Iceland’s Laugavegur Trek – July 2017

On my way home from Scotland this past summer, I met up with my good friend, Candy, in Iceland to hike Iceland’s most famous long distance trail – The Laugavegur Hiking Trail.  This 55 kilometer trail is located in the southern highlands of Iceland, north of the Eyjafjallajökull Volcano.  It starts in Landmannalaugar and takes 3 – 5 days to trek to Þórsmörk .  The scenery is beautiful, unique, and varied.  Every day has different views from black rock lava fields, to fields of flourescent green moss, to fields of snow.   Volcanic mountains and mountains displaying a variety of colors delight the trekker.  Ice caves, glaciers, and even natural hot springs are found along this trek.

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The trail is challenging requiring a decent level of fitness, yet the scenery you will see is well worth the extra training.  The trek can quickly become more challenging with poor weather conditions, such as whipping wind, snow, fog, freezing rain and more.  Your best chances for good weather are from mid-July to the end of August.  However you could experience poor weather during these two months, it’s the Icelandic mountains after all!

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Below is a map of Iceland with the trail marked in red from Landmannalaugar to Porsmork.  (Map found at http://www.mountainguides.is)

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Below: Candy and Sheri on two different parts of the Laugavegur trek day one of our adventure.

Our original itinerary for the trek is shown below, however we decided to skip staying the night at Emstrur, due to very windy conditions, and continued hiking that day till Basar in Porsmork.
Day 1: Landmannalaugar to Hrafntinnusker (12Km) 4-5 hour hike
Day 2: Hrafntinnusker to Alftavatn or to Hvanngil (16K) 6-8 hours
Day 3: Alftavatn to Emstrur (16km) 6-7 hours
Day 4: Emstrur to Basar in Porsmork (15K) 5-7 hours, take bus back to Reykavik

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Finding your way on the Laugavegur trail:  The trail is very well marked with three different types of way markers.  You will see wooden posts with the tops painted red or blue throughout the trail marking the way.  Larger wooden posts with metal signs at the top have locations and distances carved out of them to also show the way.  The last type of sign you will see are wooden rectangular signs with the name of the campsites written on them.

Accommodations along the way: Huts and camping sites along the Laugavegur trail are usually open from the end of June until the end of August, depending on snow and trail conditions. The Volcano Huts in Þórsmörk open earlier in the spring and stay open longer into the fall due to the location and better weather conditions.  In order to use the huts, you will need to reserve many months in advanced.  You may even need to reserve a full year in advanced depending on group size.  Candy and I camped as we did not make reservations early enough.

The photo shown below was taken at the Landmannalaugar hut and camping site.  This is where many people are dropped off every day to start their trek or to do a day hike, hence all the buses parked behind the tents.  People also come to camp for one night allowing them to do a day hike and enjoy the natural hot springs found in this area.

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Challenges along the trail: The Laugavegar trek has many challenges to keep the adventurous trekker entertained such as; steep ascents made up of soft dirt and rocks causing you to slide a bit with every step up the hill, steep descents that force you to shuffle sideways down the hill, fog that will keep you alert and focused on finding the next way marker, freezing whipping wind and rain that will have you diving into your tent for shelter, fast moving rivers that will challenge your balance, and more!  Be sure to bring your hiking poles and layers of clothing on this challenging adventure!

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A well populated trek:  We met many people along the way.  Some were with organized groups and some with a few friends.  We didn’t meet any solo travelers.  At times it felt like there were too many people on the trail and other times where it was just us.

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Traversing rivers and streams:  The water way you see in this photo was rather narrow and shallow compared to others that were wide, fast moving, and up to mid-thigh.  Bring water proof foot-wear to change into to cross these streams and rivers.  When crossing the rivers, remember to cross with the current not against it, an important lesson Candy taught me.  Poles are needed on several river crossings to keep you from falling.

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Transportation to and from the trail: Daily scheduled busses drive between Reykjavík and the starting and end points of the trail in Landmannalaugar and Þórsmörk. The bus stop in Þórsmörk is at the Volcano Huts in Husadalur Valley.  The bus in the photo below was taking us back to Reykjavik, but first we had to cross through a fast moving river!

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Below are some photos I took along this trek that show the varied and diverse land of this region of Iceland.  Enjoy!

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I know many of you reading this blog may think a 55 kilometer trail is just not long enough for you. 🙂  If this is how you feel you are in luck!  The 24 – 30 kilometer long Fimmvörðuháls & Eyjafjallajökull hiking trail can be added to this trek, connecting the Laugavegur Trail with Skógar, on the south coast of Iceland.  While Candy and I did not hike along this extension, we met many who were extending their adventure.  Whatever you decide you will surely love walking this varied, beautiful land.

