The SNT: Kingussie to Fort Augustus
Before I even did the West Highland Way back in 2018 I was researching the foreign landscape oddity known as bog, which my research told me could be potentially as dangerous as crossing a glacier. So worried was I that I even made a .pdf of how to cross bogs to read at my convenience on my phone and what to do if I fell into a bog’s version of a glacier’s crevasse, deep pits of muck which seem to be the reason for why bog bodies exist. I thankfully never encountered any such perilous patches of bog but I recommend that anyone intending to hike in a boggy country like Scotland read up on how to safely cross them. Better to at least have some knowledge!
The sum of what I discovered is that using my trekking pole as a probe to test ground ahead of me was something which I found extremely important and helpful in my decision making regarding where I should step. I always studied the ground ahead of me and did my best to step only where there was firm(ish) ground, usually upon tussocks of grass or heather. If there was a rock to step on then that was my preference and I avoided stepping in mud at all costs because it was slippery as heck. My Scottish friend Rem later told me to avoid the bright green patches of bog, something which I had been doing all along but hadn’t made a mental connection with. The ability to jump over nastier, deeper patches of soggy bog felt crucial and I later learned as well from Rem that the water in Scotland’s bogs is extremely acidic, which explains the quicker detioration of my poor Altras after I started encountering boggy country. The holes in my shoes are huge!
So, don’t get bogged down – literally! Study your foot placement carefully, use a trekking pole to probe ahead (kinda like crossing a glacier,) and for the sake of all that is holy wear something waterproof on your foot, be it a waterproof sock or a waterproof boot. Scotland is not a place where your shoes will dry off overnight in your tent – the only place where any of your gear will dry at all is if you are fully enclosed in a warm building or if you stuff it in a dryer. Time after time I was grateful to dryers for fluffing up my sleeping bag, so keep a few pounds sterling on hand for that purpose when you take a zero! Staying dry is incredibly important, which leads me to my next point…
Don’t Mess With Hypothermia
It is of deepest importance that you educate yourself about hypothermia – how to recognize it as well as how to treat it because hypothermia (that being when your core temperature drops too low,) can kill you. I personally consider it the greatest danger facing outdoorsy people like thru-hikers in Scotland – and while there’s places on Earth where you certainly may get away without carrying certain hypothermia-treating things like extra warm layers or a stove capable of heating liquid for warming your internal organs back up, Scotland is not one of them! Scotland’s less than friendly weather and incredibly exposed terrain is entirely the reason why it has bothies – free remote shelters which people can take cover in. I was told by multiple Scots on different occasions all throughout my hike that their country requires no less than four-season tents for this reason as well, although I will personally maintain the belief (at least for now,) that a sturdily built three-season tent with a full bathtub floor and a fully enclosed fly stretching all the way to the ground on all sides would probably do the job just as well – but don’t quote me on that. (I haven’t tried it.)
Make sure that you have a full set of rain gear – pants as well as a jacket or poncho because Scotland’s windy terrain means spindrift blowing freezing rain at you from all angles. Keep dry, warm layers in your pack, protect your sleeping bag from damp like your life depends on it (because it likely does if you become hypothermic,) and always carry a stove with fuel so that you can raise your core temperature. Most importantly be sure that you never, ever underestimate Scotland’s at times dire weather – this is a place where it has been known to rain for a month straight. A month!
Travelled: Nowhere, apart from the town centre of Inverness; the train station, Craigdon Mountain Sports, the Pound Store (British version of a dollar store,) and Morrison’s (a grocery store.)
Things Seen: Buildings, the screen of my iPad, many cars (gonna miss all the weird foreign ones when I return to boring Canada,) roads, a shower stall, some videos on Youtube….
Weather: Overcastish blue and still.
Camp: The hostel in Inverness.
Injuries: Same as yesterday; I am going to apply some leukotape to my poor arms to protect them from my scratchy pack straps.
