Friday, October 31, 2014

Day 7: Nothing happened today. Well, okay, mostly nothing....

Karolina wakes up to blankets of Scottish fog.
Sept 14: Today, Karolina and I woke up to a very thick, "Scottish fog." I put Scottish fog in quotes because that's what Karolina calls it. It's not just fog, it's Scottish fog, which is an important distinction! It also left our gear swamped with condensation.

Previous days, the fog would burn off during the morning, but today, it never really burned off. The fog did rise and turn into clouds so eventually we got some views as the visibility improved, but since the thick layer of clouds lingered all day, it was never sunny or warm. I never even pulled out my sunglasses during the day.

Late in the morning, the trail guided us into the small town of Kinlochleven. My guidebook had this to say about the town:

The planned factory village of Kinlochleven was called 'the ugliest on two thousand miles of Highland coast' by WH Murray in his 1968 guide to the West Highlands. Sadly it is no more picturesque today, even though the aluminium smelter which necessitated its construction has closed.

If that doesn't sound like a ringing endorsement, you'd be correct. =) However, it was a necessary stop for us on the West Highland Way if for no other reason than it had a grocery store where we could resupply and clean water we could fill up with. And since we were there, we could get our passports stamped and get lunch.

The description of Kinlochleven, I thought, was a bit unfair. I didn't find the town particularly ugly. It had a nice creek running through town with comfortable-looking buildings and artwork along the trail. I suspect the 'ugly' reputation it has might be because of the six large water pipes leading down into Kinlochleven and scarring the countryside. I'll admit, it's not exactly a thing of beauty. However, it was a structure I found fascinating to look at. We passed a building that was labeled a 'penstock'--a term that Karolina didn't know and asked about and I could answer with some authority. It's a word I've heard on occasion for eons but never really understand what it was or how it worked until I read a sign on the Arizona Trail about an abandoned one and was able to examine its ruins.

"It's where debris in the water is removed before going into the pipes. They don't want the pipe to clog with debris, and its easier to remove debris from the water before it goes into the pipe than after it clogs a pipe."

I went on to say that I wasn't really sure how a modern penstock differed from the ruins of the penstock I saw that was built a hundred years earlier, but the other one I saw had bars across the entrance to block larger pieces of debris and a settling tank to remove small pieces of debris. Presumably, this one had similar features.

The first order of business in Kinlochleven was lunch, but we soon abandoned that idea when the first restaurant we tried was closed on Sundays and the second one we tried wasn't scheduled to open for another hour, and a third one we looked at had also not opened yet for the day. Trying to get food at a restaurant on Sunday morning was considerably more difficult that we had imagined and eventually we just gave up. We did, however, manage to get our passports stamped at one of the closed restaurants.

Instead, we went to the grocery store which was open and bought all of the food we would need until tomorrow when we would reach the end of the West Highland Way in Fort William. We also bought lunch there and feasted outside the store.

Leaving town, there was a short, steep section of trail which then leveled out into a desolate kind of wilderness beauty. We weren't surrounded by the large numbers of people like the day before--camping at the highest point of the West Highland Way got us between the large packs of people leaving Kingshouse and Kinlochleven.

Which isn't to say that we didn't see anyone on the trail. Some sort of race was being run and we saw all sorts of exhausted and tired people jogging (or more often, walking) in the opposite direction of us. That's where most of the people we saw came from.

In other news, today was Karolina's last full day of hiking. Tomorrow she had a flight home, and the day after tomorrow she was expected at work, so I had her check a train station schedule I had picked up earlier to figure out exactly what time she needed to be in Fort William. Her flight left Glasgow at around 3:00 in the afternoon, so she checked the schedule and was surprised to learn that there was only one train at about 7:30 in the morning that would get her there on time. She had assumed she had all morning to get into town, and maybe there might be buses that could get her there as well, but we didn't have a bus schedule to check. The only mode of transportation that we knew would get her to her flight in time was that 7:30 train.

So I looked at my maps of the trail, did some figuring, and we decided we should camp near the trail junction where I'd split off the trail to hike up Ben Nevis (the highest point in Britain) and she'd continue straight onward to Fort William. From that point, we figured it would be about a one-hour walk into town. She'd have to be up and hiking by around 6:00 the next morning which would give her an hour walk into town plus a half hour as safety in case it took longer than expected and to buy her train tickets and such.

