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CWT: Day 3, Corryhully to Sourlies, 15 miles

Bog trotting to Loch Nevis and Sourlies Bothy.

We get an early start as the rain thrashes the bothy. I have learned, even in these first days, that it sounds worse in a metal roof than it is, but I’m glad to be inside organizing gear in a dry space where I can stand.

All the way to the pass is on jeep track – easy to find and relatively easy underfoot, though it is as if rocks were lain for cobble stones. We see the rain returning in a fast moving dark cloud and just take to throwing up our hoods. Our first burn (stream) ford is a snap, and just an introduction to coming attractions.

The rain is on and off, or as one of the gals in the bothy said, “In Scotland, it’s either raining or about to.” But it makes the sky dark as night. Such strange light here, noir and dour. Until the sun pops out and makes everything sparkle.

It’s steep, but we’re strong. I don’t know anyone who keeps my same pace like Ted, or is willing to take the misery of backpacking in stride so well. He’s more what is called a “fell runner” and is used to these hills, the weather as well as the hard, oftentimes extremely steep track.

Nearing the bealach above Glen Finnan.
Looking back down the glen.
Please shut the gate.

I thought we’d find no trail whatsoever, but flattened down bits are obvious, it’s more about your choice of how to place your foot and how to avoid the wettest, boggiest, suck-you-in areas.

And this is most important once we reach the bealach, or pass. Here, there’s a gate for a fence to keep in animals, but in this case, only the gate still stands in this lonely place between two massive Munros, Streap and Sgùrr Thuilm, with stern directions to keep it shut.

Up here, we were warned last night, it’s a hellscape of damp. One burn after another falls down the mountain and cascades through deep chasms in the grass heading into Gleann Cuìrnean and the wild river below.

At first, it’s boggy – wet areas on grass we splash through as well as areas of mud where Ted’s legs seem to easily find the deepest holes. But then the going gets tricky, rocks are added to the mix, requiring each step be planned and managed.

The group told us to take care and stay to the right, at least eventually, or we’ll have a nasty ford in water to our waist. But now we’re on the left looking at a snaky river below on a flat plateau. Flat means wet and it’s as advertised, socks, shoes, rain pants all wet and the walking sticks getting a workout trying to keep upright as we step long, leap or try to find rocks for the feet.

Gleann Cuìrnean with the river snaking around. It was extremely steep, wet and rocky here.
An easy first ford, one of many.
Walking towards Glen Dessary and the forestry.

The sun comes out before another gray patch appears and cuts loose with rain, but aside from one short moment at the top in wind, I’m warm and feeling exhilarated by the views and my strong walking.

We stay vigilant though, knowing we’ll have to get to the right before long. I notice a rock cairn and some flattened grass. but they take us to an eroded bank and no easy access to the river. I plow up and over thick ferns then see a more obvious entry.

I go in first, studying the fall line, unhooking my backpack and then looking for the flattest area to slowly crab my way across. New Zealand helped me build skills, but mostly crossing is a matter of finding the best spot with water below your knees if possible.

It’s hard to keep my poles steady as I advance, but I never lift a leg before they’re set and soon I’m across. Ted follows and we walk down the right bank, only to be deposited at another crossing.

Hell no!

It appears others had the same idea as us, sidling on a narrow strip of grass above the raging river. I take care crossing a side cascade but soon reach a flat spot pointing down towards a road.

It’s boggy and wet here, water up above our ankles, but we press on, cross a bridge and move through a wetland thick with rushes toward a building. The sky clears again leaving huge cumulus drifting by. It seems it could go on all day, but more mist moves in, followed by rain.

Intense green in the forestry.
The rickety bridge near A’Chuìl.
Stunning rock outcropping near Lochan a Mhaim.
Silvery rock as the rain moves out.

The road to Glen Dessary passes a slash cut of stumps, then heads into the ‘forestry’ of pine trees. Are these spruce? These plantations are controversial changing the grass, heather and rock hills to an unvarying canvas of dark green. It’s nice to walk through, but feels more Pacific Northwest than Scotland.

