West Highland Way After-Thoughts: What I Would Do Differently, and What I Would Keep the Same

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The West Highland Way was not what I expected. Coming from an American backpacking background I am used to remote wilderness and being far from help…and very empty trails. I knew the WHW would be busy but I had predicted just how busy it would be, and the amount of trash those people would leave behind them when there aren’t garbage cans to put it in immediately.

Was I disappointed in the hike? No (other than the amount of toilet paper). Would I approach it differently next time? Absolutely.

While Scotland is remote and beautiful, and one of the last wilderness-type areas in the UK, it still isn’t that wild…you are almost never a day from anywhere. And that is the expectation I would change if I re-hiked the West Highland Way…or most other UK national trails; some of the more remote Scottish trails might be the exception. What the UK does have is an abundance of history and culture, and that’s something that I learned to embrace more on the West Highland Way vs the solitude of distant rugged peaks miles from the nearest dirt road (let alone a paved road or, God forbid, a town) that I am used to in Wyoming or Utah or Colorado.

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The West Highland Way, or any popular trail for that matter in Europe, needs to be approached with very different expectations than those you often find in the US. You need to be okay with running into more people (who are often very interesting), tenting less (or at least “wild camping” less) and appreciating that you will run into unique and quaint towns a lot more often (which also, generally, means carrying a lighter pack as it easier to buy food every day or every other day).

So how would I approach the West Highland Way differently now I’ve hiked it? And how will I approach future UK (and some European) backpacking trips differently?

First, I’d carry less food. I am so used to backpacking in the US where you can plan a trip that can go for a week or more without crossing a road or seeing a town, and you need to carry everything with you…and I love that…it’s why I got into backpacking in the first place. But it is rarely something you will experience on most popular trails in Europe, and especially in England.

Pubs and quaint cafes in the UK and Europe are abundant; I often found that since I was on vacation I would rather eat a good meal that was local, and enjoy a local beer, vs eating the bland Ramen noodles I brought with me. British pubs are awesome and almost everywhere permits dogs; I love the atmosphere of chilling outside in the pub garden or inside watching local patrons…there are some good stories to hear from the locals. Pubs were one of the few things I missed about the UK when I was in the US.

Second, I’d mix up the wild camping and the campsites and wouldn’t plan on just “wild camping”. Just like the PCT or AT there is a hiker culture and mentality along the trail, and when you get done with a long day on the trail it is fun to talk with people who just walked the same section you did. Hikers are generally an awesome group of people and I met some amazing people while I was hiking…whether in the pub, those I chatted with on trail or those that helped me out when I was sick. I love wild camping and wouldn’t trade the few nights I had, but I also enjoyed the couple of nights I camped in campsites and could sit and chat for a while.

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Third, I’d forget the Smidge. I brought it as my only midge deterrent as I heard it was AWESOME and it didn’t work. I bought a headnet on the second day which was a much better investment…lighter and infinitely more useful. I dumped the Smidge. Don’t underestimate the greater Scottish midge…ever.

Fourth, I’d change my schedule slightly. Again I was relying on my experiences of hiking in places like Wyoming’s Wind River Range where 12 miles a day was a good day, at least for me, with all the steep ups and downs (with views to match). I booked my only non-tent night for the night of day 5 but it was too far out; if I hadn’t gotten sick and ended up in the hospital I would have been there a day early. Seven days would be a good trip schedule for most backpackers in decent shape…six days for those in better shape or who are tight for time.

As a backpacker and camper who doesn’t rely (or always care for) paid-for campsites this would be my adjusted schedule to not push myself and still enjoy a relaxed pace, and also my reasons:

Day 1: Milngavie to just above Dryman/before Balmaha wild camp.

The great evergreen trees provide numerous protected great wild camps once you turn off the main road that leads to Drymen. This is such an easy section that 13 miles disappears easily. I started at noon and it meant the trail was mostly empty and devoid of two-legged traffic. It was a good lesson on starting to hike either early or late.

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Day 2: Wild camp to 2nd wild camp past Rowardennan, beyond the camping restriction boundary.

The Rowardennan Hotal would be an easy stopping place for a quick, late lunch before finding a wild campsite. The permited site 1/2 mile south of the hotel was a good spot if you want to do dinner at the hotel, or started late, and not go above 15 miles but with hindsight I would push on past the boundary (after a good bite to eat) to where wild camping is permitted.

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Day 3: Rowardennan (either wild camp or permit site) to one of wild camp or Beinglas Farm Campsite

Wild camp south of Doune Bothy or just past the ferry to Ardleish (I wouldn’t choose to stay at the bothy unless the weather was terrible); both offer beautiful lake-side camping spots; or one of the few pay-for campsites I would choose to stay and pitch up at was Beinglas Farm Campground at Inverarnen…food was awesome, facilities were great and it was fun to socialize with the other hikers.

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Day 4: Wild camp/Beinglas to Tyndrum.

There seemed to be few good spots to wildcamp through this area but the 15/12 miles for the day, and being a little over the half way point, made Tyndrum a great stopping point for resupply and laundry/shower. Not as great as Beinglas Farm for the social aspect and food, but the staff were friendly and very helpful and it was an easy walk to town…and a very good burger.

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Day 5: Tyndrum to wild camp on Rannoch Moor.

If I had one single favorite night of camping on the West Highland Way it was the night on Rannoch Moor; the views were stunning and I had the whole place to myself. I hiked in during the shower-prone afternoon where everyone else stopped at the Bridge of Orchy (a very short day from Tyndrum), the Inveroran Hotal or camped at Victoria Bridge, and had the most incredible location to set up my tent. I loved that I hiked, either in the afternoon or first thing in the morning, alone. I can’t recommend stopping here more…best sites are around Ba Bridge, Ba Cottage and the next bridge north.

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Day 6: Rannoch Moor to Kinlochleven.

Waking up to something so different from the night before was what sold me on spending the night on Rannoch Moor…it was worth it. There are few camping choices in Kinlochleven and I had originally planned to wild camp beyond the town. The campgrounds have tough ground that doesn’t like tent stakes much. There are several good camping spots just as the trail leaves the road out of the town (and still near to the pub/hotel) or further up the hill (with several good water sources). The only reason I chose a campground was due to my illness being an issue…I would choose to wildcamp next time, in either place mentioned above. If I was to pick a campsite I would definitely go with the place with the view along the loch again at the MacDonald Hotel vs the Blackwater Hostel along the road.

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Day 7: Kinlochleven to Ft William. No advice here…just finish the trail. However, getting up early and having the whole valley to myself at 5am was pretty awesome….I would highly recommend an early start every day if you prefer to experience the trail without the rabid hordes.


I carried more clothes on the West Highland Way than I have ever carried on any trip. Scotland’s weather is more changeable than anything I have ever encountered in the US and while I barely needed my down jacket and my extra fleece I was glad I had them as I did use them when the sun disappeared. With the abundance of water (or easy access to refilling bottles) an extra layer of clothes wasn’t an overwhelming weight. I was also extremely glad to have a waterproof rain suit (pants and jacket) AND a poncho for me and the pack. I wouldn’t carry a pack cover again unless the forecast was 100% chance of rain, in which case I wouldn’t be out backpacking.

I picked a great time of year to do this trail and got pretty decent weather and fewer midges than in summer. If hiking this trail, or any other Scottish trail again, I would certainly pick the shoulder seasons again. This does mean avoiding Conic Hill with the dogs in April and May, but it was worth missing just to be able to do the rest of the hike with them.

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Recommended Stopping Places…for food and/or beer:

Drymen: While I didn’t even go near Drymen I heard a lot of recommendations for The Clachan Inn from many people.

Balmaha: The Oak Tree Inn sits is a great place to stop for lunch or a pint…or both. The location is gorgeous and the beer is good. A tea/coffee shop sits onsite also for those less inclined to have a pint while hiking (who are you weird people?) or when it’s too early for beer…yes, there is such a time.

Rowardennan: The Rowardennan Hotel had good food, good beer and a lovely beer garden if it’s warm enough and there aren’t too many midges with amazing views over the loch. A good place to stop for lunch but the hotel is expensive and the only other option is wild camping or the youth hostel.

Inversnaid: There is only the hotel that is easily accessibly. Sadly I was there right before I got sick but the food did look good. Be prepared to ditch coats, boots and packs in the mud room before entering.

Inverarnen: The Drover’s Inn across the river is worth checking out for a drink but the restaurant/bar at Beinglas Farm (apparently) has the better food, not to mention lots of other campers/hikers to socialize with…definitely a place where the “hiker trash” gathers. Of the three of us who ate there together not one person had a negative thing to say about the food…and it all disappeared fast.

Tyndrum: The Tyndrum Inn has some great food and decent wine. I didn’t care much for the atmosphere in the restaurant (maybe I was too early as I was the only one there) so would choose to eat in the bar next time. A little pricey but the service was good.

Bridge of Orchy Hotel: Stopped for lunch and had an amazing bree and grilled onion pannini…was amazing. Great food, dog friendly, good local beer and not too expensive. Definitely worth stopping at for lunch, or dinner before camping at Victoria Bridge.

Glen Coe Ski Resort: A well-located cafe just off the trail. Food was okay but pricey for what you get. Good stopping place for breakfast if you camp on Rannoch Moor, or a cup of tea if coming through later in the day.

MacDonald Hotel, The Bothy Bar: Great views but not much of an outside beer garden. Dog friendly and again the food was pretty good (although I don’t actually remember what I had). A good place to socialize with locals or other hikers and close to a couple of wild camping spots.


Many people hike this trail hut to hut style and have their bags transfered each day by utilizing one of many baggage transfer companies. It is not something I chose to use. I didn’t want to be restricted on where and when I would be stopping for the night, not to mention that doing that turns a backpacking trip into a series of day hikes, at least for me. So much of what I love about backpacking is that it ISN’T day hiking, not that I don’t enjoy day hikes…I just much prefer backpacking…it’s a mental thing.