Food Eaten: Black cherry Onken yogourt, a Braeburn apple, two double chocolate cookies, clementine juice, chocolate milk, and an enormous bowl of bland tube pasta from Morrison’s.
Favourite Moment: Spending literally all morning reading in bed. So satisfying (except my legs hated it; they despise being stationary – how dare there be a day where I don’t hike at least twenty kilometres!)
Funniest Moment: Nothing really funny happened today.
Animals: Seagulls, a crow and probably some doggos but honestly I wasn’t paying much attention.
Stuff I Thought About: Angsty about how much time I have left, wondering a little if extending my stay might be a thing in this horrible Covid world, whether it was a mistake to book an extra zero day in Inverness once I formally reach the Great Glen even though I planned it all along. Missing cooking proper food; I tried in vain to find a manageable quantity of salt to carry in my pack but no luck. Morrison’s sells a four pack of glass bottled Australian brewed root beer (thank goodness Australia at least seemingly appreciates root beer,) but it’s £4.80 and seems kinda a lot for one person. Missing pizza too but being a cheapskate; maybe next zero, although knowing me I will probably just cheap out again. Also just feeling anxious because I only have a month left until I have to return to ‘real life.’ I’m going to really miss hiking.
Anything to write about?: You’re not supposed to have food in the rooms of this hostel; I don’t like this rule. That’s it for today, just a whine. I feel like sitting in bed with a snack is one of life’s great pleasures; at least I have this six bed room all to myself. I was assigned bed B but I took bed D instead because it’s by the window. There’s a fish and chip place next door and the smell of fried potatoes drives me wild; I love potatoes, but I haven’t seen instant mashed or scalloped potatoes here – guess those are North American things.
Day 27 – To the Great Glen! Away!
Kilometres: 36.6 km/22.74 miles with moving average of 16 kph/10 mph (now that sounds more sane)
Travelled: Kingussie (Inverness to Kingussie by ScotRail train) to a patch of pine trees near Loch Crunachdan.
Things Seen: Having actually managed to get up early and having cleverly bought my train ticket yesterday the first thing that I saw was the train station, my train already at the platform ‘cus I had perfect timing. Then a bunch of views from the train (where after consuming my reprehensible/weird breakfast I struggled not to fall asleep,) and finally Kingussie. Hike started with a pretty forest walk, then a nice jaunt across the moor on a good trail, followed by another hike in forest on the ‘Wildcat Trail.’ Sadly, no Scottish Wildcats were sighted by me (they are incredibly endangered and rare plus incredibly cute,) and the next part of my journey was a grotesquely boggy moor. Not fun! Fortunately after an hour or two of the bog I reached a shack, at which began a very nice sandy farm track. The sand was so much more pleasant than gravel and it led me far across a sweeping, beautiful, gusty glen, then around the flank of a big hill/tiny mountain before bringing me into a very nice forest. Finally I walked through Laggan and noted that my InReach’s recorded distance, 26.2 km/16.27 miles was greater than WalkHighlands’ distance of 23.25 km/14.44 miles for this section of the SNT. Striding on well past Laggan on a roadwalk, I passed multiple farms and a reservoir before walking across a wetland (thankfully) on a dyke into a forest in the dark to my current camp.
Weather: Overcast and very windy, until late afternoon when it got bored of being windy I guess and became more or less just overcast. Had to put on the waterproofs to stay warm as some of the gusts were quite pushy.
Camp: I named it Pinecone Camp because there are pinecones all over the ground; my tent is pitched in a commendably flatish spot between two pine trees (the source of the pinecones.) The pinecones are not crunchy enough for the joy which is stomping on pinecones to hear that satisfying crunch, but should my nose start running like crazy I have something to wipe it with I guess because I have no kleenex. Ground is nice and dry, a relief considering all the bog I hiked through today. (I hate hiking through bog so much.)