To help you prepare further for you adventure, check out this great blog (Note that most prices the author lists in the blog have increased, for example camping is now $20 per person, not $10 dollars per person.): How to Plan For The Laugavegur Trek in Iceland

The only downfall about Iceland – Everything is very expensive, but that is another blog!  Three quick suggestion to save you money…

  1. Ride in buses not taxi’s.
  2. Bring you own gear, don’t rent.
  3. Bring as much food for the trip as you can (REI has great dried camping food).

 

 

Day Hikes on the Isle of Skye – July 2017

DSC03074Twenty years ago I discovered a magical place called the Isle of Skye.  A small ferry type boat took about 20 of us young and impressionable folks from mainland Scotland to Skye.  We landed in a quaint and quiet little fishing town called Kyleaken.  An even smaller group of us decided to take the island van – tour.  This tour stirred my soul and brought back my child-like wonder.  It was my first time realizing since a young girl that fairies do exist.  They live in Skye’s fairy glen, swim in its fairy pools and cross its fairy bridge.  It was an enchanting land of steep cliffs, castles and rugged yet brilliant scenic views.

Fast forward 20 years to my second visit.  I had to go back to the place that stirred my soul and brought back child-like wonder.  In my past visit I had not hiked and this time I wanted to explore the Isle in a new wayHowever I didn’t expect what I would soon encounter… bus load after bus load after bus load of people.  What had happened to the small van – tours?  Word of this magic Isle had spread like wild fire and everyone wanted to experience the Isle of Skye and where its fairies live.  I was so happy I had had the opportunity to experience Skye and its magical places without the crowds.  Unfortunately it no longer had the same magical feel.  However, it still was the same enchanting land.  Luckily most of the tourists weren’t into hitting the trails, so off to the trails I went!

skyeMy home base for two nights was the cute town of Portree shown in the three photos below and labeled in the map above (map is from Lonely Planet)From there I took buses and taxis to the start of two different hikes.  My last night I went back to Kyleakin, where I found a couple of short hikes.

DSC03086The first night I arrived in Portree I enjoyed not just warm summer weather, but a warm welcome from the town’s Scottish bagpipe band, as well as a not so warm welcome from a few midgies (small Scottish mosquito-like bugs).  The streets were adorned with colorfully painted homes, B&B’s, hotels, stores and restaurants.  I managed to lock down a place to stay for two nights, even though online it showed the town was fully booked.

Day Hike #1: Old Man of Storr

Mileage: 3-miles of various trails when starting from the carpark

DSC03038After waking up later than planned, I missed the morning shuttle bus to the start of the Old Man of Storr hike. (During the summer months bus 57 runs 4 times daily from Portree to and from the Old Man of Storr and Quiraing hiking trails).  Reluctantly I forked over 15 British pounds for a taxi ride vs. 5 British pounds for the bus.  The Old Man of Storr hike is one of the most popular hikes among tourists on the Isle, so if you can go early morning for sunrise or late evening for sunset you will miss the crowds.  I made it just in time for the mad house of people.  However, as I climbed higher, I noticed only those in actual hiking clothing made it to the top.  The heeled dress boots didn’t quite cut it.  And yes, a woman was hiking in dress boots!

The Storr Mountain is the highest point on the Trotternish Ridge at 2359 feet high.  It is a 984 foot thick sandwich of around 24 layers of volcanic rock formed between 55 and 61 million years ago. (interesting facts I found on a sign at the trail-head).

There are about 5 kilometers or 3.1 miles of well kept trails in this area that start from the car park where the bus from Portree drops you.  When you get close to the top of the trail, hold onto your hat as a tunnel of wind that flows between two steep points almost knocks you off the trail.

DSC03031You will probably want to spend a good two hours enjoying this beautiful scenic area.  Take some snacks and the bus schedule so you don’t miss the last bus back to Portree.  I decided I didn’t want to wait for the last bus and finding no off-road foot path, I walked the main road back to town.  I enjoyed the 7-mile walk, but it’s definitely not the safest option with cars whizzing past you, nor one I would do again.

I highly recommend this Old Man of Storr hikea must do when on the Isle of Skye.  For those of you looking to hike more than 3 miles, you can continue along a trail that takes you to the Summit.  Check out “walkhighlands” (http://walkhighlands.co.uk) detailed directions of that trail.