However, I did use one of the services for a resupply box and my shuttle back to Milngavie. Would I use this approach again? Yes. It worked great to have the dogs’ extra food, and some shampoo and my phone charger etc shipped to the middle point. Since I drove to Scotland, having a dog-friendly ride back to the car was essential so we didn’t have to deal with the delay of public transport. I wouldn’t ship as much of my own food next time for the same reasons as I wouldn’t carry as much food. I can’t speak highly enough of Baggage Freedom who went out of their way to work around my needs.


One final word: PACK OUT YOUR TRASH. I can’t stress enough how ugly and disappointing it was to see so much toilet paper on and near the trail, not to mention the one place I saw the plastic applicator from someone’s feminine product right next to the trail. Some places on Rannoch Moor, back in the trees, looked like a trashed nightclub restroom at 2am; either carry a mini trowel and bury the toilet paper or pack it out in a ziploc bag. It isn’t rocket science and it’s all about respect for the land, and for others.

These are the thoughts I had after hiking 96 miles of Scotland’s most famous trail; I’m sure there are more so please share your thoughts, experiences and recommendations below.

Backpacking the West Highland Way, May 2019: Part 4

Day 7

I had hoped, during the hours I was falling asleep, that I would get to enjoy Rannoch Moor in the sunlight. I had appreciated it’s dark beauty through the mists, clouds and rain and wanted to see it’s other side. I was not disappointed.

My sleeping pad was half-way flat by morning and I hadn’t used it for more than this trip…only night 3 of sleep in my tent so far. I was disappointed. I slept okay but not great and wasn’t ethusiastic about waking up when all I saw was was grey light through the ceiling of my tent. But it was warmer than I expected and I crawled out from under my cozy quilt.

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While my tent may have been over-shadowed by cloud the rest of the moor was mottled in peridot and citrine as the sun beamed through random breaks in the clouds. The mountains were alive in such spectacular fashion I had to take a moment to soak the feelings into my soul.

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The landscape was a living thing that writhed between the tough of water, sun and wind and reveled in all of it. I was beyond thankful that I had made the decision to camp on the moor…I had experienced it completely alone and without the hordes that would normally pass through around mid day. And I had also been blessed enough to see her dressed in both summer and spring garb.

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With my poetic license wrung out we were out of camp by 7am. I was surprised that there was no condensation in the tent and only minimal moisture on the underside of the floor. A lone trail runner passed by camp as we were packing up and that was the only person we saw until Kingshouse, the Glen Coe Resort and the King’s House Hotel.

With the solitude I was enjoying on the trail, and the quiet spring morning, I was blessed with three separate encounters with Scotland’s famous red grouse. Initially I thought I was hearing frogs ribbeting as they called to each other, but as I got closer to the sound I found myself walking up on a bird with vivd rust plummage that didn’t seem all that bothered by me.

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Initially the weather and sun was pleasant but as soon as we topped the “pass” below Gualainn Liath Ghiuthais the wind became extremly bitter and unforgiving. I had all my clothes on bar my sleep layers, hat and puffy jacket and was still chilled to the bone and I decided to make a brief detour. An hour-long stop at the cafe at Glencoe Mountain Resort and a hot sausage sandwich was all that was needed and I was ready to re-brave the chill. But once I was back on the trail again the air felt like it had warmed a few degrees and the wind wasn’t so biting.

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From the cafe it was a brief downhill walk to the Kingshouse Hotel where I finally saw some of the native deer, who are renowned for being particularly friendly. We finally rejoined the hordes and despite my early start, the four miles across Rannoch Moor from the campsite had eaten up our morning advantage. We were all heading for Kinglochleven and our last night and final day.

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A mild walk along the valley was marred by walking parallel to the busy A82. The beautiful views of Glen Coe and the surrounding mountains (not clad in clouds) were tarnished by the ever present snake of road and vehicles upon it. It made me sad.

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But after a couple of miles, and rekindling a couple of acquaintances made in Inversnaid, we left the road and were rewarded with the famous view of Glan Coe…it was stunning and took my breath away (even before I started climbing).

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Devil’s Staircase stood before us and it looked like every other climb we had ever done in the US…steep, rocky and straight up. So with that mindset in our heads we started climbing. And withing a few hundred vertical feet I was removing first one layer then another. It was just like every other pass I had ever done but minus the altitude which actually made little difference as it was the fatigue in my muscles that made us pause for a break…just like back home.

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The top came in sight and we crested to a mega blast of chilled mountain air. I quickly added layers back on before I descended, and was removing them again before long. My saving grace was my buff as it helped with the difference between feeling slightly chilled or downright cold. I wouldn’t leave home on a backpacking trip without my Buff.

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The old military road hugged the side of the mountain and climbed and fell in moderation with the occasional flat section. It begain to get a little mundane but the views were ever-changing and were worth every moment.

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Finally the steep descent started down to the dam and then Kinlochleven. And downhill sections always suck…they are hard on knees and ankles and muscles…and this one was no exception. We crossed massive water pipes, two of which had burst rivits or seals and were spraying massive jets upwards and sideways; they made your standard burst pipe looking like a dripping tap.

Most people turned off for the hostel and campsite but I decided to head for the other end of town. I had initially planned to hike a little further and wild camp but I was concerned about my stomach issues reappearing and really wanting a bathroom close by.

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So I chose to pay for a campsite at McDonald’s Hotel and Campsite. It was expensive (£10) for tent sites that were more-or-less impossible to get tent stakes into. I spent the better part of an hour fighting to get stakes in the ground as without decent stake holds my tent won’t stand up. I was glad to have four shepherd hook stakes me that I usually used for the inner tent as they were able to sneak between the stones an inch below the surface…barely. I still had to locate some rocks to help secure the stakes. I wouldn’t recommend this place for tent camping if you have a trekking pole tent…although after watching videos of people staying at the other campsite in town, the ground wasn’t any better there and the views certainly weren’t as good.

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I enjoyed a beer in the bar and ordered a salad for dinner…still keeping the meals light…before taking the dogs out and heading for bed.

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Day 8

I had intended to get up and start hiking before the rain hit so when I thought my watch said 4:30am I started packing up. However I misread my watch in the half light and only realized as I was almost done packing everything away. I had actually crawled out of my sleeping bag at 3:30am.

I tried to be quiet as I packed away but a DCF tent sounds like a chip packet rustling and is noisy no matter what. Hey, it’s the thought that counts anyway…right?

So I actually started hiking at 4:30am and the midges were already bad as I left the campsite in the still, dawn light. And out of the gate we had a long steep climb back out of town in order to join with another old military road…there are a lot around.

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We passed other tents as we climbed before bursting free of the trees to look over Kinlocheven and the loch… We were now on a work road for a hyrdoelectric dam project for a short while before cutting skywards again, up the valley. I could see the road stretched out for at least a mile to the apex of a pass before it disappeared.

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As I left the construction behind a deep sense of being completely alone settled over me. Even though I’d initially wanted to leave early because of the weather I was really appreciating having the trail to myself again like I had on Rannoch Moor. This was the feeling I backpacked for…and as beautiful as the West Highland Way is, it is just too crowded.

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The morning was definitely cold and I hiked fast to stay warm. Thankfully the wind wasn’t too bad and I never felt as chilled as I had during the morning on Rannoch Moor.

As we reached the top of the pass we could again see the trail stretched out for more than a mile along the side of the glen. It was tough walking with loose rubble and large rocks in the path and made the day less fun but I still appreciated every moment I was out there…and it wasn’t raining! Two ancient stone buildings, an old farm house or drover’s hut and a fenced sheep fold were the only other evidence that humans had inhabited this area long before people hiked the West Highland Way for fun. You could certainly imagine how tough life might have been in such a wild and remote location…and without bug spray or headnets to make the midges bearable.

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Kye had limped a little, off and on, and although I had checked her foot and found nothing I checked it again. She had managed to tear a claw off and it was obviously painful when she caught it wrong or stepped badly. Thankfully it wasn’t terrible and I was able to pull the loose part away without any pain. It seemed to help as I didn’t see her limp again until we got to town.

I did find the lack of change to the scenery and the same footing slightly tedious and was looking forward to the forest for a change…but it never came. The forest that was on the map is no longer there, save for a few trees. Stumps and scattered remnants are all that remain of the trees. A few clumps of trees still stood but there was nothing like that which was indicated on the map.

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The highlight of the day was rounding the bend of the top of a hill and being rewarded with the view of the towering heights of Ben Nevis in front of us. It dwarfed everything around it and I was a little sad that I wouldn’t have time to climb it. The top also wasn’t shrouded in cloud, but instead had a gentle draping of white garb around its shoulders. In another couple of hours in wouldn’t be visible to those hiking behind us.

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So the views actually got worse rather than better and the hiking became a lot more mentally challenging. And it didn’t change much until the final stretch into Ft William where we were finally in the trees and on a logging road, and then a road walk. And it was just as I was starting to descend on the logging road that it started to rain…the much anticipated rain was a little early. It wasn’t the most inspiring finish.

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So with the three of us feeling pretty damp and bedraggled we finally made it to the “original” end of the West Highland Way. I took a picture anyway, even though it wasn’t the official end. And then we walked another 1/2 mile to find the Sore Foot Statue and the current official end of the trail. A couple of quick pictures were all I took as we headed for The Crofters Bar to warm up and eat some food. I found a quiet corner to read while waiting for my shuttle to arrive in three hours.

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The shuttle ride was what it was supposed to be. Greg dropped me back at my car at Beinglas Campsite where I had intended to stay another night but the rain and swarm of people persuaded me otherwise and I drove a short ways south to find a quieter place to park for the night.

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With 96 (+3 extra) miles  of the West Highland Way behind me I started to think about what I got out of my experience, what I would do differently, what I expected and what the reality was…but that deserves a whole other post to itself, so stay tuned for my mumblings and ramblings with hindsight being 20/20.

If you are interested in backpacking the West Highland Way these are a couple of videos I highly recommend of people who have done it and did a great job of vlogging their experiences, and are both informative and entertaining:

Backpacking the West Highland Way, May 2019: Part 3

Day 5

It was cold last night…the wind was quite bitter and even in the car it was cold. But I got what I needed and that was a restful and half-decent night’s sleep despite the mattress in the car being a little too hard. 

