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The Cape Wrath Trail, part 1 Glenfinnan to Ullapool

The Cape Wrath Trail, part 1 Glenfinnan to Ullapool

Postby mountainstar » Sun Dec 20, 2009 5:40 pm

Route description: Cape Wrath Trail

Date walked: 02/05/2009

Distance: 326 km

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The Cape Wrath Trail, Glenfinnan to Cape Wrath.(Part 1) (approx 202.6 miles)

Map for part 1 :- Glenfinnan to Ullapool (showing detour at ford - 940096, and route taken over Sgurr Na Sgine)

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Map or original route planned between Kinlock Hourn & Kinlochewe, via Bealach coire mhalagain & Strath Croe/The falls of Glomach/Iron Lodge/Moal Bhuidhe Bothy, but changed due to Conditions and logistics

our_route.gpx Open full screen  NB: Walkhighlands is not responsible for the accuracy of gpx files in users posts

The Cape Wrath Trail was always a trek that I wished I could do. But with work commitments, and even though I have a understanding wife, I never thought I would ever be able to get around to doing it, with needing probably around at least 18 or 19 days to get there, do it and get back to North Wales. But in March I was made redundant, so straight away, to make me feel better, I started to plan, in itself always an enjoyable task. Soon with trains booked, 3 Food parcels sent on to hostels (Kinlochewe/Ratagan/Inchnadamph) that I had booked ahead,( I had also booked Ullapool YH, but with all the shops available here, never bothered sending on a food parcel) and pondering carefully and choosing which gear to take, it was on and I was ready to go.
So1st May was the day I set out on the 7am train from home, with 2 connections ahead, before arriving in Fort William in the late afternoon. I booked into my B&B (all the hostels were booked up with a trails bike event on) then off for a meal and a few pints in my “locals”.
Day 1
Sat 2nd May 2009. Glenfinnan to Sourlies Bothy. Approx 16.5 miles.

Weather; sunny periods to start, some showers, getting heavier and longer in the afternoon, cool and breezy.
Up next day for an early breakfast, so I could catch the 8.30 train to Glenfinnan (did not fancy the road walk that would have entailed if I had started from Fort William) Arrived at the station to find there was a slight problem…the train had broken down! But they put on mini buses to ferry people instead, at least I was dropped off right by the Glenfinnan monument, right at the start of my walk.
1 Loch Shiel.JPG
Loch Shiel, Glenfinnan at the start of the walk.

So this was it, I was finally off, with over 200 miles of fantastic walking country ahead, it was a good feeling, all I needed now was a bit of luck that there wouldn’t be any major problems, and hopefully my health and fitness would be good enough, one thing on my side was an extensive knowledge of what to expect ahead, with around of twenty years of experience walking in this great country. So walking from a sunny Glenfinnan by 9.10am, easy walking for the first few miles up the glen to start, which was welcome with a fairly heavy rucksack to carry. As I started to climb up the pass the first sleety shower of many hit me, the start of a very wet week ahead! Over the 471metres pass at 11.15am, from there the drop down the glen became very wet and boggy on this mainly pathless section after a lot of rain of late. Once at the road head at Strathan I was back on excellent paths again, although very wet with many large puddles to divert or jump over, during this part I had my longest shower of around 2 hrs. I reached my 2nd high (300metres) pass of the day at 3.45pm, all downhill now to Sourlies. It was good to see the Bothy & Loch Nevis coming in to view after a long first day, and at last it stopped raining as I dropped down to sea level. I reached the Bothy at 5.40pm, a busy place today, with 4 tents nearby and 8 places already “bagged” inside, I was glad I had my tent with me this time.
2 Camping at Sourlies.JPG
Camping at Sourlies

3 Camping at Sourlies.JPG
Camping at Sourlies (2)

After sorting out my tent and gear, I was hoping to chill out, but realised my hat and gloves were missing, (I definitely couldn’t risk losing them… as I soon found out into the walk) the last time I thought I had them was when I took them off 1.5 miles back up the pass, so off I set to that point again, only to find that they were not there, when I got back I found them where I had really left them… by the stream 5 yards from the Bothy! Bugger! More rain came in the evening and continued intermittently through the night, but I slept well… being a bit knackered!
Day 2
Sun 3rd Sourlies to Kinlock Hourn. Approx 14 miles

