4TH ANNUAL INTERNATIONAL YETI GATHERING
The path had long disappeared into the squelchy depths of the peat bog. Trudging head down into the driving rain, bike atop my shoulders, my feet sink further and further into the spongey surface. Even as a Scot, I was beginning to have a few reservations about where we were heading.
Having traveled to the bottom of the world for the last International Yeti Gathering in New Zealand, it seemed quite odd to be able to roll out of my own bed and drive less than twenty minutes down the road to be reunited with the crew on home soil. For the fourth gathering, it was time for the H+I Adventures team to host the International Yeti Gathering in their own backyard - the rugged wilderness of the Scottish Highlands.
FOR THE FOURTH GATHERING, IT WAS TIME FOR H+I ADVENTURES TO HOST THE INTERNATIONAL YETI GATHERING IN THEIR OWN BACKYARD - THE RUGGED WILDERNESS OF THE SCOTTISH HIGHLANDS.
KNOW THE SCOTTISH LINGO
Water Bar - Rain? In Scotland? The Scottish climate is, let’s say ‘moist’, which means our trails have to be able to deal with large amounts of rain. The result is a drainage channel made from two or more chunky rocks, usually with a vicious square edge which loves ruining tires and rims. A strong bunny hop technique is required.
Midges - Like mosquitos, but worse. Never solitary, you’ll find yourself engulfed by a swarm that is difficult to escape. The best tactic? Keep going… don’t stop.
Bothy - A very basic mountain refuge that is left unlocked for anyone to use when they need shelter from foul weather or somewhere to stay in the wilderness. There are no provisions or facilities, only a fire place and a hard surface to sleep on should you forget a mat. Take everything you brought away with you and leave no trace.
Dreich - One of the best terms used to describe Scottish weather. The symptoms? Rainy, cold, bleak, misty, windy and dreary.
THE GROUP STARTED IN THE HIGHLAND CAPITAL OF INVERNESS, SNAKED SOUTH VIA THE PINE FORESTS AND ROLLING HILLS OF LAGGAN, THEN HIT THE LORD OF THE RINGS-ESQUE GLEN COE AND KINLOCHLEVEN, BEFORE HEADING WEST WHERE THINGS REALLY BEGAN TO KICK OFF.
The group started in the Highland capital of Inverness, snaked south via the pine forests and rolling hills of Laggan, then hit the Lord of the Rings-esque Glen Coe and Kinlochleven, before heading west where things really began to kick off.
TWO YETI FREAKS HAD BEEN CLAIMED BY THE SCOTTISH TECH AND WERE RESIGNED TO THE PUB FOR THE REMAINING DAYS WHERE, ADMITTEDLY, WE’D ALL BE JOINING THEM A FEW HOURS LATER.
THE WILD WEST
It’s day four and the body count is beginning to rise at breakfast. Two Yeti freaks had been claimed by the Scottish tech and were resigned to the pub for the remaining days where, admittedly, we’d all be joining them a few hours later. Under heavy grey skies, we begin to turn pedals, heading into the heart of the hills through a glen where the summits are drifting in and out of fast rolling clouds.
A cascading waterfall thunders down from a tributary valley opposite. We stop to gaze for a moment before continuing the traipse to the saddle where we can finally place our tires back on dirt. A long traverse unfolds across the emerald green moorland as Paul Rowney, the rowdy Aussie, former Yeti racer and now Australian distributor, tears off with Chris Conroy, Yeti’s co-owner and president. Conroy, aided by a shiny new SB150, is hot on Rowney’s heels.
We reconvene at a bothy, having made swift progress since no rubber or rims had fallen victim to the infamous Scottish water bars. Unsurprisingly, no one is keen to linger for lunch as the midges descend upon us like a cloud. The only escape is to keep moving at a pace that’s quicker than the pesky insects. We hit the valley floor with a plop as we plunge into a bog, much to the disgruntlement of drivetrains and brakes. Right on cue, a fine mist of rain sweeps in. There’s no escaping the wet in Scotland.
THE TRAIL BEGINS TO CLAMBER UP THE SIDE OF THE VALLEY, HEADING FOR A NARROW GORGE NESTLED IN THE MOUNTAINS – OUR BIKES ONCE AGAIN PERCHED ABOVE OUR SHOULDERS AS THE GROUP WEAVES UP SWITCHBACKS ETCHED INTO THE HEATHER. SCOTLAND DOESN’T LIKE TO GIVE UP HER DESCENTS EASILY.
