I woke up thismorning with a headache (self imposed!) and was feeling a little exposed so close to the hotel, road and other campers so packed up reasonably quickly and walked down the road a little before sitting down for breakfast and to rearrange my pack for the day. I was a little low on water – I had filtered some from the stream next to the hotel (I filtered it because I was downstream from other campers!) but filtering was slow so I didn’t fill everything up! I ended up getting some more from a steep rocky burn coming straight off the side of the hill next to the track.
I got to Altnafeadh after about an hour, keeping myself amused talking to the hill next to me. I searched around for a while then found a big clump of bracken well off the track to stash my pack in while I went up the hill. I finished repacking (1L water, food, 1st aid kit, maps, compass, camera, phone, money etc and waterproofs into my pack lid to become a daypack satchel and everything else into my backpack), stashed my pack then took heaps of photos of the spot in case I forgot where it was!! It was a good spot – completely hidden but reasonably easy to find the again.
Then it was across the road towards the hill. I was still very apprehensive and was even considering not doing it, and just continuing up the WHW! Now that I could see the part I had to walk up it was still not looking much easier, nor any smaller!
There was a track, so I followed it and just kept going forwards (and up). I could occasionally see a couple of people in front of me (specks in the distance) so I had some confidence that I was going the right way (the track was not exactly well defined further up!). It was quite steep but very doable, walking just to the side (or occasionally over) the watercourse in the corrie, coming down from the col.
I passed a guy and a young girl (10 ish??) then just before the top passed a boy, Alex, and his dad who gave me a hand pointing out which way to go – “yeah, it’s a bit of a scramble . . . just kind of climb up over there somewhere”! The last bit was pretty much a climb, with no path. This got me to the top of the corrie (to the col), but nowhere near the top of the hill!
I stopped on the col for a while to enjoy the view and had a chat to Alex’s dad. Then I headed up to the top of Carn Dearg (the red peak, because it is made of pink granite). There were 2 other people coming down as I went up. It was a long way up, but when you are focussing on climbing, you just keep walking, then end up being at the top.
The views from the peak were amazing. It was clear and sunny and surrounded by mountain after mountain in most directions. Alex’s dad took some photos of me, and I took some of them. A HUGE raven came to say hello (or steal our food), and then some guy appeared from the edge of the peak!! What?!?!? Alex’s dad said that you can follow a track through the valley, then come up that side of the hill. That seems to be roughly the side that I was looking at it from yesterday, which looks impossible to get up!
I headed back down to the col, sat down for some lunch, then headed out towards the other peaks. Buachaille Etive Mor is not one hill – it is a collection of about 5 peaks joined by ~5km of high ridgeline. It was such a long way between walks, with quite substantial ups and downs, but like I said, you just keep walking . . . . and then you’re there!
Descending Stob na Doire (towards Stob Coire Altruim) was probably one of the hardest parts. There were already 3 other people sitting at the furthest peak (Stob na Broige) so I didn’t hang around too long.
I ended up following one girl most of the way back to where I was heading down from the ridge. I also said hi to Alex and his dad on my way back (they were still on their way out).
The path down was along a river in a corrie in the northern side of the ridge. Some bits were very hard, slippery or steep, but mainly it was really hard just because it was so long!
The whole walk took a lot of concentration – often on slippery or unstable rock right next to dangerous drop offs. Any time I stopped concentrating I’d slip, or roll and ankle, or stumble . . . It was a pretty amazing walk though!!
There was a long (but very beautiful) walk back along the river, and then the road (uncomfortably close to any traffic). I got back to my pack and retrieved it with no problems then sat down and had some more lunch while repacking (and airing my feet!). It was only 3pm so I decided to push on, up the Devil’s Staircase. As Alex’s dad had said “that will be nothing compared to the Big Buachaille”! Still, I could feel the extra 10kg or so of pack weight, and the fatigue in my legs!
Like earlier, I just kept walking and eventually got to the top. I was happy to find any campsite at this point but there was no chance on the high moorland up here. It was simply too boggy and exposed. The rain was starting to come in too. I saw a lot of people on this section, including some guys with daypacks and no waterproof gear who were suddenly in a very big hurry to get where they were going!
The drop into the valley at Kinlochleven is very steep and it almost killed me! My legs were all done in with descents for the day.
I was getting pretty desperate and considering pitching my tent right next to the road (which was actually an access road for a Rio facility) but luckily I found a lovely campsite in an old quarry about 2km SE of Kinlochleven. It was under trees, and next to a stream and small loch which made it beautifully picturesque, but also meant there were hundreds of midges, spiders and other bugs! My headnet worked reasonably well – at least it made setting the tent up possible! My camp was well off the road so I felt OK about sleeping in tomorrow. I was pretty itchy with sweat and bug bites but couldn’t go outside to because of the midges and various other bugs! Instead I stayed holed up in my tent, did a good check for ticks (and found a little one walking across my ankle!), had some dinner (chips in bed!) then very quickly fell asleep!
Today was a really big day, physically and mentally and I was definitely feeling it. I could’ve gone into town for some dinner but I didn’t actually know if I’d be able to make it down the rest of this hill, . . . or if I’d be able to find a campsite afterwards! Plus, there is a waterfall in town that I’d like to see and I wouldn’t be able to tonight so would’ve had to backtrack in the morning (or miss it). I also thought about staying here for a couple of days instead of Fort William (as my rest between walks) but I would’ve arrived after 5pm so it probably would’ve been hard to find accommodation, and I was too tired. Besides, it will probably feel better to finish the West Highland Way properly, then have a break, then start the next walk.
This really was an amazing day. Walking up and along Buachaille Etive Mor was certainly a highlight of the trip. I’m not sure my post did it justice (I’m a bit tired today while writing this) so in case I haven’t conveyed it yet . . . . this was an AMAZING day!