Weather; cool but warm in the sun, sunny periods with some heavy showers later.
Awoke to a bright and dry morning and also to that find fresh snow had fallen on the tops overnight. Packed and ready for off by 9.10am. Although I have walked these paths around Knoydart many times, it is one of my favourite areas in Scotland, so that is why I chose it over the more central route that I could have taken via Tomdoun/Cluanie/Affric etc. Luckily the tide was out, so I could walk from the Bothy along the beach, (luckily in probably around 15 times I’ve been here, I’ve never had go over the headland) The walk up Glen Carnock was lovely in the warming sunshine, apart for the boggy bit up to the old bridge, which I was glad to see was still standing.
4 River Carnach.JPG
River Carnach

5 Upper Carnach.JPG
Upper Carnach

To reach the path that leads up to the Gleann Unndalain pass, I left the lower pat that continues up the river to climb up a pathless section which was steep and rough going, but once I reached the higher path the zigzags made the going fairly easy, part way up I had my first brief, heavy wintery shower of the day. I reached the head of the Pass (550metres) at 12.45pm, Dryer paths now led me to down to Barrisdale Bothy by 2pm, where there were several tents pitched outside, time for a break and the opportunity to change my soaking socks to the waterproof ones I luckily had brought along, (my fairly new Gore-Tex lined boots letting in water badly) and seeing to a blister or 2.
7 Ladhar Bheinn.JPG
Ladhar Bheinn, from Loch Hourn

One hour later I was off along the beautiful 7 mile path to Kinloch Hourn, in my opinion the best walk in Scotland, even though it looks easy on the map, its hard work with its 3 switchbacks. More cloud and heavy showers now as I walked the last few miles, I finally reached the road head and farmhouse, where I was met by a very friendly lady offering Tea, cakes, scones & snacks and even B&B if I wanted it, but I’m a tough mountaineer (sometimes!), so camped for £1 in field nearby. Anybody else going this way also note that breakfast is available, and a toilet with cold washing facilities at the farmhouse. The evening remained wet and cloudy, so I stayed in my tent, and the rain continued for most of the night.
Day 3
Mon 4th Kinlock Hourn to Ratagan Approx 10.4 miles.

Weather; heavy rain all day, low cloud, windy and cold.
Up at 7.30am, at least the rain was light as I packed away my gear, but as soon as I set off at 8.40 it started to rain heavily and never stopped till the late afternoon. I followed the good wide track North West which led after a few miles to a ford at 940096 where normally you can cross, but not today, it was like a major river, impossible in these conditions, so I had to make a 2 mile detour down the pathless rough going river bank to a bridge at 0935087 and back up before I could continue any further, my first problem of the day… My 2nd problem soon followed, I followed the tracks into the cloud, and instead of checking my map a bit more regular, and heading for the Bealach coire mhalagain, I found myself after a lot of toil and head scratching, on the top of Sgurr Na Sgine in horrible wet & windy weather, and I really didn’t want to be there at that moment! Even then in the mist I wasn’t exactly sure where I was, although I was telling myself rather unconvincingly that it must be the summit! So with a compass bearing and a prayer I followed a ridge down NE until I finally came under the cloud base to see the Glen Shiel road below, what a relief! My next problem and worry was there was no bridge shown on my map, at the bottom of the ridge where 2 massive raging rivers converged, and not until the last minute did I spot the bridge hidden in the trees on the RHS, 5mins later (2.50pm) I was at the road, although I was relieved, I was also soaking and fed-up, and with still around 5 miles of busy road to walk along, I cheated and started to thumb a lift, and after a mile someone took pity on me and stopped, they dropped me by the shop/petrol station in Shiel bridge, then a walk of just over a mile to Ratagan YH, where I was booked in for the night. It was good to get out of wet clothes, have a hot shower, wash my dirty clothes and have a hot meal. My first time in this hostel, which I really liked, it had a friendly feel to it with a very helpful Warden, the only down side was it was a long way to the Shiel bridge Hotel bar, And although the rain eased in the evening, I didn’t fancy the walk there and back, so it was another tea total night in. Later that evening I met another walker, Michelle, who had just arrived that day to start the Cape Wrath trail from there, so we chatted for a few hours about our plans. We bid farewell at bedtime, knowing we would probably cross paths again in the coming days, sooner than later as it turned out.
11 Five Sisters.JPG
The Five Sisters of Kintail from the YH