The trail begins to clamber up the side of the valley, heading for a narrow gorge nestled in the mountains – our bikes once again perched above our shoulders as the group weaves up switchbacks etched into the heather. Scotland doesn’t like to give up her descents easily.
One by one we crest the saddle where we are rewarded with the lochs and moorland we’d just negotiated. Euan Wilson, owner of H&I and co-guide, is quick to curb the excitement levels a notch with warning of how slippery the rocks would be now that they were coated in a layer of rain. He was right.
Rounding a blind turn reveals two figures crouched and inspecting the rear end of a bike. A wheel had met its match and become today’s first water bar victim. It wasn’t the only one – multiple F1-style tire changes take place throughout the remainder of the descent. Tubeless was nearing extinction in the Scottish Highlands.
A quick dash through streaks of silver birch pings us back at the vans where instantly everyone is hysterically recounting crashes, near misses, and general loose antics from the afternoon.
FAR FROM TORRID TIMES IN TORRIDON
A “quick” pub pitstop lengthens the one-hour drive to Kinlochewe, although it ensures spirits are high when we roll into the hunting lodge where we are given free rein. Boxes of custom Yeti Gathering beer, a couple of bottles of whiskey, a snooker table, and our personal chef, entertain the group while we explore a labyrinth of rooms decorated with deer antlers, old hunting paintings, and “homey” pink furniture. The local deer and grouse populations are safe from us, were only here to hunt tasty trails.
TORRIDON IS A NAME SYNONYMOUS WITH UK RIDERS AND BEYOND. IF YOU’RE AFTER WILD, BIG MOUNTAIN EPICS IN THE UK, THIS IS THE DESTINATION.
Torridon is a name synonymous with UK riders and beyond. If you’re after wild, big mountain epics in the UK, this is where you come. After starting out in glorious sunshine we’re soon reaching for jackets as the rain rolls in and the temperature drops to single figures. The dreich is upon us.
CRESTING OUT ONTO A PLATEAU WE ARE AT THE MERCY OF THE ELEMENTS, WHICH SATURATES US FROM HEAD TO TOE. EVERYONE IS STILL SMILING THOUGH.
Cresting out onto a plateau we are at the mercy of the elements, which saturates us from head to toe. Everyone is still smiling though. We finally get a brief taste of descending as the gentle buzz of free hubs fills the air down a sliver of singletrack.
We dive into what seemed like the world’s longest rock garden. Everything goes quiet for a moment as we hit a monstrous rock slab, splitting riders down a handful of lines.
I’m at the peril of Rowney’s line choice as the sea loch is thrust into our line of sight. My hands are locked to the bars. I can barely reach my brake levers but I’m having way too much fun to pull over. With one final rocky fling we are chewed up and spat onto the loch’s edge.
WE’RE NOT EVEN BACK AT THE LODGE YET AND I KNOW WHERE THE NIGHT IS GOING – THE VAN RADIO IS BLASTING AC/DC FROM THE SPEAKERS. SURE ENOUGH, BOTTLES OF WHISKY ARE SLOSHED INTO ANY GLASS OR VESSEL CAPABLE OF HOLDING LIQUID. THE STORIES BEGIN TO FLOW AS FREELY AS THE BOOZE INTO THE NIGHT.
CRANKING IT UP TO 11
We’re not even back at the lodge yet and I know where the night is going – the van radio is blasting AC/DC from the speakers. Sure enough, bottles of whisky sloshed into any glass or vessel capable of holding liquid. The stories begin to flow as freely as the booze into the night.
The morning after is a lot quieter than the night that had preceded it. Slowly everyone comes back to life, helped by blue skies and zero percent chance of rain in the forecast, which even the Scots are raising their eyebrows over.
Our lead guide Chris, or The Bear as he’s affectionately known, briefs us over breakfast and decides to roll the dice and take us on a lesser ridden route named ‘Triple Buttress’. “There will be another push through a bog and over an hour of hike-a-bike, but I assure you it’s worth it – it’s the guide favorite.”
Chris’ ‘promises’ are fulfilled. We hiked, we biked and the ride was a quick group favorite too. At the end, as we peeled off perpetually wet shoes and socks, we all agreed we can’t wait to do it all again in Switzerland in 2019.
Words and Photos by: Ross Bell, H/I Adventures