The nice thing about staying in the car was that I didn’t have to wake up in the cold (or as cold as a tent) and didn’t have a condendsation-covered tent to pack away. The midges were out in force though. After a quick trip to the bathroom I had to don my headnet as I went through my remaining food and left most of it in the car…it just wasn’t needed. It made my pack pretty light even with two liters of water.

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I was feeling good and strong despite not having eaten anything for breakfast; I still didn’t have much of an appetite. We headed out along the old military road at 8:30am and followed the track out of the trees and across creeks for many miles. We passed numerous waterfalls but I didn’t take pictures of every one…just the prettiest of the ones I saw.

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The hiking was easy as we climbed further into the Scottish highlands, and wide gravel tracks made that possible. We ducked under the railway and the busy A road before climbing a steep hill where Cody got stuck going over a stile…they aren’t easy for dogs, especially those with packs…and there was no way around.

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The old military road hugged the hillside which was peppered with sheep. The dogs behaved themselves and kept to the trail…they were interested of course. We had to contend with a second style but it was managed with a couple of amused on-lookers who were taking a snack break.

Suddenly we were at Creag an Taghein and the turn off to Crianlarich. It was the quickest 6 miles I think I’ve ever done…it went by in a blur. I was feeling pretty good and was sipping water frequently again vs chugging it occasionally like I normally do. I was probably not intaking enough water but it was better to be a little dehydrated that way than to be disgorging it all in excess.

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The sunny weather promised by the weather forecast didn’t materialize but the cloud cover made for a good hiking temperature.

As soon as we turned away from the turn-off to Crianlarich the climbing started and it was fairly consistently up for a mile or so, with a few downs. A slightly-creepy looking hiker was at the top of the first hill and I wondered if he belonged to the tent/camp that gave me the heebie-jeebies on night one.

At the apex of the climb the wind really picked up, but it wasn’t consistent. While it kept the midges away it also meant I couldn’t find the right clothing combination to stay at an appropriate temperature yet again. It seems to be the norm for Scotland.

With many ups and downs (mostly downs now) we finally descended back to the main road. A lone wild-camper was below the trail, and ahead of us we were rewarded with the sight of a very interesting arched stone bridge.

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We had to make a mad dash across the road from the bridge as the road was BUSY! but at least there were warnings to the drivers…which I didn’t trust at all. The trail then curved in a loop through several sheep and highland cattle farms, and where St Fillian’s Priory had once stood as well as an old graveyard.

The ruins of the Augustinian Prior date back to the 13th century and was endowed by Robert the Bruce in 1317. The graveyard itself dates back to the beginnings of the early Celtic church in the 8th century.

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I leashed the dogs through a field with lambs close to the trail but that didn’t last long. Despite how well behaved my dogs are, when we are close to farms I try to respect the farmer’s nerves and leash the dogs even if I don’t deem it necessary. It’s what I would hope others would do. We also got our first views of highland cattle…always cool.

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We headed back towards the road and thankfully didn’t have to cross it again. We passed by the location of the Battle of Dalrigh. This was the location where Robert the Bruce was ambushed by Clan MacDougall in the summer of 1306; caught by surprise the battle was a short, frantic engagement and Robert’s remaining horsemen were killed and several of his key allies were injured. Bruce went into hiding and two years later he went on to defeat the MacDougalls at the Battle of the Pass of Brander.

From the site of the Battle of Dalrigh we passed the Lochan of the Lost Sword where legend has it that Bruce and his army threw their weapons into the small lochan.

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A short meander took us from there through Tyndrum Community Woods and it was here that I started having some serious pain my left foot again.

It was not the same pain I had coming out of Balmaha and loosening my shoe laces didn’t help this time. It was tough to walk on and I hoped it was only temporary and something a night of rest would help. If Gastroenteritis didn’t stop me, a little pain in my foot certainly wouldn’t.

With a little limping we arrived at Tyndrum By The Way…the only overnight cabin stop I had booked and non-tent night I had planned for. So far I has spent more nights not in my tent than in my tent and I was a little disappointed as that had not been my intention for the trip at all.

I picked up my resupply box with shampoo and soap and a razor, and the dogs’ food as well as some extra food for me (which I didn’t really need). A shower and laundry were called for and I got both done quickly (they rent towels which was great, and provide laundry soap in the cost of the washer). It was nice to be clean, with clean clothes.

A walk with the dogs was brief for them to relieve themselves and I headed into Tyndrum to find something palatable to eat. I had barely eaten all day (a Belvita snack and some naan bread) and I ordered a burger. It was a safe choice but I only managed half, and barely touched the sweet potato fries that I had paid extra for. With 96 miles of trail, and 55 hiked so far, I was starting to worry about my calorie needs with lack of food intake over the past three days…I’m already a pretty skinny person.

A warm night was spent reading in my little camping cabin as I checked out the map for the following day. The weather forecast looked decent and I was ready to see the remoteness of Rannoch Moor.

Day 6

Despite having a mattress to sleep on and a warm, dry space to stay at Tyndrum By The Way I only got a half-decent night of sleep and was awake before 7am. Cody hadn’t settled well and his constant movement awoke me several times in the night.

I enjoyed the three diet Pepsi cans I had stashed in my resupply box and took my time packing my gear away. Baggage Freedom had agreed to pick up my box for me again as I wouldn’t need everything in it…I had paid for the full baggage delivery service even though I wasn’t actually using it.

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It was a slow start out of the campground but we were finally hiking around 9am and the weather wasn’t nearly as nice as I had hope it would be. Rain was drizzle (or what I like to call “air rain” and intermittent, and then windy but not really cold, which made it very hard to decide on clothing.

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The trail followed the old military road from Tyndrum to the Bridge of Orchy, crossing under the road and rail line a couple of times. We were basically following the same line as the modern contraptions but over different routes.

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A truck honked as we climbed away from Tyndrum and I waved. I heard him honk again for the two groups of hikers ahead of me. I’m guessing this was a friendly gesture.

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As we climbed and descended, mostly gently, the views gradually expanded. The peaks appeared and reappeared as clouds flowed like water over their lofty heights. Rain came and went but never for long and never in more than drizzling form. And despite the rain and the biting wind it felt like a good day.

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Quickly the miles passed as we walked by black-faced ewes and their lambs and herds of multi-shaded red highland cattle. Slugs were once again in abundance but the only wildlife we really saw or heard were the song birds. The sun might not have been out but the vivid yellow of the gorse flowers almost made it feel like it was.

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We descended into the Bridge of Orchy and stopped for lunch at the bar. Dogs were once again permitted and we hid ourselves in the perfect corner. I had a scrumptious brie and onion panini (could have done with some chicken but still good) that hit the spot and enjoyed a local beer…my first one on the trail since I got sick. It seemed to go down well.

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Another hiker from Germany I had connected with south of Tyndrum joined me and we chatted for a while as we ate. She had been someone I had run into yesterday and she had been struggling mentally with the trail…so I commiserated with her and told her my gruesome tale (before she ate!!!).

An hour of warmth and recuperation made it easier to find the motivation to get moving despite the beer telling us to take a nap. I bid the other hiker farewell and headed out to cover another two miles to the Inveroran Hotel.

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A steep climb was followed by open views at the top. I paused often to capture the moment, both in my memory and in my camera. But now, up high and out of the trees the wind just got worse and I was constantly fighting to stay straight as I walked. I wasn’t feeling hopeful about camping on Rannoch Moor.

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A quick stop at the hotel for an apple juice (my beer-filled gut being restricted by my pack belt was not liking the carbonation of the beer and was protesting) and to fill up with water for camping took us until 3pm. I wanted to do another few miles and my aim was for Ba Bridge.

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The wind was still kicking butt when we left but we were soon a little sheltered by the trees and I removed some clothing layers…I didn’t want to be sweating out there. We were now following one of Talbot’s Roads that led from Inveroran up to Glen Coe.

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I was feeling good, despite the extra weight of water in my pack, and poured out a few tunes as we hiked. We passed the creepy guy again. He turned and looked at us once as we approached then kept his back turned…barely grunted a “hello” when I said hi. Weird. We also passed the noisy group of German’s we had passed earlier in the had who had been playing music on an external speaker…how rude.

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Another mile down the trail and sadly my GE infection apparently wasn’t completely over. I had the sudden urgent need to find a secluded spot and dig a hole. I found a place but it also looked like everyone else had used the whole area as their toilet with no thought of packing out or burying anything. I have sadly seen a LOT of the dreaded charmin blooms on this trail…I think there needs to be a public awareness campaign about TP and burying waste. No one wants to see hundreds of charmin blooms on a wilderness hike.

Back to me. The urge happened several times over the next few hours and I had to deal with it as it happened. I was just hoping I wouldn’t tun out of toilet paper. Finally I remembered to take some Imodium…dumb broad. At least this time I was able to keep it down. (Oh and I did bury everything I used, or produced).

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So despite the intestinal problems I was thoroughly loving gentle walk across Rannoch Moor. The views were stunning and the weather was constantly changing from sun to clouds to rain and back again. I reached Ba Bridge and wasn’t feeling inspired; the wind was still strong and a particularly heavy band of rain came through. It was also still fairly early. I decided to hike on and to aim for Kingshouse. I felt like it was a safer bet than risking the weather.

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Of course with this decision in mind I dumped half of my water so I didn’t have to carry it as it was certainly heavy. And then, a little over half a mile further north I came across the most perfect campsite. It was sheltered, below an old stone bridge, and next to a creek. I climbed down to see if it was sheltered enough and immediately decided to stay.

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You couldn’t beat the views from the campsite…backed by Black Mount and other peaks to the west, and looking out over the moorland and winding waterways to the east…it was perfect. Occasionally the sun would come out for a moment and turn select areas to gold, or highlightied the last remnants of snow in hidden fissures.

