I write this report as a “failure of a walk fortold” – a cautionary tale for climbing/scrambling wanna-be’s like me.
All the responsibility for this is mine; all things considered, I did ok, came back to my starting point with all my bits intact and glad to be alive. That said…Someone on this site has a gift for writing that makes everything seem possible. Why, on a two week trip to Scotland, i would insist on travelling up and beyond Ullapool to climb a mountain by myself, begs the question. Granted, I was searching for something besides whisky and castles, and all the credible “top 10” things to see had at two or more places in/near Assynt. Seeing as I had just completed half the West Highland Way, I had never felt more equipped for a challenge. That challenge would be Cul Beag. We only had two nights in Assynt, at a cottage a mile further in from Lochinvar with a view to a small and beautiful bay. On the single full day in the area, I realised we were miles away from both the Corbett in question, and a handy golf course for my more reasonable albeit injured brother. That day, he and I went for a gentle walk, looking for caves, bone or otherwise, finding a stunning underground river and a pair of hardy hikers walking the Cape Wrath Trail (kudoos travelers, i hope your journey was good). The brother in question will now forever remember being taken on a three hour slog in the rain for his 52nd birthday – he actually loved it – I do not lie.

I am coming to Cul Beag. In fact, it made more sense to do the mountain/golf combo the day we were leaving, the two activities being 20 minutes apart by car, and on our route away. I already had printed the route map provided on this site. On the drive down, I read and re-read the written instructions having saved them in a pdf, and charged-up the lap top previous to our departure.
Word of warning, if you see the phrase “cross over the moors” in a walk description, seriously consider staying home. After four days on the WHW, you understand that those romantic sounding (to the North-American ear) landscapes are actually sopping wet, ankle twisting disasters, which can stretch on for mile after undifferentiated mile. (am i wrong??)Finding the start was an issue. When I finally got out of the car, I panicked realising I had absolutely no experience, was completely alone, and that anything could happen, except maybe getting eaten by a wild animal-and if that was a possibility, I’m glad I didn`t know. In the end, I figured that I would go as far as I could, without frightening myself, and I could always go back and hitchhike or walk toward Ullapool and my golfing brother. He had left his phone with me, “in case” and made me repeat “999”.

My first and most important smart move, was to look back often and check my departure point. Although it quickly disappeared behind the Druim Donn, that landform was distinct enough to recognise throughout my route. My confidence was holding as I rounded the Drum, found the wire fence and, allez hop, crossed it. Then those famous last words loomed, “cross over the moor” and “no distinct path”. I could see my first climb in the distance, knew I could get there…but not how exactly. I kept on looking for harder ground, a straighter line and the beginnings of a path going up. I think I was able to confirm my general direction with the compass and the lovely cliffs to my right, but how to go up? Which side? I still don’t know.

I did get to what was, I think, the base of the Meall Dearg, but I had already been gone an hour and a half. If I wanted to get back as promised, I had one hour to get up and over the first and up my ultimate destination Cul Beag. That was just not going to happen. I imagined I could get up the first, and at least get a view of the second before turning back. Well, that didn’t happen either. The double peaks seemed too steep, and I could not see a way between them. When I reached my halfway point in time, I decided I would try to go around that elevation on the mountain, and find a view. And a beautiful view it was, as the two selfies below (my last visual will and testament) prove, but there was not a Cul Beag to be found.

Too bad, time to go.
After my snack, I rose to leave and inflated like a zepplin. I used each and every limb and cheek to keep myself stable in that sudden wind – hadn’t noticed it on my way up. When I reached the place where my arrival point was back in sight, down I went – foot foot hand foot, buuuuuuum, foot foot, buuuuum (this is where you are happy to be on grassy slope – the bum slide is a variant of the bum-ski technique I have perfected in cross country skiing for unfamiliar or too steep downward slopes. The moor re-crossing, had no more secrets for me; my feet could get no wetter, I would walk in water – I would go in a straight enough line to get back as fast as possible. My starting point was in my sights.

Although it was more downhill than I had remembered, I reached my wire fence, rounded the Druim, found the ATV track and after jumping the requisite streams, and passing the loch, rose up and saw the little grey Golf Diesel, with my brother patiently waiting. Yes, I was a bit teary, and grateful, but mostly I had this burning urge to TELL someone with experience about this insane adventure. Almost one week later I finally got a minute with a very hikey colleague who is somewhat of an inspiration to me. And, as I recounted this seemingly ridiculous story, she smiled. She didn’t yell at me, or call me stupid, she said I did the right thing.

And finally, after writing it down, I get it. Cul Beag is not in the sorry “coulda, shoulda, woulda” category of stories, rather it is in the bracing “tried and kind of failed”. In that light, I’m really glad, and hope to file many more stories in that second group, than in the first.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *