The Great Glen Way
I thought I knew, but I really had no idea.
The Great Glen Way was officially opened on the 30th of April 2002 by H.R.H. Prince Andrew, Earl of Inverness.
The route, which spans 73 miles/117km between Fort William and Inverness, can be walked in 5-6 days, staying overnight in the various communities within the Glen. The Great Glen Way suits all levels of walker. For the less experienced it is the perfect introduction to long distance walking, being for the most part low-level and following mainly towpaths and woodland tracks. There are some challenging sections though, and the more experienced may wish to tackle a few Munros or Corbetts within reach from the route
The route can be walked in either direction, however, walking from Fort William to Inverness you have the prevailing wind behind you and begin with the easier sections of the Way. See a description of the route here.
Because we wanted to climb the Ben Nevis at the end of our journey, we decided (that is, I just tagged along) to do the route backwards and in 4 days, starting off with the harder half of the trail first and covering 30km per day. The fifth day was for the mountain, the sixth for relocation and we’d be home exactly one week and a few hours after departure.
Or at least, that was the plan.
We got lucky on the day of arrival, and circumstances allowed us to get a head start. Trial by fire, it turned out, as we headed into the mountains from Inverness. We needed a place to camp for the night before it got dark so we set off at a fast pace, gaining a decent head start before the first morning. Tasks and weight were distributed fairly evenly, leaving me responsible for 3 camping gas containers and most of the cooking gear. A chef was born. Ironic, no?
Despite a rather sleepless night, we woke up in high spirits the next day and set off singing, talking and imitating bagpipes. It took us until noon before we realized the kind of challenge we were up against. Two of us, including me, got treated to the merry company of blisters, while I had the additional problem that my shoes still weren’t sufficiently walked in and my big toe was getting squeezed painfully with each step.
By nightfall, a few facts were established.
One, two of us were having major issues with their feet, and I was one of them.
Two, a few of us had their size working against them. Again, I was among them.
Three, my rucksack fucking rocks. After it was properly fitted with weight inside, I have no issues whatsoever with it for the rest of the hike, as opposed to the others, who often had to grasp their shoulder straps to relieve their shoulders.
Again, I did the cooking while the others set up camp.
And that is where I made my first major mistake.
I have something off in my lower back. It usually doesn’t bother me, but it keeps me from angling my hips in ways others easily can. As a result, sitting on the floor is something I can’t keep up for more than 2 minutes before I start to twist my legs in all kinds of strange ways in an attempt to get comfortable. And with the lumps of grass underneath, I thought I had succeeded. In reality, I found a very effective way to twist my knee and create a pocket of lactic acid inside, that sent a jolt of pain through my leg when I finally got up. Little did I know, I had just fucked up my ligaments.
Throughout the next day, the problem quickly worsened. My feet were better but after about 30 minutes of walking I rolled my eyes and grumbled sarcastically, “Issue of the day: the knees.” Even then, I had no clue what was to follow. With the very next descent, my knee basically just… gave up on me. From that moment on, I would be limping heavily and groaning in pain every downhill step.
In the mean time, the others were having their own problems. One in particular, I blame his shoes, quickly went from bad to worse. While I had treated my blisters and had little to no pain from them, he could hardly even get up on his feet. It took him several agonizing minutes each time to work up the endorphins to numb the pain. His cries after each much appreciated, hourly break were quickly becoming a very common sound.
Terrain was frustratingly hard to scale, with height differences that busted the knees of every one of us, with one particular peak that left us stranded in the next town, broken. At this point, we had about 75km to go. I was okay as long as the path went up or straight, but my friend was… dead. Imagine the idea of the distance ahead. At this point, we seriously considered quitting. I never knew how much of a fighter my friend really was until the moment he got up and walked again, screaming like a bitch.
Little did we know however, the original intent of the path was to become gradually more challenging. Since we walked it in the opposite direction, our road gradually became more easy. I had made walking sticks and from the third day on, the path was just about horizontal. Feet were healing, painkillers discovered- although I strongly opposed them. I guess he earned it.
The smooth walking lead to an increase in pace however, which left me in the back of the group. I could keep up if I concentrated, but now my other leg was starting to suffer from my crooked walk, and the constant sting drained me of energy I dearly needed to compensate for my shorter legs. I’m not that short, those assholes are just freakishly tall. They don’t walk, they stride. Where I limped.
Thanks to our early start and the fact that we rounded up our efforts, we had 25km to cover on the last two days, instead of 30. However, failing to find a good spot to set up camp and wanting to play it –needlessly, in my opinion- safe, we made that 31/19, instead. Near snapping in half, we chose our spot without much consideration and threw our packs down in a marsh infested with bugs.
The “widgets” (terribly obnoxious little fruit flies that sting) eventually drove us away by charging by the hundreds. This might just have saved our lives, as it suddenly appeared as we settled down again, that our equipment, clothes and selves, were covered in ticks. I checked myself in places no man should ever have to check himself. All in all, I got four. One of us, particularly careless, got over twenty.
On the fourth day, arrival was… salvation. We fell into each others arms and congratulated each other, but the bad weather and dizzying pain kept us from celebrating too long. Instead, we barged into the nearest restaurant, which happened to be a McDonald’s, and spent several hours there. Rather than set up camp again, we opted for a youth hostel so we could finally have some well-deserved rest and a shower, free of stinging, biting and bloodsucking companions.
That night, we had a lengthy discussion under a large framed picture of the Ben Nevis. Me personally, I had joined on this trip with the mountain in mind. Rather than heavy backpacking, this is my knack: light climbing; short, intense challenge, preferably under terrible weather conditions. But… I was outvoted. I was alone in my opinion, and the others deemed it “unwise” to go and climb the UK’s highest mountain in our crippled condition, despite the positive weather forecasts. I had to admit they had a good point, but I still had a very hard time getting the mountain out of my head. It was what I had been living up to for months.
The next two days were spent in towns, buses, air planes. Shopping, joking around, moaning at night while our limbs healed. I could have gone without them, I was ready to go home.
So this is what happened, in case you were wondering. But what does it mean? What effect did it have, and still has? What occurred underneath the surface (insert Loch Ness pun here)? Tune in next time, as we indulge in our tendency to look deeper, overanalyze, overgeneralize, and uncover things that aren’t there.
Seriously though. I’ll get to that, in due time.
I apologize for the uninspiring babbling. It’s a little much to contain, at the moment.