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The ground was wet but that was to be expected and I was glad to have a DCF tent floor…anything else would likely have soaked through in time if no ground sheet was used. The creek beside the tent was beautiful and ran through short cleft in the rocks before diving into a deep pool…a place that looked refreshing for a hot day.

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It had still been early when we had arrived…about 5:30pm…so I took a short walk to take some pictures and then read in the tent for a while to stay warm. Finally it got too cold to do even that and we made final preparations for bed in the still-daylight of 9:20pm.

Backpacking the West Highland Way, May 2019: Part 2

Day 3

Well I thought I had a goodnight of sleep but I was definitely feeling drained and on the lethargic side. I attributed it to being day 3 and lack of caffeine (normal on day 3) but I struggled to cover the 7 rough miles to Inversnaid.

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At the edge of the trail by the Rowardennan Youth Hostel, and looking out over the loch we passed the Loch Lomond National Park Memorial Sculpture. The park is dedicated to those who gave their lives in the First and Second World Wars and was created out of the former Rowardennan Estate with the support of the National Heritage Memorial Fund.

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The trail was undulating and not particularly easy under foot, reminding me more of trails I had done in the US than those of the earlier part of the trail, but it wasn’t anything I hadn’t hiked before with relative ease.

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It took me 5 hours to do 7 miles (very unusual for me). The highlight of the entire day were the hillsides that were absolutely carpeted in bluebells…they looked almost other-worldly.

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The trail was beautiful but it was already starting to get a little old to be following the same body of water. I was yearning for good trails and differeing views, not to mention I was desperate for some solitude. This was the first day I was noticing the popularity of the West Highland Way and I was craving the wilderness and solitude I was familiar with on other backpacking trips I had done.

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I was finally glad to take a break at the hotel and grab a diet coke. I also got a piece of lemon drizzle cake but within the first bite I knew I couldn’t stomach it. I forced down two more bites before accepting how nauseous it was make me.

I chatted with my campsite mate (Bronwyn from Germany) from the first night and said hello to the American ladies from the second night at the Rowardennan Hotel) before setting off on the trail again. I wasn’t feeling much better although the caffeine did help my headache some, and the further I walked the worse I felt despite the waterfalls and the unique tables and chairs.

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I was struggling and with just a mile under my feet it hit me with violent abandon and up came everything I had eaten and drank since the morning. And it kept coming. When it was over I stood there with legs like jelly but I initially felt a little better and thought that was going to be it and that it would be okay to continue. Then the other end hit me…several times and I had to scramble up steep hillsides to find a rock or tree to hide behind. I was not doing good but I thought I could make it to Inverarnan.

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Another mile down the trail and I took some Imodium but within another 15 minutes of hiking I was nauseous again and back up the Imodium came along with, well, I’m not sure what as I could have sworn it all came up the during the first wave.

A group from Germany came up behind me and asked if I was okay. I wasn’t sure at all and again my legs were violently shaking to the point I could barely stand. They offered to walk with me to my now-planned campsite below Creag a’ Mhadaigh and I was appreciative of their kind offer. I have never felt so death-like.

At camp I laid down for a while and then got my tent up to take a nap. Thrice more I had to escape my tent in a hurry and I finally called for emergency help. I was in a bad way and was concerned about my hydration levels as I couldn’t keep even water down. I was feeling dizzy and slightly delirious and I knew, even without much of a rational thought in my head, that it would be dangerous to stay where I was.

I had some cell service so didn’t use my SOS device, but of course that meant not being able to provide GPS co-ordinates to my location. Thankfully I knew where I was on the map (despite my brain malfunctioning) and while I butchered the names I was able to explain where I was.

Eight burly mountain rescue men showed up in the rescue boat to help, packed up my gear and helped me into the boat. I was so dizzy and light-headed by that point I could barely move on my own. They took care of the dogs and we took a 15 minute boat ride back down Loch Lomond (which of course Cody HATED) to a waiting ambulance. I was given some fluids and anti-nausea medication before being taken to the hospital south of Glasgow where I ended up feeling like a pincushion.

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What I had was acute gastroenteritis and they pumped more fluids in me, made me rest and brought my temperature down. And because I didn’t have any other place to stay other than my car the Dr kept me in overnight (albeit woken very early) so I could at least get a little sleep.

Day 4

One of the guys with the mountain rescue crew had kindly taken the dogs home with him so they were well loved and taken care of overnight. As soon as I got back to my car (an early-morning bus and two trains later) I went to pick the dogs up and headed for Inverarnen with the idea of doing some light hiking back to the spot I had been picked up the previous night; I wanted to check I was okay to continue and a short day with a day pack would do just that for me as I certainly wasn’t feeling 100%.

I paid for a campsite and pitched the tent, just to get it to dry out in the sun and breeze, and it dried quickly. I packed it away again and updated my family with everything that had happened, my plan for the day and hopefully the rest of the trail.

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A fairly moderate climb took us through more bluebell woods, shaded with the multi-faceted leaves that were highlighted perfectly in the sunshine…and that was why I didn’t want to waste the day. It was the first real day of sun we had seen.

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Feral goats were eating just below the path and of course Kye and Cody were pretty interested in them, but I convinced them we couldn’t stay and so on we went towards Dubh Lochan.

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The climb took us up by Cnap Mor and past the circular lochan before dropping us back down to one of the most amazing campsites I have ever seen…it was perfect and flat, with a nice fire pit and right on the edge of the loch with some pretty awesome views. We once again bumped into the American ladies and I told them what had happened the previous day as I had mentioned that I wasn’t feeling great when I saw them at the Inversnaid Hotel.

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We marched onwards, taking our time as I didn’t want to push myself. I felt the occasional cramp in my stomach or minor wave of nausea but it didn’t last and eventually those feelings because less frequent. I drank sparingly, taking small sips more often rather than chugging it as I usually do. I think it helped.

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We climbed again, past Doune Bothy and an old farm house that had seen better days. The sun was a pleasure to walk in for a change but the wind was sharp and I was constantly removing or adding a layer. A small saddle took us east of Craeg a’ Mhadaidh and the path led us through the trees and over numerous small creeks. And after 3 miles we finally came out to the clearing I had pitched my tent the precious evening and then rescued by the wonderful boat crew.

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I did a quick camp check to see if anything had been left behind or forgotten (other than most of my insides). There was nothing, not even a scrap of paper or tent peg (they did a great job packing up fast even if the result wasn’t pretty).

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I rested a while but was glad to be feeling decent and after 15 minutes we headed back to Inverarnen. The whole route of 6 miles had taken about 4 hours…not my normal speed but I also hadn’t been trying to maintain my normal pace either. I was just happy to be walking on the trail.

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On the way back I was lucky enough to come across a slow worm (a legless lizard, so neither a worm nor a snake even though it looks like one) basking in the sun on the trail, and a toad, and a very tiny spider hanging out in the mouth of a bluebell…sometimes it’s the little things. Of course I took the opportunity to take a couple of pictures before encouraging them off the trail so they didn’t get stepped on by the group behind me as the blended so well.

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Back at the campsite I read the WHW guide that I’d been missing and tried to gauge mileage and potential campsites ahead. Unfortunately Thursday night put me right in the middle of Rannoch Moor…not a good place to be if the weather turned…so I was hoping the weather forecast would stay positive through Friday.

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With the dogs fed I decided it was time to try and eat something more substantial than the handful of shortbread cookies I’d had earlier and headed to the bar/restaurant with the pups. The lightest, easiest thing on the menu seemed to be a veggie dish/starter (vegetable pakora) so I opted for that and some naan bread. I ate most of it but didn’t want to push the limits of what my stomach could take and saved the rest of the naan bread for later.

The lovely American laides found me sitting outside in the sun, in my winter jacket, braving the chill wind. They were staying at a B&B across the river but the food at Beinglass Farm was much better (apparently) than the Drover’s Inn. So they ate and we chatted for a while before heading our separate ways. I hoped to see them in Tyndrum, but this was the last night we would see each other.

With the chill in the wind I was a little glad to be sleeping in my car and hoped I would get a good night of sleep…I desperately needed it.

Backpacking the West Highland Way, May 2019: Part 1

Day 1

Lots of traffic out of the south-east at rush hour made for a longer-than-anticipated drive to Birmingham where I spent the night in a lovely fellow Adventure Queen’s driveway (you’ll have to Google who the Adventure Queens are) who had offered me a place to park as a stop over on Friday night. However not only did I park for the night but I also enjoyed a couple of hours of great conversation and a glass of wine.

Sleep evaded me most of the night, and what sleep I did get was fitfull and restless. I was up with the birds and heading north a few minutes after 5am. It had rained during the night and rained off and on during the 5 hours drive to Glasgow until finally settling in 30 miles south of the city. I wasn’t feeling good about the impending hike in rain.

I dropped off a resupply box with my return shuttle driver and found a parking space at the train station…the place most recommended by, well, everyone.

With the drizzly rain still lingering I knew I’d have to suck it up so I started getting ready and a little before noon we were standing at the obelisk at the official start of the West Highland Way. It felt a little surreal to be standing there, having seen this icon in so many pictures and videos of people who had done the trail before me….similar to the what I assume it must be like for those at the southern (or northern) monument of the PCT.

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We followed the signs and were quickly away from the town center and walking well-gravelled paths alongside the creek. I had worn my full rain suit but was soon dying of heat despite the coolness of the day and the rain. I switched out to my poncho and was quickly feeling better. 

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The drizzle continued for a couple of hours and obscured the views that should have been stunning. It was hard to look around much when I had my head down most of the time trying to stay dry. The dog’s raincoats were doing their job for the most part but I quickly realized that my measuring had been sub-par and they were too short for their bodies.

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We meandered mostly through farmland and crossed a few roads, finally enjoying some rain-free hiking tine during the afternoon which held until camp.

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The miles flew by under our feet as the trail was mostly a wide travel track with little elevation variation and easy to walk on. Livestock surrounded on either side and despite the lack of views I stopped to appreciate the little things, like the stunning pink flowers alongside the path, or the first views over Loch Lommond framed by shrouded peaks and vivid yellow gorse.

