Skye Trail day 7: broken but strong

The Storr – Loch Langaig

29.5km

Today was the big day. I find that for every trail, there’s a big day. A day you’ve read about in the guide that sounds epic. A day you’re not convinced you have the right level of experience and fitness for. A day people you come across on trail tell you about because they’ve just hiked it and they want to share their impressions of it with you – good and often mostly bad. Also a day those same people might doubt you can hike and they make sure to let you know about it. Today was that day.

The night below the Storr was very windy and I woke up multiple times, scared some boulders above would come tumbling down on me. Thankfully despite the ridge being in constant movement, today was not the day it chose to detach itself off a few more giant rock slabs like the Needle or the Old Man.

I think I must have entered deep sleep only at about 3 or 4am because I very much slept in! I opened my eyes and the sun had just risen: it was 7am. I needed to get going! I had a cereal bar and packed my stuff quickly which got me ready to go at 8am exactly.

The ridge starts by going round to the back of the Storr. Summiting this Graham was tempting but I was fixated on the way ahead. I knew I had 30km and over 1,700m of ascent to tackle so I thought best not be too greedy. I found it difficult to find my way after leaving the path. I’ve done a bit do pathless stuff but this would be my proper initiation. After a bit of fiddling about with the map I finally understood where I was meant to go to get down to the first bealach. It was very steep and completely up to me which way down I’d take. Once at the bealach I had a 200m pathless climb to the summit of Hartaval. This was the first of very many.

Every time I’d give myself little milestones, like getting down to the bealach or up a summit and I’d allow up to 30mins to reach these. At the beginning, that worked really well because therell each milestone was spaced apart more or less equally. I’d look at the map to check my progress but the ridge seemed endless. There was no point aiming for the end, that was too demoralising. Instead, I stuck with my personal milestones.

The landscape was truly stunning. I’d take a few very short breaks to drink some water and check progress. The sun was shining hard, giving great visibility, but it was so very hot. I had very limited water due to my lost filter situation. I’d carried 3.5L leaving Portree the previous morning and I made sure to keep 2L for today. I soon realised that the temperature, coupled with the huge physical effort, would make that water run out before I’d reach my camping spot.

Water started obsessing me. Soon, it was the only thing I could think about. I was annoyed at myself for wasting just a great traverse with such worries. I was also struggling with the mother of all chafing, which greatly reduced my capacity to enjoy the moment.

On the summit of Beinn Edra, the penultimate big climb of the day, I met six Skye Trail hikers. I was super happy to see fellow hikers even if they were going the other way and our encounter would only be brief. They had come from London and I guess wanted a new challenge after hiking the West Highland Wag together last year. It was only day 2 for them but they’d already been missing the WHW waymarks and well groomed paths. They asked me if the way ahead of them was pathless and I sadly had to acquiesce. I explained my water situation and almost immediately they offered so e of their chlorine tablets. I was so happy!! I doubly finally drink my remaining litre and fully enjoy the day.

After leaving the guys I made my way down to the bealach and paid close attention to any water sounds. I was looking for a stream. I was lucky have spotted it on my map and found it without great difficulty, though it did involve dome serious hopping over peat hags. Nevermind, I was now 3.5L richer!

The last big climb came quite inconveniently right after I loaded up on water but it didn’t bring me down too much. It was the last climb after and my mood was doing very well!

Before long I reached the Quiraing carpark and made my way along the excellent path. I think my attention to features went right down due to tiredness at this pin to because I made the very stupid mistake of turning right on approach of the Prison which led me to a very steep and peaty path around it. Eventually the “path” suddenly dropped and I had no choice but to work my way down a small rocky cliff. This down scramble was very scary and I would not recommend it to anyone with a heavy pack and a bit of a scrambling phobia (I’ve promised myself to practice but on my own terms!). After that, I had to rely on my gps quite a lot. I was too tired to work things out with the map and I just wanted to get to the Loch already.

Frustratingly, I wound up taking a wrong path AGAIN and in order to rejoin the one I was meant to be on I had to slide on my bum over a peaty mess that was way too steep and unstable to walk over.

Once back on the path, I was almost delirious, knowing that there would be no more challenges for today and I’d soon get to pick a spot to camp. I couldn’t quite believe I’d done it: I’d walked 20 miles over the Trotternish ridge and I’d completed the toughest stage of the Skye Trail. I was an experienced hiker after all.

Upon arriving by Loch Langaig, I spotted a tent and I was so happy to have company. I pitched mine very quickly, had a wee chat with my neighbour and dipped my feet in the cold stream. I was absolutely broken yet forced to recognise that I’d shown a great deal of physical strength and navigational experience to get here.

All that was left to do was to enjoy this last night on trail and try to heal this chafing before the next day’s push to Rubha Hunish.

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