We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
Pic above is one of our hikes in heavy rain through the higher terrain of Scalpay along the Hebrides Way.
- I'll post a few more photos when I get my over-200 photos organized and edited (mostly taken with Gwynnie's waterproof Olympus pocket camera - man, that was necessary), but a few introductory comments with some photos - below the fold -
- This was no "walking" tour. We were stunned by how demanding the climbing was. This turned out to be a very rigorous mountain-hiking/mountaineering trip, at times hands and knees scrambling and just short of technical climbing. Quite treacherous along narrow cliff edges on slippery rock which was scary for me with my damn acrophobia. It could not have been managed without hiking poles (required by the tour) and stiff, waterproof hiking boots with good grips. The only "walking" was on the approaches to the climbing. Keeping up with our group of 8 plus our wonderful guide Craig MacDonald required an abundance of fitness and endurance, not to mention comfort with high, slippery, and unstable cliff edges. Mountain off-trail hikers - like Elk-hunting guides in the Rockies - might be accustomed to the intensity of these sorts of things day after day, but we were not. Now we are. Now we know the difference between the sore legs from barbell squats or 30 minutes of stairmaster from 7 hours of off-trail mountain "hiking".
- Most of the hikes were around 9 miles - not kilometers - around 6-7 hours due to the challenging terrain, and seemed to be almost entirely uphill through bog, heather, and rock cliff. Yes, the mountains have lots of bogs. Is there any downhill in the Highlands? If so, I saw little of it. Most of us had to stop frequently to admire the views to catch our breath. Two years ago, without my workout routine, I could never have completed this. More than half of our mountain hikes were off-trail and even the trails were often invisible routes across slip-and-slide scree slopes. The trip would have been impossible without a wilderness guide/van driver. After leaving Inverness for Skye, we never stepped once in a town or village. Craig always (effortlessly) carried a 50 lb. pack of rescue and first-aid equipment. No surprises for our serious mountain hiking friends and readers but this heavy-duty hiking is a newish hobby for us. We decided just one pole was best, because you often needed a free hand to grab onto a rock to keep from disaster.
- Weather was as advertised. We had 1 1/2 days of sun, otherwise, alternating cloudy-mist-drizzle-biting rain. Constant wind off the North Atlantic. Invigorating. Weather could change in an instant, hence layers and day packs. No cotton - ever - due to rain, cold wind, and slips into mud and wet peat. Everybody had a few dramatic falls onto rocks or into mud but nobody fell into the gorges. Do not bring a valuable camera, please! You will destroy it with water or mud, or kill yourself trying to save the thing while trying to keep up with the team. I think the temperature got as high as 60 for about 15 minutes in the entire week. Related, the sun sort-of set around 11:30 pm and arose sometime before 4:30 pm. But, of course, Mr. Sun himself was rarely to be seen. As Craig claims, in the Outer Hebrides there is no such thing as "waterproof." In fact, waterproof boots are great for the bogs and small streams which are everywhere, but do no darn good when the rain pours down into your boots from the top.
- Best part, besides just the mostly rugged-as-heck barren landscape, was the group bonding. Our group of 8 plus Craig felt like family after the second day, with constant ribbing and teasing, mutual support and encouragement, affectionate insulting, and genuinely intimate conversation. Lots of laughs. Remarkable, but I suppose the sorts who want a holiday like this are self-selecting. There were some tears when we all hugged good-bye when we dispersed back at the Inverness train station.
- Who were in our party? One Frenchie from Quebec, two Aussies, 4 Americans (us from New England and a couple from Minneapolis but one of whom was Taiwanese), and a worldwide hiking lady from London who, though 75 years-old, was the best at keeping up with Craig's driving pace while delivering a cheerful patter all the way. Reminded me of my Mom. An inspiration indeed to us young folk. A bat out of hell, as Craig quietly commented to me.
Below, a peak on Scalpay in driving rain which stung on the skin -
Pic above is ascending the backside of the hills of Hushinish in South Harris.
After climbing the steeps of the Toehead Mountain on Harris (900-ft dauntingly-steep ascent), you descend down to rolling sheep hills and an astonishing beach on a rare Bluebird day.
Sounds like a great adventure! Except for maybe a little too much rain. No trees? Hiking on hills and mountains above or without trees is one of life's pleasures. Like Mt. Washington (NH) and Mt. Katahdin (ME) as in the first comment above. If the weather is good.
Thanks for the report. I look forward to part 2.
Bird Dog, Mount Mansfield would be a piece of cake compared to this. Seriously. If you and Mrs. BD want to come north to Vermont to hike it, Mrs. TSP and I would love to see you and hike with you if you are so inclined.
The Switchel Philosopher
I "gotta" ask Bird Dog, how old are you? We have seen our ability decline in the past few years but didn't physically train like you. We did climb steps when we were going to climb Skellig Michael off the coast of Ireland a couple of years ago. One of my favorite experiences in life so far. Over 639 steps I think.
My spouse suffers from the same as you and went down partially by rear end. Frightened the entire time except our short time on top. I, on the other hand loved every minute of our time out there in the sea.
This looks like an incredibly challenging adventure that ends well with a sense of relief and a good sense of tiredness. Still, there's no amount of money, fitness, ego gratification or camaraderie that would get me to do anything with ledges, narrow cliffs and drop offs anymore....also when I hike like that, I want to eat every scone with clotted cream in a 100 mile radius and then wash it down with a double Scotch---and I don't even drink hard liquor.
I'm just trying to recover from chasing fish yesterday at 10,000' trying to keep up with a friend who lives at 9,000.' Only time and a lot more red blood cells will heal my altitude adjustment.