Day 4
Tues 5th Ratagan to Lochcarron. Approx 18 miles

Weather; cloudy, rain and cold.
I was up at 7.30am, 10mins later I bumped into Michelle who was setting off on an early start. This is one section of the planned walk that plans had to be changed, with the continuing heavy rain, I was forced into ditching my plans of going up Strath Croe and over the pass and past The falls of Glomach and then down to Iron Lodge, then up again and over the pass to Moal Bhuidhe Bothy (a Bothy that I had not been to before and fancied visiting for a few years) for the night, I was worried about 2 possible problem river crossings that would have had to be met the following day to then get to Strathcarron, ( I have since done this section in better weather, so for anyone else going this way this info may be helpful :- the crossing at the outflow of Loch Cruoshie is fairly wide at around 15metres, knee deep and sandy underfoot, so boots off and no problem except for the cold water, and there is a very shaky (2) wired bridge at the outflow of Loch Calavie)
I finally left at 9am, walked to the shop, bought some last minute snacks, then decided to again try to skip the road walking, my thumb was out again, and within minutes I got a lift saving at least 4 miles of road walking to the where a B- road forks at 910227, a short walk up that road led me to where my track up Coire Dhuinnid started, this is another good well made track over a high point at 520metres and then dropping down to Killilan (1.15pm), where I met Michelle again having a break in the rain, from there we continued together up Glen Ling and took the first left “path” shown on my map (it turned out there wasn’t one) there are several streams to cross as we headed up, all of them were now difficult crossings, once over the 2nd pass (280metres) of the day we could see Loch Carron, but it still looked a long way ahead, we had more problems finding the beginning of the path through the forest at 939356 and again keeping to it through the forest, again it was horribly wet and boggy, when we neared Attadale there was a final sting in the tail, as we had to cross another swollen river, the best place we could find was still knee high and very fast flowing, but once over this last hurdle we finally reached tarmac again, never have I been so happy to be on the blackstuff! It was now 6pm, and we now had several options; 1/ camp on the lawn of the Staithcarron. 2/ campsite at Lochcarron (didn’t Fancy either, it was still pouring down and we were cold & soaking) 3/ B&B in Lochcarron, with a bit of a confab the 3rd option won hands down we both decided. The only problem now was a road walk of around 7 miles, you can guess what happened next, and yes the thumbs came out again! But we walked around 1.5 miles which included what seems an incredibly steep road hill and down in which time dozens of cars passed without stopping, although I didn’t blame anyone for not stopping…we looked like drowned rats! Eventually one kind local picked us up, I think Michelle was close to kissing him…and so was I! He dropped at the Rockville hotel, where we stripped off our soaking clothes in the hall, before going in for a welcome pint or 2. By now it was around 7.45pm, the helpful owners kindly rang around to get us a cheap B&B, even the walk to there was now painful and the muscles had started to seize up. After a shower, some essential clothes washed and hanging wet clothes to dry, we were back in the bar just in time for last orders for food…and a few more pints. What a day!
PS Lochcarron has a few shops to restock if you happen to call here.
Day 5
Wed 6th Lochcarron to Torridon. Approx 13.5 miles
Weather; dry to start, then heavy rain all day, low cloud, windy and cold.
Awoke, fresh again after a good night’s sleep in a lovely bed…a very good decision we decided. It was actually dry and some sun was about as we had breakfast… but that didn’t last long. I was now 1 day ahead in my plans, so with now a day to spare, (Had a bed booked in Kinlochewe bunkhouse on Thurs night) I thought a detour to Torridon via Coire Fionnaraith was a good option and stopped in hostel. So after breakfast we phoned the hostel to book ahead, expecting it to be busy with the bad weather, and left the B&B at 10am, walked along the road, when it started to rain again, and today the skies were really going to empty. This path over to Torridon is one of the best, well made and drained paths in the highlands,
11a coire fionaraich.JPG
Coire fionaraich bothy.

