Dispatch from the Razor's Edge, the Blog of Michael Stephen Fuchs
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2008.09.14 : West Highland Way
Day 10 : The Long Hours In The Glen
"It wasn't a place I would have chosen to rest in. It was a really horrible village. The only thing to do in it was to get drunk."
- Graham Greene, Journey Without Maps

I'd gotten up in the middle of the night and wrapped my "affected area" in an Ace bandage. I can tell you I never really expected to use that when I loaded it ino the med kit however many years ago. Anyway, and moreover: A single image representing why we wouldn't be climbing Ben Nevis today. given that my foot/leg hurt like hell overnight, just lying in bed, I figured mountain climbing today might be out.

And when Tim threw the curtains back at 7am, outside was: soup. He then picked up his phone, and read aloud the following text: "Rain both days, slightly better today. Love, Mum."

Because of the wildly variable climate here, we'd scheduled two days (three nights) in Glen Nevis. The idea was always that you do the climb on whichever of the two days looks better weather-wise – this, obviously, doubles your chances of something decent. But it does raise dilemmas, about which we'd already had long involved debates. An obvious example: the weather on day one is just good enough to attempt the summit, but the forecast for day two is slightly better. Do you wait? Tomorrow might be slightly better; then again, the weather may unexpectedly nosedive, and tomorrow be impossible, and you've already thrown away your chance to do it on day one.

My injury made things slightly easier, I think, in our case. I simply didn't think I could do it today. Though, it got complex again quickly: since I wasn't too optimistic about being able to do it tomorrow either, I suggested Tim might go without me today. Did he wait, on the chance that I'd heal enough? What if he did, then tomorrow's weather (and the forecast wasn't promising) turned terrible?

We decided provisionally to bag today. That left breakfast. But we quickly realised that (if you didn't have B&B) there was nowhere to get breakfast in this one-chalet town. But, then, I also realised – we weren't actually walking anywhere, so we had no real claim on breakfast. It was just habit at that point. I guessed we'd have to find something else to fixate on. This could be a very long couple of days.

Don't make me put this up your ass. Tim braved the weather soup, to return to the Visitors Centre for the very latest mountain forecast (and some provisions). On his way out, he snapped a picture of me with my bandaged foot up, looking crippled and pissed off.

Tim: This might be useful later.
Me: In case you need to blackmail me?
Tim: No, I won't blackmail you. I'll just put it on the Internet. You haven't got anything I want. Except humour value.
Me: That's terrifying. The man who can't be bought off.

I dragged the heater into the bedroom (glad there was a heat source!) so I could be crippled in bed, until Tim returned about an hour later. Result: basically, the forecast for the day wasn't good – and tomorrow was slightly worse. I was still pretty sure there was no way I was making it up the mountain today, so we officially waved off.

We hung out in the lounge (heater relocated again), chatting and drinking tea. We read Scottish mountaineering magazines, Tim already planning his next trip. By about 10am, I was bored and borderline depressed. (I'd been on a lower dosage of my brain drugs, which is usually fine when I'm on a walking trip.) I ventured to the upstairs suite to scavenge some more sugar for tea, and got up the stairs reasonably well – but that's one flight, versus a mountain. I was finding it seriously hard to imagine that I was going to be able to climb Britain's tallest peak in less than 24 hours.

Of course, it's just one of those things; but facing two full days of doing nothing here was seriously depressing. Pretty quickly, I wasn't even looking forward to going back home, or to anything. Such is depression.

At noon, Tim sucked down some soup, then geared up and headed out for Fort William, mainly just as something to do, perhaps also to shop for outdoors kit. (Fort William, a couple of miles up the road, and the official end of the WHW, famously has a lot of outdoors shops.) He also promised to hit a real grocery store – and heroically procure me some soya milk, fresh fruit, etc.

