I was with Noel when I did it, except that I wasn’t with Noel. He’d dropped me off to start along the shorter, northern leg of the Kernsary Circular Path because I’d be continuing east after A’ Mhaighdean while he’d be cycling down the slightly longer, but infinitely more bike-friendly, southern leg because he’d be coming back out west. But here I was, heading into the remotest hill terrain in Scotland on Sunday night, in trainers but carrying boots, axe etc. as ‘insurance’ against conditions on the high tops, not yet two miles off the road on a section of path so straightforward I could have been walking down the street, when my right foot suddenly, inexplicably folded inwards with an ominous grating sound…
So what to do next? I knew it was bad from the foot angle I saw, sound I heard, rapidity of swelling and pain that had me briefly howling. But my phone was in my rucksack, who knows where Noel’s was or where he was, perhaps we both had a signal and perhaps there was none. Without the Fisherfield round there’d be no Slioch on 30 May and I wasn’t coming back for it next weekend or the one after if I was hurt, but the pain was rapidly easing, I thought ligament damage more likely than broken bones (so who heads into Fisherfield with either?), and perhaps I could walk to Carnmore and discuss the prospects there? So I did…
Except that some four or five miles later things started to get pretty sore after all and by the time I’d crossed the causeway on the approach to Carnmore I was in quite some distress. But Noel appeared (coming back to look for me) to give me a shoulder along the track to the barn and, after an episode where I had to first sit and then lie on the path to avoid passing out, we were there… 10.3 miles from the nearest road and about four hours after my accident.
So that was that. I’d willfully pushed on more than eight miles into the ‘Great Wilderness’ with an obvious injury. The Fisherfield through-trip was over, my scheduled, sociable Slioch completion was over (because I couldn’t get Fisherfield first) and there was a high probability that Noel would be heading back out in the morning trying to arrange a chopper to fly me out. Damn, damn, damn!
But then the Monday morning ‘miracle’ as I awoke to an ankle that, while still horribly discoloured and swollen, could be weighted almost normally, had regained a substantial range of movement from its ‘wooden foot’ self a few hours before and, above all, didn’t hurt. So I tried a little walking around, thought it was worth a ‘look’ now we were here and suggested to Noel that we head for Ruadh Stac Mor and A’ Mhaighdean (the peaks he’d come for) prepared to turn back if I was wrong. Except that I’d better carry my full pack anyway because A’ Mhaighdean’s near enough halfway to Corrie Hallie (sort of 15 miles to the road either way!) and I might as well finish the job if I’d got that far. And, since he could see I was both ‘OK’ and not joking, he bought it, and off we went up the superb stalker’s path east.
First batch of photos courtesy of Noel Williams (sorry I didn’t get any of you because I hadn’t got my camera out!):
So normally I’d be banging on about the breathtaking wild country, with the forecast morning showers clearing quickly enough to give us a good whiff of the fabulous prospect west from A’ Mhaighdean (widely held to be the finest summit view in the country), and dedicating a lengthy blog post to how the wilderness via its western approach is absolutely everything it’s cracked up to be. It really is that good! But there’s a twist to this tale yet and, since I need to get on, another short sentence (what, short sentence? from me?) or two about that particular journey will have to do. In which case what happened next (after parting from Noel on the summit of A’ Mhaighdean) can be summarised as finished the fabulous Fisherfield round, particularly enjoyed the fine little rock peak of Sgurr Dubh at the end of the annoying dogleg to pick up the two subsidiary Tops of Mullach Coire Mhic Fhearchair (this is not a short sentence, is it?), and was finally reunited with Noel at Corrie Hallie in near dark some 14 hours and 21.6 miles after leaving Carnmore. Which might not impress in ‘mph’ terms, but wasn’t exactly hanging about on rough, rough ground with an overnight pack on my back. And not meeting a single soul (bar Noel) all day!
Second batch of photos by me:
So… Fisherfield done, Slioch ‘saved’… what next? I had work in the morning and we were going to be hideously late home, but that ankle still really needed checking just in case. So whether to stay with Noel in Torlundy, phone work and head straight to casualty in the morning or get home, go to work and phone for a doctor’s appointment from there? Well, since I was walking fine and felt duty-bound to do the latter, I headed straight home. But then made the mistake of photographing my ankle and posting the pic on Facebook. After which, just as I was planning to head out in the morning having already let the normal ‘let us know’ time go, a strong consensus seemed to be rapidly emerging to ‘get that checked out… now!’ So a change of heart and sheepish phone call later and I was driving back up the road to the Belford. Three hours and much examining, prodding and X-raying later and I’m waiting with a ‘backslab’ (non-weight-bearing partial plaster cast) on my ankle for my boss to rescue me and another to drive my van home. But the people at the Belford know the score (as will my own doctor when I see him on Friday) and I agreed to this backslab thing because it’s temporary and they assured me it was giving me the best chance of getting to Slioch after all. For sure the doctor there suggested most people wouldn’t expect to be up a Munro four weeks after their ligament pulled off a chip of bone, but I told him I’d already done five Munros and a Corbett on it and am not ‘most people’. I’m letting the West Highland Way Race go because it’s the one thing I’m prepared to let go to make everything else right, but still more than hopeful of walking up Slioch on 30 May (remembered this morning I’ve got poles I rarely use!) and running at least part of Marie Meldrum’s Celtman support on 27 June if I’m ‘allowed’. And my doctor will understand that. He knows what makes people like me tick and might not even be that surprised to hear that I just walked 30 miles through the Fisherfield Wilderness with a technically fractured ankle. On which note the bottom line is that I’ve done 598 of my 601 ‘all-time’ Munro tops, the three remaining (one Munro, one Top and one Deletion) are all on Slioch, and I’m both OK and going to be OK!