We miss the turn for A’Chuìl bothy, but it feels to early and Sourlies is at one of the most exquisite locations on the trail. So we head up into the glenn just as the sky clears and the sun shines brightly causing the rock outcropping to dazzle the eye.

We stop for lunch on one of those outcroppings and consider the distance left and if there’s time. It’s steep up into more ‘forestry’ where we cross a rickety bridge with huge spaces between slats over a torrent, then into fragrant pine needles where we filter water for our ascent.

It’s muddy and wet here too on a jeep track and extremely steep. The rain returns even as the sun shines, drops like ornaments on the branches. It finally lets out into a giant bowl with a trio of Munros looking on. The sun appears for dramatic effect as we reach another gate along with a stile all on its own. Through deep puddles, rushing water and mud, we climb up towards a cleft in the mountains.

Heather on rock with blue sky.
Falling in love with granite intrusions.
Looking back down the glen.
The high plateau between Glen Dessary and Loch Nevis was hard walking on rock.

We’re tired, I think, and ready to see the bothy and Loch Nevis, both of us assuming it will be in that opening. But instead, it’s more rock, grass, burns and bogs. It’s slow going finding our way through, beautiful, for sure, in an austere way.

The sun is bright and I want it to stay this way until we get to the loch, but the rocky, mountainous pass goes on and on. Every step asks for attention with big drops, streams in the trail and bogs of questionable depth.

But each step also brings bigger and wilder beauty, grassy peaks now with huge rock sections as if slices of bread. The light catches the water and glimmers, and we press on up and down and over.

We finally reach a lochan, a small and more alpine lake. The sun is hidden by a dark cloud that looks more like fog than a cloud. Below is bright, but the fog changes the light to a kind of gloaming. It’s mysterious and pregnant as we stumble over rocks to circle the lochan.

Below is another one, larger and more shapely. I carefully place my sticks so I can step down steep rocks just as it begins to rain again.

It’s heavy and the wind blows hard, splashing it directly in my face. I’m ok, but it’s cold and really time to get there. Just then, two hikers come up. Friendly Scots even in this dreich. They tell us 90 minutes to the bothy which dampens our already damp spirits.

The sun comes out just as we reach the high viewpoint above lonely Loch Nevis.
Ted leads on boggy marshland towards Sourlies.
Ian and Jacob in the bothy.
Sourlies in the gloaming.

But I can see light again signaling the rain moving on and the sun taking its place. It’s steep down now into a wonderland of rock and grasses – the wildest bit of Scotland yet.

The water is racing down now and I know a waterfall is ahead. That means we have to go up and over to avoid its chasm. I’m not sure how we manage, but our legs are still strong and we push up a thin, rocky trail to the overlook of Loch Nevis.

Tucked into mountains far below, it seems to emanate from the mist; an ancient place with stories to tell I’m sure. And it’s still a long way down through water, bog, rocks. This is not a maintained foot path, but rather a herd trail zigzagging so steeply, I need to sit down to advance.

Down and down we go. Ted slips once but manages to land on his shoulder and not his hands. Eventually we reach a bridge high above a noisy rapids warning us it’s unstable and to take care.

The wet patches never let up as we pass ruins and the sun sets in technicolor at the opposite end. We’re able to walk on a tritoned seaweed-covered beach where two deer graze toward the tiny stone building, feeling absolutely exhausted and famished.

Two men are already there and kindly offer up hot water and the best sleeping platform. Dinner is Buffalo Pasta (with six mayo packages each) a few bars and a mug of chocolate/peanut butter.

Clothes are hung, conversation shared amidst candlelight and we all turn in, falling asleep quickly and deeply as deer roar and the rain starts up again.

2 Responses

  1. Your photographs are so beautiful, Alison. They evoke the drama and substance of what truly is an epic hike. I’m reading your posts on this trip backwards, but it doesn’t take away the wonder of the scenery and the challenges along the way.

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