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As we hiked up the road towards we encountered this cool-looking bridge but it was only when I got closer to it and peered intently at the gaping black maw that I saw how cool it actually was.

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I had encountered a few backpackers and a handful of hut-to-hut (or B&B/hotal to hotel) hikers, and many backpackers peeled off at Dryman Camping, a mile or so before the town. But it was way to early to stop…not to mention I find it silly to pay for camping when there’s so much of it available for free in Scotland.

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So on I went. I had intended to blip into Drymen for water but a convenient creek at the turn off saved me the extra mile. It was quite chilly and my hands weren’t happy with dealing with cold water and the breeze. I filtered 3 liters as I knew we’d be dry camping…and dang was my pack suddenly very heavy, which wasn’t helped by having to leash the dogs through a sheep field and then on a short road walk.

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Finally we were in an area where we could camp and I started looking for a good, sheltered spot. The first one was promising but the neighboring tent just looked a little sketchy and didn’t give me positive feelings…it wasn’t a backpacking tent and I didn’t fell comfortable with staying there.

So on I went for another half mile before settling on another sheltered spot in a large stand of pine trees. Two other tents occupied a couple of spots but there was plenty of room. I struggled to get my tent up as it is difficult to figure out the correct orientation for it, especially in a tight spot, but I got it done.

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One of my neighbors came over to chat as I was making dinner and the midges just swarmed us. I doused myself in Smidge (something that was SWORN to work, so I didn’t bring a headnet) but it was useless so I quickly ate, and walked (to keep from being eaten myself) as I chatted and then be both headed for the safety of our tents to get away from the flying evil midges. I was really glad to have brought my Kindle but was kicking myself for not having brought the West Highland Way guidebook.

Day 2

I slept fairly decent last night…once I actually got to sleep. Initially I was lulled into relaxation by the gentle sounds of light rain tapping on the tent. It was quickly followed by the sounds of loud voices, distant fireworks and neighboring campers making constant bird calls (obviously fake). I awoke to the dawn chorus again but covered my head with my coat and fell asleep again until 7am when the light sound rain was enough to break my slumber.

I packed as much away as I could inside the tent before emerging just as the rain was tapering off. The tent was soaked and cold to pack away but the midges were already out so I quickly packed it away without even bothering to dry toweling it off a little. I was missing having even a little breeze to keep the buggers at bay. I didn’t realize how much water was held by the tent until I put it up again…no wonder my pack felt so heavy.

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We followed the forest road north once again and said “good morning” to a few groups of other backpackers. We then had to turn west and take the road alternate as it was still May and Conic Hill was closed to those with dogs through April and May for lambing. And while it was a bit of a wrench not to do the whole route, doing the rest of it with Kye and Cody more than made up for it…not to mention that it was a steep climb and was socked in by clouds so there would have been no good views from the top.

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We took the road walk to Balmaha which thankfully had a sidewalk all the way and wandered into the town a little footsore after pounding tarmac for two miles. I ate a quick snack, said a quick “hello” to other WHW hikers I passed at the cafe and got some water and then we pressed on. We paused at the Tom Weir statue in the park to read about the iconic local hiking legend and mountain man who had been instrumental in protecting some of Scotland’s most scenic areas.

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Blamaha sits on the edge of Loch Lomond at the south end and it felt a little surreal that we would be walking by this body of water for the better part of two days.

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We hit our first moderate climb out of the trail (since we didn’t do Conic Hill) and was surrounded by bluebells…the smell of them was all-encompassing in the much-appreciated sunshine that was now gracing us. At the top of the hill it was finally time to remove my waterproof pants and it was such a relief to be rid of them.

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The scenery didn’t change much and we paused only briefly at Cashel to eat lunch and grab a midge net for my head…I didn’t want to suffer through another night again. I was really glad that most places seem to carry these things, even if they are at slightly inflated prices.

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Trees surrounded us, bluebells carpeted the floor and the lake guided us onwards constantly to our left. It didn’t change much. It was also around this time that I started to get some sharp stabbing pains on the inside of my left foot. I had not stepped badly or anything I could recall but it got worse with each step until it felt like my foot was on fire. I paused and it went away but as soon as I started walking again the cycle of pain started over again.

With a brief thought I questioned my shoes and paused, while fighting off midges, to loosen my left shoe. Neither was over-tight (had numbness issues with that before) but apparently the laces were pressing on something just right to cause pain and as soon as they were looser the pain ceased. Crisis averted. 

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At the top of a steep climb and a hundred or more steps, and as I paused for a bite and a drink of water, another hiker passed us. I hadn’t seen too many hikers up to this point and we chatted for a bit…this was his first long-distance trail and he was struggling a little, but enjoying it anyway.

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We came across some permitted campsites at Sallochy and I had to double check the name of the place we had a permit for. We were way too far south to be stopping already and the map confirmed we still had a couple of miles to go.

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At about 2pm we reached the campsite I had booked for the night. Loch Lomond is one of the few places in Scotland that restricts dispersed camping due to the area’s popularity and a permit is required to camp in one of a handful of locations along the loch . It was very early but it gave me a good chance to get the tent set up and to let it dry out, and just as it was up a very considerate breeze picked up to help.

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With now 6 hours to kill until bed time I put my water bottles in my pack and headed a half mile up the trail to the Rowardennan Hotel. I grabbed a bite to eat and drank a couple of good beers while chatting with some other WHW hikers, including two lovely American women from Arizona (whose names I forgot) and before too long it was 6pm and I headed back to camp to cook dinner and read a book.

Rangers showed up around 7pm to check my permit, and other campers came in about 8 although I was well ensconced in my tent by that time and didn’t even poke my head out until I had to take the dogs out at 9:30pm.

Three Days in the Brecon Beacons, April 2019

Day 1

A 5:45am start was not an ideal time to start a long day but with a 180 mile drive to the start of the trail I didn’t have much of a choice.

I had packed everything the night before, including my food bag which meant I ended up forgetting the cheese I bought for lunches. I only realized this half way to Wales and had to make a slight detour to pick some up or I wouldn’t have had enough food.

After a little bit of driving around the tiny village of Llangynidyr I finally found the parking lot I had been told about and met up with Nigel, one of two people who were joining me on the hike.

Within 20 minutes Rikka arrived off the bus. She wasn’t feeling great after a late night bus ride from London so wasn’t hopeful about the trip.

With bags on our backs we followed the road a short way and finally turned onto a track that led up through farm land towards Tor Y Foel. We made the decision to climb over the peak rather than skirting, a decision I was regretting about half way up.

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The sun was brutally beating down on us and we were all worried about our water supplies. The views from the top made the climb worth it and we took a break for lunch while absorving the wide panorama of peaks and valleys.

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We poured over the map for a while before deciding to do our route backwards. It was a better choice for water and for camping options.

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We descended Tor Y Foel and followed a track around peaks and above the reservoir before turning into a deep notch carved between two points. Sheep surrounded us and wild ponies chomped grass as we passed by, barely casting us a glance, and two lizards seemed to be in a weird battle of teeth.

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At a trail junction we turned right and headed across the wide open moorland where the camping would have been perfect…if there had been water. It was here that Rikka decided that she wanted to do her own thing and she stayed behind as we continhed across the heathland and down into the valley towards the reservoir.

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Nigel and I chatted as we left Rikka alone, a little worried as she didn’t have a map or know the area. She knew the way back though. (She was fine and met up with Nigel for another hike on the Monday I believe).

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As we neared the lake, with the sun sparkling off it like a thousand diamonds, we passed a cafe and stopped for an ice cream and a coffee…one of the joys of hiking in the UK…and we made a rough plan for the rest if the day.

The trail paralleled a narro-guage track used by the Brecon Beacons Railway, a tourist-type steam locomotive that provides scenic tours. They were done for the day but we had heard the whistle earlier as we hiked.

The trail widened to a gravel path and and it was moderately busy, and as I usually do I tried to be polite and step off the trail with the dogs. All went well until the dirt collapsed underneath my foot and I was knee deep in a hole. Graceful it wasn’t. Thankfully it wasn’t muddy or any deeper, no did it tear my pants or get me too dirty…just wounded my pride a little, but at those times you just have to laugh.

A brief stop for a pint in Ponsticil, where I chatted with a couple of other backpackers, killed some time as we waited for the day to wane a little and then we backtracked slightly, climbing high above the manicured fields to find a campsite for the night.

An old, grass-covered quarry that was hidden from sight made a promising camp location and we found nothing more suitable after a quick look around. Pitches were flat but the ground beneath the grass was nothing but rocks which made pitching the tents difficult…tougher for me than for Nigel as his tent was freestanding where as mine needs good stake points to stay up.

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We both finally got out tents up after I suffered a minor tent stake injury that had blood gushing from a sliced fibger wound. Oops. It is has never taken me so long to get a tent up but this one was also fairly new to me and I’d only put it up a couple of times in the park.

With tents up we got dinner going and I fed the dogs just as a sheep was peering curiously over the edge of the quarry. Several more joined it and just as the sky was getting dark a very vocal ram stood on the edge and yelled at us for 10 minutes…I swear he was rally the troops for a night raid on the camp. None of the sheep looked impressed that we were there. (You can just see one on the cliff edge).

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We chatted for a while but it was getting chilly with the wind, despite our sheltered spot, and with the light leaking from the sky it was time to retire to the cozy confines of our tents to hopefully get some sleep. Planes, sheep and a lone owl seranaded us as we closed our eyes for sleep.

Day 2

I’m not sure I’ve ever slept so badly on the first night of a trip. I rarely sleep well but never badly. I was still up early as hawks screamed overhead disrupting our sleep. I dozed a little longer until the hawks returned and continued their incessant screeching.

We got packed and headed back down the mountain, stopping to get some water downstream from the waste water treatment facility…not the best location in my opinion, but we needed water and there wasn’t much choice other than the creek.

Of course as we climbed away from the valley we came across a free-running small creek. We dumped our water and re-filled even though it was probably completely unnecessary…it was all psycological.

