I got up early and prepared for the day. Put all of the items that go in the big backpack in, trying not to forget anything or put things in that I need for the day. Then pack the day pack with emergency supplies, poncho, gloves, midlayer, bars and nuts, 2 liters of water, laptop and chargers (I’m not leaving that in the bag that is supposed to be delivered to the next destination) and other essentials. Fill out the card for the bag handlers and put the bag in the baggage shed and hope it is where you want it to be at the end of the day.
The weather calmed down from the night before. It was a short walk to KingsHouse which is closed for renovation for a couple of years. Fortunately there was a toilet facility (they don’t use euphemisms like restroom and bathroom; they just say toilet). By the way, they love their privacy. Every toilet is in a separate room, not just a stall. There was also a café for travelers. I had porridge which we would define as mush, not oatmeal. With milk and sugar it was very good and just what I needed to start the day. They had real coffee which was a treat. I met Misha and Lenka from the Czech Republic there who were doing a 5 day trip since they did not have time for the whole way.
This was a spectacular walk across mountain terrain. As usual the weather changed minute by minute. Heavy downpours followed by real sunshine. Today was the infamous Devil’s Staircase which was probably named by soldiers who had to carve a sinuous military road up the hillside in the 1750’s. It is 850 ft up which is not that much of a challenge after training with my ex-fireman friend David in the hills of Leavenworth where our usual hike is 1800 ft. However, I did this the hard way. I was almost to the top and realized that I had dropped my hat somewhere along the trail since KingsHouse. I thought for a moment that someone would pick it up and I could wait for them at the top to retrieve it. But I valued that hat as much as Indiana Jones valued his, so I trekked back down and found my hat almost at the bottom. And I walked the Devil’s Staircase one more time. Ho told a traveler about it a little while later and he didn’t believe me. I guess the Staircase, just by its name, freaks people out.
The view from the pass at the top was the best I have seen on the whole trail. It looks down on a vast valley, with peaks all around. A short distance down you can see Loch Leven. I met two women from Holland who, I told them, had the best seats in the house. They stopped at a nice spot overlooking the lake and with a view of forever. From the top it is a long descent across rugged mountainside and then down a 4-wheel drive track to Kinlochleven which the author of the book says is “the ugly, modern village set amidst dramatic Highland scenery.
On the way down I met up with an Australian who has been hiking on his own. He is in his 70’s and was born in Glasgow but his parents moved to Australia when he was 8 (my friend Stewart, when I related this to him, said they may have been sent there instead, referring to the thousands of prisoners that were shipped to Australia. I think he was joking. I never got the Aussie’s name. I thought I would see him in town but I didn’t. I told him I was blogging mainly so that I could remember my experiences because soon they would all run together. He said rather haughtily that he doesn’t have top worry about that because he has a photographic memory and remembers everything. For example, he said that when he was 8 years old he remembers what Edinburgh looks like and he can compare that to what he see today. What a wonderful gift although that could also be a curse having to constantly be reminded of things you would rather forget.
I didn’t think Kinlochleven was that ugly. The town exists because of a huge aluminium plant (we would call it aluminum) that ran for decades but is now closed. The old brick building stretches a long block. One traveler told me that it was vital during WWII and a lot of the aluminum was used for Range Rovers and other vehicles for the war effort. I’m just passing on what I heard. Part of the building now houses the Ice Factory which is Britain’s biggest indoor articulated rock climbing wall and Ice wall. They actually have a large room inside that has ice walls. The surrounding area apparently is perfect for ice climbing in the winter. I took a little hike to Gray Mares Falls which is just outside of town. It is not large but the setting is pretty impressive. It is one of the main ice wall climbing areas. Kinlochleven is now unofficially billed as the “Outdoor Capital of the UK”. Wandering the streets there are row upon row of the same houses although not necessarily hard to look at. There is no real town center but there are lots of accommodations: B & B’s, hotels, bunkhouses, hostels, camping, caravan parks (we would call it RV parks).
Speaking of accommodations, I made none but once again I got really lucky. There was one room left due to a late cancellation at MacDonald Hotel and campground. Room 11, the only room on the first floor with an enclosed hallway all my own. It had a tv in it even which I deliberately did not turn on. Way better than sleeping in a tent. One side note: many of the older establishments still use skeleton keys which I hadn’t seen in the US for decades. It is probably just part of the theme. I had trouble getting them to work in a few places. They seem pretty awkward. To lock the door on the inside, you had to use the key. The key at Glencoe Mountain Resort locked for the outside but I could not get it to lock from the inside so I just left it unlocked. I didn’t feel unsafe as I haven’t the entire trip.
MacDonald Hotel also has the best restaurant and bar in the town and I could walk there in my socks. I had spicy salmon salad with sweet potato fries. The salmon was really bland. After having Pacific salmon all my life why would I think I would like Atlantic salmon better? But it was filling. I bumped into my friends Stewart (the Scot) and Darah in town and they stopped by at the restaurant later to have a drink. She had lots of problems with her shoes throughout the trip but hung in there. She finally got some type of a cover for the shoes that is waterproof. Stewart was laughing because he said they are bright yellow. I should be able to spot them on the trail today.
15 miles to Fort William today which is the end of this trail but not the end of my hiking adventures.