Ever since first passing the Pap of Glencoe last year (en route to the Lost Valley Walk, but that's a different story) it has been on my list of hills to climb. When I was in the Glencoe area again, I crossed my fingers and prayed to the weather gods. Lucky me: all sunny skies on the day prior to my climb and the day of the ascent!
I started out on the orbital track and found the sign pointing towards the start of the trail. Its best days are over, but it still serves its purpose. Unlike the charming sign, the trail itself actually seemed to be well maintained and I got the feeling that new rocks and gravel had been deposited only recently. I really wonder how they get all that stuff up on the mountain to begin with. The downside of all that sunshine and recent maintenance is that everything is lose and unpacked. The rocks were still wobbly and the gravel was mainly an issue on the way down: the trail is really quite steep in places and it meant a lot of slipping and sliding. A good balancing exercise and a test for the knees and ankles (which I passed with flying colours, including some massive black and blue bruises from the couple of times where I did fall onto my bum on the descent).
The views were amazing everywhere I looked. It was one big Kodak moment right from the start. The Pap itself quickly disappeared as the trail winded up the hill. In return, fairytale views of the Glencoe mountains opened up: all lush, green and mesmerising. Turn around and there's Glencoe at the edge of Loch Leven, getting smaller and smaller with every step.
I still needed to keep my eyes on the ground as well, because on this first stretch the track was a bit boggy here and there.
As the track gradually winded up the hill I had to stop regularly because boy, were some of the individual steps and stretches steep. I got the feeling that Hagrid himself had carved out the track, with very little consideration for folks with shorter legs and a smaller stride. On the other hand - it may just be me, because there were plenty of kids making it up the hill as well.
I had caught an early local bus from Fort William, and so I had started out relatively early (not sunrise early, but 9am-ish). Only one other solo hiker seemed to be in front of me, but I did see other groups of people behind me. I let one family of three pass me on one of the steeper stretches. The dad did the thing that many dads do: take the lead (his daughter could keep up), stop every now and then to wait for the mum and as soon as she got to the point where he had been waiting (she all huffing and puffing), he would take off again because, well, there had been plenty of time for rest, n'est-ce pas? It always makes me feel very blessed to be walking by myself at my own pace...
As I got closer to the top, it seemed like the last stretch was going to be steeper still, although I wondered whether this was even possible. The track became more nondescript and dead-ended on a rocky landscape. The family of three gave up just before the 'nipple' and shortly after the other solo hiker already returned from the summit. So once I made my way up to the summit (I missed the track that winds around towards the north-east of the summit and instead I scrambled up the rocks on the south-east side) I was all by myself for about 10-15 minutes (a marvellous experience), after which I was joined by others.
I sat down smack in the middle at the summit at the highest point to have lunch and enjoy the view. One solo-walker headed off towards the edge by the big cairn to enjoy some solitude. One French family with two girls also picked a quiet spot a bit further down. Another French family did not realize that you can also not shout at each other (I honestly think it should be standard protocol to only whisper and speak sotto voce when on top of a mountain and I will never understand why that just doesn't come natural to some people). A Scandinavian group of people came for some peace and quiet, but then had a bit of a scare when one of them dropped his passport into a narrow slit between some rocks where not even the slimmest arm could reach it. Ultimately, he was able to recover the document with the help of two walking poles (used chopstick style) that he borrowed from a random other person - yet another unexpected use for those, I guess.
I stayed on the summit for almost an hour, because I was in no rush and the views were absolutely breathtaking and majestic. Everybody else who appeared on the summit did arrive from the north-east side of the hill, so on my descent I found the beginning of the track. In hindsight I don't think it would have been any easier on the way up than my own approach, because it was hardly less of a scramble.
On my way down I went sliding a couple of times because of the lose gravel, which was just too much in combination with the steep track - even with proper hiking boots. It was definitely not too easy on my knees and I made a mental note to get myself a pair of walking poles. In terms of ease of the ascent and descent, I honestly think my legs may have had a harder time with the Pap than with Ben MacDui (https://www.walkhighlands.co.uk/Forum/viewtopic.php?f=9&t=74590) just the week prior!
Once I got to the bottom of the hill, my knees were definitely wobbly and I swore I would never walk again - but I quickly broke that promise of course, and walked from Kinlochleven to Fort William two days later.
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