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  • David W. Carson

West Highland Way

Up on the mountain

the rivers they run clear.

Up on the mountain

the wind whispers in your ear.

Sings the song of all the ages

sings the sweet old song of time,

Sings the song of love, of God above

sings the song of me and mine.

15 April, morning

A short flight from Schipol to Glasgow put us in around 17:00. From there an easy train ride from Central Station to Milngavie, the town at the base of the trail. Made quick work of the grocery store and stocked up on enough oats, fruit, bread and cheese to get us through the first few days.

A well marked trail out of the city center set us on The Way. First stop, Mugdock Wood. Found a babbling brook to walk beside. Made camp by the water’s edge. Pitched the tent in a slight depression to protect ourselves from the wind. Made a fire, cooked some rice, got to sleep not long after sun down. Heard the loud sound of an animal that night. Possibly a fox.

15 April, evening

Enormous amount of activity today after porridge and tea by a rekindled fire. Nice to rise with the sun. Two hours to Glengoyne Distillery put us in around 10:00. Dropped our bags, took a tour of the grounds, sampled a few bottles of scotch whiskey. Bought a 12 year old bottle, packed it in the bag for the fire at night and hit the trail.

Walked on at a solid clip and covered close to twelve kilometers en route to Drymen. Popped into the oldest pub in Scotland for a pint and the chance to check in with loved ones. All uphill for the remainder of the 25k. Mostly roads out of Drymen then trails through pine plantations. Pulled off around 16:00 to make camp.

Loads of blisters, still breaking our feet into the trail. Found the perfect outpost at the edge of a pasture, loads of trees to break the wind and a soft moss forest floor made for good camping.

Instant pasta, cheese and bread. Setup and fed by sundown, brought out the bottle of whiskey.

16 April, morning

Beautiful morning, Jack had the fire going by sunrise and we sat around it for tea and porridge. Packed up after breakfast and hit the trail for Conic Hill. A hearty hike and steady climb. At the top could see the expanse of Loch Lomond before us. Came out through an old pine forest and into the village of Balmaha. Walked about 5k from Balmaha up the eastern edge of Loch Lomond. Stopped for a snack at Golden Sands. Dipped our feet in the water and trekked onward.

A long stretch through a variety of forests, along a couple of roads and over a number of large undulations. Stopped by the Inn at Rowardenan to fill up on water.

The final 5k was the most gorgeous of the trip thus far. Steep forest floors covered in moss cascaded beside little rivers and waterfalls down to the loch. The path was only one person wide. We sang and whistled most of the way.

Reached our camp around nightfall, a stone Bothy tucked into a pine forest. Five young ladies there when we arrived, fire was already going. Three from England, one from Scotland, one from France.

Jack and I took a dip in the loch, breathtakingly cold. Warmed up by the fire, made two servings of pasta a piece. Asleep not long after sundown.

17 April, evening

Another full 25k today. Got going around 9 am, a little porridge and tea in the bothy. Set out on a 15k stretch, damn near unadulterated save for a few stops along the water’s edge. Stunning lakeside vistas, had to get the hands involved maneuvering from rock to rock. Saw the loch for the last time around noon. Got to Drover’s Inn around two, exhausted. Taxidermy everywhere. Certain kind of reverence setting in for The Way.

Hit the trail again at 16:00 after a full lunch and couple of pints. The trail was smooth and gently sloping. Big mountains coming into view, bare in the foreground, snow-capped in the back. Stopped at multiple streams and waterfalls to wet our faces and hydrate.

A full 10k to camp. Sun shown beautifully and painted the hills a golden brown. Sheep all throughout. The moon came out around 18:00. The last few k were through a mountain passage full of sheep. Made camp in the woods in the first valley of Crianlarch. Rice and onions and canned fish for dinner.

The mountains are fountains of men, as well as of rivers, of glaciers, of fertile soil. — John Muir

18 April, morning

Rose around 6:00 after a nice night’s sleep. Took off on the trail to find water. Reached a river at 2k, stopped for porridge and tea. Mountains shown in all their majesty as the sun peaked through the clouds. 13k from breakfast to noon-time break by the river under a bridge. Mostly along a semi-paved path. All the big mountains and highlands coming into view. Napped and washed our socks in the river, cheese and bread for lunch.

Took off for Invernan, passed through the Bridge of Orchy. All highlands, culminating in a sustained climb to a peak with 360 degree views. Absolutely stunning, sat and took in the views for half an hour.