The downside--for me, at least--was that we'd have to hike until almost dark. We didn't arrive at the junction until just after 8:00 in the evening. It wasn't dark yet, but the sun had already set and darkness was descending fast and taking photos became a study in how to hold the camera extremely steady.

The road we were walking along was less than ideal for camping, and we spent a few minutes scouting around looking for a flat, large enough place on the side of the road to camp and didn't really find anything. Ultimately, we just camped on the very edge of the road at the junction. Hopefully no vehicles would drive over us during the night!

And I told you in the title that nothing really happened today. See! I was right! =) All-in-all, a mostly uneventful day. =)

Careful of those dangerous bends!

The trail followed alongside these giant water pipes for quite a while before crossing them on this bridge.
Karolina makes a new friend. =)
However, it seems to me like she's taking advantage of her new-found friendship with the local fish!
If only I could share a Coke with Amanda....
Whenever Karolina stopped to go to the bathroom, she'd saying something about going to fight the "toilet monster." When she came back, I'd ask how the fight with the toilet monster went, and she'd say something like, "I won." She fought the toilet monster, and she won. *nodding* Today, though, I had asked exactly what the toilet monster looked like--perhaps she should draw it. And this was her drawing of the toilet monster. I just love it! =) It's funny on so many levels....
Kinlochleven was a factory town, and although the smelter is no longer in business, there's a lot of history to put in this aluminum museum! (And no, they didn't spell aluminum incorrectly--that's just how the British spell it.) Unfortunately, being a Sunday, we couldn't tour their museum--it was closed! =(

I battle an epic Bird Monster in Kinlochleven!

Looking back towards Kinlochleven--which is now behind us on the trail.

Karolina pretends to be a cow crossing the cattle guard.

More of Karolina's drawings. For most of the hike, Karolina's "trail name" was Trail Intern. Backpacking is a fairly new experience for her, but as most of you probably know, I have some experience in that matter. So she'd call herself my "trail intern." (That's her in the upper-right panel, which says, "Trail Intern, a.k.a. Karolina SLOW." I'm in the upper-left panel, which she labeled "Green Tortuga a.k.a. Ryan FAST." The bottom left panel is us camped at the "top of the world" (a.k.a. the highest point on the WHW) and the bottom right is Karolina wearing her new "midge-net."
Another Karolina drawing. Earlier in the day, we thought up a new trailname for Karolina: Laughter. It came to light that that's what her last name means in Polish and it seemed fitting for her since she does laugh a lot, so I said that could be her trail name and she decided she liked it. =) I'm supposed to look like a turtle in this drawing (I think I look more like a dinosaur, though!). But I love the little camera she has me taking photos. Since I was taking thousands of photos to create the Scottish Highlands Way route on Walking 4 Fun, I always had my camera out.

Ruins along the trail.

Mountain bikers on the trail.

Karolina fords a creek.

Evidence of a race on the trail!

Karolina fords another creek.
The sign next to this cairn reads (in part): The MacDonalds did pursue the fleeing Campbells. To mark the spot where they broke off from their chase, they raised a large stone which was known as 'Clach nan Caimbeulach' (Stone of the Campbells). A cairn has replaced the stone, traditional has it that MacDonalds (or sympathisers of Montrose), should add a stone as they pass and Campbells (or sympathisers of Argyll), take one away.

The mountain ahead with its top in the clouds--that's Ben Nevis and the highest point in Britain. Tomorrow, I would make an attempt to climb to the top of it. Will I make it? You'll just have to tune in for the next post. Same bat time, same bat channel... (Karolina will not be joining my attempt since she had a flight to catch home, much to her disappointment because she really wanted to do the hike up Ben Nevis too.)

The hump ahead is part of Ben Nevis, but the top there is only halfway to the real top of the mountain (which is just off the right side of the photo and in the clouds).

This would be my last photo of Karolina. Since she left camp at 6:00 the next morning where we parted ways, I wouldn't be getting anymore photos of her tomorrow and this was the last photo I got with her in it before we set up camp for the night.
We set up camp for the night at the base of this signpost. It was probably our worst campsite of the hike!

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