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Walked the WHW on April 30th - 6th May 2011

Walked the WHW on April 30th - 6th May 2011


Postby skidmerc » Sat May 07, 2011 10:04 pm

Route description: West Highland Way

Date walked: 06/05/2011

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On April the 30th at 8am myself and 4 friends set out on the West Highland Way.
I have done around 30 munros in the past 5 or so years, and have done a number of walks in the 10-20k region around Loch Lomond/The Trossachs.
We have spoken about the WHW for a while, and this year in February I decided to finally put the pieces together and make it happen.

I knew it wouldn't be easy and I knew there would be ups and downs, but it totally exceeded all expectations.

Planning

Having done some reading, I thought 7 days would be a fair time to tackle it over.
Day 1 would take us to Drymen Camping
Day 2 would take us to Rowardennan (some in hostel, some in Coille Mhor B&B)
Day 3 would take us to Inverarnan. Beinglass was booked out (except for camping), so I booked the hostel at Crianlarich with intention of getting to Inverarnan, then provisional plan to bus/taxi up to Crianlarich, and back in the morning again to rejoin the route (more on this later!).
Day 4 would take us to Bridge of Orchy. Couldn't get accommodation at Bridge of Orchy, so decided to camp there.
Day 5 would be onto the Kingshouse (again, no accommodation, so booked Glencoe independent Hostel, and got a taxi)
Day 6 is on to Kinlochleven
Day 7, Fort William.


Bags were to be carried by Travel Lite, and because the forecast was amazing, I decided to get some North Face Hedgehog GTX trail shoes instead of taking my walking boots.


Day 1 - Milngavie to Drymen

Met at Milngavie at 8am. As I stepped off the train around 100 people were standing with running gear on. They were running the WHW (or part of it?) that weekend. I initially thought it was a queue to start!
A few of the guys hadn't met before, so after some introductions we got our bags over to Travel Lite and set out.
On heading north from Milngavie there was a small network of paths. It took us a few minutes to work out that the now comforting and familiar thistle sign was to mark our route for the next 7 days.
The sun was incredible, spirits were high, and the pace was good. Time and kilometers seemed to fly past.
We had to dive out the way every now and then to let runners past a few times - I honestly don't know how anyone can run the Way. It's an incredible feat.

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We stopped by the Beech Tree in around 10.30 where they had just opened. We had a quick bite to eat, a cider, and on our way again.

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We arrived in Gartness not long after (around 1pm), treated ourselves to an ice lolly from the Honesty Shop and pressed on to Easter Drumquhassie Farm Campsite.
We had the 2 sleep pods/cocoon things as accommodation. Given there was 5 of us 1 person had to sleep on the floor which was a bit tight for them, but was deemed to be preferable to setting up the tent.
The campsite is fairly small and limited facilities. It's also a fair walk to the town square, but it's in very nice surroundings and is more than adequate.

Overall the day was easy going. Nothing strenuous at all. Some really nice scenery - saw things from totally different angles and perspectives. Got the legs warmed up, everyone was getting to know each other. It was really enjoyable, and a potential future day walk.

Around 4pm we walked the few k up to Drymen square to have some food in the Clachan, and wandered back about 8pm for cards and an early night.

Day 2 - Drymen to Rowardennan

I had done Drymen to Conic Hill and back in my prep for the walk. I've also done Conic Hill on it's own several times over the past year just to stretch the legs, so I had a fair idea what to expect for the first part of the day.
The walk from the campsite to Garadhban Forest (or what's left of it!) was easy going and over fairly quickly following good tracks/paths.
Pretty soon Conic Hill appeared, and we were crossing the lambing fields to start our way up it.
It was very dry, so the route up was quite easy. Not nearly as marshy as the previous times I have climbed it. The path is actually in pretty bad condition in some places. It's heavily eroded, and very rocky. As a result people walk round the bad parts which only further damages the hill.
Before too long though we were at the top. At this point our group of 5 split up as we were going at different paces. I hung back a bit with the guys going at a slightly slower pace and spent some time at the summit taking photos.

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We headed down to the Oak Tree to meet the others and have a bite to eat.
Being a Sunday there was no alcohol to 12.30, so we stayed a bit longer to get one in!

The next section of the walk was new to me. I had driven up to Rowardennan before, but never walked, so wasn't sure what to expect.
The walk is quite varied - sometimes along a road, sometimes on a path, and sometimes even walking along stony beaches. The scenery was amazing. The beaches were full of bright red people enjoying the rare sunshine.

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At several points the Way got pretty steep and was quite hard going. I wasn't quite expecting it to be as tough as it was, but was maybe a combination of the heat, having done Conic Hill the same day, and a big lunch. I felt ok, but it was harder than expected.
At around 5pm we arrived at the top of Ross Point, and 2 of us made our way to Coille Mhor, while the others pressed onto the Hostel. Met in the Clansman a few hours later for food, quick drink, then went our separate ways again for another early night. We had been offered a lift the B&B owner, so didn't want to knock it back, so 9pm seemed a fair time.