Day Hike #2: Quiraing

Mileage: Starting from the Car Park, 4.4 miles round trip, starting from the bus stop drop off and back add 2.5 miles

DSC03119My second day on the Isle of Skye I decided to explore the Quiraing area, also part of the Trotternish Ridge which was formed by a massive landslip creating high cliffs.  The same bus (57) that takes you to the Old Man of Storr hike, continues on down the road for more stops, one being the Quiraing loop hike drop-off.  From the bus stop it is about a 20 to 30 minute walk up a winding road to a car park where the hike starts.  Be sure to let the bus driver know that you want to do the Quiraing hike so when your stop comes he/she will point you in the right direction.

The actual hike is a 6.8km loop taking about 2 hours with no stops.  However, hiking in this area is mesmerizing.  You may find your pace slowing, your heart opening and a desire to sit and enjoy the enchanting surroundings take over.  You could end up spending several more hours than intended “walking” this loop.  If you love taking photos you will be in photographer heaven.  Unfortunately my photos do not do this place justice, and I believe the only thing that probably does, is being there in person!  It really is about the feeling you get as you hike through this mossy green wonderland.  Do I recommend this hike?  Absolutely!  Don’t miss it!

DSC03157For more details of this impressive hike check out “walkhighlands” section by section description here.

Day Hike #3 – (Combo hike): Kyleakin’s Short Castle Hike & The Kyleakin Trails / Slighean Caol Àcainn

DSC03267After spending the night in a stuffy camping trailer with about 8 others I was ready for fresh air and coffee.  Why was I staying in a trailer you ask?  Well, silly me thought it would be fun to make reservations at the same friendly hostel I stayed at 20 years ago (Skye Backpackers).  What I didn’t know is that in order to make room for all the new tourists, they had acquired a couple of old camping trailers and Sheri was lucky enough to land a bed in one of them.  Before I left for my days hike, I made sure to cancel my second night and book a bus back to mainland Scotland as the Isle’s crowds didn’t leave any B&B or hotel rooms empty.

I picked up coffee at the town’s tiny general store and then walked the half mile to the town’s castle called Caistol Maol, also known as Bare Castle.  The walk takes you over a waterway and by cute Scottish homes, till you reach a more rugged path past a beach leading to the ruins.  It’s a great wake-up / warm-up hike to get you ready for your next hike of the day.  The hikes only way-marker came at the last 200 meters to the castle.  Start this hike from the general store and head in the direction of the castle.  You will figure out how to get there; it’s not hard!  If you visit Kyleakin don’t miss this one mile round-trip hike.

My next hike of the day found me walking to the opposite side of town and then almost out of town to a trail system located directly behind Kyleakin (about a mile walk).  On the back side of town are two trails called the Kyleakin trails.

DSC03228I took the shorter 1.5 mile trail as I had a bus to catch mid-day.  This trail takes the trekker uphill through mixed woodland to spectacular viewpoints over Kyleakin, the Isle of Raasay and north to Cuillin Mountains – popular hiking mountains.  (If I was staying a couple more days on the Isle I would have gone on a couple of day hikes in the Cuillin Mountains.)  The second trail takes you to the same view points, but also through open moorland and conifer trees prior to the climb.  This adds about 3/4 of a mile to your total mileage.  If you have the time, I would recommend the longer trail.   Both trails are very easy and well marked.

DSC03236Do I recommend this hike?  If you are in Kyleakin, yes, but I wouldn’t go out of your way to do this hike.  I regret not heading to Cuillin Mountains.

DSC03240  To find more hiking trails on the Isle of Skye, such as in the Cuillin Mountains, I highly recommend going to this site: https://www.walkhighlands.co.uk/  You won’t just find hikes on the Isle of Skye here, but day hikes and long distance hikes all over Scotland.  Enjoy!

Next up… trekking in Iceland.

Until then keep on trekking!

Day Hikes on the Orkney Isles – July 2017

Most of my 2017 summer was spent exploring Scotland – trekking around Arran Isle, hiking the West Highland Way, and taking day hikes on the Isle of Skye and the Orkney Isles.  The most fascinating adventure proved to be the Orkney Isles just north of mainland Scotland…

DSC00768 (1)The Orkney Isles are a place where trust in strangers still exists:  Where the locals pull over to offer you a ride even if your thumb is not out;  Where archeological digs are in abundance, so much so that student’s of archeology come from all over the world to learn;  Where puffins and many other bird species call home – attracting many a bird watcher;  Where trails lead you along steep breath-taking cliffs, all the way down to white sandy beaches that lead to neolithic dwellings, older than the Egyptian pyramids;  Where people flock to standing stones, stone circles, and inside huge ancient burial mounds;  Where winter coats are useful year round;  Where wind can whip so hard it can almost blow you off the cliff;  Where you can be the only one walking along a beautiful white sandy beach on a sunny summer day;  Where time stands still and peace is a constant;  Where you know you have come to a special place.