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We followed a gravel track through the pines for a while; dense, moss-shrouded pines that were reminiscent of Mirkwood…full of magic and mystery.

We turned left up a track…the one we thought we were supposed to take but the fence-crossing was terrible and we were soon in some very wet and boggy terrain. Eventually we found the path we should have been on by a bridge…we had just left the road too early and missed a small waterfall at the same time.

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A long gradual climb…and I mean an all day climb…took us towards Corn Du and Pen Y Fan. It was a little used way to get to the top of the highest point in southern Wales but it was definitely more gradual and less populated than the main route.

A quick lunch break in the rapidly-disappearing shade provided us with some sustenance for the climb ahead as we trudged ever-upward in the broiling sun. We were starting to feel like a baked cake in the oven.

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When we finally hit the trig point and the edge of the escarpment we were rewarded with a breeze and stunning views of Pen Y Fan and Corn Du. And of course there were now 100s of people.

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The slog continued upwards and we walked slowly, trying to keep ourselves from over-doing it in the heat. Many comments were overheard about the dogs’ packs…all of them positive and most of them amused or impressed.

Nigel took a break for lunch where the trails converged with the main trail up to the peaks from the road below. The hilltops looked like swarming anthills with as many people were around the tops of each apex, and yet more kept coming.

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We had initially planned to camp at the lake below Corn Du and summit the mountains the next day but ut was still early so we braved the crowds and climbed to the top of Pen Y Fan…it felt like Disneyland and there were even lines of people waiting to take their picture at the sign at the top. I didn’t bother…I’d been there and done it and that was all that mattered.

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A steep incline led us down the other side of Pen Y Fan and the trail, despite so-called “improvements” was an absolute nightmare to walk on. As we were no longer camping at the lake we were heading for an empty reservoir area another couple of miles along the trail where we could find water. A few puddles along the path seemed to provide a nursery for hundreds of tadpoles…I’m not sure how long they can survive in puddles like that without rain but there were a few seep-springs that kept the puddles topped up.

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With a few cows barring our path we turned down towards the abandoned reservoir basin and checked out numerous possible campsites before settling on one beside the creek. Kye found a new obsession as we discovered the dozens of frogs in the creek, many of them involved in orgy-balls and other mating rituals…it all looked very bizarre to see large clumps of frogs all entwined.

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We were still early to camp so got set up early (not always ideal in the UK but we took a risk). Our lovely camp area soon became everyone-else’s go to camping location and another four groups set-up in the area although not close to us.

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We spent the rest of the afternoon and evening working on a crossword, cooking dinner and playing in the creek with the dogs, all below the looming presence of Pen Y Fan and above the medieval-looking dam wall.

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Day 3

I slept much better last night. It was colder but being snuggled down in my 10* quilt I didn’t notice it. What I did notice was the heavy dew/condensation that completely covered the tent, inside and out. Even the inner part of my tent had some condensation…and having a double wall tent makes it that much more difficult to wipe down the inside of the fly.

I was up quickly to find a semi-secluded spot for morning needs and the sun followed me back to camp. It warmed quickly and I was soon out of my fleece base layer. With a quick wipe down the tent dried fairly quickly and we were soon packed up.

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We first had to climb out of the reservoir on a very rough trail that had seen some serious abuse under the feet of cattle. It was rough going and boggy in places, and I was thankful to reach the old roman road that climbed more gently upwards to the point we had left it yesterday.

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Another steep climb took us behind Fan Y Big and back onto the Beacons Way. The views were spectacular behind us and while I kept stopping to give my sore legs a break it was great opportunity to appreciate the beauty we were surrounded by.

People were few and far between now we were away from the main attractions of Pen Y Fan and Corn Du. We weren’t on the Beacons Way for long as we followed the edge of the steep cliffs around in a horse-shoe, stopping briefly for a water break.

The trail undulated for a while which made the hiking enjoyable and the views easy to look at and take in while we walked.

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We reach a monument at Waun Rydd that had been cobbled back together in a haphazard way after it had been damaged by weather or vanadalism. It left one wondering why someone bothered if they weren’t going to do it right.

With all the climbing behind us it was now time to brave the steep descent on a horrendous path towards the end of Talybont Reservoir and the dam. After yesterday’s descent from Pen Y Fan my legs were already struggling and I was in misery trying to moderate the speed at which I was hiking down, and the roughness of the washed-out trail didn’t help.

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It was a grueling hour or so that we spent coming off the mountain and I was glad to see the dam and some flat ground. I chugged the rest of my water as I was still dealing with a headache I had from the time I woken up, and with a half hour of walking left it wasn’t doing me any good in my pack.

I was glad to arrive at Nigel’s house where a cold glass of orange juice tasted heavenly and helped to cool my core temperature down a little. The sun had no abated all morning and without clouds or a minimal breeze the hiking had been hard on the system.

Nigel was kind enough to drop me back at my car with the dogs. We said our farewells and I headed home. Thankfully the traffic was good and we were walking in the door by 6pm, just in time to enjoy dinner and a glass of wine before jumping in a much-needed shower.

Gear Review: Tarptent Stratospire Li First Impressions

I bought the Tarptent Stratospire Li the day it was first released and I was so excited that there was now a true DCF double wall tent that would hold up to wind a little better than my Duplex. I have loved my Duplex for 2 years and it served me well but I wanted something a little more wind and rain worthy with my move to the UK pending. I love DCF for its waterproofness and being incredibly light.

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First Impressions

I had ordered the solid inner so had to wait a little longer for it to arrive, but arrive it did. I watched the set-up video several times and read over the instructions carefully. It looked fairly simple. However actually putting the tent up was a completely different matter. I couldn’t get anything tight and it was saggy along the ridgeline. I tried again; it certainly isn’t the most intuitive tent to put up and I’m used to having to finesse a DCF trekking pole tent. I was still not getting the taught pitch I was seeing in the pictures. I emailed Tarptent and got some advice. My third pitch was better but still not perfect.

Two things I noticed in regards to quality control:

  1. The stitching from on one strap from the inner to outer tent had already come apart. I was immediately sent a new one to replace it as it was an easy fix.
  2. The velcro on one of the storm flaps was barely attached. I was pressed for time and rather than sending it back to be fixed I sewed it myself.

I packed the tent away for my move to England and didn’t get the chance to try putting it up again until my weekend in the New Forest.

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Again I fought with the tent to get it right, forgetting to leave the pitchloc ends for last. Eventually I got a moderately-tight pitch. The biggest issue I had was the sag in the inner tent. The elastic from the inner to the outer was positioned very low and was thus not in a position to lift the fabric. This, in turn, created a serious loss of space in an otherwise spacious tent. It feels massive without the inner tent attached, but with the sag leaving 6-8″ between the walls on the non-pitchloc corners it felt small and cramped.

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I emailed Tarptent again with some questions about the reasons for the sag and if there was anything that could be done to improve the way the fabric hung. I got some advice back and within a few days I took it back out for some more testing. I tried slightly longer poles and shortened the size of the loops the inner was attached to.

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Lastly, while the little magnets that hold the doors back seem like a great idea I found that if I even brushed against them lightly they would come loose. I think part of this is the angle of the door…it can’t be rolled back in a straight line and has some tension pulling down on it from the pitchloc corner; this is turn means that it doesn’t take much pressure to nudge it loose. I prefer the toggle and loop closure on the Duplex for security but the magnets are a great idea for convenience and I’m just going to have to be cognizant of the issue.

First Time Out:

I took the SS Li on it’s first backpacking trip out in the Brecon Beacons in April and we were out for two nights. Despite the less-than-ideal ground (old quarry) I managed to get a pretty decent pitch.  Having modified the pitchloc ends to have Linelocs and cord made the difference on having a taught tent in a place that was very difficult to get stakes in the ground.

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There was zero condensation on either the fly or the the inner tent and I had left no doors or vents open, bar the peak vents. Despite the wind (which woke me up a lot) during the night and the less-than-secure pitch the tent stayed solid. The wind in the morning made it more difficult to pack away with the required “rolling around the struts” but I got it done. 

Pitch on the second night was quick and easy and very solid. Without any breeze the condensation in the morning was awful. I attribute that to our proximity to water, being at the low point of a valley and how cold the night got. Any tent would have had to deal with the same level of condensation (a friend’s Nemo had the same problem).

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The double wall design makes it much tougher to wipe down the interior of the fly, but that is not a Li issue, and because the inner is removable I was able to let that dry and then remove it to wipe down the outer. The inner tent isn’t super easy to remove as the clips are fiddly and trying to unhook (or re-hook) them to the small loops of elastic was a pain. When I got home I attached some tiny rings to those elastic loops in order to make the inner easier to remove. I do prefer a toggle and ring approach (like Hilleburg uses) to connect inner to outer for simplicity.

Final Thoughts

Overall I do like the tent. Tarptent were great with customer service with the few issues that I found. Tarptent do extra QC checks on tents that are shipped internationally but since they didn’t know mine was coming to the UK with me I missed out on that…checks that would have caught the minor stitching issues. They did offer to have it fixed here in the UK but since I had already fixed all but one thing it didn’t seem worth it.

The pitch is not intuitive so it’s worth taking time to do it a few times at home before heading out to camp with it. Once you get the hang of it the tent can be up within 5 minutes.

 

Planning for a Solo Backpacking Trip

I am a member of several trail and backpacking groups on Facebook and I was answering a question from an older female about how safe it was to hike solo in our local mountains. Someone in my local area who knows how much I blog about my trips recommended my blog as a good resource for the trails in the Bighorn Mountains (my back yard). However, despite my many trip reports there is very little on my blog that covers what I do to plan a solo hike, which is what I tend to do 90% of the time. This guide does NOT include planning for gear.

