Solo, shared, old and new …
I’ve a friend who hiked the Appalachian Trail – the iconic 2,200 mile trail that goes from Springer Mountain in Georgia to the northern point of Mount Katahdin in Maine. It started with a conversation between three friends about quitting their jobs and hiking together. It was easy for the guy who first suggested it since he didn’t have a job at the time (he got a job and pulled out), the second pulled out when he sobered up. Chris went and did it anyway as a solo journey.
Whilst none of my own adventures have required a commitment of six months on the trail, there are some parallels. Both my Munro and Corbett rounds had a good level of solo mountain days (especially the Corbett Round) with many folks still focused on their own Munro summits and last year, my plan to visit all 23 main islands on Loch Lomond ended up with the last ten being solo efforts.
Reasons – suppose some folks just don’t share the same passion and vision, priorities change, time gets constrained and some just simply change their mind. All of these are 100% valid and why would you want to share something wonderful with someone that doesn’t want to be there!
Upside, as AT Chris confirmed, travelling northbound on his own created opportunities that would never have been there had it been a group of two or three. Accommodation was easier since he took up less space, hitching into town for resupplies was easier but above all, conversations opened up with like-minded folks that might otherwise have simply been a passing “hello”. It the need to compromise give way to a level of freedom.
On my Lomond islands paddle, companionship was replaced with quiet contemplation. With the ability to manage any incident reduced, I tended only to paddle in good conditions (apart from one slightly epic crossing to tag the smaller of the Ross Islands in marginal conditions – some learning points there). The excitement of sharing the experience was replaced with a sense of “I’m the only one here”. Solo also gave an opportunity to really question your own motives around a particular journey – it could have been easy to quit with only yourself to answer to and nobody else would have known about your failure to complete. My last island was Vow Island and the most northerly on the loch. Weather was suboptimal with heavy rain and enough wind to make the paddle strokes count. Reaching the island and sitting in the castle ruins, there was an opportunity to look back, maybe not exactly the adventure that had been planned the year before on Inchcailloch which was the first of my islands but what an experience. I had learned a lot around the history of the loch that I had driven along and run along, spent many hours in a new environment and enjoyed a fair number of fresh brews and picnics along the way.
As happens when one adventure starts to close, time to find something new.
Ordnance Survey can supply 1:25k custom maps where you choose the centre of the map. I had made a couple of these a while back and found a copy whilst clearing out the van just before the festive. Testing positive for COVID just after Christmas meant a period of isolation – time spent eating, drinking, reading and watching TV (apparently what normal people do at that time of year). A dull memory of a discussion around local adventures came back and after much map gazing, I’d marked up the fifteen trig points on that custom map – usual suspects across the Campsie Fells that have been the target for many runs but also a fair number of more urban trigs. Plan is to do some by bike (the urbans), run some (okay, would be going there anyway) and maybe include a summit camp when sunsets / sunrises are kind.
Other stuff for 2022…
There are two main mountain related projects that are planned for the middle of the year.
The key one being an attempt at a Bob Graham Round in the Lakes with my long term running buddy Jeni Rees Jenkins. The “Bob” is a 66 mile, 27,000ft circuit of 42 of the highest peaks in the English Lake District within 24 hours. The current record is held by Kilian Jornet at a stunning 12hrs and 52mins but if I can scrape under 24hrs I’ll be over the moon. The round will be supported by friends both at the transitions (there are 5 distinct sections) with runners also joining us on the hill. Jeni and I have already spent many miles and hours on the hills and fells together and already excited to be on this challenge with her.
The Skye Cuillin traverse is one of the classic mountaineering routes and one which has eluded me for many years. Previous attempts have failed mainly through weather and simply not moving quickly enough. The 12km, 4000m route is continuous scrambling mostly along a narrow crest where you really would not want a fall ! The aim is to complete the traverse in between 15 – 20hrs and will require a perfect weather window (lesson learned from previous attempts) There are a handful of short graded rock climbs along the route but these “should” not be a problem compared to the physical and mental effort required.
For both the above time on feet is going to be key and the convenient Munros will be the perfect training ground. For anyone starting out, we are fortunate in Scotland to have an incredible landscape within reach. Looking back I first found my feet on the popular summits of Ben Lomond, Ben Lawers, Ben Vane, Schiehallion before moving onto the ridges of the Mamores, Grey Corries and the bit tick ridges around Glen Shiel that quickly add to an overall Munro tally very quickly indeed. Many years later, I still recommend all of the above as fine hill days to start out on !
Ordinance survey maps that help you plan a local adventure from your doorstep!
Olive, Mabel and Me: Life and Adventures with Two Very Good Dogs by Andrew Cotter.
John Prine and Stephen Colbert “That’s the Way the World Goes Round”.
Especially love the note “In case something terrible happens and we have to cheer up the world”.