Diary of a wild walk West to East Of Scotland 1977
The idea of a walk in October/ November in 1977 with hindsight was crazy, with no support a pretty serious undertaking. Jim Morning and me we had just completed a huge North to South Of Scotland Walk in 1976 and pushed the boat out in the way of hills done. We thought we were ready for a winter traverse and after speaking to a few people who mostly said “go in April” in long daylight and reasonable conditions. I never for a moment thought we would plan it for November but this was the only time we could get leave few want to holiday at this time of year. This is usually a wild month with various problems. The daylight is very short and the weather can be very unsettled and on this trip it was wild nearly every day. This is the story of “ A walk nearly a walk to die for.”
I was a member of the RAF Kinloss Mountain Rescue Team a young party leader who had just completed his Munros in 1976. The Team was myself Heavy Whalley, Jim Morning (JM) and Terry Moore (TM) this was the first expedition in to attempt a Traverse of Scotland mountains West to East in November. Jim and Terry were just posted in from Stafford and Valley in North Wales, both were incredibly fit. This walk was the based on an idea by the late John Hinde, one of the founder fathers of the Big Walks. At the time we were cocky young lads “invincible” or so we thought and I think John had the last laugh. He said do you think you are that good try a walk in early winter that will test you, how right he was.
The Big Walks
Few civilians had the time or the organisational support to try it [a long walk]… Hamish Brown.
“… It is not a competitive game, any cutting corners leads to lack of safety…” John Hinde.
The daylight is very short in November 6-7 Hours and the weather is notoriously poor. Jim and Terry were incredibly fit and competitive a different class on the hill from me. It was going to be a wild walk and in the end we went in November as this was the time we could take our leave together . We learned so much from this walk, lessons never to be forgotten in a lifetime in the mountains. During the walk we had set up food caches and were completely unsupported and self-sufficient, we walked the whole way no lifts taken. At a few points we were running on empty and without a doubt we nearly died, the weather was awful and even the A9 was blocked for a time.
We hoped to stay in bothies and with local gamekeepers but we had several nights where we lived rough and had to change our plans. Jim and Terry were chasing Munros and that added to the pressure, I had completed the year before so had to follow and was supposed to be an expert! This is the tale from my diary of the time that I wrote every night in an exhausted state!
Arrived in Skye on 28 October 1977 to start an unsupported Traverse West to East of Scotland, wild weather in Skye, the ferry nearly did not run. We were dropped off by the team and enjoyed a meal of steaks over a primus one of the perks of being a Caterer.
Day 1 Oct 28 1977
These are extracts from my diary: Stayed in Mr McRae’s barn in Glen Brittle Skye. Mr McRae thought we were daft but knew the RAF Kinloss Team well as we stayed with him for many years a great Base for Skye. Jim was still convinced we could do most of the Ridge even in November. Sgurr na Banachdich 965 metres Munro 190 is one of the easiest Munros in the Skye Cuillin, if climbed via Coir nan Eich. Nonetheless it has a fine pointed summit and magnificent views, at the meeting point of three great scramblers’ ridges. Today it was a real epic just getting on the ridge and then to the summit. In the end we had real hard work just getting off Sgurr Na Bannadich and then down to the Coruisk Memorial Hut. Weather winds on the summit ridge over 100mph. JM wanted to continue along the ridge in driving rain, sleet and no visibility, we convinced him to go down. It was very difficult finding descent to Coruisk , fresh snow and slippy rocks, interesting route finding into the huge Coire with massive bags and we stayed in the hut for the night. The winds raged all night and the sea was incredibly wild. It is a magic wee hut just of the shore and still the foam from the waves came up near the hut, we were so glad to be out of the weather.It was a short day only 10k/1015meters of ascent but with 30 lb sacks not easy in these crazy winds. Jim had wanted to start with a traverse of the complete ridge and was not impressed by our one Munro total. We just got off before the dark.
Day 2. Oct 29th
From the Coruisk hut we had fun crossing the swollen river, and got wet the plan was to climb Blaven 928 metres and the 252 Munro and then walk to Kyerhea. It was a great day on the hill, a tremendous ridge up from Camasunnary via the Bad Step to summit.
I was worried about the Bad Step with big bag but managed it. Then along coastal path wild walking in these days and past Sgurr na Stri what a stunning little mountain another big river crossing and up onto the great ridge of Blaven past Camussunary Bothy. In a few years time I was land here on a wild December in 1982 night to a crash of an American F111 aircraft. The knowledge I had of the area on this walk and other trips made a huge difference on that epic night. (See my blog for more information on that incident.)
From here it was a massive road walk to end this long day. The weather was kind to us and we had view most of the day. It was great to climb Blaven by this side a remote and wild area. We stayed in the village Hall in Broadford after a big day. There was a lot of road wallking and I had taken a tumble on the way off and really hurt my left knee, very swollen and was a bit behind the boys at the end. I still had to make the meal at Broadford! These bags are really heavy and somehow wemust cut down the weight. The wet kit not easy next day. What a wild life we had seen, from seals to stags and the odd eagle!
Distance : 39k/1916metes.
Day 3. October 30th
An easy day, I was glad as my leg is very stiff eased off on the short walk today. We had to get the ferry from Kylerhea across the water to Glenelg and Arnisdale then into the wilds lands after picking up rations. We had a great craick with the ferrymen who said we were daft . It was a real fun day even had a meal at Glenelg an easy 5 k walk. With hindsight we should have done Beinn Sgritheall that day as the next was very hard indeed but wanted to dry our kit.
To be continued!