Unfortunately there are no marked long distance treks on these Isles, but there are many opportunities for day hikes and I found out that they certainly don’t disappoint.  As you scroll down in this blog, you will find that I highlighted three of my favorite day hikes.

I found almost every day-hike I completed at this informative and detailed website: https://www.walkhighlands.co.uk/   The website lists long distance treks and day-hikes all over Scotland.  It also gives written instructions of the entire hike section-by-section with photos and a map.  It lets you know mileage, terrain, difficulty, and whether the trail is well marked or whether you may need a compass.  I printed the descriptions of the hikes with photos and maps prior to leaving.  The day before each hike, I asked the information center how best to get to the beginning of the trail.  I did discover one new hike that I wasn’t aware of when I arrived – the puffin hike.  I always learn more when I am actually in the country and can ask questions.  I tend to peruse the postcards that show local attractions.  Then I ask about my favorite ones.  The puffins on the postcards were calling my name and I had to find a hike that led me to them.  The information center in Kirkwall let me know exactly how to find them.  I have highlighted this particular walk in this blog so you too, can discover the cute puffins of the Orkney Isles 🙂

My home base while on the islands was Kirkwall’s Youth Hostel on mainland Orkney.  Each morning I walked to the bus depot, located next to the information center in the heart of Kirkwall, about a 10 minute walk from my hostel.  Next, I would either hop on a bus, or walk to the ferry (just a 5 -10 min walk down the road from the bus station) and then head to the start of the days hike.

The photos below are from my first day on Mainland Orkney where I took a bus to Skara Brae (shown in later photos), the Ring of Brodgar, the Stones of Stenness, and the Mound of Maeshowe.  You could hike from Skara Brae to Maeshowe (about 10 miles).  I attempted to do this, but the locals insisted that they give me a ride as there really is no foot path other than the road for cars.  Taking rides from the locals was a delight – a great way to get to know them.

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The map below shows where the Orkney Isles are located in relation to Scotland, the Shetland Isles and Norway. (source of map unknown)

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This next map shows the Orkney Isles on a bigger scale, with the names of each Isle. (Map from Lonely Planet)

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Day Hike #1: Stromness to Yesnaby Cliffs to Bay of Skaill & Skara Brae
(A Coastal Hike to 5000 Year Old Dwellings on Mainland Orkney)

Mileage: About 12 miles
Time: 6-7 hours
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This 12+ mile coastal hike starts by the Stromness ferry terminal where the bus from Kirkwall drops people off.  The trail continues through the town of Stromness, the second largest town in the Orkney Isles.  Leaving the town, the trail leads to a campground and to a grass pathway with views of the picturesque Isle of Hoy and its twin peaks of Cuilags and Ward Hills.  Most of the rest of the path follows along the water only turning inland for a bit to climb up a long grassy hill past cow farms and eventually leading back to the coast line.
 This next part of the coastline walk is along dramatic and beautiful steep cliffs, ones you do not want to walk too close to as people have been killed when the unstable edge of the cliff falls into the sea.  The trail is far enough away from the edge that you are safe.  The most memorable of the cliffs on this walk are the Yesnaby Cliffs that include striking stand-alone stones rising out of the water called sea stacks.
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 The Yesnaby Cliffs (seen in the above photo) are about 5K from the end of the hike at Scara Brae. In this last part of the hike the path reveals the Broch of Borwick – the remains of an iron age defensive tower.  After a photograph or two and a few moments watching the seals bob up and down in the inlet of the Noust of Borwick just to the left of the remains, you will continue on to the cairn (mound of stones used as a land mark) on Row Head.  On a sunny day the Old Man of Hoy, located on the Isle of Hoy, is visible.
Shortly after the cairn, the white sandy beaches of the Bay of Skaill make themselves known.  The trail continues to the beach and to the neolithic village of Skara Brae (located just above the beach), a 5000 year old dwelling.  Just behind Skara Brae is the impressive Skaill House, Orkney’s finest 17th century mansion (seen in the background of the photo below) and home of the man who discovered Skara Brae (parts of Skara Brae are shown in the two side-by-side photos below).  Both sites have an entrance fee to visit – money well spent!

