A trip to Glen Cannich...
Friday 18th May 2012

Weather/Conditions: Awful weather!
Accompanying: Alone

I wrote this not so long after the event. I intended to keep it to myself, but on reading back I think it has a power, it describes the isolation, probably depression, the power of the wilderness turned upside down into something negative. One of the few times a hillwalk really got on top of my mood.

I'd wanted to go to the Affric hills for a long time. I'd heard about their soaring summits and sweeping ridges. And then I started to see them from a distance, from surrounding hills. They looked like the rooftop of Scotland: the ridges radiating from Carn Eighe run consistently far above 3000 feet and appear prominent from almost anywhere in the North-western Highlands. Not to mention graceful Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan. Loch Mullardoch was raised by the hydro and flooded Glen Cannich in the name of power. In doing so, it blocked foot access to the surrounding landscape and the result is an immensely empty place.

I had access to the car for a long weekend in the middle of May and decided that Affric would be my big objective - a camping trip to climb the 12 Munros flanking upper Glen Cannich. I left home late on Thursday - about 11pm - and arrived at James' place in Fort William in a couple hours. I got a few hours kip on his bed then was up again at 6.30pm.

Things didn't go to plan from the outset. For me to do my planned mileage, I wanted to be out of Fort William by 7 - 7.30am. Since the shops didn't open till 8, I hung around, got a McDonalds, looked at the grey skies and snow spattered Ben Nevis. A food-trip to Morrison's followed and tried to hide from a plan crumbling before my eyes.

I got my food and headed out of Fort William anyway. Skies cleared up a bit at Loch Ness, but they remained grey in general. Snow lay on the high ground. I drove to Cannich, which is a nice wee place. I felt I knew it having visited on Street View. In another sense though, I felt tense. I felt on the edge of civilisation, about to strike out into the mountains. But something wasn't right. I took the road to Loch Mullardoch - wonderfully winding up through forests before it opens to plains and farmland. Ahead, the dam appeared. I'd never been here but it was suddenly real. I'd read so much about it, and it almost had become fiction.

I drove the car up to the top of the dam and stopped the car with a view to the loch. It's a wild place beyond this dam. Cloud and snow line were clamped down near the loch. The monochrome waters stretched into distant desolation. Cutting wind drove rain into the car windscreen. Did I really want to be here? Would I have been happier without my ambition hanging over my head?

I packed my stuff and left the car for the last time. Apprehension was the prime emotion but I began to walk up beside the dam. I hadn't gone far when I realised I'd forgotten a lighter or matches. Without them I couldn't light the stove. Without the stove, I couldn't get warm, cook meals or make tea. If I packed up and drove to Cannich for a lighter, the trip would be over - it would be too late in the day once I got back and I was still attached to my schedule.

I noticed a guy working outside at Benula Lodge, the building beside the dam. He was alone. I dropped my rucksack and explained the problem - no problem! He reached into his Land Rover and pulled out a lighter.

In this vast, empty place, human encounter seemed surreal. The contact had left me feeling emptier. I silently knew that if I carried out my plans I would be worried for my own safety and knew that this was the last contact before I headed out to the great wilderness. I thanked him and left. Saved by the bell. Lets get the trip under way. Put some miles in and then maybe I'll cheer up. I began walking. There was no real track: since Loch Mullardoch was flooded, the track networks have not been re-established and thus the mood of the area is one of abandonment. Everyone that passes here notices this.

While I was walking along the lochside, cold rain fell from grey skies and the mountains glowered. You should not be here. I was overwhelmed. After about 40 minutes, I reached the river leading to the first Munro. I looked into my rucksack to get the map and check my navigation. Calm at first, my searching became frantic as the reality came over me.

I forgot the map. Stretched psychologically, I sat down and buried my head in my rucksack. It was over.

What's my alternatives? There are no alternatives... without the map there is nothing I can do. I'd never forgot the map before and without it there was nothing for it but to turn back. The trip was off and it took a while to accept. If my resolve broke now I wouldn't come back here tomorrow.

I stared down Loch Mullardoch; the mountains stared back. You should not be here. Why was this all wrong, I wondered? I hadn't felt this way in the long time. What a waste...

I shouldered my rucksack and turned back toward the dam. In one way, I was happy to be going back. In the run-up to this morning, things broke down one by one, both in my control and out. First, the worse-than-forecast weather in Fort William, then plastered snow on Ben Nevis. The shops opened late, which delayed my exit from the Fort; the forgotten lighter, a situation which I salvaged at the last moment. The utter bleakness of Glen Cannich didn't help matters. Forgetting the map was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

My head down into the rain, I trudged back to the car. I took a diversion away from the Lodge because I didn't want that guy to see me walking back already.

At the car, I felt nothing. Disappointment and relief cancelled one another out. I didn't expect to be back so soon. I found the map on the back seat.

I drove back to Cannich, and the skies seemed to brighten in sympathy with my mood. What to do? I got a tea at the Bog Cotton Cafe. No pressure; I let the day pass - a strange situation to be in. But I still felt disappointment. The conditions were way too bad to consider the Mullardoch round and I'd have to change my plans accordingly.

I went for a drive down Glen Affric - a place as amazing as people make out. Back in Cannich, I pitched a tent at the rear of the campsite. It's a nice place and I spent time reading. Soon after, I drifted off to sleep. Besides a couple hours to make dinner, I slept for seventeen hours in total, which really says it all.

I came around the next morning, refreshed and ready for a trip to two Munros of the Affric Hills. The snows that had so depressed on my Mullardoch lochside walk were turned into something very positive.

Times (Time relative to 0.00)
(0.00) 10.30am Mullardoch dam
(0.25) 10.55am Turn around point, Allt Mullardoch
(1.30) 12.00pm Mullardoch dam