The West Highland Way 7 – Altnafeadh to Kinlochleven

By Bryan • photography, scotland, small town, travel, west highland way • 26 Oct 2014

Rain, rain rain.  Day seven was another perpetually drenched walk through the Highlands.  This day in particular I recall being especially soggy.  So soggy in fact that I cut the day short when I reached Kinlochleven at around 2pm.  The day began well in Altnafeadh, with a foggy yet surprisingly mild and dry morning.  Altnafeadh is at the base of the Devil’s Staircase, the last of several minor passes one must navigate along the WHW.  A series of switchbacks, the Devil’s Staircase is not nearly has imposing as the name suggests, especially after six days on the trail and approaching from the south.  The approach from the north end (supposing you were beginning your trek in Fort William and moving south, would be a little more challenging as the ascent drags out much, much longer than the several hundred meters imposed by the staircase and it’s southern angle. 

Most of the day seven photos were shot before noon.  I was lucky enough to summit the staircase in good weather.  Immediately upon reaching the top of the pass, it began a hard rain that lasted all the way to Kinlochleven.  I completed the staircase with a French fellow who was planning to ridge along one of the many wild routes.  Don’t let the photos fool.  It’s not a grassy golf course like environment to hike off trail.  It’s quite rocky, uneven and full of squishy bogs.  It’s also extremely exposed to the wind and weather.  The afternoon before I witnessed a mountain helicopter rescue.  What looked like a Royal Airforce AW101  helo approached on the of the mountains surrounding Altnafeadh, landed and took off again…all while several mountain rescue EMT’s scurried down the highway.      

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A view down to the tree patch of Altnafeadh.

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I particularly like the above photo of Buachaille Etive Mòr.  The Scottish Highlands are not particularly high when compared to chains such as the Himalayans, the Alps, the Rockies etc. But their size relative to their sea-level surroundings certainly creates a imposing impression.  I recall some of my previous travels in the Indian Himalayans and meeting a number of British guys who had just completed their first mountain trek outside of the UK.  They had only even climbed and hiked in the Highlands.  The UK certainly isn’t a mountain culture nation, but after having visited the Highlands I come away far more captivated and educated regarding the British obsession (among some) with the alpine.

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The Devil’s Staircase looking north.  This was the last photo I took all day as I shortly became too soggy and miserable to pull out the camera.

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This is the quaint village of Kinlochleven, on day 8.  I arrived at around 2pm the day before and decided to grab a hostel bed that night on account of everything I was wearing and carrying was soaking wet.  I was so miserable at that point that I was just going to take a bus into Fort William if the next day proved to be as stormy as the previous.  Luckily the weather improved slightly and I made the final 20KM push into Fort William under my own power.  I quite enjoyed Kinlochleven.  A former smelter town with an operating Rio Tinto run-of-the-river hydro dam, the town is rapidly becoming an base camp for mountain pursuits, and boasts a couple of pubs, although none is particularly endearing as the King’s House. I had lunch with a great teacher couple from California who had just hopped over from trekking in Ireland and also where I met my friend Mark, a chapman stick artist from Texas.   

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