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Bring layers of clothes for this hike even on a sunny day, as the whipping wind along this coast line can make what was once a warm day change to cooler temperatures very quickly.  To stay warm I wore two pairs of pants: workout tights and waterproof pants over them to break the wind, as well as 4 tops.  My waterproof jacket and hood (again to break the wind) and my baseball cap underneath to protect my eyes and skin.  Due to the whipping wind and intermittent sun, my eyes were killing me by the end of the day.  My advice – wear sunglasses!  Unfortunately mine broke the day before 😦  And don’t forget your sunscreen!

By the end of this 12 mile windy hike I was exhausted (the wind made it feel like at least a 15 mile hike), but very happy to have walked this beautiful path. 🙂

Day Hike #2: Moaness to Rackwick to The Old Man of Hoy (An Inland and Coastal Hike on the Isle of Hoy)  Mileage: 10 miles if taking the bus at Rackwick – 15 miles if doing full round trip

 I caught the early morning bus from Kirkwall and headed back to the charming town of Stromness (shown in first photo below), where a small foot and bike ferry awaited passengers heading to the Moaness Ferry Pier on the Isle of Hoy.  The hike started where the ferry dropped us in Moaness.  The first four and a half miles went through the valley of Hoy’s twin peaks – Cuilags and Ward Hills to Rackwick.  Brilliant greens from various plants and grass and hues of purples from Scottish Heather adorned the valley.  My photo of the valley doesn’t do it justice (bottom left hand photo)…
 The second part of the hike rose up and out of the valley to the steep coastal cliffs of Hoy.  After an impressive walk along these cliffs, the trail turned slightly inward and the old man of Hoy became visible for the first time. The trail crossed an open field heading to the The Old Man of Hoy.  This sea stack is 449-feet tall (137m), part of the Orkney archipelago that people come from all over the world to climb.  Three young men were attempting the climb when I was there.  This area of the hike was stunning, with breath-taking, stomach dropping, and close to heart-stopping cliffs.  Not a place to fool around near the edge.
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The day turned out to be the best weather I would have while on the islands, blue sky, with barely a breeze and almost 60 degrees – close to t-shirt weather!  It was beautiful and quite peaceful.

DSC01070After a good hour of enjoying the weather and view and chatting with other hikers, I headed back the same way I came.  There is a trail that is more direct to get back to the ferry that goes over Cuilags hill, but it involves protective dive bombing Skuas that aim for the head – no thanks!  (Skuas are a type of bird that unapologetically protect their young that nest in grassy fields). I’ll take extra miles over frightening and unpleasant experiences any time.  And had I taken the short cut, I would have missed out on this adorable family of sheep and the dramatic cliffs behind them.

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On the way back to the ferry just prior to re-entering the valley portion of the hike, a car that was almost full of locals pulled over and offered me a ride.  To be honest I was hoping a car would come along and offer me a ride, as I was tired and didn’t have a huge desire to repeat a 4.5 mile section from earlier.  I gladly hopped in – the pickle in the middle of the back seat was happily me 🙂

I waited for the the ferry at the ‘Beneth’ill’ Cafe, where stories of the day were shared over tea and toasties.  What a great adventure!

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 View from the ferry ride home…
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Day Hike #3: Westray Ferry to Puffin Cliffs
(An Inland and Coastal Hike on the Isle of Westray)

Mileage: 4-5 miles
Time:  Varies as puffin watching can be an enjoyable 30 minute or 3 hour event!
Terrain:  Fairly flat

My day started with a walk from my hostel to the Kirkwall ferry.  I hopped on the earliest ferry (7:20AM) and headed with locals and bird watchers to Westray Isle and its Puffins!  The ferry ride was 1 hour and 25 minutes.  I was happy to discover that some refreshments were sold on board.  Coffee helped me stay awake for the ride!

Arriving on Westry I discovered that everyone but myself had rides to their destinations.  This caused a bit of anxiety when I walked out of the bathroom and not one soul was still there.  I was on my own, but was told all I had to do was turn right when I left the ferry terminal and walk the road until I saw a sign that pointed out the trail to the puffins.  I was also told it was not a long walk to reach the sign, so off I went.  After 25 minutes of walking and two ride offers from the only two vehicles that drove by, I was at the sign.  All anxiety disappeared as I turned right and headed up the gravel road that lead to the coastal trail and puffins.  I recognized vehicles parked at the start of the trail and ran into a few people that I had met the day before.