so after some of the awful terrain we encountered yesterday, it was actually a joy to walk over, even in this monsoon type weather. We arrived at the YH at around 2.30, where most of the people stopping there were in or around the lounge, not a day for the hills! The drying room was bulging with wet clothes and boots, and steaming like a Turkish baths. It continued to rain until around 7pm, good timing for us as it was time to walk the 2 miles to the pub, in at last some dry weather.
Day 6
Thurs 7th Torridon to Kinlochewe. Approx 9.5 miles

Weather; showers, Mainly cloudy and cool.
“A bit of a day off” Awoke to a better day the cloud had lifted to reveal white mountain tops again, this time down to about 2200ft, Our route today was totally along the road, someone offered us a lift to the hostel, we accepted but asked to be dropped by Loch Clair so we could take a few pictures of the classic view of Liathach.
13 Lliathach.JPG
Lliathach from Loch Clair

From there it was an easy 3 or 4 mile walk, and in around 1 hr we reached Kinlochewe. After checking in the bunkhouse and doing a spot of shopping, (Kinlochewe has a shop/café/post office, but the small outdoor shop that used to be here has now closed) we now had an afternoon to kill, so I took Michelle on a walk to the head of Loch Maree, to show her one of my past wild camp spots on the edge of the Loch, a great spot only an hours walk from the car park, once back at the hostel at around 3pm, we departed to the bar, for a couple of pints of the excellent Skye Ales, during this time another long distance walker popped in for a couple en route from Lands end to John O’groats. The weather up to now had been no worse than showery, but as he headed off around 5pm to walk somewhere to camp in the region of Loch an Nid, around 9 miles away, the heavens had opened again, and it was to continue pouring down all evening, I thought we were having it hard! At least by now we were hearing hints that the weather would improve in a few days…not before time. After a good meal in the Hostel and sorting stuff out for our next trip into the wilds, we departed to the bar again, where I heard Michelle’s interesting and eventful life story until closing time at 11.30pm. The rain continued through the night…
Day 7
Fri 8th Kinlochewe to Shenavail. Approx 16 miles

Weather; heavy showers, some sunny periods, windy & cold.
…. and it was still pouring down when we woke at 6am, so after a leisurely breakfast, sorting gear and ourselves out, we left the hostel at 9am, outside we were amazed to see a patch of blue sky above, then looking back to Beinn Eighe we saw that the snowline was now down to below 2000ft.
14 Rainbow over Beinn Eighe.JPG
Rainbow over Beinn Eighe from Kinlochewe.

Our route today led us easily along the track to the heights of Kinlochewe, then north, upwards now to where the vehicle track ends, and then along a footpath that continues eventually leading to Lochan Fada.
15 Fisherfield mountains.JPG
Fisherfield mountains

16 Lochan Fada.JPG
Lochan Fada

17 Lochan Fada.JPG
Lochan Fada

The last time I walked this way, only a few years ago, this was only a rough track, now it’s an excellent new footpath where a lot of cash must have been spent, presumably for the stalkers and there clients to get easily to the Loch. We left it after around 1 mile, and headed north up trackless grassy slopes, one major (today anyway) river to cross before we passed through the deep pass of Bealach na Croise (11.30am), where we picked up a path again, downhill now to gain another path that continued passed Loch an Nid, by now it was fairly nice day, with the just the odd shower. I noted that this Loch would be a good place to camp perhaps in the future, but not last night, as the guy we met would have had to do.
18 Shower over An Teallach.JPG
Shower over An Teallach

