Scotland - Day 4 : Off road
It was relatively warm in the morning. After a breakfast of dry granola we started the day's hike. The first part would be flat, then there would be a relatively gradual climb, and then a very steep decline. Basically 'more or less' the same as yesterday, but then in reverse.
We crossed this river using a small bridge
We started over a marked path and took a detour along the river to reach a bridge. It was about 9 when we got there. There were two tents of fellow hikers who were still eating breakfast. I usually don't leave before 9 either. However, today we didn't have time to take it slow, as we needed to walk as far as possible to reach the train in time. Until the bridge Nic was fine, even though we had to wait a few times. Afterwards we followed a stream uphill through a valley filled with tussocks and swampy sections. Nic's ankles hurt increasingly more. He finally told us he had surgery on both ankles and one knee. None of us knew, otherwise we would have planned an easier route. By now we didn't really have another choice except to keep going. Apart from his ankles Nic's blisters were also bleeding.
We took a group photo at a turn in the river
The next 5 kilometers would be flat, then we would climb for 2 kilometers, then have 2 more flat kilometers over a mountain plateau and then needed to descend for 1 more. That didn't seem like much as it was only 10 o'clock. Unfortunately Nic was feeling worse and worse, he felt especially bad when the route was going up, down, or wasn't level; which was basically all the time.
The valley without a trail
This day's scenery was one of the nicest.
Climbing out of the valley
We first walked through a valley without trails where we didn't see any other people. Later we climbed along a river that contained many small waterfalls. One area had many frogs, real ice frogs. José accidentally stepped on one. There was also a pool filled with tadpoles. The water in the river was very cold and clear, it tasted fresh.
The wet mountain plateau
After the 'level' kilometers and some climbing we arrived at the mountain plateau, which wasn't really a plateau. It was more a series of hills high up in the mountains. Large sections were still covered in snow. Throughout the day we took plenty of breaks so Nic could keep up. He had blisters everywhere but didn't give up. From the moment we had entered the valley we had averaged less than one kilometer per hour, including stops. Hopefully we would leave the plateau before dark, as it would surely freeze there at night.
At the edge of the cliff
On the plain we had to cross some rivers. One of them was covered with snow, so we had to cross it carefully hoping we wouldn't sink through.
When we had traversed the mountain plateau we reached a cliff, which we had to descent. We first had to climb a bit to reach a safe point to go down. Aviemore was already visible in the distance. We needed to climb down a very steep rocky section for about 100 meters. It was super windy so we first all put on some extra clothes. The map suggested going down diagonally, but the trail was barely visible. After some scouting I decided following the path would be too dangerous, there was too much ice.
Eventually I found a better way to descent. We all climbed down carefully until reaching a large snowy area. Bart tried to climb down, but lost his balance and slid down feet first. A few seconds later he was going really fast and his heel got stuck behind he rock, after being catapulted in the air he landed again on his back and fortunately made it down without getting hurt. Now it was Nic and José's turn. Nic fell almost right away and rumbled down the slope. Snow was blowing everywhere and we could see him somersaulting. At the bottom he came to a screeching halt and said "Woow, I totally ate it" while spitting out some snow. José and I made it down in a more controllable manner.
We could see our destination for today, a lake lower in the valley. Today's pace had been very low, but we were glad we had made it down the mountain before dark.
There was no path anymore so we had to bushwhack through knee-high shrubs. There were a few technical sections and it was very swampy, like we were walking through a 10 cm deep river everywhere. For the first time since setting out we also had mobile phone reception again, so we could tell our families we were still alive. Nic was completely destroyed and could hardly walk. It was still light out when we laid down in our tents.
Camping along the lake