The next morning I woke up frustrated after tossing and turning all night in a tent dripping with condensation. It was bitterly cold and my tent was encased in a thick layer of frost. As I began to pack my things away a group of climbers arrived and began to set up camp next to me. They were all experienced mountaineers and had travelled from Devon to spent two weeks climbing as many winter routes as possible. They were well equipped and their two £1500 Hilliberg Tents looked like 5 star accommodation in compassion to my £150 Zephyrus 1. I set off envoys of their plans and hoped that one day I could develop my mountaineering skills to a similar level.
The next section of the trip was a high level walk over an exposed desolate moorland. There were no escape routes for the next 13 miles until the Kingshouse, Glencoe. It’s the most remote and wildest section of the West Highland Way and I began to feel like I was on a proper adventure. After a few miles it began to snow and the wind increased significantly. I donned my waterproofs and felt untouchable by the elements. A frozen and wind scarred lochan confirmed just now wild the weather was.
The views over the vast expansive moorland were incredible and became even better when I reached Corie Ba, the largest mountain amphitheatre in Scotland. The summit of Meal a’ Bhuiridh rises steeply to 3634ft and is part of the Black Mount range. It was a perfect spot to stop for lunch as the fatigue began to set in.
I swallowed a few pain killers to try and ease the pain in my feet and continued towards Glencoe. After a few more miles the sun began to sine through the clouds and painted the landscape in hues of brown as it reflected off of the heather which shrouded the moorland.
I knew I was in nearing the Kingshouse when I got my first glympse of “The Buachaille” – Buachaille Etive Mòr, which is one of the most famous sights in the highlands. From the east, the Buchaille has an intimidating steep craggy face which offers some excellent climbing and scrambling routes, however it looks much less intimidating from the south.
It wasn’t long before I reached the famous Ba Cottage. I felt obliged to take this picture postcard image:
I arrived at the Kingshouse shortly before midday only to find out it was closed for renovation, but thankfully they had opened a new bunkhouse and cafe in an adjacent building. I sat down and breathed a huge sigh of relief as I took the weight off of my heavily blistered feet. I enjoyed two coffee’s, two morning rolls and a slice of cake to prepare my body for the next section of the trip!
It was hard to get going again after having sat down for an hour. The wind had picked up again but the sun was now shining and it had turned into a beautiful winter afternoon. The views of The Buachaille were incredible.
It was still only a few degrees above freezing and there were lots of frozen sections of water on the path towards the Devils’ Staircase. I carried on with trepidation, wondering if I would be able to climb the Devils Staircase in my boots without crampons or ice spikes. As I approached the start of the ascent the ice patches became larger and more frequent, but I negotiate my way past most of them with only a few bambi-like moments.
I had a great conversation with an local elderly man from Kinlochleven on the way up the Devil’s Staircase. He told stories of his brother designing the first “contemporary” mountain bike back in the 60’s and how his design was copied by someone in California who brought the bike into production first. He gave me some advise on where to camp on Kinlochleven and wished me luck with the rest of my journey.
It didn’t take long to reach the summit of the infamous Devils Staircase and the views from the top were breathtaking.
I had the summit to myself and I stood for a while taking in the incredible views. I traversed around the side of the mountain and over the back towards Kinlochleven.
It took me much longer than expected to get to Kinlochlevel. The gravel path which spiralled down the valley seemed to go on for miles and miles, but I eventually reached the concrete village, tired and ravenous.
I struggled to find a camping spot on the edge of the village and I didn’t want to camp too close as it was a Saturday night. It didn’t take long for the darkness to roll in as I walked around looking for a place to spend the night. I eventually caved in and paid a few pounds for the only campsite that was open at the McDonald Hotel.
I decided it would be a good idea to make to most of their outdoor shower facilities as I was starting to smell! The temperature was sitting around freezing and the terracotta tiles felt like ice bergs on my bear feet. There were no hooks on the door so I sat my clothes and boots on the floor. After a few minutes the shower basin filled up with water which quickly overflowed and ran down the tiles onto my fresh clothes and towel which were sitting on the floor! I couldn’t help but laugh! Still… it felt great being clean.
My plan was to go to the bar and enjoy a drink on my last night of the West Highland Way, but unknown to me the hotel was hosting an annual gathering of Na Fir Dileas, a Jacobite Society which was commemorating the anniversary of the Massacre of Glencoe. People were turning up dressed like Highland Warriors; wearing a full kilt with shoulder plaids and carrying swords! It didn’t take long before the bar was packed full and by that time I decided I was a little under-dressed for the event. I retired to my tent and had the best night sleep of the trip.