You set off on the trip of a lifetime. To a place you've dreamed of going since you were a tiny little pipsqueak of a man. You're flying over the highlands in a plane with brilliant buddies who share your ideals, dreams and love of adventure. You cross the bridge to the Isle of Skye and to a mistical world of green. Then you find yourself frightened, lost, and shaking uncontrollably as the cold night draws closer with the mist swirling around you, soaking you to the bone reduces visibility of about 10 metres.
(Please click here for Dick Guaghan's interpretation of the poem 'What You Do With What You've Got' which should be listened to on repeat as you read below and at any other occasion when you are feeling lost.)
It started out so well. We arrived, we headed to a bar, ordered whisky (no ice, and certainly no ginger - just a dram of water), slowly drowned our glass with views of a beautiful blue boat that stood out in contrast to the green banks of the bay. We then headed to our lodgings. Welcomed in with open arms by the owners of Dun Flodigarry Hostel we were treated like the Scottish Highlanders of time gone by. Bryan, Gavin & Annabelle fed us salted porridge and water the next day and cheered us on our way as we announced we were running 26miles across the ridge that runs like a spine across the Island.
Their words echoed as we ran out of the hostel. "You're so lucky with the weather".
Laughter, cheers, singing with joy, high fives and the occasional hug followed as we moved from one utterly beautiful view to another. Our legs felt awesome and we made amazing pace despite the unlimited photo ops and filming (see below). We passed hikers who laughed at our bright running attire and enthusiasm.
As a path disappeared beneath our feet so did other hikers and as the mist descended ridiculously fast so did all the views that we'd been part of for the past 4 hours. But we had the ridge - as long as we stayed on the high ground we'd find the old Man of Stor - our final destination, and my quickly adapted 'trail name'.
The mist soaked every inch of our clothing and slowly the cold found our fingers and toes. Stopping to regroup as visibility pretty much disappeared altogether we realised we were no longer on the ridge. Holding the map and compass my newly acquired map reading skills paid dividend and we managed to get back to the ridge one time and then again an hour later - but not without paying the price. Each time we had to get back to the ridge we had to climb a cliff face back to the height and as well as the cold that was running it's fingers up our tops a few of the gang started to feel the exertion pulling at them like a tire dragged through the mud. Needing to rest regularly meant those who were cold got colder. But at least we knew where we were again.
"Let's push on, the faster we move the faster we'll get there. Let's get a little run on again", we'd stopped running at this point for the most part.
We made great time and we're seriously close to the point where we could descend. But the faster pace meant we lost track again of where we were precisely and again we found ourselves lost. Again we played the compass and map card but as we pulled to the east again we came across cliff faces that couldn't be climbed nor descended. Our mind was idled by exhaustion and the cold. We moved slightly more north hoping to find a better path. We traversed a cliff hoping to find a place to get around it but were met by another cliff drop that stopped our passing. We'd walked into another dead end. By this point Renee was shaking uncontrollably and when I asked her our bearing she couldn't see because the needle was flying around with the shake of her hand. Hyperthermia had found it's way into my chest and back and I too was unable to control my body let alone my hands. We danced the funky chicken to try and warm ourselves. But the frivolity at which the dance was executed hid a deeper fear that was building. We were looking like we might have to spend the night up here and we were very much unprepared. Thoughts of dying on the mountains fizzed through my mind. We'd been up here for 10 hours now and although the sun barely set this North we knew that if it got any lower the temperatures would plummet. Looking around at the cliff faces that dominated the small amount of visions we had I began to panic and once the gang saw that in my eyes I saw it spread to them too.
We huddled up together closely behind a rock, hidden from the wind that whipped the mist around us trying to pull the map out of our shaking hands. The rain had even penetrated that too and it tore in my hands over the very section we needed. Concentrating with all our mind power I asked the guys to try and keep me calm to focus on where we might be - pulling the map together was like five two year olds playing with their first jigsaw. We clumsily brought the sodden side together at different angles. We looked at the cliff faces and edges and tried to work out where they lay with the compass. We worked out where was East which meant the sea was that way! Even if it was miles away.
Then the wind blew and with it gave Jason a view of the valley for a split second and he saw a river running east. Towards the sea. With a brain idled with cold I said "Did you really see it?", Abby agreed, she'd seen it too. We hastily made our way along the cliff hunched up against the wind until it gave way to a small valley that the river had cut through and headed east.
It only took about 5 minutes till the drop in altitude revealed beautiful views of mountains wrapped in cloud but more importantly - and to our delight - the sea in the distance and we knew a road lay along the coast.
Still fearful that cliff edges might prevent our descent and we might have to climb again we kept quiet and plodded on until we were within reach of the road at which point one of us started to laugh (probably Renee) and the rest followed suit. Manic laughter echoed back bouncing of the vertical mountains that surround us barring our little path eastward and towards warmth and dinner and life. Renee hugged a tree to say thank you.
A thumb was showed on the road and a Scottish man pulled over... and then we were at another hostel. Wrapped in sleeping bags or indulging in showers, cramming food down our throats that we'd been without the whole time, barring Scroggin ('trail mix').
At the end of the day and for the rest of the trip food tasted better than ever before, friendship meant more than anything before and loved ones were told that they were loved for the first time. Life in general is sweeter for eluding death - it's a second chance - potentially 8th or 9th chance for me - we all agree we'll enjoy our lives harder for this experience.
We were scared, but we pulled together as a group - a bond that will probably last a lifetime - but I wouldn't advise seeking out experiences like last Saturday.
"It's not just what you're given, it's what you do with what you've got"
If you want to watch a video of the more fun times (I stopped filming when things got real) click:
(Here's this blog on my website)