Several more miles and after 1 more big river crossing we reached an empty Shenavall Bothy at 3.45pm,
20 Shenavall Bothy.JPG
Shenavall Bothy

my feet were soaked again. It was very cold inside, so with it being a Friday night I hoped that someone would turn up later with some fuel to warm us up and attempt to dry some gear. At 6.15pm six bankers from London turned up having stopped Carnmore the previous night, they had to cross the notorious wide and deep river SW of the Bothy, up to the groin…not nice! So they also were disappointed at the lack of afire, but 1 hour later all our prayers were answered when 3 others turned up with some wood and coal, we soon had this alight and all 10 of us huddled around the warming fire,
19 Shenavall Bothy.JPG
Shenavall Bothy, warming up nicely.

with steaming socks and boots hung and placed where ever possible, what a difference a fire makes! So a warm night was enjoyed with good bothy crack in excellent company, in which time a bottle of spirit or 2 was kindly passed around.
Day 8
Sat 9th Shenavail to Ullapool. Approx 15 miles.

Weather; heavy showers, sunny periods, light winds and mild.
We were the first to leave the busy Bothy at 9am, nice and sunny start, 20mins up the path a heavy shower hit us,
22 Shower passing  Loch Na Sealga.JPG
Shower passing Loch Na Sealga, 20mins after leaving the bothy

but soon passed over. Reached the pass at 10.15am, and then passed many walkers on their way up to An Teallach. We reached the road at Corrie Hollie by 11.30am, and then picked up the path that goes over a 400metres pass and ends up at the road by Inverbroom lodge, (2pm). It was here that we had, what would be our last shower for several days…high pressure was moving in at last as promised. Again we didn’t fancy a 5 mile walk along this busy road, so the first car that passed us with our thumbs up, picked us up and dropped us in lovely Ullapool,
23a Ullapool.JPG
Loch Broom from Ullapool

one of my favourite places in Britain.
Ullapool is a good place to spend a night & restock, with a very good outdoor shop (only place to get gas on the trip en route) several shops including a fairly large Tesco’s hidden away in the back streets. It also boasts one of the best situated campsites on the west coast, with lovely views to the Summer Isles to the NW. We stopped in the Youth hostel, where we saw some great rainbows in the evening over Loch Broom.
23a Ullapool.JPG
Loch Broom from Ullapool

Later we had a good night in The Argyle, which was bouncing with a good live band playing.

Link to Part Two
23 Loch Broom.JPG
Evening rainbow over Loch Broom from Ullapool
21 Loch Na Sealga.JPG
Loch Na Sealga
10 Loch Hourn.JPG
Loch Hourn
9 Loch Hourn.JPG
Loch Hourn
8 Loch Hourn.JPG
Loch Hourn
6 GleanUnndalain.JPG
4 River Carnach.JPG
River Carnach
Last edited by mountainstar on Sun Jul 11, 2010 10:00 am, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: The Cape Wrath Trail, part 1 Glenfinnan to Ullapool

Postby Paul Webster » Sun Dec 20, 2009 6:53 pm

Fantastic first report MountainStar, loved that - lots of great pics. I've wanted to do that route for years too. Doubt I'll ever do it as a backpack now - until it becomes possible to run Walkhighlands entirely from within a backpacking tent :wink:
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Re: The Cape Wrath Trail, part 1 Glenfinnan to Ullapool

Postby HighlandSC » Sun Dec 20, 2009 7:06 pm

That is a brilliant report; took me ages to read it (glancing at map throughout) but well worth it. A real epic walk...and in all that rain! A stunning bit of the country that is - I cant wait to visit Knoydart for the 1st time next year. I'm off to read part 2, in which you apparently meet high pressure at last....
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Re: The Cape Wrath Trail, part 1 Glenfinnan to Ullapool

Postby davetherave » Sun Dec 20, 2009 7:45 pm

Fantastic, cant wait for part 2 !

what a great way for you to chill out after losing your job. You say you have over 20 years experience in the Scottish hills, you must get some more reports in so we can all learn from your experiences, :D
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Re: The Cape Wrath Trail, part 1 Glenfinnan to Ullapool

