Wednesday 9th September 2009
Weather/Conditions: Heavy cloud, with rain showers and occasional sun. As I arrived in Tyndrum, it clouded over, and as I left the following day, the sun came out. Typical!
Distance/Ascent/Time: 19.7km / 700m / 6h walking (2 days)
I'm not usually the type to want to get away from life, but in this case I could justify spending the £19 on trains to and from Tyndrum. My original plan had been to do a circuit around Chaorach, Cam Chreag and Beinn Challum, but a late start and heavy camping gear stopped me from doing so and I camped on the night of the 9th with only one summit under my belt.
Beinn Chaorach, Descent and Camp
After buying food and water in Tyndrum, I followed the West Highland Way as far as Auchteryre. Even though long distance paths have never interested me, the WHW was a very pleasant walk and I had thoughts about doing it in it's entirety someday.
At Auchteryre, I left the WHW and it's stream of north-bound walkers and followed a track into Caol Ghleann. Rain showers began passing through, a vast difference to the unbroken blue skies in Glasgow. I walked underneath the railway and Beinn Chaorach was in view. Hardly an exciting hill. The mundane name 'sheep hill' was a direct reflection of it's mundane appearance and even though the impressive peaks of Beinn Odhar and Beinn Challum were to either side, my sights were set on Chaorach. Once at 300m, I left the track behind and carried on up the sodden grasses. My feet were wet in minutes.
I didn't anticipate the walk to take too long, but it just went on and on. I'd walk over a rise and more tussocky ground would be revealed through the shifting cloud. With some relief, the columnar trig point came into view ahead and I reached it at 5.45pm, 3 hours after leaving Tyndrum. Hauling the camping gear up had contributed to my slow and tedious progress, but soon I'd have the pleasure of camping out in the wild. This would become perhaps the most enjoyable part of the trip.
Once I descended the north side of Beinn Chaorach (carefully avoiding tripping on the stray wire) the plan was to nip up to Cam Chreag. But once I started climbing, it was tough to make progress and the sun was low in the sky. Instead, I scouted around for a campsite, pitching my tent on the bealach between Chaorach and Cam Chreag. As spectacular light across the hills to the north faded, I settled down in the evening to a bowl of ravioli and a warm sleeping bag.
Later on, I'd occasionally watch the stars and little dots flying across the night sky. Extensive cloud cover prevented me from doing this often, but the views had been nice while they were there. I fell asleep early, and to catch the 9.19am train at Tyndrum, the alarm was set for 6am.
I began to wake up about 4am, and turned over for more sleep knowing I had a couple of hours left. It was an extremely comfortable camp given the (slightly) high elevation and I could have slept longer had the alarm not made sure I was up. But somewhere along the line, I dozed off beyond 6am. I slept when I should have been packing up and walking. When I woke up again, the watch read 6.40am and I couldn't believe my eyes. There was no more lazing about; I packed as fast as possible. I only got going 25 minutes later at 7.15am and became doubtful as to whether I'd make the train home at all. The service on the West Highland Line is infrequent enough that another train wouldn't arrive until lunchtime. I might be able to get a bus, but I was running out of money too. I walked as fast as I could, but couldn't help the anxiety that accompanied me as I returned by Gleann a' Chlachain. The upper sections of the glen had been over physically draining ground, but I reached the track at 300m feeling tired and dehydrated. This track was, however, much further up the glen than was marked on my map, and a relief to be on as opposed to long grasses.
Still walking, I left the valley with the West Highland Way to take to Tyndrum. I remembered all the distinguishing features on the route as I'd passed them the previous day, hoping that I could somehow work out that my progress was good. It was only when I passed a campsite/caravan park outside Tyndrum that I realised I'd make it, and the tension began to release itself. I eventually came to the train station's approach road at Tyndrum (beside the 'By The Way' bunkhouse, where I'd stayed in June...) where I could see that there was no train. It was 9.10am, and I should have a ten minute wait.
Having walked for nearly two hours with uncertainty gnawing, the relief was tremendous and I walked up to the station knowing that I would, for sure, make the train. Then as I approached the station, the train pulled up and it and I both came to a halt at the platform within five sections of one another. I just couldn't believe it. How could I walk for so long, then draw up to the platform edge a couple of hours later within seconds of the train? It seemed to good to be true, but I was here now, and there was only relief.
On the train, one woman commented on my appearance - probably red-faced and soaked in sweat. We had chatted for a while and one of the on-train staff threw in a light hearted comment questioning the 'why' of my small adventure. As the train pulled out of Tyndrum, the sky grew visibly brighter and the sun appeared again. Just as the weather had deteriorated as I'd arrived, it brightened up as I left. I didn't allow that to bother me because I'd enough of an experience already not to care what the weather did. A couple of hours later, I arrived back in Glasgow to sunny skies, and it would seem like I'd caught the worst of the weather.
(0.00) 2.45pm Tyndrum (9th)
(3.00) 5.45pm Beinn Chaorach
(4.05) 6.50pm Campsite
(0.00) 7.15am Left Campsite (10th)
(1.55) 9.10am Tyndrum