach below Bidein a' Choire Sheasgaich.
|scramble up a water course on Bidein a' Choire Sheasgaich|
|the corrie leading to the top of 'Cheesecake'|
|on Bidein a' Choire Sheasgaich summit|
|Lurg Mhor from Bidein a' Choire Sheasgaich|
Down below in the distance to the south is Loch Cruoshie and a white speck beyond this is Maol-bhuidhe bothy. As it is now after 16:00 the route behind this to Iron Lodge is for tomorrow.
|view south from Lurg Mhor to loch Calavie (r) and Cruoshie with Maol-bhuidhe|
Dropping down from Lurg Mhor although pathless is easy going until close above the valley bottom. The final part down to the track by Loch Calavie after a long day is testing. At the end of this loch is yet another wire bridge.
|wire bridge #3|
This one is a model for all. With 3 wires, all stretched quite tightly walking across is easy. By holding the left top wire with the left hand and the right top wire with the right hand it is easy to maintain the centre-of-gravity of body + pack over the wire under the feet. Look here at the movie from Matt Holland (taken while I watched from the hillside above).
|wet, boggy, pathless|
After a long day's hike the landscape that followed was tough. Very wet, with hummocks and peat hags, and a path which fails to go in the right direction. A beeline for the bothy leads to the last crossing of the day.
|Jump if you dare! Crossing loch Cruoshie outflow to reach the bothy|
The outflow from Loch Cruoshie is wide and deep - the nimble can jump from the bank to the first submerged rock and thence cross on the stepping stones in place. For me this seems risky and I drop into the thigh deep water next to the bank feeling secured that the large rocks that others may balance on will stop me being swept below.
At 18:00 it was clear that I would not reach my target for the night - beyond Iron Lodge - and the welcoming bothy with the small copse and flat green field seemed a welcome oasis in a Scottish wilderness.
|typical bothy - cold, dark, dirty|
The bothy was already occupied by Paul Atkinson and the Peter Dixon Gang – that is Peter himself, plus Lee Taylor, and Matt Holland. All MLD Trailstar users and fascinated by light weight gear, what better evening company could one want on a long distance walk? Peter being leader had ordered his crew to carry in some wood, and halfway through the evening he set fire to it.
|Clean, warm, romantic - view provided by Matt Holland (see link above)|