Cape Wrath Trail 2019: Initial thoughts – Trepidation? Why?

It’s been 9 years since I first decided I wanted to hike the Cape Wrath Trail (CWT) – one of the (allegedly) toughest long distance paths in the UK. In fact I wrote a blog post entitled Why I’m back(pack)ing the Cape Wrath Trail over 3 years ago detailing reasons why I wanted to hike this iconic trail back in 2016. And, whilst circumstances beyond my control prevented my 2016 attempt (and the focus of that blog post is now no longer valid), nevertheless the call of the CWT tries to entice me year after year to walk the old drovers roads along rough hillsides; to hike stalkers paths through wooded glens, to follow meandering burns before crossing wild rivers and traverse open heather moorland where no trails exist at all.

And, at last, I’ve succumbed to her call. In May 2019, along with my long time hiking buddy @LoneWalkerUk (who is backpacking with me as far as Kinlochewe), I will finally set off from Fort William to hike approximately 230 miles to the most northwesterly tip of Scotland – the lighthouse at Cape Wrath!

But, for the first time in my hiking life, I’ve had feelings of trepidation about hiking a trail and I thought I’d share with you the reasons why.

Somewhere in Kintail March 2016

Somewhere in Kintail March 2016

There is no definitive ‘Cape Wrath Trail’. Although there are a couple of common traverses, there are numerous ‘routes’ that can be taken. I say routes. What I really mean is there are numerous ways people have hiked to Cape Wrath from Fort William. You see, unlike most National Trails the CWT isn’t waymarked, doesn’t have clearly defined paths for much of it’s length and doesn’t have an infrastructure of accomodation, shops or pubs which many hikers have come to expect on well known long distance hiking routes.

And therein lies one of the causes of trepidation I experienced. But not for the reasons you might assume.

Also, much of the CWT is in some of the most wild and toughest terrain the UK has to offer: in a country which, whilst undoubtedly renowned for its beauty and majestic scenery, also experiences some of the most dramatically changeable weather conditions anywhere in the UK. This mixture of breathtaking scenery and remoteness, of wildness and unpredictability make the Cape Wrath Trail appealing to hikers looking for something more challenging than the usual waymarked, well trodden trails that many an experienced hiker has walked.

And therein lies another cause of the trepidation I have felt recently. But again, not for the reasons you might think.

Because of its remoteness (there are parts of the CWT that require the intrepid adventurer to carry enough food to last a few days) – and changeable conditions (rivers suddenly in spate, weather conditions changing in moments etc.) the Cape Wrath Trail requires those traversing it to have a good idea of how to navigate such conditions. Not only with skills in map reading or using satellite navigation devices, but also how to navigate their way through survival techniques should our backpacker find themselves holed up for a few days because of inclement weather or injury.

Again, another reason for the feelings of disquiet I recently experienced about my own upcoming CWT adventure. And, you’ve guessed it, not for obvious reasons.

Shenavall Bothy

The Cape Wrath Trail then is challenging. But I knew that already. It’s one of the reasons I wanted to hike and backpack this trail in the first place way back in 2010 and one of the reasons that I’m looking forward to hiking the CWT this year. So why the feelings of trepidation I’ve experienced?

Those who know me, especially those who have hiked with me, know I don’t suffer from fear of the unknown. I don’t plan my hikes other than to know how and when to get to my starting point. The only route guide I use is the one I plot on my @Viewranger app on my smartphone – this gives me the direction I need to be walking in at least. I don’t suffer from pre-trail nerves nor do I worry about ‘what-ifs’. I don’t research the trails I’m hiking except to read the accounts of others who have hiked the trail before me and I certainly don’t do kit lists, weight charts or anything that I think would detract from my experience of adventure. And I don’t carry paper maps! This isn’t a boast, it’s simply who I am. But I’m not foolhardy either.