Food Eaten: Breakfast was several large double chocolate cookies, a Braeburn apple (SO good) and ‘candy floss’ green grapes (which definitely were not that sweet.) The rest of my food was bars and cheese; dinner was sesame ramen which I did not have enough water for so it kinda came out funky but still good.
Favourite Moment: Seeing that I was right about the Walk Highlands distances being off, and also getting out of that bog! I also really enjoyed meeting another hiker (he was doing the East Highland Way,) who was wearing a ULA Circuit and just clearly knew how to pick good gear. He knew about the SNT! Additionally seeing border collies herd sheep – so cool!
Funniest Moment: Watching a chicken just casually wander away from her yard down a road.
Animals: Pheasants, mountain hares, birds of prey, a surprisingly large number of owls after dark, horses (I accidentally spooked one but at my apologetic crooning it calmed down and came trotting back to say hi to me,) cows, songbirds, crows, a herd of red deer, an oooold cairn terrier, the chickens, some working border collies (which I began calling ‘border pups’) and sheepies. I think I startled a deer walking through the dark because something made a protesting sound at me; I also heard some stags bugling, which was a creepy sound at night!
Stuff I Thought About: My future dog, getting to the Great Glen, how much I dislike walking across boggy moors, story stuff and how much I like walking on sand compared to gravel (I suppose that I would hate it if it were deep sand.)
Anything to write about?: I passed out while writing this last night so I am finishing it the morning after and it is very windy!
Day 28 – Take Cover!
Kilometres: 20.1 km/12.48 miles.
Things Seen: Beautiful glens with patches of forest and a pretty river; the whole day was spent following General Wade’s Military Road, which is an ancient route that was, at one point, used by Bonny Prince Charlie and his Jacobites! Super cool! About half of it was paved; the rest was gravel and there were no serious stream crossings. So, scenery was good, although given how awful today’s weather is, I think that it is a potentially very life threatening mistake that the owners of the land on the southern side of Corrieyairack Pass have closed and locked the emergency bothy against use because of Covid. I think hypothermia is the far greater immediate threat than the virus, and I feel deeply grateful to have found my little shelter even though it has no door. Due to the horrific weather there were no views; if there is an epic view of the Great Glen and Loch Ness from the top of this pass, I’ll never know. The stupid clouds obscured everything, and as I write this the weather remains profoundly terrible. The shack I am in seems sturdy, if a bit woebegone, and it is obvious that other poor sods have had to take cover here in the past because the broken window and all the vents have been crammed with rocks. There’s a wooden platform on one side of it where someone left their terrible street shoes and there is garbage in the corners; some saint has swept the floor. The roof seems good but it is eerie to not have a door, and the wind continues to blow quite hard outside; I pray that the wind direction remains the same, as well as that it calms down soon. In any case I am not moving until morning, and I am grateful that I have my emergency bivy to protect me, my sleeping bag, and my beloved Neoair Xlite mattress (which has not audibly crinkled once this entire trip.)
Weather: Deeply awful; it started okay, with just wind, but as I got closer to the pass (which I keep pronouncing ‘core-ee-ack,’) it turned very nasty. Gusty rain, with some sharp almost-hail at the top of the pass and cold!
Camp: An old concrete shack overlooking a creek whose name I cannot say. About 10 km from Fort Augustus and the victory of having successfully reached the Great Glen.
Injuries: None that I know. UPDATE: hypothermia.
Food Eaten: Peanuts, a Braeburn apple, cheddar oatcakes, a Snickers, a Nature Valley protein bar, Jarlsberg tiny cheese.
Favourite Moment: Seeing a mountain hare this morning.
Funniest Moment: Cursing the ridiculous aerodynamics of the hills which kept the awful wind tormenting me.
Stuff I Thought About: Story stuff; desperately tried not to think of the storm and I wasn’t even going to stop at this shack but having glimpsed one of the abandoned shoes which I glimpsed just inside the door I returned to make sure that the place was empty, then could not intelligently convince myself to keep hiking because it was dry inside. I guess my shack kinda counts as a bothy?
