Thursday, June 5, 2014

West Highland Way Day 7 - Kingshouse to Kinlochleven

Leaving Kings House.jpgWe leaves Kings House Hotel (sometimes spelled "Kingshouse") heading northwest on a track that is sadly not far from the A82. It's easy walking with a few streams to cross for the next 3 miles to the foot of the Devil's Staircase.
Today included what is I think the literal high point of our 8-day trek of the West Highland Way. The morning dawned with a high overcast but by the time we disembarked from the bus at Kings House a bit before 10:00 the clouds had vanished leaving the sky a dusky blue with just some wisps of white. The walk starts on a hard-surfaced (paved?) path leaving Kings House but soon rejoins an old Military Road and winds towards some rather pointed mountains to the north. Sadly we are just a hop skip and a jump away from a busy motorway and the rumble of traffic rather detracts from the enjoyment of walking through the countryside. After about 3 miles you come to a sizable parking lot where people park to go do some Munro bagging of nearby peaks or perhaps to climb the Devil's Staircase to enjoy the 360 degree views from that 550 meter top. We would ascend the staircase, naturally not a single step is involved, to that 550 viewpoint. The path is good though a bit steeper than one might wish though it's hardly the steepest trail I have climbed. You gain about 850 feet of elevation in about 1.1 miles and although the people who designed this old Military Road don't know what a proper switch-back is they come closer than many and so the route does curve steadily up the slopes towards the top. You'll know you made an effort but you won't exhaust yourself doing it especially if you take a bit of time and do not rush.
Signs of Progress.jpgSigns of progress. This is the type of marker you are likely to find on the Way. I never saw anything akin to a trail blaze but except when crossing a road (or following a paved road) you really didn't have to many choices what route to follow. At the top of this hill we would pause for our elevenses before making the ascent of some 800 feet over just over one mile to the top of Devil's Staircase.
As we climbed the sky became overcast and the wind picked up so the views diminished a bit in their grandeur but the scene was still quite something. The land feels empty in so many respects with the mountains seeming bigger than they are perhaps because they're fairly close. The land isn't empty and although the traffic sound would fade other signs of human activity would replace that in due time as we would learn after leaving the highpoint.
On Top of Devils Staircase 1.JPGI guess it took about 40 minutes to ascend the curving trail, not quite switchbacks but it does zig and zag some as it climbs, to the top. The clouds rolled on in as we climbed but the views remain pretty clear from the wind-swept barren top.
On Top of Devils Staircase 2.JPGI think the road gilders gave up a bit on this backside descending trail. At first it isn't that bad but we would find segments later on that seemed rather stoney. As you can see the slopes are pretty barren and it would be a couple of hours before we even saw a puny stand of trees that could be sheltered behind for answer Nature's call.
If it's windy out you just have to deal with it. We found a spot for lunch a mile or so beyond the top and hunkered down to eat. Some of the best places for views of the surrounding area were also the windiest so our location was only alright as far as eye candy went. The descent off the top though gradual is, I feel, on track that is more rocky than the ascent to the south had been. It slowed me down anyway. In time we started to see those signs of people again and the most obvious one was the set of massive pipes slicing up a mountain slope. The several, at least four, very large diameter pipes carry water to the aluminum smelting facility located in Kinlochleven. Back around 1905 they started to make large amounts of the metal there and to do that requires plenty of water. The pipes slash through the scenery carrying that water to the factory. Later on we would see them from a different angle and figure out that the roar some of us had taken for very steady traffic was in fact a large geyser of a leak in one of the pipes. I don't know how much the aluminum plant helps the local economy but it is a blot on the scenery though I suppose it could be far worse.
Scottish Stream.JPGWe still have a ways to go to reach Kinlochleven. After crossing the Choire Odhair mhoir we would continue through this rather open terrain before coming to a minor road that winds through forest and beside the huge pipeline that provides water to the aluminum works that have been part of this town for over 100 years.
After the couple miles of descent on rocky strewn route towards Kinlochleven you leave the Military Road and enter the vicinity of the town following a minor paved road. While that could be a bad thing it isn't really as the road is quiet and winds through some nice forest on its way into the hamlet of Kinlochleven. The descending seems to go on for a rather long time and it is a shame you pass by more of the leaking (each leak screaming at its own pitch) pipeline. You descend some more and pass over several bridges which span gushing large streams and then you're in the well put together though small village. Once there it's a quick walk through town into a park-like woods area with a river flowing to your left and then you pop out right by the Tailrace Inn which was where we had ample time for a pleasant drink sitting outside under the once again pretty cloudless skies being warmed by a high sun. The bus would take us back to our hotel down in Glen Coe at 15:30. Another short day of about 10 miles with the bulk of the ascent happening on the climb of Devil's Staircase and the majority of the much greater descent taking place after reaching that top especially over the last 3 miles.

All 8 of the photos for day 7 can be viewed (at greater size) in this Flickr photo album.

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