So I began thinking about what I take into consideration as a solo hiker in regards to my safety and trail planning. I wouldn’t say this is a comprehensive list but I think it’s a good place to get started:

Buy a map of the area and study it: Study the terrain, mileage, water sources and know your limitations. While I am ABLE to hike upwards of 15 miles a day I find it tough to do in mountainous terrain and I certainly don’t enjoy it; 15 miles on the flat is a different beast. I plan my daily miles in the mountains to be in the 10-12 mile region…if I do more, that’s great but I don’t plan on it. Water is heavy but knowing your water sources and carrying a good filter means you can carry less water. Lots of climbs and descents are going to slow you down; don’t over underestimate how much a 2500ft climb can take out of you and how much it will impact your mileage.

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Plan your route: Start by knowing how many days you have and then multiply that by how many miles YOU can hike in a day safely. Once you know this you can work out a route that fits your hiking level and the time you have…it is better to be done a little early than be pushed for time and make a mistake, and I always find it nice to be done early and then have time for some relaxation and a beer. When you have a rough idea of the route and which trails you might want to take go check out CalTopo.com. CalTopo is a great tool for mapping out your specific trail if you don’t have a good map of the area; it is fairly intuitive and you can print out your own maps, and files can be exported to GPS. I use CalTopo when a good Trails Illustrated map isn’t available for the area I plan on hiking or when I don’t want to spend the money for a map on a lone trip to a single area.

A second layer of planning a route is to talk to locals; learn from others’ experiences what trail conditions will be like, how easy it is to navigate, whether there are any tough areas of particular concern. Almost every national forest, wilderness area or state or national park has a locals-run Facebook group dedicated to the trails in the area. The local Ranger District Office is often a pretty decent resource for this too.

Safety Net: I do not have anyone at home to expect me back at a certain time so I work around that safety aspect in several ways. I carry a DeLorme InReach device so that I have SOS connective capabilities in the event of an emergency. However, there is always the possibility that in a fall I may lose consciousness or the device gets broken. I have a back up for this and leave my planned route (including the direction I plan on hiking) plus the CalTopo map file with three or more friends who I check in with twice daily. If I miss two or more check-ins they call out the cavalry. I make this easy by providing them with the Ranger District of the National Forest or BLM area I will be hiking on WITH their phone number AND the contact information for the Sheriff’s Office of the counties I will be hiking through. I chose to go with two missed check-ins and to check-in twice daily as that gives me a maximum of 24 hours before someone will be aware that something is wrong, but also because I may inadvertently miss one check-in or temporarily may not be able to get a signal out due to tree coverage etc. For those that DO have someone at home; always leave them a copy of your route and a time to expect you back…Aron Ralston learned the hard way of the consequences of not doing this.

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Know Your Gear: While I don’t intend to cover gear choices here an important aspect of staying safe, especially when solo, is carrying decent gear and knowing how to use it and what its limits are. No matter the length or duration of my hike (whether day hike or week-long trip) I ALWAYS carry a water filter, food, shelter and a way to keep warm as well as my InReach. These things are non-negotiable. Appropriate clothing and footwear for the season and terrain should never be overlooked or assumed; no matter what anyone says a bikini and flip flops are never suitable for any excursion into the back country even if it is “just a mile”. But more than knowing your gear, having some knowledge in your head weighs nothing and can save your life, so if you can learn from others before you go, do so.

 

Backpacking the Wind River Range, August 2018 – Part 3

Day 5

About 10:30 last night I felt Kye growl against my leg and then I heard her. She was alert and there was something beyond the area we had tied the food bags that she didn’t like. Then she barked…there was definitely something out there as she never barks otherwise. I hollered at Jerry but neither of us heard anything. He got up to check out the area but still nothing. Kye finally relaxed and we went back to our sleeping bags. It was still a little unnerving as I completely trust my dogs’ instincts…they’ve never let me down yet.

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We awoke to a chilly morning but with blue and cloudless skies, finally. There was a thin layer of ice on the water in the dogs’ bowl and Colby had ice on his tent. I had a small amount of condensation but nothing my camp towel couldn’t handle. My quilt was the wettest it had been on this trip so far but it quickly dried in the morning sun.

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We left Summit Lake and climbed through the trees until we were once again above treeline. We wouldn’t be facing any more large passes and we climbed in and out of small alpine valleys and saw dozens of alpine lakes all surrounded by the majesty of various Wind River peaks. Each day was just getting better and better as far as the scenery went and I was quickly running out of words to describe just how amazing it was…things were starting to get a little repetitive on the vocabulary front in trying to describe how amazing everything looked.

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Finally we climbed out of our last mini valley and looked out towards Elbow Lake, and in the distance the backside of some of the jagged spires of Titcomb Basin…there are truly few words to describe the view. Photos couldn’t do it justice although we took an awful lot in an attempt to capture the beauty and serenity of the landscape. Sadly smoke from Montana fires inhibited the views slightly but at least we could see them.

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For a couple of miles the trail wound between black-rock tarns of clear water before finally rounding the corner and circumnavigating Elbow Lake. We stopped for lunch just above the creek crossing and then hiked up and over a small pass to look down on Upper Jean Lake. The views remained staggering and we were now much closer to the serrated teeth of the peaks of Titcomb Basin and they truly were jaw-dropping. We said goodbye to that valley and dropped down to the valley of Lower Jean Lake. The views were still gorgeous and we could see glaciers on the peaks to the south but the peaks didn’t quite match up to those we had just passed. Jerry kept swearing he was done taking pictures, and said so at least a dozen times…right up until the next view came into sight.

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With Lower Jean Lake at our backs we crossed the bridge at Fremont Crossing where the guys got all gushy about meeting Andy Bentz as we got water. Rarely does one run into a hiking legend on the trail (who also owns the company Pa’lante packs) but we did and we chatted for a while about backpacks and various trails as everyone loved on Kye and Cody and took pictures of them. As we crossed the bridge the guys lamented about not having taken a picture with Andy and I made a comment relating the situation to Justin Beiber and teenage girls.

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With our celebrity meeting out of the way we hiked on. Black clouds were appearing and rain was looking imminent. I pre-empted the coming storm and put on my poncho as the guys pulled on rain jackets. Of course the rain didn’t end up being as bad as it looked but one does get a little gun-shy after an experience like we had on day 3 and we hid under a tree for 10 minutes while the worst of it passed and the sun came out.

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Very quickly we were removing rain gear and sweatshirts in the hot sun as we hiked on. The now-glistening rocks made for a very pretty view. More rain clouds were coming in as we reached the turn-off for Island Lake and Titcomb Basin and I quickly put my poncho back on before the rain started to fall again.

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With the first drops of rain we looked for a suitable campsite for the night but they were few and far between as level, dry ground within the area’s camping requirements was minimal. I waited out the rain beneath some pine trees where we thought we might camp with the dogs and the packs while Colby and Jerry checked out other possibilities.

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In the end we stayed put and got tents set up just as the sun was coming out…just long enough, and with a decent-enough breeze to dry everything out. Of course the sun didn’t stay for too long and came and went all evening. It made for a chilly couple of hours before bed but we all curled up under our quilts and Jerry and I talked as he ate his cold re-hydrated meal (not appealing when you want something hot at the end of the day).

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Finally it got dark enough to head to bed and the wind died down making it a cold, clear, crisp night.

Day 6

I slept pretty rough last night. I woke while it was still dark with a raging headache and something that felt similar to the flu. I fumbled around with my first aid kit cussing that the superglue had leaked and melted everything plastic. Thankfully the ibuprofen was still good and I downed a few and finally fell back to sleep.

I slept until 8:30am, and while it was needed it was was to our detriment as we got nailed with ticket from the NF rangers for camping too close to the trail. I was awakened by rangers’ voices chatting with Colby and Jerry. Big Oops. I waited until they left before I let the dogs out and extricated myself from the tent…I still wasn’t feeling great.

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We finally left camp just before 10am to hike into Titcomb Basin. The trail went by Island Lake and it was definitely the busiest place we had yet seen. I was having serious pain in the gluteus muscle in my right hindquarter and only hiked to the beginning of the basin, half a mile beyond the trail junction with Indian Pass. It was close enough for me to appreciate it and really feel small in the grand scheme of the range.

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The jagged peaks of Titcomb Basin were like teeth grating against the sky and were certainly some of the most impressive I have seen. I enjoyed the views and the sun for an hour while Colby and Jerry headed deeper into the basin.

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Around noon I loaded back up, talked a passing group into relaying my destination information to the guys and headed west. It was slow going as every step upward with my right leg was painful and I figured the guys would catch me sooner rather than later. I stopped often, taking very pleasant naps in the sun at Island Lake (where I also had lunch) and Little Seneca Lake.

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I talked to more groups about passing on my destination information, and probably told the first ten groups I passed…I didn’t want to miss connecting with the guys before we camped.

I usually don’t choose to be alone in grizzly bear country, even with minimal bear presence (hence this being a group trip), but the trail to Titcomb Basin is one of the busiest in the Wind River Range and thus I felt safe enough to hike alone.

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With a few more stops on a trail that followed the edge of Seneca Lake, and couple of short and steep climbs I finally reached Hobbs Lake around 5pm…it took me that long to hike such a short distance with the pain in my leg. I found a great campsite with room enough for three tents far enough off the trail and away from the lake to be legal. It was a gorgeous spot looking over Hobbs Lake, although sadly it was also extremely busy and there were a few loud groups but at least we had a site…many groups came by looking for a camping spot and struggled to find one.

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Colby showed up thirty minutes later just as I was starting to put up my tent. We both cooked and waited for Jerry to arrive, which he did around 7pm…later than expected, but understandable as he had spent considerable time exploring the end of the basin and the route to Knapsack Kol.

The night drew in quickly and it hit me that this would likely be the last camping night I would spend in the US before returning to the UK. The week felt like it had flown by but Monday night felt like it had been an age ago. I was ready for the trip to be over as I was ready for a hot meal (of real food), a shower and a beer but I was also sad that this was the end and I was only too aware than just 6 miles lay between me and my truck.

Day 7

For the second day in a row we awoke to zero condensation inside our tents or on our quilts. It was a still morning but the breeze was picking up quickly and it was cold…it smelled like snow. With as busy as Hobbs Lake was it was difficult to find some privacy, let alone find some soft ground in which to dig a cat hole…so I was out of bed briefly at 6:45am to take care of business in the best place I could find without an audience.