Made our way down from the peak to the valley below to make camp for the night. Weather like a sunny summer afternoon. Took a dip in the river. Made pasta for dinner. Found a nearby pub to finish the day with a couple of pints. Shared some of our whiskey with two young ladies we keep passing on the trail, met them at the bothy. Name’s are Steph and Fiona.

19 April, mid-day

Hardly slept last night, ground was exceptionally hard. Woke around 6:30 for tea and porridge by the river. Popped all blisters and bandaged in wool, set off around 8:30. Reached a river around 5k to refill on water. Clear and cold as can be. All highlands with a steady slope for the next 10k. The biggest mountains were obscured by the haze all morning, made for an ethereal experience. Vast expanses of land covered in boulders, bogs and pale shades of hay.

Reached Kingshouse around 13:00, 15k into the day. Laid down our bags by the river, made cheese sandwiches, took a nap. Shared a couple pints with our lady friends and made out for Devil’s Staircase.

Walked for 5k to get there. From 100m climbed to 550m. From the top the mountains looked glorious. Huge stone gates and nothing but sky. Snow capped mountains, barren landscapes. Wind picked up quite a bit at the top, had to put our sweaters back on.

Met up with a Croatian couple up top, hiked down together, all the way back to 50m elevation. Halfway down the young woman fell directly on her head and split it open. Blood all over the rocks, she laid still for awhile. We got her upright and back to working order. Split the contents of her pack between us and made our way down to the first road with service. Called emergency response and they came up to get her. Took her to the hospital in Fort William.

Decided to carry on another 5k, putting us close to 30k for the day. Reached the village of Kinlochleven at the base of the mountain around 18:00. Stopped to grab beers at the village grocer and walked through to the other side of town. Made camp in the woods by the river. Fire was going by sundown. Made rice, drank beers, went to bed.

20 April, morning

Slow morning, made a fire by the river and drank coffee and leftover beers. Jack went to town to grab beans for breakfast. Feels good to relax after 30k and lots of elevation yesterday. Today is our last substantial stretch, Fort William in our sights.

20 April, evening

Gorgeous final hike today. Big, sweeping valley for the first 10k, great conversation along the route. Summited the highest crest, a small hill, around mid-day. Stopped and had cheese sandwiches for lunch.

Another 10k to camp. Came down the mountain into the outskirts of Fort William around 16:00, found a little pub for a couple of beers. Still with the young ladies we met on the trail.

Made camp by the river and jumped in for a proper swim. Made a fire, pleasant site for the night. Rice for dinner. Finished the bottle of whiskey. Called it an early night. Summiting Ben Nevis real early. 4:00 start if the weather is cooperative.

April 21, afternoon

Up at 4:00, on the trail by 4:40. One bag packed with snacks and clothes for inclement weather, the rest left at base camp. Fairly dark but eyes adjusted quickly. Made it up around 100m before the humid early morning called for one less layer. Climbed another 100m before taking a break. The sun rose around 6:00 and the mountains split the haze intermittently. Stopped by a waterfall for apples and a chocolate bar. Kept climbing after. Ascended 500m without much trouble, about a third of the way there.

Climbed again for an hour and a half, Steph and Fiona are with us. With altitude comes a distinct change in temperature, we started to see snow. About a 1000m we lost most visibility and pulled out the compass for safety. Losing the trail is dangerous when exposed at high altitude. The last 200m quite treacherous. All snow at the top, right along the ridge. Summited around 8:30, heavy winds, no visibility, at or below freezing. Reached the highest point in all of Great Britain, hugs all around.

Descent off the peak a little tricky. Slippery and slow going down. Stopped around 800m for some porridge, everyone exhausted. Slow but steady the rest of the way down. Stopped frequently to take in the views. Off the mountain by 11:00, back to camp shortly after.

Far warmer back at camp, everyone took a nap and swim in the river. Got into some ticks. Packed our bags, had a beer, set out for Fort William and the remaining 5k of The Way.

Reached the end of The Way together, Jack, Mani and I. Embraced one another like brothers, all rather proud. Made our way to a pub for hot food and a pint of beer. Feasted like kings and smiled the whole way through.

Booked a train back to Glasgow, a four hour haul. Watching in reverse as seven days go by. Bought three beers and a bottle of wine. The mountains look so majestic in the distance.

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