West Highland Way, Part 4: Undulation

“Hey penguin, how you doing? I was pretty sore but I’ve been up since 04:00 and moved around and loosened up quite a lot. I’ve had some cereal, a hot chocolate and a tea. You want me to make you a tea or anything? Did you sleep okay? It’s kinda drizzly outside but not too bad. You doing alright?”

“Bob.”

“Yeah penguin?”

“Shhh, give me a minute to wake up.”

“Oh, right. Sorry.”

Let sleeping penguins lie.
Let sleeping penguins lie.

Today will be our second of seven on the West Highland Way and despite the pain and difficulty of yesterday I’m in full on childish enthusiasm mode. Actually, I’d say it’s because of the pain, difficulty and challenge which lies ahead that I feel so good. Really, is there a better feeling than going to bed physically exhausted, knowing that you have nothing to do but walk again the next day, and the next, and the next, and the next, and the next, and the next? I’m thinking not.

Okay, maybe a canoe would be nice to have today, but we’ll manage.

After pounding out 20 miles on foot the day before, Steph and I would gladly have rented a canoe to cruise north on Loch Lomond and past some rough sections of the West Highland Way.
After pounding out 20 miles on foot the day before, Steph and I would gladly have rented a canoe to cruise north on Loch Lomond and past some rough sections of the West Highland Way.

The guide book says to not underestimate the difficulty of the trail along Loch Lomond. The ups and downs may not rise and fall enough to show up on the contours of a map but they are meant to be rather persistent and made more hazardous by wet conditions, which it seems like we’ll be having again. As we leave the Balmaha Bunkhouse behind I try to snap a few pics but the rain starts coming down harder.

Leaving the Balmaha Bunkhouse I could have used an early morning nip of Glengoyne to dull the pain in my knees.
Leaving the Balmaha Bunkhouse I could have used an early morning nip of Glengoyne to dull the pain in my knees.

It doesn’t take long for the steepness to start, and with it the pain in my knees and hips. It also doesn’t take long for Steph’s feet to get wet.

Steph makes a brave but futile effort at keeping her feet dry on the West Highland Way.
Steph makes a brave but futile effort at keeping her feet dry on the West Highland Way.

Her boots are a few years old now and have seen a fair few miles of wear and tear. I cleaned them and re-applied a DWR finish just a few days ago, but it’s no good; she’s got the squishy feet, and we’ve a long way left to go.

By contrast, my boots – Salomon Quest 4D GTX – are brand new and feeling great. I took a chance and bought them just a week before we left, knowing I wouldn’t be able to break them in but figuring (correctly it would seem) that they wouldn’t really need it.

“Do you need to stop and wring out your socks?”

“No. Lets just keep moving.”

And move we do, although the persistent rise and fall of the trail – what I’ve taken to calling undulation – slows us considerably. We stop several times to take photos only to have the rain get heavier right as I’m getting my camera out. It’s frustrating to say the least, and it’s making me regret bringing along so much (about 4 kg worth) camera kit. At least I was smart enough to leave my tripod at home.

A rare instance where the rain lets up long enough for the camera to come out.
A rare instance where the rain lets up long enough for the camera to come out.

After about 7.25 soggy up and down miles we’ve made our way to the Rowerdennan Inn for lunch. The rain is really coming down hard now but inside the pub it’s super cozy with the roaring fire they’ve got going. Unlike yesterday at The Clachan in Drymen, today we’re accompanied by several other hikers, all of whom seem loathe to leave in any great hurry.

Eventually, slowly, Steph and I pull on our rain gear and head back out into it. We’ve still got another 7.25 undulating miles to cover before we’re done for the day.

Beyond Rowerdennan feels much more wild and remote than anywhere else we’ve been on the trail so far. Having said that, it is a bit strange to see and hear all the traffic noise coming from the A82 across the loch, especially as the sound of cars and trucks is continually intertwined with that of the countless streams which crash down the hillsides and into the loch. As wild as this land may feel we’re never going to be far from a road, inns or pubs, not even further north. The West Highland Way ain’t no wilderness trail.

Even with the busy A82 just across Loch Lomond, we feel well secluded from that world over on the east side.
Even with the busy A82 just across Loch Lomond, we feel well secluded from that world over on the east side.
Pretty as they are each of the dozens of waterfalls crashing towards Loch Lomond on the West Highland Way must be carefully crossed.
Pretty as they are each of the dozens of waterfalls crashing towards Loch Lomond on the West Highland Way must be carefully crossed.

 

Speaking of cars…..

“Should we call?”

“Hell yes.”

I don’t even hesitate with my reply. We knew that tonights accommodation, the Inversnaid Bunkhouse, wasn’t right on the trail. According to their website they are situated “…only 800m from the West Highland Way.” We also knew that they offer a shuttle service for hikers staying with them, an option I vociferously insisted we wouldn’t be partaking of. That, of course, was before we walked 14.5 miles today. And 20 miles yesterday. Hell yes we want that lift.

Only the best trail sign ever!
Only the best trail sign ever!

It turns out to be a really good call as the 800 metres of road between the West Highland Way and the bunkhouse is all up hill and would have taken us another hour to cover. This particular sliver of pride goes down easy as a scoop of soft serve ice cream.

Wet gear stashed in the drying room and bodies showered, we head upstairs for dinner. The bunkhouse is a converted 19th century church, complete with original stained glass windows. I rather enjoy sipping my beer while being overlooked by saints.

Judge not boys.
Judge not boys.
A truly religious experience for me.
A truly religious experience for me.

Our hosts give us a sheet of paper with optional available services and tick boxes to fill in. Breakfast? Yes, for two please. Packed lunch? Uh huh, again for two. Hot tub? Tempting, but not this time. AMS baggage transfer? Damn.

Steph had come across information on baggage transfer services while researching and planning our trip. Essentially, you carry only what you need for the day while one of these services picks up the rest of your gear (crap) and takes it to your next destination. Just the thought of it makes me queasy. I’ll carry my own backpack, thank you very much.

“How are your knees?”

Steph asks the question but she knows the answer; bad. I’ve got a heavy duty neoprene brace with metal hinges on my left knee, and a regular neoprene sleeve on my right. I can’t take either off, even just to sit for dinner, without both knees swelling and all but locking up. Her feet are a blistered mess already, and tomorrows terrain is meant to be the roughest of the whole trip. The forecast is for heavy rain, sleet and blizzards over the hills.

“Make the call penguin.”

Feet don't fail me now.
Feet don’t fail me now.

This particular chunk of pride goes down about as easy as a pound of ill prepared calamari served out of an old wet hiking boot. But, at the end of the day we both want to finish, and I’m not sure I can carrying that bag.

After dinner the sun peaks through the clouds for a few moments, just long enough for me to snap a few pics of the church come bunkhouse. It feels good to wander around the building with my camera, unencumbered by the weight of a backpack. We’ll see if those good feeling last the rest of the week.

A brief bit of soft evening sunshine falls on the Inversnaid Bunkhouse.
A brief bit of soft evening sunshine falls on the Inversnaid Bunkhouse.

A few more pics from the day.

Boats in Loch Lomond at Balmaha.
Boats in Loch Lomond at Balmaha.
Leaving Balmaha behind.
Leaving Balmaha behind.
This is sheep country.
This is sheep country.
Very nice toilets in this building.
Very nice toilets in this building.
The bonnie banks of Loch Lomond.
The bonnie banks of Loch Lomond.
All smiles...so far.
All smiles…so far.
Yet another stream to cross.
Yet another stream to cross.
Keep those feet dry Steph!
Keep those feet dry Steph!
Pretty as a picture.
Pretty as a picture.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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