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 It didn’t take long to reach the cliffs and spot my first puffin.  I was shocked at how small they were.  Photos make them look bigger than they are in reality.  The faces of puffins are so perfect and uniform that they almost look fake, as if they were painted on or as if they were wearing a mask.  It took me about 2 hours to walk the half mile trail along the cliffs where the puffins lived.  I enjoyed every minute!  After the puffin section, the trail continued along the cliffs for a while, then turned inland and back to the road that led to the ferry.  Just past where you turn towards the ferry there is a home that sells tea, and can be a nice warm place to sit while you wait.  I also visited the white sandy beach while I waited for my 1:35PM ferry ride.  What an enjoyable day!

Now that you have caught a glimpse of the Orkney Isles, I suggest using this great website: https://www.walkhighlands.co.uk/ to help you prepare further for your adventure in Northern Scotland!

DSC01306For more information on trekking in Scotland, come to my February 3rd talk at Savvy Traveler in Edmonds, WA at 10AM.

Scotland’s West Highland Way Trek Day 8: Kinlochleven to Fort William: 15 miles

The last day was upon us, it was a big one, 15-miles, but we were ready and the weather looked promising!DSC02684.JPGPam pumped us up for the morning climb and off we headed to the hills…DSC02712After a long climb, we eventually hit more undulating type hills that continued for several miles.  We saw more groups of people on the trail this day than any other day.  DSC02737.JPGAn old home in ruins lie next to the path, an intriguing site along the way.DSC02747.JPGAbout a third of the way through we stopped for lunch planting ourselves right on the trail.  DSC02772.JPGThe second half the day had some fun obstacles to find our way over, several streams andDSC02780a log slide surrounded by mud in an area that had been clear cut not too long ago.DSC02820Eventually half of Ben Nevis (Great Britain’s tallest mountain), came into view (the other half was in the clouds), letting us know we were almost to the end of our 96-mile journey.DSC02834We finally made it to the last hill of the day, the last hill we would walk up on our adventure together, the hill that lead us to our final and gorgeous B&B 🙂  Exhausted, excited, and feeling rather elated over completing our long journey, we hit the showers and cleaned up for our last big dinner together.  What a trek, what a group, and what a view from our B&B!DSC02881DSC02887The end of the West Highland Way is marked by a tall rectangular sign, located at Gordon Square in Fort William.  It was the perfect spot for our last team photo!  DSC02869

Up next day hikes on the Orkney Isles

Until then,

Keep on Trekking!

Scotland’s West Highland Way Trek Day 7: Kings House Hotel to Kinlochleven: 9 miles

After yesterday’s nasty rainy day, we hoped for a better forecast.  However, the morning didn’t look or feel all that promising so we bundled up preparing for the worst…

DSC02441.JPGOther than a few rain drops, the worst never came and by days end the sun was making a showing, again we managed to luck out!

In the morning the hike took us towards the infamous devils staircase, the steepest climb of the route.

DSC02466On the way up, we couldn’t help but turn and look at all the great views the climb provided of the Glencoe Mountain range…

DSC02538We made it to the top and captured the moment as we were at the highest point of our entire 96-mile journey!DSC02585.JPG

The second half of our day took us down the other side on trails that were a bit rocky from time to time, towards Kinlochleven.

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Some trails rockier than others…

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Eventually the trails smoothed out and we made it to the cute town of Kinlochleven and to our B&B shown in the photo below.

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Where we enjoyed cozy couches, tea and wifi!

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Later that evening, we headed into town to the local pub for dinner, where Pam found herself in heaven.  Dogs are a big part of the pub life in Scotland.  They are just as welcome as the humans!

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Up next our final day… Kinlochleven to Fort William!

Until then,

Keep on Trekking!

Scotland’s West Highland Way Trek Day 6: Inveroran to Kings House Hotel: 10 miles

There was no avoiding the weather this morning.  The rain and wind were upon us and the forecast looked grimmer as the day progressed.  We bundled up with our rain gear and out the door we went.  DSC02389Today’s stretch was through the barren and remote Rannoch Moor, one of Europe’s last remaining areas of genuine wilderness.  This is an area that is often very windy and wet, with no shelter until the Glencoe Ski Resort about 9.5 miles into the hike or a half mile further, the Kings House Hotel.

After the first hour of our hike, light rain and wind turned to heavy rain and wind.  We pulled out our reserves (ponchos), and grabbed some snacks to eat on the go DSC02394.JPGand kept marching till our accommodations!DSC02405.JPGDespite the heavy rain and wind, we still managed to smile and have fun.  It wouldn’t have been a full experience on the WHW without massive wind and sideways rain!