I have always believed that pack preparation is the key to a worry free hike (for me anyway). I’ve never been a weight watcher when it comes to pack weight, instead choosing to pack whatever I feel I need, may need and want for the particular trail ahead. I carry two smartphones with my navigational apps of choice and maps required pre loaded and, when I think appropriate, a PLB (Personal Locator Beacon). I have often packed more food than I actually needed for a trail as well as powerbanks to power my smartphone. However, this is the compromise I’m willing to accept for my own preferred type of ‘planning’. For those of you breaking out in a cold sweat at the thought of this or think I’m unhinged then take a quick break from this blog post and head over to my favourite hiking buddy Stuart’s excellent blog post “Cape Wrath Trail Planning” for a breather – just remember to nip back here afterwards for the conclusion and answer to the question…

Why I felt trepidation about a hike for the first time in my life.

I’ve been hiking and backpacking for over 35 years now and have only ever felt excitement at the anticipation of a new hiking adventure. As you’ve read, I’m comfortable with my own preparation style and, whilst the Cape Wrath Trail certainly has it’s challenges as described above, these shouldn’t have given me any unusual cause for concern. So why, until recently, did I feel trepidation for the first time? The answer is other people.

To be more precise, it’s the reading of certain blog posts of certain hikers about their experiences of the Cape Wrath Trail or their worries about hiking the CWT that started to make me doubt myself. Now this certainly isn’t the fault or intention of those authors – the blogs I read are generally very interested and informative. However, for some reason I allowed their concerns (and, in some cases, advice) to affect me negatively for awhile. Concerns such as worrying about the terrain or, being stranded by bad weather conditions: worries such as food supplies or kit failures. Advice as to the need to have exceptional navigation and map reading skills: the need to be an experienced backpacker before attempting the CWT. These and similar thoughts of various blog writers about the Cape Wrath Trail whilst valid to the author are not valid to me. Yet they caused me concern for awhile.

It was a simple Tweet from a new follower on Twitter (@lizmacallan75) that brought me to my senses and back to my self.

This is normally the advice I give to others that experience self doubt so why did I need the same advice myself? Negativity, intentional or otherwise, can often cause feelings of self doubt, trepidation and even fear if we over think things. I’ve always lived in the moment, not worrying about what tomorrow may bring nor trying to plan for every eventually. This approach to life has been hard won. During my late 20’s through to my mid 40’s (at the time of writing this I am 52 years old) I was one of life’s worrywarts – except when it came to my hiking. Hiking was always my joy, a time to forget life’s problems, a time to put planning and schedules on hold and, through hiking, I eventually came to adopt those attributes to my every day life.

I no longer have feelings of trepidation about my upcoming Cape Wrath Trail adventure. I’ve handled tough terrain and terrible weather conditions before. I’ve had kit failures and haven’t used a paper map in over 15 years. I LIKE the unknown! It was a passing feeling that, whilst I didn’t enjoy it at the time, has given me an insight to how other people feel – not just about hiking a trail, but throughout their lives. My good friend Stuart, whom I’ve mentioned in numerous blog posts, won’t mind me telling you he’s a worrywart. We are polar opposites when it comes to planning and executing a hike, both practically and emotionally. Yet we make very good hiking buddies because we allow the other to be themselves whilst learning from each other too.

Stuart will be hiking the first half of the CWT with me this year and has, in his own words “planned the shit” out of the first half of our adventure together. This is his way of dealing with his fears. And it’s a perfectly valid reason. The second half of the Cape Wrath Trail I will hike solo. No planning. Just putting one foot in front of the other and experiencing whatever the trail gives to me. This is how I deal with potential fears. It will be a trail of two halves and I know I will enjoy all of it without any trepidation at all!

If you enjoyed this post and think someone else might enjoy reading it I’d much appreciate it If you would please share it via your social media of choice.

Update

A very insightful book on a hikers emotional Cape Wrath Trail is

High and Low by Keith Foskett

Highly recommended.

3 thoughts on “Cape Wrath Trail 2019: Initial thoughts – Trepidation? Why?

  1. Chris, A very honest reflection which I could definitely relate to. While obviously a major undertaking, with all your experience (and Stuart’s planning!) I have not doubt, as you’ve concluded, be a grand walk. I envy you. I had planned on my End to End last year to do finish the walk via the CWT. Long story, but I resume my walk in Annan at the end of this month and I have decided instead to turn east at Fort William and ultimately walk the John o’Groats Trail. I feel that I would ‘enjoy’ the CWT much more as a standalone walk. I look forward to following your progress with Stuart as I make my way up the opposite coast. Enjoy! Tim

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