Tuesday, 14 October 2014

WHW Day 6: Kings House to Kinlochleven

I loved waking up in our little hobbit hut and seeing this:

How fantastically eerie!  Somehow, the foggy cloudy days were so much more interesting than the warm and sunny.

I did spy some black grouse on the moors.  They nervously darted away, making all manners of squacks.

Since the cafe at the ski lodge didn't open until 9 and we wanted to be well down the trail at that late hour, we walked back to the King's House hotel and took our coffee and carbs there.  What a place: in the light of day, the waitstaff looked rough.  Hungover, scabby, bedreadlocked and bruised. We did not linger.  

Today was the day that had caused much anxiety in my gut when I was planning this whole trip: a section called the Devil's Staircase in which the road builders had to somehow get a military up and over.  Never mind that, a look at the elevation map made my heart flutter:

I was fairly certain a dramatic helicopter rescue would be needed and that I would be the laughingstock of Scotland hiking lore for eternity.

I am the queen of random bouts of vertigo when it comes to hiking in the hills.  When it strikes, I drop like a stone and get tunnel vision, completely helpless to move my limbs forward.  Knife-edge ridge walks are out of the question, as is steep scrambles.  I might be able to get up them, but going down is a story that can not be told.

Still...we saw a lot of old people on the trail in amazing shape...people in their 70's.  We saw a lot of unfit people on the trail- we passed them in the morning, and if we were being lazy, we'd pass them again after lunch.  Good for them, they looked like they were in pain a lot of the day, but the ability to keep going is really the only skill you need here.  The trail so far had been easy- aside from the one scrambley part around Loch Lommond, there was very little challenge in a navigating a wide, well-worn track.  The weather had been fantastic.   I'm pretty sure I would be fine.  Still, that gnawing worry was almost as bad as the vertigo itself.  

This to me sums up the romance associated with Scotland.  The moody dark morning, the mysterious moors, the lonely bit of trail.  It was heaven, I tell you.

Meadow Pipit

I do spend a great deal of my time stopping and observing everything around me.  If you hike with me, you will be getting quite a few short breaks.  Look at the colors of these mosses!  I don't think I've seen such vibrant colors outside maples in autumn.

A lonely croft, long abandoned, was the one sing of humanity we could see.  That and the busy A84 road cutting down the valley to Glencoe.

At the base of the Devil's Staircase, there was a car park and swarms of people were making their way up this section of trail.

Now I got the name:  It was a devil to build this thing.  It was a well-engineered bit of trail, with perfect S-curves and banked turns.  Remember, this was a military road, and getting horse and cart over a hill like this would have been a pretty big deal.

Me though?  Nah, it posed no challenge at all.  I had to stop to catch my breath a few times, but other than that, I was up and over before I even knew it.  How anticlimactic!  Devil's staircase, you can not beat me.

Helicopter rescue diverted, we headed down into the next valley to Kinlochleven.

This was the largest elevation drop of the trail- we basically lost all the elevation we had gained all week, and would end the day at sea level.

This was by far our shortest day, mileage-wise, with a little over 10 miles to do.  Ah, I've reached the point where I can think a tenner day is a cakewalk.

Kinlochleven used to have an aluminum smelting plant, but now it's just an outdoorsy base camp.  The huge amount of water used in the plant had to be piped in from a reservoir over the next mountain, so a system of pipes and pumps kept us company for most of the rest of the walk.  The trail was a wide dirt road the whole way down as it was how heave trucks would get up and over; easy going, but quite uninteresting if you are on foot.  

Ah, but the beauty of all that elevation loss is that we were once again in the brambles.

We actually got to the pub before our bags did that day, and made some friendly chatter over a pint before exploring the town.

The former smelting plant?  Part of it was turned into a climbing center, with climbing walls reaching the ceiling, and uniquely, an ice climbing wall.  It was an huge walk-in freezer that you could shimmy your way up with ice axes and crampons.

The town itself was just orderly and neat, and we restocked supplies at the first grocery that we've seen in days.

This was also the night of the referendum vote.  We had seen graffiti and signs everywhere all week, and we knew we firmly in "yes" territory here.  It was all anyone could talk about.  

After a shower and a change of clothes, we decided not to have dinner at the pub, but at another place more than a mile away, just to have something to do.  It was nice to see the town and we found a trail that lead to a waterfall, so we hiked around in our flip-flops for a bit.

They actually had a "via ferrata" here and you could get outfitted to climb up the cliff to the top of the falls.

Me, I was content to sit at the deep pool at the bottom and give my feet a nice soak.  Remarkably, after 76 miles on the "official" trail (and many more off the trail), we had nary a blister between us.  My feet were tender and I had developed kankles over the miles, but we were in surprisingly good shape.  Much better than at this point when we were doing the Coast to Coast, but I'm sure the brutal heat and heavy packs had something to do with that.

We did enjoy some spectacular views with our evening meal, and a bit of sticky toffee pudding as well.  Earning dessert is something I look forward to every hike.

The worst part of the day was an empty dram.

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