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Our accommodations that evening were in a bunkhouse, as the Kings House Hotel was under renovations.  Apparently the renovations wouldn’t be finished for another couple of years.  In the meantime the bunkhouse and the ski resort provide this areas only options of places to stay.

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That evening, several deer came through the site.  We quickly realized why about 12 deer huddled right by the restaurant… they were fed by restaurant staff and sometimes by willing trekkers 🙂

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Up next, Kings House Hotel to Kinlochleven

Until then,

Keep on Trekking!

Scotland’s West Highland Way Trek Day 5: Tyndrum to Inveroran: 9 miles

It rained all night, through our amazing B&B breakfast, and as soon as we started hiking it stopped!  Gotta love our luck!  The sun only made a few appearances through the cloud cover,  but it didn’t rain on us and that’s all that matters!  Today, we were officially in the Scottish Highlands and were told that the scenery would be fantastic from here on out.  DSC02246.JPGOur morning involved a few obstacles to climb over and squeeze through, but it wouldn’t be a day on the trail without a few challenges…

We were on our first of three shorter days, a needed break from our four double digit days in a row.  The morning flew by and before we knew it we were crossing the railway tracks and

DSC02270.JPGat our first and only rest stop of the day (6 miles in), the Bridge of Orchy Hotel.DSC02285.JPGAfter enjoying scones and tea in the pub of the Hotel, we headed out for our short 3-mile jaunt over the hill to our accommodations.DSC02289.JPGThe climb over the hill was beautiful.  Mountains and hills of the highlands were all around, inspiring us to keep climbing.DSC02331.JPGWe made it to the top where we caught the first glimpse of our Inn.DSC02338 This 19th century Inn sits isolated on the edge of Rannoch Moor and is only still in use, thanks to the popularity of the West Highland Way!

DSC02363.JPGThe rain started up again shortly after we arrived, feeling rather fortunate we showered and then huddled in the small bar and watched other trekkers rolling in all wet and cold.  Some of these trekkers were camping and stopped in to dry off and have a drink before they had to set up camp.  We were so happy we were not them!

At dinner we were taken into a small private room next to the bar and served a meal that you would expect to get in a very nice restaurant in a major city.  Yet another surprisingly amazing meal along the WHW!

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Up next Inveroran to Kings House Hotel

Until then,

Keep on Trekking!

Scotland’s West Highland Way Trek Day 4: Inverarnan to Tyndrum: 12.5 miles

DSC02105.JPGToday’s trail was far different than yesterday’s slow maneuvering trail.  Soon after leaving Inverarnan, the gently rolling path took us along the picturesque, fast flowing River Falloch.  We lucked out again with the weather – no rain and bright clouds and blue sky, with the sun making a showing every now and then!  Perfect hiking weather!

The trail took us past a charming Scottish home,

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Today’s paths however smooth, did have a few obstacles, most were of the man-made type, taking us under a railroad track, under a highway, and over farmer’s property lines.   And it wouldn’t be a complete day on the West Highland Way without patches of mud to navigate…

Along the WHW, locals put out what are called honesty boxes in hopes of making a few Great Britain Pounds.  They are filled with drinks, candy bars, healthier bars and a place to put money for the treats.  When the gang starts diving in the honesty box’s, you know you had better stop for lunch soon!

Shortly after, a sign appeared, not one from above, (even though it looks that way in the photo), but one that let us know we were not only halfway through the days hike, but the entire hike.   Definitely another sign to break for lunch!  We had decided earlier in the day to bypass Crianlarich, a town .5 miles off the trail, as adding another mile to the day wasn’t too appealing 🙂  Some trekkers choose to add the extra mileage to eat in town.  We sat on rocks and dry grass and had a lovely picnic right by our sign.

DSC02197.JPGAfter lunch, it was time to climb.  It’s not always the best idea to eat and then participate in vigorous exercise, but we had places to go, so we pushed right through.  And, with our Canadian teammate leading the way we had no worries!

DSC02199.JPGHigher and higher we climbed…DSC02201.JPGUntil we found a place to stop, so we could stretch…DSC02202.JPGand another place to stop, so we could sit…  DSC02222We had no egos holding us back from a nice resting spot, and of course an opportunity for another team photo under the lovely arched bridge!

The rest of the day’s walk was lovely and mostly flat with a few undulating hills, and the best scenery at our backs.   Always a good idea to stop and look behind you from time to time on treks…DSC02233.JPGHowever looking ahead wasn’t all that bad either aside from dark clouds rolling in…DSC02230.JPGWe finally made it to our place of stay, 12.5 miles of walking completed!  We managed to make it without a drop of rain.  However, it poured right before dinner when we needed to walk into town from our B&B to the pub.  We did get a bit wet, but the drinks, great food, and people at the pub made up for the wet clothes!

