Published 17th June 2020, 18:36

    WHILE many still hope to salvage something of their mountain plans this year, there's no doubt the options are being whittled down.

    The multi-peak ridges west of the Great Glen, in particular, seem to be getting further away with each passing day.

    For most walkers, the Munros of Cannich, Strathfarrar and Glen Shiel depend heavily on getting a helping hand in one way or another with start and finish points a long way apart.

    Like so much of the country, the Loch Mullardoch boat has been idle during lockdown, and it has been confirmed it will not run again this year. Even a rapid easing of current restrictions wouldn't have made a difference as the service usually stops in August when the stalking season gets underway.

    The short ride up the loch, despite being one of the priciest boats trips per mile anywhere, is still regarded by baggers as being worth every penny as it cuts out the tortuous path along the shoreline. This path has become the stuff of legend: many who have walked it say never again, many who haven't yet tackled it talk about it with a mythical dread.

    The truth is somewhere in between. I've been along it a few times, twice in summer and once on a glorious spring day of deep, but melting, snow. It's hard going in places, invisible in others, but at least you get to see – and definitely smell – the wild goats, and it's never as forbidding as its reputation. It does, however, mean being some three hours down and fairly roughed up before you begin to get to grips with the four big hills and their leg weary ascents. 

    My snow walk was an in-and-out to An Socach only – don't ask – so my legs were treated to a double dose of purgatorial plodding, and by the dark finish of an 11-hour epic I was hobbling, a victim of a hidden hole in one of the wilder sections. This is a mountain chain to be enjoyed on a long summer's day, and with time and daylight likely to be running out by the time access is re-established, the better option may be a more leisurely approach with a high camp on the ridge. 

    There's a similar problem with the Strathfarrar Munros, where the access gate to the glen is closed until further notice. At the height of summer, the permitted entry hours are extended, but if we are looking at an autumn return to the hills at the earliest, it starts to become a race against time that will prove impractical to most. A bike ride in and a camp on the ridge again may be a better bet.

    The intriguing option of tackling the Mullardoch peaks from the head of Strathfarrar, which would involve an even tighter timescale, can be written off as well.

    There's a different set of circumstances in Glen Shiel, but the problems are much the same. The chains of hills of this long pass are often dependent on hitching a ride, but the chances of any motorist keen to pick up a stranger will be slim to zero for a while to come.

    There will always be those who can run these big rounds without blinking an eye, but for mere mortals it will mean being more selective, with a piecemeal pattern to some summits. Stirred into this mix is the vexing question of accommodation to benefit big days on the hill without the prospect of a long drive at either end of the day. The inevitable financial hit has already forced several hotels to cease trading and more will struggle to re-open. 

    Bunkhouses are also having to adapt to a new order. As shared dorm rooms for solo travellers will be off limits for the foreseeable future, owners are having to address the prospect of reduced capacity and making alterations to suit social distancing, but most of this is still second guessing. Until new guidelines are officially introduced and dates confirmed for any easing of restrictions, planning the way ahead will continue to be filled with uncertainty. 

    Bothies have often proved to the key to huge mountain days, but these remote shelters also remain closed, and the problem of how to safely bring them back into full use has still to be addressed. 

    Some will no doubt be happy to take their chances, but the idea of turning up to share a small, enclosed space with who knows how many disparate others is unlikely to hold much appeal. After all, there's not much prospect of a deep clean between visits.

    The prospect of big days on the big ridges may have to wait until 2021.