Thursday, December 31, 2015

The West Highland Way, Scotland - September 2015

Alright, it's time for a big one, time for me to write up a bit of an overview of our walk along The West Highland Way (WHW) in Scotland. By the time we arrived in Glasgow we had already been in the UK for around 5 days and had been totally blessed with the weather, having only had one morning of drizzle so far. Now I sometimes appear to crap on a lot about weather but there is a reason for that, as someone who spends many hours each weekend outside walking, riding or swimming the weather can make or break an adventure, not to mention make for very ordinary photos as well. So with Scotland not renowned for its balmy sun filled days I was keeping a close eye on the skies. One other peculiarity with this WHW post is that I decided to commence the walk in Glasgow instead of the official starting point in Milngavie, in doing so adding an extra day to our walk.

The Kelvingrove Museum & Art Gallery, the starting point on our ramble up to Fort William.

Day 1 Milngavie 18 kilometres 212m ascent.
I decided to start my journey from the excellent Kelvingrove Museum & Art Gallery which was a couple of kilometres from our hotel in Glasgow. Sam on the other hand thought I was a bit crazy adding a day onto an already long walk so decided to spend the day shopping in Glasgow before catching a taxi out to Milngavie in the afternoon. The first day of the walk was a great warm up for the rest of the WHW, after leaving the Museum I followed a paved path up stream along the banks of the River Kelvin for a couple of hours. Eventually I left the beautiful riverside track and climbed up through the outer suburb Maryhill, gently climbing past a trig marking the only high point of todays walk. Setting off from Maryhill I was now walking through a rural landscape, I was a little surprised at how quickly I'd walked out of Glasgow's embrace but I was now walking past wheat fields and I even spotted a deer drinking from Allander Water as I neared Milngavie. Arriving at Milngavie I checked out the real start of the WHW before heading to the Premier Inn, our accommodation for the night, where I was reunited with Sam. The rest of the afternoon followed what would be a familiar theme, spending the afternoon kicking back having something to eat with Sam while typing up the days adventures for my crazy guy journal.

Passing through the suburbs of Glasgow on the Kelvingrove Walkway.
My first squirrel sighting, about 30 minutes into the walk.
And then later on Day 1, a deer.

Day 2 Drymen 21 kilometres, 39 kilometres total. 293m ascent, 505m total ascent.
Today we actually started the WHW, after a comfortable night in Milngavie we were on the track before 9am, about 4 hours earlier than I normally start my walks. The WHW makes its way north by a series of local park lands before breaking out into the open near Craigallian Loch, and from this point on the walking continues to improve until we got to what I thought was the best section of the day, a gentle walk down the valley under the rocky plug of Dumgoyach. Soon after passing Dumgoyach the WHW meets the old alignment of the Blane Valley Railway which it faithfully follows for the next couple of hours, crossing a mainly rural landscape the walk was broken by lunch at the Beech Tree Inn, very civilised walking indeed! After leaving the old railway line we followed some quiet country roads most of the way into Dryman, arriving mid afternoon we had plenty of time to kick back and explore the village.

The official start of the WHW in Milngavie.
Some great walking on Day 2.
Walking some quiet country roads as we approached Dryman.