Next up… Tyndrum to Inveroran: 9 mile day

Until then,

Keep on Trekking!

Scotland’s West Highland Way Trek Day 3: Rowardennan to Inversnaid to Inverarnan: 13.5 miles

Another beautiful day was upon us.  The trail hugged Loch Lomond most of the day

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leading us in and out of  tree covered foot paths with a few climbs

that eventually exposed beautiful views…

DSC01948The first half of our day, aside from a few midges, and blister bandaging stops, was quite peaceful with lovely trails that were mostly smooth.  This allowed us to make it to Inversnaid for an early lunch.  The photos below show the final walk into Inversnaid, which took us over a bridge with a view of an enchanting waterfall.  Inversnaid lay nestled in the hillside above Loch Lomond.

The second half of our journey proved a bit different and was probably the most difficult stretch of our entire adventure.  Our last six and a half miles felt more like ten.  Leaving Inversnaid, the trail began to climb,DSC02006leading to slow and challenging foot-paths.  Meticulously crafted benches were unfortunately surrounded by mud.

Eventually we made it out to better footing, walking through paths of ferns almost as tall as us.  It was gorgeous!

DSC02023.JPGWe came across an old house, and a bothie – a small hut or cottage open to hikers for sleeping or shelter during bad weather.  They are found along wilderness trails all around Scotland.  Bothies are free, and very simple as trekkers must bring their own sleeping bag, pad, stove and food.

DSC02056Eventually we made it to the end of the loch.  Looking back reminded us how far we had already come, from one end of the loch to the other.  One of the most impressive things thus far – the vivid greenery of Scotland!   Seattle may be known as the Emerald City, but just doesn’t compare (at least not during the summer months)!  Couple the brilliant green hillsides with a deep blue loch and sky – magical!

DSC02084The ups and downs and ferns continued as we hiked further and further away from Loch Lomond.  We started to wonder if we missed a turn-off to our hotel as the wilderness seemed to go on and on and on…

DSC02092.JPGHowever, eventually we did see the finish line to this long challenging, yet beautiful day.  Seeing the historic Drover’s Inn Hotel was a welcome site to say the least!

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Inside the doorway we were greeted by many furry creatures, one of which really stood out…

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Up next Inverarnan to Tyndrum: 12.5 miles

Until then,

Keep on Trekking!

 

Scotland’s West Highland Way Trek Day 2: Drymen to Balmaha to Rowardennan: 15 miles

This was our first of two 15-mile days, so we planned for an early morning leave, but only as early as our B&B hosts had breakfast ready for us.  We were finished and out the door by 8:30AM.  The first part of the trail that morning was a gradual climb through farmland that lead into a steeper climb through the Garadhban forest.

Halfway through the Garadhban forest we met up with a few Scots: Ross, his son Aaron and Ross’s friend Mike.   Ross was our Scotsman who helped ensure that all eleven of us had a place to sleep each night and that our luggage was transported each morning to our next accommodation.

After a short stint of shyness young Aaron grabbed the lead and showed us the way, pointing out roots not to trip over and the spectacular views.  He also let us know that the Loch Ness monster probably has relatives that live in Loch Lomond, and that not all boys and girls in Scotland believe in fairies.  He was a natural guide!

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Aaron led us all the way to the top of Conic Hill where we had great views of Loch Lomond, and

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where we took our 2nd official group photo.  This time with two new team members, Arran and Ross…

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After our team photo we headed down towards the town of Balmaha, our half way point of the day.  We passed many other hikers along the way, apparently hiking to the top of Conic Hill is a popular day hike for locals and out of town guests.

DSC01825.JPGOur lunch break in Balmaha…DSC01828.JPG

The second half of our day took us along the shores of Loch Lomond.   We meandered across pebble beaches, through camping sites, and beautiful wooded trails, a few portions hillier than others.  We had said goodbye to our Scottish friends at lunch and were on our own again!

However peaceful and charming this part of trek was, it was the second half of a 15 mile day.  It’s amazing how the last few miles can feel more like ten!  We eventually made it to Rowardennan Hotel hot and tired, but also feeling rather accomplished!

After a cool shower on this beautiful warm Scottish day, we sat on the deck testing out the local beer.  Once again, dinner was tastier than expected!

Up next Rowardennan to Inversnaid to Inverarnan: 13.5 miles

Until then,

Keep on trekking to beautiful places…

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