The Angry Corrie 51: Sep-Nov 2001
Never mind that old Duke of Edinburgh ... it's time for the Rob Roy Challenge
as explained by
To sum up, the objectives are:
a To reach your destination.
b Er, that's it.
(Remember: an advantage of this challenge is that, unlike ordinary hillwalking, you can never be lost, as any route between A and B is equally valid.)
After the theory, the practice:
I originally wrote about the Rob Roy Challenge in 1999, for the journal of the Jacobites Mountaineering Club, after which sundry Jacobites started winding me up along the lines of: "When are you going to do it?" Why not?, I thought, and so on Tuesday 22 May 2001 the bus dropped me at the Cluanie Inn. I set off with normal backpacking gear, except that I had no map or compass. After leaving the road, I set my watch to a random time without looking at it, then put it at the bottom of my rucksack. I reached Inverie on the morning of the fourth day, having enjoyed three camps. The last (high) camp was not in the original plan but the weather was so good that I didn't want the trip to end.
Although it all started as a spoof, I can highly recommend doing this. It gave a feeling of freedom I had not experienced before. No checking the map to see which hill I was looking at, how high I'd climbed to a bealach, how far there was to go. In particular, not knowing the time to within several hours was very liberating. I would, for example, wake up with the sun; with a watch, I would have thought: "It's only six o'clock" and would have gone back to sleep. As it was, being warm and sunny, I ate breakfast, packed and left. When I reached Inverie, I didn't even have to ask the time; the Western Isles was just coming in to the jetty, so I knew it was elevenish.
I have subsequently done another Rob, still mainly to bronze level (although again with a randomised "silver level" watch). Having found the first Rob too easy, in late June I set off with a guy called Chap (or possibly vice versa). I asked him to keep it a secret where he was going to camp that night, then followed him to a loch of which I had never suspected the existence. Here we enjoyed an idyllic and midge-free campsite. I then had to get to Achnashellach station, which I managed by midday on day three.
I'm happy to report that the verb robroying has already entered the language. Would-be robroyers should note that it is equally valid to robroy in the eastern Highlands, and to robroy in winter conditions. In the latter case, the "bronze" level is replaced by "brass". Although not strictly conforming to Rob's own travels, you may like to do your robroying in other countries, eg Englandandwales.
Since my robroying trips, I have read Jonathan Raban's beautiful book Passage to Juneau. Starting on p93, he gives a wonderful discourse on early navigation and the radical effects of the introduction of the magnetic compass. It certainly made me rethink my previous ideas.
The suggestion that GPS is only an artificial aid like a compass has never impressed me. There is a difference in kind, not merely of degree, between (a) using a piece of natural material (lodestone) to interact with a natural geophysical phenomenon (the earth's magnetic field) and (b) using rocket science to place numerous satellites in orbit and having Far Eastern factories producing small computerised devices to interact with them. However, Raban has opened my eyes to the way in which early navigators used the sea itself, its waves, its currents, its swell, together with the stars to cross their oceans. He argues that the introduction of the compass made the sea into a void; the compass enabled a straight line course while ignoring the sea itself.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q How will you explain yourself to the Mountain Rescue?
A Assume that if you don't know where you are, the MRT shouldn't be able to find you.
Q What happens if the mist comes down?
A You'll discover the answer when it happens.
Q What happens if you break a leg?
A See previous answer.