I knew this was going to be a classic ‘lads walk’ when checking in at Bristol airport and newcomer Reg decided to put his budbomb through security. A budbomb is a highly sophisticated polished metal, chambered pipe designed for smoking the buds of cannabis, free of tobacco, delivering a direct hit to the brain. That’s where the bud part comes in. The bomb part isn’t called such because it does this type of delivering but because it’s shaped like a small bomb and therefore not the most ideal thing to put through the security scanner at airports. But this was pre 911 and security were not looking for bombs or narcotics at that time, having their hands full with people smuggling an extra bottle of Archers or having 20 cigarettes over the limit, so suffice to say we landed at Glasgow without interruption. We transferred to a train that lolled through the scenery of Scotland to finally drop us at Fort William which is the town at the end of Scotland’s greatest trail and the reason we were here, to walk part of the West Highland Way. It seemed however that we had gone in through the out door so to speak as we were about to walk three days over this trail the wrong way.
Walked ‘correctly’ the 154Km (96 miles) Route starts at Milngavie passes through Mugdock Country Park, follows the shores of Loch Lomond, passing Ben Lomond, through Glen Falloch and Strathfillan, crossing Rannoch Moor, past Buachaille Etive Mor to the head of Glencoe, climbing the Devil’s Staircase, descending to sea level to cross the River Leven at the head of Loch Leven before entering Lairigmor and Glen Nevis and finishes at Gordon Square in Fort William. The thing was we weren’t going to be walking it correctly because for one we hadn’t got the latest fad that every other walker without exception was carrying, these ski sticks whose only benefit seemed to be of occupying one’s arms whilst the legs are busy – a bit like stabilizers for walkers and for two we had what probably every walker without exception didn’t have which was enough dope to wilt a field of thistles. Well at least we hoped we had, since we hadn’t risked taking the stuffed A5 envelope onto an aircraft but instead posted it, for our attention, to the Glen Nevis Youth Hostel which was to be our home for the first couple of nights and that was where we headed to straight from the station. On checking in, we smiled as the receptionist said, ‘ah, you have a strange smelling package here’. You have to love Royal Mail for their drug courier service and at no extra cost.
The next day saw three of the group hanging around Fort William for the day testing the contents of that package whilst Phil and I arose at the crack of dawn to surmount Ben Nevis, which looked very welcoming in the morning May sunshine wearing its thick snowy cap. Nevis is the highest mountain in the UK at 4408 feet (1344 metres) and the starting point is only about 65 feet above sea level still leaving 4343 feet to ascend, which we did in just over three hours since Phil informed me, approximately half way up, that he was terrified of heights but was ok if he didn’t stop and hoped I wouldn’t let him down being his mate and all.
We had the mountain more or less completely to ourselves and didn’t see one other walker whatsoever until we hit the scree zone, (always used in films that depict hell), at about 3500 feet which was now covered in cloud and visibility was only around 30 feet. This lone walker appeared out of the mist like a wraith whose only reason for being there was to inform a man terrified of heights ‘to be very careful, it’s deadly up there’. Phil had to be more than cajoled to continue but this he did, albeit even faster. I remember shouting to his disappearing form to slow down for fucks sake otherwise you’ll be on your own with a dead body to deal with. Not long after this we hit the snow line and within a hundred metres it was a foot thick and we experienced what was essentially a white out (as opposed to a ‘whitey’ which no doubt our three, estranged ground level companions were having around about the same time). The visibility was less than 10 feet and we’d lost the path as the local council selfishly don’t send salt gritters up this far, and it was very, very cold but as the ground still had a slope to it and knowing we were very near the top, we continued and then two things happened. We’d been discussing Marcus, one of our fellow walkers and a best friend to both of us who had died in tragic circumstances a couple of years before and as we were doing so a lone little bird flew beside us and landed right next to us at this great, narnian height to allow us enough time to look at each other and then to the bird and say ‘Hi Marcus’ before it promptly flew away. It raised one of *those* smiles. With this in mind I kept trudging through the shin-deep snow and got a tad lost in my own thoughts thinking about the movie Touching the Void and the Rivers of Babylon song, when Phil screamed at me to stop – which I did abruptly. He told me to re-trace my steps and not to move onwards one more inch. I obeyed because his tone was so serious, he must have obviously spotted a grizzly bear coming my way and if not a grizzly then possibly a dreaded winged haggis. Well it turned out that I owed him one as I was no longer walking on land but on a snow overhang which just happened to be overhanging the 700-metre (2,300 ft) high cliffs of the north face which are among the highest cliffs in the UK.
The snow overhang in question though not the same day. This one being clear
Although I was the one who nearly actually died, it was actually Phil who really nearly died and by now he was almost invisible as his face was whiter than the pure driven snow surrounding him and it didn’t seem sensible, that minutes later at the found summit, to open a bottle of whisky and to have no more than two minutes rest before making our anxious descent. I think we are the first people on Earth to get up and down Ben Nevis within 5 hours without running. Alas, we soon met back up with the other three who had no interest in our adventures, preferring to giggle a lot. We all headed for a local pub which we sat in until closing time, making our plans and sharing our thoughts about what the next few days held walking ‘The Way’. We left Phil asleep slumped at the table and stood in the street looking (and giggling – bear in mind we were only in our 30’s and 40’s) through the window, marveling at Phil’s reaction as the cleaner prodded him for several minutes before he got up and wandered for what he thought was the door but what was instead the pub kitchen. These things have to be done.
To be continued…………