For the second morning of the trip I left my base layers on but I also left camp earlier than the others, at 8:15am, to get a head start. I knew that Colby and Jerry would catch up pretty quickly and I hiked fairly slow. The first hour was ups (which really slow me down) and downs and within an hour they had both caught up.

The scenery was minimal, compared to what we had been hiking through recently, and we passed a few lakes, crossed a few meadows but mostly the last six miles were flat, easy and surrounded by trees (it would have been a much easier first day if we had hiked in a counter-clockwise direction). We passed a lot of groups going in, most with packs many times larger than ours (especially Colby’s and Jerry’s), who all looked and smelled very fresh…we all knew we smelled appalling at that point.

Finally, just after 11am we arrived back at the trucks and had a celebratory soda, beer, Red Bull…or all together…before we headed into Pinedale.

Once more we ended up at the Gannet Peak Lodge (where we had stayed last year), a clean and moderately-priced motel (for the area) where more beers were consumed, much-needed showers were taken for long periods of time and pizza was ordered. We spent the afternoon relaxing and enjoying mindless entertainment (watching Deadpool) before heading out for dinner to the Wind River Brew Pub again (another repeat of last year).

Monday morning Jerry and I said goodbye to Colby as he headed home to eastern Wyoming. Jerry spent most of the morning getting ready for his next hike…a 10 day excursion back into the Wind River Range to do Andrew Skurka’s Wind River High Route with another member of White Blaze (whose trip report and pictures can be found here). I helped with shuttling but headed back to the Bighorns on Tuesday morning after a final night of camping with Jerry and Pat.

***

After-thoughts

The 2018 trip was so different from the 2017 in many ways and not just because of the route. The dynamic of the people can make or break a trip and this year was just as good as last year albeit in a different way. The scenery was definitely more spectacular and the trail was certainly tougher. We picked the toughest uphill climb to do on our first day (to the detriment of one of our party) and got rained on (and thus very cold) to the point that it was getting dangerous for myself and made that particular day far less enjoyable than it could have been.

For the first time on a backpacking trip I consistently drank the water without filtering. I do not necessarily condone or recommend this for other hikers but it was a choice I made after my experience in the Wind River Range last year. The sources I didn’t filter were only fast-flowing high alpine streams and creeks that had a very, very low risk factor. I did filter when the only water source was from lower-elevation lakes or slow-moving rivers (so for the first 48 hours, the Green River and Hobbs Lake). I would do the same thing again but having a filter or chemical treatment back-up is vital.

As with other multi-hiker trips backpacker talk centered around things like Dyneema count, quilt comparisons, pros and cons of cook vs no-cook, cat holes and poop, trail habits, trail names…and how a backpacking date would tell you all you ever need to know about someone. There is no hiding anything on a backpacking trip…if you have a wedgie you fix it, everyone makes prolific use of the “farmer blow” and everyone knows when you have to poop.

This particular backpacking trip was very bittersweet for me. It was my last trip in the US before my move back to the UK but it was also amazing and I’m glad that this particular trip WAS my last one as it leaves me with some amazing memories. As mentioned last year the bond I created with Doug and Jerry continued this year; Jerry was there right along with me and we both missed not having Doug with us and lamented his absence. Colby was a lot of fun to have along and definitely added a positive and fun vibe to the group. Who knows where the next trip will take us, but we are already contemplating the TGO Challenge in Scotland.

Backpacking the Wind River Range, August 2018 – Part 2

Day 3

We got out of camp a little earlier than planned and were covering the last couple of miles to the top of Porcupine Pass (the second one of the same name in the less than a month for me) by 8:45am.

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The first few switchbacks were tough but the trail soon opened up into a gorgeous alpine valley surrounded by towering peaks of granite on all sides and a fabulous view of the 2000ft descent we had made yesterday, and the 2000ft climb we were now doing.

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At the end of the valley we stopped for a quick snack break before the final switchbacks to the top. The weather was partly cloudy and perfect for climbing in open terrain and we stopped to soak in the next valley of absolutely stunning beauty.

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Pictures were taken in abundance before we started down the nice and not-too-steep switchbacks on the north side of the pass. I kept stopping to take pictures, not just of the views ahead but of the pass and Jerry and Colby behind.

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We filled up with water at the first creek crossing, grabbed a snack and I pulled my poncho out and stuffed it at the top of my pack…black clouds to the west looked pretty ominous. We followed the trail into the trees and within five minutes we were feeling the first raindrops and then hail. We all donned rain gear quickly and continued down the trail. The hail petered out and soon it was a light off again-on again shower. But eventually it got worse and the rain became more persistent and was less like a passing rain shower and more like a blanket of wetness. We hiked on and thunder grumbled around us.

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With a large pine tree providing a dry respite just off the trail we took a break. I was doing okay but wasn’t sure how I would do if the rain continued. We waited for 20-30 minutes in the shelter of the tree before I started getting cold and was beginning to shiver slightly. Despite the rain I knew I had to get moving to stay warm.

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Despite my poncho keeping most of me dry my hands were getting wet and they were going numb with the cold. And wet plants drenched my feet. I was starting to worry about me staying warm and what we would do as a group if the rain continued…I knew if it didn’t break soon I would be facing some serious issues. Jerry kept a check on me to make sure I was doing okay (he admitted later he was worried about me too).

Finally after another 20 minutes of steady rain (not torrential downpour thankfully) we started to see a break in the weather. Sadly there was a creek crossing that had only one log for the crossing (and it was a no go as it was wet and slippery) so with already soaked and frigid feet I just barreled through the water, cussing the whole way. And on the other side of the creek, just as we reach a beautiful open meadow and the trail junction to Green River Lakes (30 miles from our starting point), the sun came out and immediately began to warm and dry us. I was beyond thankful.

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We crossed another creek, thankfully by log bridge this time, and covered the final switchbacks to Green River Lakes and crossed yet another creek. I took my shoes off for this one as my shoes were finally starting to dry and I wanted to keep them that way. Of course there was a log at the crossing that I had completely missed but it gave me a chance to get my now-stinky feet and socks clean. As we crossed the meadow at the southern end of Green River Lake we got our first glimpse of Squaretop Mountain.

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We finally turned north on the Highline Trail aka CDT (Continental Divide Trail) and circumnavigated the lake, all the while getting some quite impressive views of the aquamarine-colored lake and Squaretop Mountain. The trail was mostly level and we made good time, conversing with another hiker briefly and asking about camping spots ahead. He mentioned one but also that another group of six guys had seen a bear sow and cub in the area ahead of us…thankfully it was a black bear and not a grizzly.

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We hiked on a short way and found an amazing campsite 100 yards off the trail and just below Squaretop Mountain…and probably one of my favorite campsites of any trip in the Winds so far (including last year’s trip). We were watching the weather closely and wanted to get camp set up before any more rain came in.

 

 

 

 

 

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We got settled and ate, and most stuff had dried out from the night before when the rain, lightening and thunder hit about 6:30pm. We scurried for our tents. Thankfully we had been watching the clouds encroach on the valley and all gear had already been safely stowed in protective DCF cocoons.

Rain and thunder continued for almost two hours before finally abating at about 8:15pm. We were glad to see the end of it and made a move to hang our food bags before we completely lost the light.

Day 4

We awoke to mist and fog shrouding everything, including our tents. It would break briefly and then come back in and it certainly provided for a couple of pretty pictures of Squaretop Mountain. But it was not a morning that was conducive to wanting to crawl out of warm sleeping bags and even the dogs were shivering a little.

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Everything was damp. Even my camp towel couldn’t get my tent dry this morning although it got it close and the dogs soon warmed up as I let them out of the tent and they enjoyed 20 minutes of running and playing together.

We eventually got on the trail and I was still wearing my fleece base layers and gloves to stay warm. The sun was starting to break through a little and after a mile or so I packed away my gloves and base layer top.

 

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The trail continued for another four miles on a pretty level trail beside the meandering Green River. We crossed a couple of fairly wide and deep creeks that required some serious balance and careful stepping to stay dry on rocks or logs. Jerry, who doesn’t hike with hiking poles, had the toughest time and started crawling across the logs on the first crossing. On the second crossing I had the guys hold the dogs back so they didn’t try to follow me immediately as it was a precarious crossing. Kye, as always, tried to rush across the log and slipped a couple of times but the double log bridge meant she didn’t fall in.

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Eventually the trail split and we crossed the now-raging Green River via a foot bridge and climbed above it. The sun was beginning to come out more consistently and make the day warmer, finally…we were all glad for the warmth. Another mile and a half put us at the base of the switchbacks and before the climb I packed away my base layer pants; it was still chilly but I didn’t want to sweat in my sleeping clothes.

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The switchbacks were a pretty easy climb and we stopped for views of distant waterfalls and peaks as we hiked up, eventually crossing Trail Creek were we ran into the six guys on a guided family trip who had seen a black bear sow with her cub not far from where we had camped the night before. We chatted for a while and climbed the final switchbacks to Trail Creek Park.

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Soon the trees deserted us and we we surrounded by grey boulders, green meadows and fields of talus all interspersed with reds, golds and blues of wild flowers. It was a beautiful sight and just kept getting better as we hiked up through the valley, each step providing a better view.

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Eventually, after much stopping to take dozens of pictures, we reached the plateau that is Green River Pass. It was not an up-and-over pass like I was expecting but was an open-ended expanse of rocks, emerald carpet and alpine lakes glistening in the now-warm sun. It was stunning.

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We reached the end of the plateau and looked over Summit Lake towards a grove of trees that looked like a good place to camp. We were high and exposed and wanted a little protection if a storm came through. But the skies remained clear and the sun, despite the wind and chilly air, was very welcome.

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We had camp set up quickly so everything could dry and then sat for a while and enjoyed the view as the sun set and the moon rose. Soon it was too cold to remain outside of the tent and we all departed for bed.

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