Postby mountain coward » Mon Dec 21, 2009 2:03 am

Great report and photos - looks a hard time tho...
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Re: The Cape Wrath Trail, part 1 Glenfinnan to Ullapool

Postby 37lumleyst » Mon Dec 21, 2009 8:58 am

One of the best reports I've read - and the pictures that go with it, complement the script 100%
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Re: The Cape Wrath Trail, part 1 Glenfinnan to Ullapool

Postby malky_c » Mon Dec 21, 2009 3:41 pm

I haven't had time to read this all yet as I'm at work, but it looks pretty interesting from the first 3 or 4 days. I'll need to have another look at home. The pictures are top class though -lovely light for most of them (One of the few advantages of all the showers!)

I was in Sourlies later on in May. I think I may have read your comment in the bothy book (if you made one - seems like quite a few people pass through there on a similar type of route, so might have been someone else).

This seems like a great idea for a route. I'm assuming from the way you mention other people doing the same thing that it is quite established. Have to say I've never heard of it before. Seems like a slightly more reasonable proposition than walking the Watershed of Scotland (something that seems like a great idea but I will probably never do...).

Anyway, looking forward to reading the rest!
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Re: The Cape Wrath Trail, part 1 Glenfinnan to Ullapool

Postby Dundreich » Thu Dec 24, 2009 9:22 pm

Great read ! Can't wait for part 2. :D
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Re: The Cape Wrath Trail, part 1 Glenfinnan to Ullapool

Postby mountain tortoise » Sat Dec 26, 2009 8:44 pm

Love this set of reports, well done. Sorry you had to be made redunant to do it though.
This is a walk I would love to do and am working up to. It is so useful to hear real trips for things like this and how you resolved real difficulties.
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Re: The Cape Wrath Trail, part 1 Glenfinnan to Ullapool

Postby einsiedler » Mon Jan 25, 2010 8:11 am

Great report, wonderful pictures. We would like to do the same route in August this year.
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Re: The Cape Wrath Trail, part 1 Glenfinnan to Ullapool

Postby Arnaud » Thu Mar 11, 2010 9:24 pm


Great report. We will walk this part 1 (Glenfinnan to Ullapool) begining of April and I wish to know which books or maps would you recommand to find our way?
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Re: The Cape Wrath Trail, part 1 Glenfinnan to Ullapool

Postby oceanroc67 » Thu Sep 09, 2010 9:50 pm

I am inspired. I am planning on doing the CWT in Easter 2011 and your description is just what I needed.

So I have to ask - did you take all 10 OS Explorer maps with you or is there a short cut?

I think I will probably have to buy the maps in order to plan the rout I want to take - at a minimum cost of £60 - and then cut out the bits i need... It feels like a crime.
Are there any alternatives you might recommend or will you sell me the maps you used!!

All the best for the rest of the walk,
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Re: The Cape Wrath Trail, part 1 Glenfinnan to Ullapool

Postby bootsandpaddles » Fri Sep 10, 2010 8:28 am

I scanned and printed out the sections of the maps I needed when I did the Cape Wrath Trail. Then I discarded each sheet when it was no longer necessary. Getting to the last sheet was a great feeling!
The problem with this is that you can't see the bigger picture of where you are and it sometimes makes it difficult to change your mind and choose a different route.
I expect there is a high tech solution to this - come on all you geeks out there!
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Re: The Cape Wrath Trail, part 1 Glenfinnan to Ullapool

Postby Essan » Sat Sep 11, 2010 3:51 pm

When I walked from Glenfinnan to Cape Wrath in winter '89 - albeit by a far more convoluted route over 2 months - I just used 1:100,000 scale maps. Except when the map blew away in Torridon and I had to go on memory ..... !
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Re: The Cape Wrath Trail, part 1 Glenfinnan to Ullapool

Postby HighlandGoat » Fri Apr 01, 2011 6:35 pm

I loved doing this walk in May 2011, I took my time about it and took a few detours on the way. Recommend it to anyone who loves the wilderness. I posted food and supplies ahead to myself to save me from carrying to much.
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