A little while after Tim left, I repaired to the Ben Nevis Inn with reading and writing supplies, for tea and lounging. The Inn has an extremely funky interior, which you saw yesterday, but here it is as a reminder. It also has the following curiosities, many of which hang from the walls, and all of which I had great leisure to review and catalogue:

  • A banjo
  • A long bundle of rope
  • An ice axe
  • A sled for getting injured people off the mountain (pretty sure that one's for use, not decoration)
  • A saddlebag
  • A wood-burning stove
  • Skis
  • A large barrel
  • Another large barrel, cut in half and turned into bookshelves (this was upstairs in the old hayloft, where I moved because it was cosier and much, much warmer)
  • A rifle with scope
  • The head of an elk (in close proximity, and presumably intimately related to, the rifle)
  • A drum
  • A jug
  • A rocking chair

Just after 3pm now. Time hangs heavy. This is too much like the end of the Cornwall walk. On my way back from the gents, I grab a menu – to begin pondering dinner.

I realise I've, once again, forgotten my afternoon brain pill, which I intended to bring up here with me. I've just about run out, actually (I get mine from Tuvalu, so lead time is key) – I was running low before I left, and didn't quite reorder in time – but I've a feeling I'm going to need it.

I hobble down the hill and back again – the 25m is still giving me trouble, which still doesn't bode well for the 1344m. And neither does the weather. On my way back into the barn Inn, I decide to switch to that other great mood lifter – a pint of Tennant's Ice Cold. It's pretty early to start drinking yet; but, then again, it sure feels late.

The trick now: drink slowly. I've never been great at that trick, but I've got the time to learn it now. While I sip, I copy down passages out of my volume of Greene – it's too classic an old Pan edition to mark with highlighting – for use as dispatch-opening quotes later:

"One really needed to be a minor prophet to emerge suddenly like this, almost unaccompanied, with two harps and a monkey."
"The nakedness, too, was monotonous; it brought home to one how few people, and for how short a period of their lives, one can see naked with any pleasure."
"And suddenly I felt curiously happy and careless and relieved. One couldn't, I was sure, get lower than Duogobmai. I had been afraid of the primitive, had wanted it broken gently, but here it came on us in a breath, as we stumbled up through the dung and the cramped and stinking huts to our lampless sleeping place among the rats. It was the worst one need fear, and it was bearable because it was inescapable."

Tim took this on his solo walk into Fort William. Eventually, I stumbled back down to the farm to meet Tim, the outside colder than whale shit, cloudy and misty, too. Over tea, we discovered that the front page of the Times trumpeted, swear to God, this:

Scotland's poor health 'caused by a lack of sunshine'

A national campaign to persuade every Scot to take daily supplements of vitamin D is needed if the country's appalling health record is to be reversed, leading scientists believe.

The research points to the country's damp, cloudy climate as a significant contributor to its bleak record of ill health and disease.

Vitamin D deficiency - caused by lack of exposure to sunshine - is twice as common among the Scots as it is among the English.

It suggests that the 'Scottish effect', the country's hitherto unexplained high mortality rate compared with other industrial countries, is in large part down to lack of sun.

I'm <i>really</i> sick of this magazine.

Great. This is where we're stuck.

Next: A Day-Two Summit Attempt, Pulled Out of the Fire? Or Ignominous Defeat and More Soul-Crushing Tedium in Glen Nevis? Find out!

  depression     graham greene     mountains     tim     west highland way  
close photo of Michael Stephen Fuchs

Fuchs is the author of the novels The Manuscript and Pandora's Sisters, both published worldwide by Macmillan in hardback, paperback and all e-book formats (and in translation); the D-Boys series of high-tech, high-concept, spec-ops military adventure novels – D-Boys, Counter-Assault, and Close Quarters Battle (coming in 2016); and is co-author, with Glynn James, of the bestselling Arisen series of special-operations military ZA novels. The second nicest thing anyone has ever said about his work was: "Fuchs seems to operate on the narrative principle of 'when in doubt put in a firefight'." (Kirkus Reviews, more here.)

Fuchs was born in New York; schooled in Virginia (UVa); and later emigrated to the San Francisco Bay Area, where he lived through the dot-com boom. Subsequently he decamped for an extended period of tramping before finally rocking up in London, where he now makes his home. He does a lot of travel blogging, most recently of some very  long  walks around the British Isles. He's been writing and developing for the web since 1994 and shows no particularly hopeful signs of stopping.

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ARISEN : Operators, Volume I - The Fall of the Third Temple by Michael Stephen Fuchs
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