Day 3 - Rowardennan to Inverarnan (or, actually, Crianlarich!)

This was my low point of the week.

We had heard all sorts of stories about this section. Slabs of rock that drop into the loch that need to be negotiated, "torturous" sections of bad paths and ascents after Inversnaid, and comparisons with an obstacle course.
None of this turned out to be as bad as expected.
The first section of the walk was following the forest path up to Inversnaid. It largely went without incident. Towards Inversnaid the path got a little rougher, but it was a really enjoyable walk.
Stopped in the bar for one on arrival, took some photos, and pressed on. Everything was good.
The scenery at this part of the loch is exceptional.

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Pretty soon the path turned rough, and I loved it.
Again the paces were different, and the group split up a little. We stopped a number of times to dip our feet in (the water was freezing despite the sunshine!).
3 of us went down to inspect Rob Roy's Cave, which was a little underwhelming.
The breaks in the trees at various points were a good opportunity to stop and recharge and take in the amazing surroundings.
Before long Island I Vow appeared, and we came to the infamous bridge perched above the loch. There were stairs up to it which made it almost not worth the mention. I'm not sure if they have always been there mind you.

At the end of the loch we stopped for a while on the beach to once more recharge and take some photos. There were a fair number of people here, who were obviously all quite glad to have made it past this notorious section. Easy from here on, right? Not really!

The walk to Inverarnan was much longer than expected, but the path itself was fine. Some uphill sections were quite steep, but nothing too bad.
By the time we got the Drovers the half-plan to get a bus/taxi had kind of broken down, and the consensus was to push on to Crianlarich that night by foot rather than doubling back the next morning. By the time we had food it was around 7pm. 10k to go, we figured it would take around 2.5 or 3 hours.
Other walkers we were talking to expressed their surprise at the idea, some seemed horrified. Everyone was tired after a pretty hard day.
We decided to split into two teams.
I was in the first team of 3, the idea being we go quickly, get to Crianlarich, dump our bags, grab torches, and double back to help the other 2 by taking their bags, and lighting the way in case it got dark.
It look AGES to get to Crianlarich. The path seemed extremely difficult, although again I think that was largely to do with what had gone before it. We eventually got to Crianlarich hostel about 9. Light was fading and the desk was unmanned so we couldn't dump our bags or get torches from Travel-Lite bags until half 9 when the receptionist came back.
By that time it was dark.
2 of us quickly started running back up the steep hill to the West Highland Way, and met with the others coming towards Crianlarich.
The morale at this point was rock bottom. I was physically and emotionally wrecked.
The soles of my feet were really sore. Also, in the led up to the WHW I had walked home from work a few times and developed 2 blisters under the callous around the edges of each of my heels. They were back. Big time.
At this point of the week I was conscious the pace of the people in the group was quite varied. I was trying to balance it by encouraging the faster people to go a bit slower, but this might be frustrating them. I could see the group spending more time apart and I wasn't enjoying it.
I was dreading trying to keep everyone together for the rest of the week, but didn't want any frustration to develop, and didn't particularly wanted to make an issue of it.
Seems daft now, but was stressful at the time.

By the time we got back to the hostel it was about 10pm. We were all hurting. Sat around on the couches resting the feet. Had some food and irn bru, quick shower, and turned in for the night.

Day 4 - Crianlarich to Bridge Of Orchy

20k over pretty flat terrain and good paths.
What should have been an easy day became a torturous slog because of the previous night's efforts.
We set off late, around 10am.
It was however another day with absolutely perfect weather.
The walk up from Crianlarich to rejoin the way was hell.
Beyond this, the route through the forest to come down to meet the A82 was murder. Up and down, up and down. I genuinely think this would have been fine had we not over-exerted the next day.
Once we were down we were largely walking on concrete, so immediately my feet started hurting.

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When we arrived at the Green Welly the shoes came off and we had some lunch to make an attempt at recovering.
After an hour we headed off on the way to Bridge of Orchy.
The scenery at this point changed quite dramatically. Gone are the forests, and in with the munros. Walking past Ben Dorain was amazing.

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We stopped at the bridge over Allt Kinglass and again dipped our sore feet in.
Didn't think it was too far from there to the Bridge of Orchy Hotel - and it probably wasn't - but it never seemed to end. This became known at the Walk of Death.

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Trudging endlessly along an old military road. My feet were screaming.

We finally got there, pitched tent, and had some food and a few drinks. I've had some pretty wild nights in the hotel bar before on other walking trips, but not this time.
We were like a bunch of burst baws.
Took a Nytol to aid sleep, and crashed out about 9.30pm. Woke up around 5am FREEZING. The tent next to us had a hoard of warthogs giving birth (that's what it sounded like anyway), so nodded in and out of sleep until 8am where we conceded defeat and got up.

