I woke up this morning about 1am. Apparently my tent was not waterproof. Either it got under the rain fly or the bottom was letting it in. The tent is about 15 years old so probably should have re-waterproofed it. Regardless, I woke up in a half inch of water, and as an added bonus my sleeping mat was deflated with a slow leak in it. I also tore my sleeping bag.
I just kinda laid there until 6 hoping the rain would stop so I would not have to pack up during a storm. I got a brief window and just crammed everything into my bag and headed up the trail. No food, no shower, just wanted to get out of there.
I had not eaten since 4pm yesterday and it turns out I would not eat a meal till about that same time today. About 2 miles up the road I caught up to Tam and Foxy. They move fast as they only left about 5 minutes before me.
We stopped for a break and I checked on my blisters. The pads Jean gave me were helping but they were still incredibly sore. The blister was primarily on the ball of my feet (strange place to get one), due to the lack of cushion in my boot and the hard rocky nature of the terrain. My socks were basically worthless at this point, but thankfully Alasdair would give me a spare pair tomorrow
This was going to be a rough day as I had about 7 miles to catch up with the guys and the usual 15 daily miles.
About this time Tam and I ran into John. He is the true Scotsman I referred to in the beginning of this blog. He had attempted this trail about 7 months ago but had to stop around this point due to blisters. He was determined to complete the trail this go around and he had a positive attitude and helped pull others along with positive affirmations.
I got a message from my mates that they had reached the town of Tyndrum and would wait for me at the bar there. I was an hour from getting there, so I did my best to move along so they would not have to wait any longer then necessary.
Before hitting Tyndrum, I came across Matt and Elenore and promised to meet up with them at the intended campsite of Inveroran, just passed the Bridge of Orchy. Our stop was going to be camping at the Bridge, but Tam said if we press on 3 more miles over a side slope the views are much improved.
Tam was stopping at Tyndrum for the night, so John and I ran into Alasdair and Stu in the bar and after stopping for about 10 minutes we pushed on as they had already waited enough. They circled back and picked up the trail before it came into town, whereas I just continued through town to pick up the trail. Stu was a purist and wanted to hike every inch of the trail, which I respected, but I was having a rough day and an extra ¼ mile or so did not strike me as attractive.
This section of the trail followed a gradual uphill grade next to a freeway and was none too impressive. Since all my gear was wet, my pack was a good 5lbs heavier and on low rations I was really gutting it out today. I was not much for conversation as I focused on moving forward. We all combined again a few miles out of Tyndrum and arrived in to Bridge of Orchy for a pint
It was a similar story as other stops, the kitchen was maxed out with reservations, on low staff, and they said they would not be able to serve us. We begged the manager to just squeeze us in, we would eat right now before the rush and be gone. He said no. I was starving and there was not a good food option over the hill at Inveroran. I then went to another worker and pleaded our case, he asked the same manager I already spoke to and he came over and said,"fine, I will serve you know only because you asked my employee to do it.” It seemed like a weird response but it sounded good to us. I ordered 2 meals and wolfed them down like a shipwrecked sailor just being rescued. I think I had a spoon in one hand and a fork in another, each working independently on 2 plates, coordinating their arrival to my mouth.
We packed up as it was already around 6pm and we still had 3 tough uphill miles to go.
I did not get a good shot from the peak looking down at the lodge at Inveroran, but it was a beautiful sight. Also because I had just done 23 miles and was crushed physically. When we got down the hill to camp it was raining. Alasdair had made contact with the caretaker of the property and somehow, the guy offered us to stay in the bunkhouse he was building…for free! He even drove us there. It allowed us shelter, a place to dry my gear, and comfortable dry sleeping setup.
We did not get settled until 8pm and the bar was a ½ mile back and only open till 9pm, so we broke out the whisky from the distillery gift shop and sat around and talked about how fortunate we were to end up under a roof. John would not drink, as he said it made him violent. The rest of us got a bit concerned/curious that we were participants in some new version of Saw or The Hostel movie. I might wake up chained to the toilet and there would be a note that Stu had the key in his stomach and the whole building was on fire. But John abstained and we all survived the night. It was nice getting a chance to talk to the guys in a calm, dry setting. I thought to myself how beautiful the English language was when spoken by locals. I feel that in America over the years, there are so many mixes of cultures and languages that the English language got boiled down to its most basic form, much like when you travel and try to get point across to someone in foreign country; Just the important words. But here, Stu could tell me about his breakfast and make it sound incredible, in a Shakespearian way.
