Following on from enjoying An Teallach... Joe and Ian got in touch with an old pal who is running sea kayak trips and guiding services in Torridon to fix us some sit on top kayaks – big thanks to Sheildaig Adventures for this – and we headed up to park at Loch Maree to start our epic approach to Carnmore. There are a few different options for this; either cycle or walk for three or four hours from Poolewe, or paddle over Loch Maree and climb a pass which leads to the valley. Keen for as much adventure as possible we had chosen the second option.
We picked our way through islands in the sunshine and finally reached the shore where the footpath started. After an hour and a half of trudging with heavy packs we reached the top of the col and snatched our first glimpse of Fionn Loch and the causeway over to Carnmore. The crag towered above the valley and looked every bit as huge as we imaged. As we dropped down we were taken aback by the landscape; look one way to find huge Lofoten-like slabs and the other, enormous buttresses of broken rock similar to those in the booming valleys of Glencoe.
It was with a touch of disappointment that we rounded a small hill at the end of Fionn Loch to find a house with a small crowd of people outside in the garden; we were walking in to the wilds and had hoped for some solitude. Things got better when they invited us in to the garden for a big glass of wine. They told us that a number of climbers had been through; they heard their voices echoing down from the crag and that sadly the cowshed bothie a little down the track had been trashed by the previous residents – humans, not cows.
With no tent between us we opted to bed down outside the cowshed in our bivvie bags, and so began our night of abject torture at the hands of the Scottish midgies. The temperature never dropped low enough to warrant a sleeping bag but we couldn’t expose a single part of our bodies to the air, so we boiled in our bags. The head net I was wearing scratched at the bites on my neck until my skin was on fire, and there was an audible hum as the little demons swarmed around us waiting for the first sight of flesh. I seriously considered running and jumping in to the loch at 3am just to get some respite. We all crawled in to the dirty cowshed at 5am and snatched 2 hours of unbroken sleep.
We woke and got ready to walk in to the bottom of the route, which was close to an hour from the hut. In true guidebook style the approach times were a little fanciful. We had spent 2 hours paddling, 2 hours walking and then an hour trudging from the bothie to the base of the route (although we weren’t hurrying). It is very remote, but as we worked our way up the first few pitches of Fionn Buttress with the valleys and lochans stretching out behind us we couldn’t help but feel a sense of satisfaction that we had even managed to get here. The weather was incredible; the climbing even better and the breath of wind at our backs blew the midgies away. We picked our way up 12 pitches of climbing, feeling rusty but loving every minute, swinging leads in inspiring surroundings. The climbing is fine for the grade, but the nature of the crag demands a good head for adventurous routes in the mountains.
As we wandered down off the crag we contemplated the evening ahead, unsure of whether to walk out and escape the midgies or face another night without a tent. To our surprise the guests at the house had been down and cleaned the bothie, making it feel a little more inviting. As expected the head nets came out as the wind dropped. Joe and Ian made the risky decision to sleep down by the loch where there was a little wind, and I opted for the cowshed once again, and slept like a log.
Seeing a bothie in such a bad state was somewhat shocking to us. The cowshed had been opened up to walkers and climbers by the Letterewe Estate who were actively encouraging us to use it, and the wilderness around it. And with that use comes responsibility, which most walkers and climbers understand at a fundamental level. But has our promotion and celebration of wild places now permeated in to parts of society that don’t share that understanding? It seemed so odd that people would walk for four hours to get drunk, leave rotting food and go to the toilet in a cow shed in the middle of nowhere.
As the people who celebrate and promote the outdoors, do we need to show a greater level of commitment to educating those we engage with? Does a platform like Instagram (where the outdoors is high fashion) give us a space to tell a more complete story, to celebrate wild places but also instil a sense of responsibility for their care? To facilitate an understanding of cause and effect and empathy for those who share these spaces with you?
We bumped in to a family member of the Letterewe estate as we made our way out from Carnmore. He was excited to hear that we had been in to the crag, and told us with great pride that Sir Edmund Hilary had been to Carnmore on a training trip before heading out to Everest. He also asked us how he could stop the bothie being misused. There is a lot of heritage and mountain culture wrapped up in these places, culture that will be inaccessible when the landowners restrict access to protect their spaces. The bothie book that was ripped up and strewn across the floor of the cowshed was a reminder that the care that comes as second nature to us, may not be exercised by those who follow our adventures on the internet and try to emulate them in the wild.
The film we are creating is in production for Alpkit and we are pretty excited about this one. Watch this space for updates and a release date!
Please respect the Bothy, they are an amazing resource but they are for everyone and so needs everyone to work together. To support the upkeep of Bothies please check out the Mountain Bothy Association