Day 5 - Bridge Of Orchy to Kingshouse

After a hellish sleep, I actually felt not too bad. There had been a heavy frost, so everything was damp, but the sun was out and was warming up nicely. Someone suggested the cold might have been good for the muscles. We all felt better, so didn't question it.
The walk to Inveroran was over quickly (around an hour), so we were making good time.
The drovers road is a very forgiving gradient. Gently climbs up to the Ba Bridge. The weather was incredible, as were the views.

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Not too long after that we were at the highest point of the walk and felt the hard bit was over.
My feet at this point started hurting again. Other people were complaining of aches and pains.
One member of the group had pressed on, so 4 of us were walking together and making steady pace. After not too long the Kingshouse came into view, and I think we let our collective guard down thinking we were nearly there.
I've made the same mistake when doing munros and you catch a glimpse of the car. That's when things REALLY start hurting.
We eventually staggered into the Kingshouse and off came the shoes.
Morale was quite high though. There were deer out back, and the mood in the pub was quite good.
Got some food and drink, and booked a taxi to take us to Glencoe Independent Hostel, which was a reasonable £17.
We were first to arrive at the hostel (about 3.30pm). Was my first time there, but it's easily my favourite hostel now. It's very homely and comfortable. I summoned up the strength to walk into the village (about an hour round trip), and sat reading eating and drinking for the rest of the evening.

Day 6 - Kingshouse to Kinlochleven

The Devils Staircase held a kind of ominous dread about it for some folk in the group.
It's bark is way worse than it's bite though.

We got the same taxi back to the Kingshouse in the morning from Glencoe - resisting the temptation to get dropped off at the Stob Dearg carpark!
2 of us had a beer as we walked along to the foot of the staircase, and I had 2 ibuprofen to help my feet. This seemed to be a totally winning formula (not - I am not a doctor!), as I was full of energy, and nothing hurt. I pretty much jogged up the Devil's Staircase, and waited at the top for some of the others. One of the group pressed on that day too, and one opted to take it easy that day, so 3 of us walked together to Kinlochleven.

After the actual climb of the staircase is over, the walk is fairly uneventful. It was the "wettest" day of the week, but still we didn't get rained on, although it threatened all day.

There were some uphill/downhill bits, and a steep drop into Kinlochleven.

We got in around 12 noon, earliest finish of the week.
Sod's Law - we were at the "uphill" section of the Blackwater Hostel.
We got some lunch - I had a HORRIBLE burger in the Highland Getaway place.
Afterwards we went for a wander to the shop and headed back to hostel. That evening (after an amazing chippy) we sat in the TV/Dining room and had some banter with other walkers. We had met them a few times already through the week so was good having a chat with them.
Again, got stuck next to some terrible snorers that were apparently really bad, but I luckily slept through it.

Day 7 - Kinlochleven to Fort William

That morning I got up at 6.30am and made hot rolls for the group seeing as it was the last day.
We set off walking shortly after 7.30am, with some trepidation.
I had read some bad things about the steep climb out of Kinlochleven.
Tried once more the painkillers/beer combo to aid the first part, trying to recreate the success of the previous day! It was moderately successful.
The climb is worse that the Devil's Staircase and Conic Hill in my opinion.
After that, the walk through Lairigmor was horribly drawn out. I think I was just keen for a change of scenery after a while.
The main body of the group was down to 4 again, as the pace had slowed with one of us, so 3 stayed back with him while 1 pressed on.
All day the 4 of us stayed together. The spirits and the moor improved as we turned north and hit the forestry. We could see the finish line in our heads.
Injuries were picked up along the way, but we were feeling good, and the sun was breaking through the cloud.

We met walkers we had spoken to on previous days. Everyone was encouraging each other and having a laugh. There was a great atmosphere.
The time seemed to fly. We hit Glen Nevis Forest, and started to weave through the trees.

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Before too long, we reached the top of a hill, and Fort William was visible in the distance. What a feeling.

We began climbing down Glen Nevis, and after a while hit the tarmac.
This section seemed to go on for ever, but sure enough, the end point came into site, and we were done.
I realise this is the "old" end, but in my mind it's the one that matters, it's the one that counts!

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Overall, the walk was an amazing experience.
There aren't enough words or pictures to do it justice.
All I can do is encourage anyone with even the slightest interest to do it, and experience it for themselves.
I would happily do it again, but would try to avoid organising it next time so it was less stressful!

Full gallery can be found here: http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150194473448945.330196.511023944&l=9cae9fe300
skidmerc
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Re: Walked the WHW on April 30th - 6th May 2011

Postby Paul Webster » Sun May 08, 2011 8:48 am

Welcome to the site skidmerc - and great report - looks like you had superb weather. Gives a real flavour of the Way for anyone thinking of trying it.
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