In October 2019 Robin Heath and Jamie Dakota embarked on an ambitious challenge to walk the longest straight line possible in the UK without crossing a road. The route was 71km long and would take them over varied and difficult terrain in some of the most remote parts of the Scottish Highlands. They would have to cross several Munros, large rivers, valleys, streams, cliffs, ravines and bogs and ascend 5000m in total over 4 days, all the while carrying with them everything they needed to camp in the wild. Their intention was to highlight the need for sensible route choice, planning and decision making in the wilds of Scotland and to raise money for mountain based charities, most notably Scottish mountain rescue. The pair had originally intended to make the attempt just the two of them, but the expedition piqued the interest of Peter Forrester who came along as cameraman, and Max Barnes, Howl Bushcraft apprentice, who would be an extra pair of hands to help Peter carry equipment and set up tents.
The team set out on the expedition in classic, brutal Scottish conditions: gale force winds, torrential rain, sleet, and intermittent poor visibility. It turned out that this weather would not let up at all for the duration of the challenge. Unfortunately, a combination of recent illness, horrible conditions, a terrifying slip and near death experience on a cliff edge proved too much for cameraman Peter, and a few hours into day one he would have to take an escape route out with Max. On the way out they also happened across a lost mountaineer, seemingly heading in the exact opposite direction to what he thought, and brought him down to safety too. Robin and Jamie continued on for two more days (re-joined by Max at the end of day one). The conditions never once let up, waterproofs leaked, boots and feet were permanently soaked from crossing waist-deep rivers, every small stream had become a raging torrent, the peat bogs they crossed had become almost impassable and the cliffs they had to ascend/descend had become dangerously wet and slippery. After two long days of hiking and covering 52km they were suffering. Robin had sores on his feet and legs that were bleeding profusely. Jamie had sprained his knee and damaged ligaments. Even Max who had missed much of the first day and was good 10 years younger than the rest was exhausted to the point of desperation. The three eventually made it to the Corrour Bothy in the Lairig Ghru and had a decision to make: either carry on into even more difficult and remote terrain with the risk of having to call out the very rescue teams they were trying to raise money for, or make the sensible choice of taking the 16km escape route out. With Jamie’s injury he had no choice but to call it a day, and although Max and Robin had the potential to continue, the prospect of another 2 days of being battered by nature defeated them. They decided to end together as a team.
As an outdoorsman who has been mountaineering since childhood, Robin had heard countless stories of people pushing on due to ‘Summit Fever’ and their obsessive need to complete their challenge, many of which had ended in disaster. In this case the teams’ summit was their end point, which they were desperate to reach. But if Jamie’s knee were to truly fail him on a river crossing or abseil, or just in a remote area without phone signal, then a seemingly minor injury could have been fatal. Robin had no doubt in his mind that they made the right decision to quit, and even though it felt like failure he believes the group succeeded in what they had originally set out to do: to highlight the importance of making sensible decisions in the mountains.
Words: Robin Heath
“Thanks to Dark Peak for supporting us by supplying amazing down jackets. They truly were one of the few comforts we had and the only thing that managed to provide warmth! It takes an exceptional jacket to withstand those conditions and I think we would have needed to escape much sooner without them. I will never head up another mountain without it.”