Highland Trail 2017 attempt (and success)

I really loved it this year, everything seemed to come together perfectly. I originally wrote this as a post on Bearbones but I’ve fleshed it out a bit and added pictures as it’s easier on here.

Day 1: lost maybe an hour on the Ben Alder climb with a tyre hole that wouldn’t seal, stuck in an anchovy and made a mental note to bring a pump that’s easier to use at higher pressure. Bivi after fish and chips, on the Great Glen Way.

A shot over Loch Ericht 

Day 2: Passed Tim sleeping in a bus shelter in Invermoriston. He couldn’t sleep easily on the tiny bench due to the risk of falling off, so tied himself to it with his tent. Expert level ingenuity!

Pushing along Loch na Stac wasn’t that bad either, ridden earlier than usual due to a 5am start, something I’d continue all week. The lodge on the Loch looked as spooky as ever, but I didn’t venture across despite my curiosity.

Avoiding date night in Contin, I pressed on:

Dynamo not working, so a night at the Oykel Bridge to recharge batteries (actual batteries as I was feeling fit). Nothing much special to comment on here, other than seeing two WW2 warplanes flying down the Glen I was in at the time. Sadly too fast to get my camera out, but it definitely happened.

It was that same Glen where I slept in 2014, so it was nice to pass it mid afternoon and not around 9pm. It also made for some nicer shots:

Day 3: The Bealach Horn was just great, the climb was faster and the traverse through the bogs wasn’t as boggy as I remember. An early finish at Suileag Bothy, knowing that the Ledmore traverse in that weather could have been horrible.
Day 4: Met Anita on the Ledmore traverse, she’d missed the bothy turnoff so had erected her tarp instead – brave! Breakfast at the Oykel Bridge, Anita stayed back to recover, but she did press on later. En route to Ullapool I met a guy who had spent a night at a local bothy, and he didn’t mention any other riders, so the route ahead was clear. A stop at Tesco in Ullapool to resupply, and the weather started closing in on the Dundonnel climb (desperate as ever). Descending off Dundonnel it cleared up again into a lovely day, and then I began the Fisherfield ascent. The drop into Fisherfield was an ideal stop for a photo.

Shenavall was packed, so I decided to cross the Strath na Sealga that night to see what I could find. The crossing was easy, calf level, although the water provided temporary respite from the aching legs from four days of hard riding. 

I figured Carnmore was perhaps a step too far so I thought I should investigate Larachantivore. Knowing that there was an emergency shelter, I figured a night in a garden shed would be acceptable, but the porch of the lodge provided perfect shelter from the wind. I’d probably call it my favourite bivi spot, as it was open enough to be spectacular but sheltered enough to prevent any wind chill.

Day 5: Climbing out of Fisherfield, again not hating the push despite its toughness. By this point I was loving the whole route, proper type 1 fun. Stopping for a photo at the top, I couldn’t see any riders behind me, so I felt truly alone. A great feeling.

Descent to Carnmore was even better than I’d remembered, as I’d forgotten it had two parts! All of it very technical and loose, and some landslip that required lifting instead of riding. The ribbon on the right of this photo is the trail I’m about to follow:

Rounding the corner, the view to Carnmore revealed the second part:

Things were going well, but everything changed at the Postman’s Path. I wasn’t a fan at all, a tough traverse with lots of obstacles and pushing.

A quick resupply at the Kinlochewe Stores, looking for a USB battery pack. Sadly their cabinet of ‘The Things’ included a dusty camcorder tape and an old torch so it was never meant to be. Several hours of electricity at the Whistlestop Cafe, I felt like I was holding court as so many riders came and went. Great food though, and the porridge from the all day breakfast menu made for a good starter. Torridon climb, much easier than in 2014, and the descent was simply sublime. The Jones was ideal on it, quick and direct and not as ridiculously underbiked as a rigid bike could have been.

A pause at Dornie for an obligatory photo (not ideal in the dark) and some Haribo, and then bivi search commenced.

Bivi just beyond Morvich campsite when I realised Camban would have been a step too far.

Day 6: I crossed the date line at Camban at 9am, because in 2014 I was faffing with a cracked rim at Camban at 9am on day 7 of my HT ride.

 Another tyre hole later in Glen Affric, this time at the sidewall. Anchovy in, and on my way. 

I met up with Matt around this time, having seen him behind me on the climb into Glen Affric. We’d ridden together a few times already on the route, but from then on we rode as a pair. Tomich for bacon rolls in the post office cafe (another gem of a place), and late lunch in Fort Augustus, this time getting the pizzas we’d been looking forward to on day 1. Fort William in a headwind and rain, more of the same to Kinlochleven. Pitch black pushing up to the Devil’s Staircase, some mist for good measure.

Just up from the ski centre, I flatted. My anchovy hadn’t held, likely due to its position on the sidewall. Some more air (cursing the pump again), and then a few miles of riding. At the end of the Rannoch section, with no respite from the inflate/deflate cycle, a tube went in. Inflation complete, pump was removed, taking with it the valve stem. Tube #2 in, valve would not tighten. Typical! I left it as it was, fully inflated it at Bridge of Orchy, and we rode into Tyndrum at 6:23am for a greeting from a midge net wearing Alan and a beer.

I’ll finish with a quote I got third hand from Matt, who had heard it from Steve, the Cairngorms Loop organiser. I think it sums up the last day, as having company on the route meant I rode more climbs than I would have ridden on my own, and I kept pushing homewards when there was someone else to push with.

“Ride faster, ride alone. Ride further, ride together”


One thought on “Highland Trail 2017 attempt (and success)

  1. Great write up! Makes me really want to go back and do this route again. Since I only got the 400 under my belt your writing really inspires me to see the other 100 miles. Well done and congrats on a great finish.

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