DAY FOUR of our Skye Munros sweep and the Black Cuillin ridge had taken a toll.
There was a noticeable physical tiredness in our group after three tough days on Scotland’s most challenging mountains, and, I suspect, a psychological one too.
We were heading for the Sligachan threesome, Am Basteir, Sgurr nan Gillean and Bruach na Frithe, but for one or two of our party, the earlier exertions were kicking in big-time.
As we were kitting up to leave, we noticed one struggling to put on her boots, wincing with every pull. On closer examination her feet were a mess, cut and heavily blistered. She decided she couldn’t face going out.
Normally when someone is struggling, you accept it may be a good idea to have a rest day. But this was the Cuillin; we had walked as a team all week, and she was only one walk away from ticking all the Skye Munro summits.
For most of the group this was a one-off, a great opportunity to climb these iconic peaks in this company. If she missed out now, it might be years before she got another shot. We had to push her through the pain barrier. Her mind was saying Yes but her body – and in particular her feet – was voting No.
I had been in this position a few times before. Once, when closing in on my second Munros ‘compleation’ date, I had to heavily bandage my feet and take an elephant’s dose of painkillers before attempting the long walk down Glen Affric to distant An Socach.
My recollections of the walk are happy but a little hazy, but I do remember sitting blissfully at the summit cairn while hundreds of little pink rabbits frollicked around me blowing trumpets and waving bunting. Damn, those painkillers were good.
I had also previously poked reluctant walkers along narrow ridges – the lesser of two evils, it was either that or spend five hours going back the way we had come – and ‘persuaded’ another friend to climb Ben Hope when he felt time was too tight (it wasn’t).
So despite our friend’s obvious discomfort, there was no way we were leaving her behind. One member of the group even promised he would carry her out if necessary, though I felt that would be taking the Leave No Trace message to its extreme.
We bathed and cleaned her wounds, covered the cuts and padded the blisters, then wrapped her feet further. Then came the hard part – getting the boots on. There was much groaning and grimacing, but eventually the task was complete. Now all she had to do was stand up.
The first tentative step was agony, so there wasn’t a second.
“I don’t think this is going to work,” she said through gritted teeth. I had no doubts, though. “It will be agony for about ten minutes, then it will settle down. Trust me.” (Disclaimer: Most of you will know you really should never trust anyone who says: Trust me.)
It worked. She hobbled and limped her way along the path at first, then her stride gradually became firmer. After about half an hour, she had forgotten about the problem and was matching the group step with no bother.
We traversed stony ledges to Am Basteir, then climbed a chimney to reach Sgurr nan Gillean’s tricky West Ridge before abseiling back down, and finished with the more leisurely walk along to Bruach na Frithe with hardly a twinge.
The rocky route down Coire Bhasteir was painless too, the euphoria at having beaten the pain barrier to complete her Skye week overcoming any niggles.
When we arrived back at the Slig, it felt like a triumph for all of us. We had started the week as a group and we had finished it that way. It was the first time I had ever been thanked for forcing someone to climb a mountain against their will.