Anything to write about?: I can’t wait for morning.
What I Did Wrong
Yes, I contracted hypothermia on this day – and it was only my knowledge of how to treat hypothermia (even if then I did not realize that my chill had progressed that far,) that kept my condition from ‘upgrading’ to a more serious problem threatening my existence. I pushed through the gathering storm rather than setting up camp and taking cover because I was on a timeline to get to Fort Augustus, as I had booked my hostel for my next zero day in advance.
I would never again do this on a thru-hike because it put pressure on me to make a poor choice, one which I have hopefully been taught better against committing again! That day, I knew that it was going to rain but I had no idea how many millimetres were expected and without celular data I also had no clue how long the storm was going to last. I would later learn that had I passed the shack where I had taken cover, I would have had to hike for many more kilometres before there was anything remotely resembling a good camp spot.
Day 29 – The Great Glen at Last
Kilometres: 13.5 km/8.38 miles which were the slowest and most exhausting of my life.
Travelled: Awful storm shack just below Corrieyairack Pass (discovered that it is pronounced core-ee-air-ack,) to Fort Augustus (then a really nice hostel in Inverness – there was a piece of Walker’s shortbread on the pillow!)
Things Seen: Loch Ness – the Loch Ness! It was spectacular and something of the landscape around the lake reminded me of home. I was stunned at how genuinely pretty that lake is – wasn’t expecting it to be that much of a supermodel. I also saw a lot of typical highland scenery, a graveyard (Scotland calls them burial grounds which sounds so much nicer,) the Caledonian Canal (so much more posh than the ones in the south,) some cruise boats, plenty of forest (along Loch Ness,) and a gas station beside the bus stop where I bought some Canada Dry ginger ale – the bottles look about a bazillion times fancier here. Also, for some horrific reason the British recipe includes aspartame, bringing up the question: why does all British pop/soda contain that nasty stuff? I’d so much rather consume straight sugar, or cane sugar, and the only place I personally tolerate xylitol is in my toothpaste.
UPDATE: there’s apparently a tax on sugar in drinks in the UK, therefore the only way to avoid nasty tasting sweeteners is to just drink juice or foreign imported sodas. Thank goodness baked goods and treats like chocolate are free of that revolting gunk!
Weather: Sunny and beautiful with lovely clouds.
Injuries: Just exhausted. I was definitely hypothermic yesterday.
Food Eaten: Peanuts, spicy ramen, ginger ale, black tea and lots of electrolytes (trying to make my crazy bladder stop wanting relief every other hour; so annoying! It worked, thankfully.) Also Schweppe’s Canada Dry Ginger Ale in a bizarrely fancy bottle.
Favourite Moment: Seeing Loch Ness for the first time and reaching Fort Augustus at last. Also seeing (and getting to photograph,) a very agreeable and fluffy European Robin. (Which are approximately a billion times cuter than North American robins and also entirely different birds.)
Funniest Moment: The Italian receptionist dude at my hostel getting really excited over my first name; I told him about my Italian great grandfather and he was pretty stoked about ol’ Francesco. (An ancestor whom I am pretty fond of because I got some good anti-sunburn genetics from him.)
Animals: Sheepies (including a poor ewe who wanted to make use of my shack last night but alas, I was in it,) a mouse (who was also horrified to discover a human in the shack,) the adorable European Robin, some other cute songbirds, a super cute hedgehog dutifully taking care of the burial ground’s bugs, cows (including fluffy highland ones,) and some doggos. I’m surprised at how few deer I have seen – and I still haven’t seen a fox!
Stuff I Thought About: Mainly getting to Fort Augustus, sating my craving for ginger ale, and story stuff.
Anything to write about?: I managed to catch the very last bus to Inverness and I swear that lady driver drove that thing like it was a race car! I felt sorry for her because she was coughing.
Next: Fort Augustus to Morvich.
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