For WWESU’s 2022 annual October Half Term Hillwalking Trip we returned to the great mountain ranges of Scotland, this time to Fort William and the West Highlands. Read on to find out what we got up to…
Kicking off with an early 5am start outside Scout Park, our group of 8 Explorers and 2 Leaders all popped our expedition bags in the back and piled into the bus for the 10 hour drive ahead. Between napping, good company and a few stops we seemed to make good time. Before we knew it we were stopping off in the huge Fort William Morrison’s to buy ingredients for the burritos we planned to cook that evening!
After exploring Insh Scout Campsite for a little while and skimming rocks by the river, we pitched our tents and all came together to cook spicy chilli, rice, vegetables with sort all of the toppings like cheese, salsa and guacamole for our burritos. Pretty impressive on Trangias! We then had some hot chocolate and cake with custard around the campfire whilst we were briefed on the plan for the next day before getting into our nice, dry and unbroken tents (they wouldn’t stay that way for long!). – Priya
Monday saw a lazy morning in the campsite, then we packed day bags and on the bus to our first day walk. The group was split in 2, with John taking a couple more experienced Explorers to assess their nav skills for a T1 permit, and Nigel taking the others up a Corbett. In the Corbett group, we snaked up the side of a steep grassy hill, trudging up in a zigzag across muddy banks through the mossy boulders scattered across the valley. Further up into the hills, the view below faded away as we continued up into the clouds until an eventual windy summit, completely shrouded in fog.
After clambering down the mountain, we met up with the other group who told us their assessment has been called off after struggling about in the fog, barely able to see their own toes, and we took the bus back to camp. A hot meal of pasta and sausage warmed spirits in the cabin, sheltered from the rain outside, before it was in tents to rest for tomorrow.
Our second day on the hills would involve splitting into two teams and hiking separate routes. The first route started with an early wake up and hike out of camp through the area surrounding the campsite before reaching the foot of a range of Munros. After a fairly harsh uphill we made it to the ridge we’d be hiking over for the rest of the day. While visibility was low on the summits the hike provided a gloomy but spectacular ridge walk where we were able to pick up two munros and multiple Munro tops before a group shelter lunch and a finish through woodland and farms.
The other group would aim to tackle a Munro or two in another area further from camp. With a slightly later wake up the second group drove to a nearby area and began their climb, much like the first hike the weather was not on our side and rain poured down throughout. Despite the poor weather the group achieved a Munro before descending and making their way back to camp.
Once we had all rejoined at the campsite we had dinner, rested and prepared for the next days expedition…
Bright and early on Wednesday morning ,we packed up everything at the campsite and made sure to leave nothing behind. After a brief minibus journey to Speinbridge, we started our adventure into the wilderness and left civilisation behind. Spirits were high as we started our expedition with bulky bags and high ambitions. However, due to wind concerns , we set up our camp much lower down than expected but little did we know , the wind was going to be our main challenge for the night. Extremely strong gusts of wind battered our tents and caused several damages to our equipment, making the setting up process very difficult . However, we bravely persevered as a team and set up the tents but uncertainty was still lingering throughout the night while attempting to cook dinner and sleep…
On Thursday morning we began our day hike together, climbing 600m on marshland and rocky terrain to our first Munro. From there, we split into two groups. One group had lunch on the summit before continuing along the misty ridge to a second Munro. The other group took a different path in order to achieve an outlet Munro and returned to the previous peak to follow the route of the other team. Both groups met on a saddle between two mountains, with the first descending straight back to camp, whilst the other trekked higher to our fourth Munro, after being disappointed by several false summits. We then walked down to the valley, crossing bogs and interlocking streams, and in the final stage being guided by torchlight. Both groups braved the relentless Scottish wind and downpours, and encountered wildlife such as deer. At the end of the day we felt tired yet accomplished, and everyone appreciated the clear starry night sky.
For the last day of the expedition we packed up our bags and took down our tents as we made our way back from our base camp to the minibus. Although this was a route we had done before, we still faced many challenges such as the harsh wind and rain that took a toll on the last of our dry clothes. Nevertheless, getting back to our lovely, warm minibus felt great and we were rewarded with a round of showers in the familiar leisure centre for the final time and a quick break in Fort William where everyone had some time to buy a snack and relax. After this we took a 2 hour drive down south to our final camping spot Auchengillan campsite. Putting up our tents we realised how grateful we are to camp on flat ground again and have a block of toilets nearby. Then as a victory dinner we had a tasty takeaway fish and chips, enjoyed by the cosy fire where we ended the evening nicely with a Scouts Own , a reflective activity that allows us to look back on the highs, lows and takeaways of the trip.
A few words from our Leader, John…
It was a surprisingly awake bunch of Explorer Scouts who met me before 5am at Scout Park on Sunday 23rd October, although that soon changed as the long drive to Fort William got underway.
Once ensconced at the nice-but-basic Insh campsite, we headed out for a couple of days’ worth of walks to the local Corbetts and Munros (and for some visits to Lochaber Leisure Centre for showers).
Then, looking ahead at the weather for the different mountainous areas accessible to us (wet and windy – but the key was finding somewhere with slightly less of the latter), we headed off on a two-night expedition into the remote Ben Alder area, strewn with deep valleys, chilly lochans, and looming peaks.
We camped up about 13km into the hills, and swiftly realised the price we were going to pay for a dry site was exposure to the wind (gale-force up high). However, Nigel and I were thoroughly impressed with the teamwork and ingenuity shown by the Explorers; rocks, walking poles, duct tape, teamwork, and repitching were all deployed to combat broken tent poles, fabric rips, and dented spirits.
The next day, we all headed out on to the nearby munros, arriving back at camp as darkness fell, soaked through. The scouts’ dry discipline and ability to look after themselves over two nights in poor conditions was put to the test that night. With wind and driving rain at our backs, we tramped out the next morning to showers, a bimble round Fort William, and a peaceful evening at Auchengillan campsite with fish n’ chips and a campfire. We also held a Scouts’ Own to reflect on the challenges and high points of the week.
Thanks to Nigel from 9th Muswell Hill for being my second adult on the trip – and giving up his 50th birthday into the bargain, and most of all, thanks to a great crew of Explorers for making the trip the adventure it was.