The Next morning, Stu and Al walked back the ½ mile to the lodge to drop off Al's luggage for transport. Because of the drive last night, I technically skipped ½ mile of the trail, but as we had another 20+mile day in front of us, and not feeling much better than yesterday, I met the guys on the return. John, went off ahead and said we would catch up with him, but he went like he was shot out of a cannon and we did not see him until that evening.
The weather was wet and the road was cobblestone, but not smooth like a quaint Boston suburb. This road was from the 1700s and it appeared like someone just rode in the back of a cart and kicked the most oblong stones out the back as they went along. You were constantly look for a smooth piece of grass, even if it was for 4 or 5 steps. I will always remember this section for that. I would cross the road to the other side if it meant 10 seconds of flat walking.
We stopped a few times just cause I was feeling my knees, ankles and hips.
Our goal was Kingshouse, about 10 miles from the bunkhouse. As it came up in the distance it felt like it took forever to get there
We passed some enduro riders, I will explain tomorrow what they were doing here
Finally arriving at Kingshouse, I was gutted. I did not tell the guys but I was seriously considering bagging the hike at this point with the way my legs were feeling. I mean even now, 2 weeks later, as I edit this blog, my knees are still injured and am wearing a brace. But, we got some beer and food in us and I felt better.
I ran into Matt and Elenore there and introduced them to Stu and Alasdair. We all decided to head out together. I also caught sight of Johannes and his sister in the lodge, but had yet to meet them officially. They did comment later in the trip that they were both laughing at the way I walked to the bathroom, like a complete cripple.
The thing that sucked was right after Kingshouse was arguably the hardest section, “The Devil’s Staircase” Basically just switchbacks up a hill where from the bottom the line of hikers looked like colored ants on a zigzag path. The food did me good, and I decided to start taking Ibuprofen. It was the best I felt all week. We all made quick work of the hill and stopped for pictures at the top
Now we had to descend a brutal stretch into the town of Kinlochleven. It was definitely worse than the uphill.
We made it, stopped in a pub for drinks, before separating from Stu, who was wild camping. John, Alasdair and I had a patch of grass at the Blackwater hostel. Matt and Elenore splurged for a hostel tonight because unlike us in the bunkhouse last night, they weathered the storm out in a field.
On the trail by 8am to meet up with Stu just outside of town. It was Stu, Alasdair, John and I together for the final push of 18 miles into Fort Williams and the culmination of the trail. I just had to keep going for 18 miles. I could do this, I had to. The wheels were about to come off, but I was doing everything to keep them on for just a bit longer. The blisters are adding up at this point, but it was only one more day. You can get through anything for one day when you know you have a bed that night. Or that’s what we all kept saying.
It rained very hard today. And it was fairly cold. Today was actually the first day I put on more than a Tshirt for a bit due to the numbness in my hands that crept in about halfway through the hike.
We passed about 300 more motorcycle riders along the way. So they were part of something called the Scottish Six Day Trails. Click Here to watch videos of these crazy bastards. Basically they ride these old school bikes up a riverbed and you get a point for each time you put your foot down. After three step offs you don’t get anymore points unless you cant complete the stage (4 if that happens). At the end of the week the guy with the least points wins. The same guy has won like the last 10 years.
We finally had a view of Fort Williams
On the right of above Picture is Ben Nevis. It is the highest point in the UK. Some people climb that as a closeout of their experience on the WHW trail….I would not be doing that. The WHW winds through town.
Eventually it ends at a bench with a statue of a guy rubbing his feet.
I was so exhausted, we found a pub about 10 ft from the bench and celebrated for a couple hours as we watched the other hikers stream in. Even though it's not the end of the day, it feels right to close this entry here and complete the night’s festivities on the next post.
Regarding the trail, it was very tough, made tougher by my aging body. My 20 year old self could have knocked this out much easier. So even though this was not the most challenging hike on paper I have done, it definitely ranks in my top 5 of "abuse to the body" hikes. I was proud to have completed it, but more proud to finish with my friends.