Day 3 Balmaha 15 kilometres, 54 kilometres total. 639m ascent, 1144m total ascent.
Our second day on the WHW delivered us to Balmaha on the shore of Loch Lomond. We had a nice comfortable night in Dryman and set off nice and early towards our days destination, soon after leaving we climbed gently up into series of Pine plantations, at one stage the trail actually passed through an active coupe. The views of Loch Lomond were getting quite extensive now as our next objective Conic Hill, loomed closer. Conic Hill is the first real climb of the WHW and the climb is fairly solid without being overly hard, with the WHW bypassing the summit I left Sam sheltering from the wind in the grass while I made the short side trip to the summit, trying not to get blown off the mountain. After completing the crux of todays walk all we had to do was to descend steeply down to the beautiful village of Balmaha, spending a very relaxed afternoon having a few drinks at the Oak Tree Inn and checking out Loch Lomond up close.
Loch Lomond in the distance.
Crossing Burn of Mar before our climb of Conic Hill.
Sam, descending Conic Hill, Loch Lomond in front of us.
We spent few pleasant hours at the oak Tree Inn in Balmaha.
Day 4 Rowardennan, 14 kilometres, 68 kilometres total. 400m ascent, 1544m total ascent.
We woke this morning to steady light rain, we'd been in the UK for well over a week and today was our first day of real rain so we couldn't really complain. Todays walk had us following the shore of Loch Lomond up to Rowardennan, in hind site it would be one of the easiest and shortest days walking so it was not a bad day to get some inclement weather. The WHW makes a series of small sharp climbs a descents as it makes its way up the lock, in-between the short climbs we followed some beautiful beaches although it was a bit of a melancholy scene in the rain.We passed tonights accommodation before lunch time but were under instructions to continue on to the Rowardennan Hotel were we would get picked up after we ate. We arrived in the early afternoon at the pub and after a great meal I spent some time checking out the tiny village, the rain having eased a little bit I was able to get some half decent photos of Loch Lomond.
Today would turn out to be our only wet day on the WHW.
Haddock and chips at the Rowardennan Hotel.
The sun going down over Loch Lomond at the end of a grey day.
Our nice room at Anchorage Cottage.
Day 5 Ardlui, 22 kilometres, 90 kilometres total. 593m ascent, 2137m total ascent.
Today we tracked up Loch Lomond all day, this would turn out to be the toughest day on the WHW. There are no big hills today but there are a lot of short sharp descent and ascents which along with the reasonably rough track made it a solid day. After a night spent at the excellent Anchorage Cottage we started our walk nice and refreshed, and with no precipitation falling we were two happy walkers. The WHW initially climbs high above the shore of Loch Lomond on an old road, with the occasional view through the trees and an easy gradient it made for an easy start to the day. By the time we arrived at the Inversnaid Hotel for lunch though the WHW had started its undulating journey north, still suitably fortified after another pub lunch the undulations didn't quite seem so bad. After passing by numerous beautiful small coves, all looking at their best in the afternoon sun, the WHW starts to climb a little away from the loch, this is the furthest we would be from the shore for the whole day, crossing a low saddle we spied our hotel at Ardlui on the other side of the loch. All that was left to do now was to descend back to the shores of Loch Lomond and hail the ferry that would transport us quickly over the calm waters, checking into the Ardlui Hotel in the late afternoon this was one of our longest days on the walk.
The views of Loch Lomond were a feature of Day 5.
There were plenty of ups and downs on the loch side track.
Day 6 Crainlarich, 19 kilometres, 109 kilometres total. 683m ascent, 2820m total ascent.
After yesterdays harder day, today was pretty cruisey. After our ferry dropped us off back on the other side of the loch we continued our journey north, we were now heading towards the highlands which was what I'd been looking forward to.  After crossing a low saddle we left Loch Lommond behind, the loch having been our constant companion for the last few days , now though we preceded up a series of river valleys. Today we even walked through an operating mine site, not something that I've ever experienced on a walk in Australia, walking through a sheep creep was another first for me (check out my crazy guy journal for more on that). The A82 was never far away today but for the most part it didn't spoil the days walking. We actually walked a fair way past Crainlarich today to get to our accommodation for the night at Ewich House, catching a taxi back into town for dinner at the, you guessed it, pub!
Our last views of Loch Lomond.
Day 6 was pretty cruisey.
A sheep creep, no not the bloke about to pull a hammy.
Day 7 Inveroran, 23 kilometres, 132 kilometres total. 457m ascent, 3277m total ascent.
We had a great night at Ewich House, another great accommodation option. Today we walked up some grand valleys the scenery getting better the further we went. We stopped for our second breakfast in the old industrial town of Tyndrum and, after leaving there we got into some typical highland scenery on the walk to Bridge of Orchy, the open valley allowing us to see the odd shower sweeping through. After a few hours walking up the beautiful valley we arrived at the Bridge of Orchy Hotel, time for another long lunch. While relaxing at the pub the weather deteriated a bit and for only the second time on the walk we had to don our wet weather gear as we walked out of Bridge of Orchy. Our short afternoon walk had us climb up through a pine forest before dropping down to our accommodation at the historic Inveroran Hotel, this old drovers hotel is older than European settlement in Australia so it wasn't really surprising that the room sloped a bit and I had to stoop to get through the door.
An old bridge over the River Fillan.
Approaching Bridge of Orchy.
That's the Inveroran Hotel in the distance.
Loch Tulla.
Day 8 Kingshouse, 18 kilometres, 150 kilometres total. 375m ascent, 3652m total ascent.
To cut to the chase today was awesome, one of those days that will stay with me forever. After a comfortable night in the historic Inveroran Hotel we left in bright sunshine to climb onto Rannoch Moor. Once we'd climbed up the historic drovers road and were on the moor we spent the next few hours ambling away across the sodden landscape, stopping numerous times to take in the vast views in every direction, the numerous small tarns glistening in the golden sun light. With the weather perfect we lingered as long as we could without actually being consumed by the ever present midges. Eventually we started the very gentle descent down to the Kings House Hotel, another historic drovers hotel, arriving in the mid afternoon we had plenty of time to relax, it was after this great days walking just when I thought that life couldn't get any better we found out that Australia had a new prime minister, ahhhh....
The awesome scenery on Rannoch Moor.
Lochan Mhic Pheadair Ruaidh on Rannoch Moor.
The view from our room at the Kings House Hotel.
A beautiful end to a great day.
Day 9 Kinlochleven, 16 kilometres, 166 kilometres total. 436m ascent, 4088m total ascent.
After a foggy start to the day, the day developed into another great day for walking. We had to climb the Devils Staircase today, a climb to the highest point on the WHW, but really it wasn't that bad. The climb involved a lot of switchbacks but the gradient was pretty good and we were up on top after a couple of stops, once on top though it was more or less down hill for the rest of the day to Kinlochleven. The descent is a long one though, we followed a great walking track initially before picking up some old hydro roads that led us into Kinlochleven, an old hydro town that used to be home to an aluminium smelter, the industrial setting a bit jarring after the beautiful wild country we'd been walking through. The good news today was that just after we checked into our hotel it started to rain and didn't stop until the small hours of the morning.
We had a foggy start today on our walk over to Kinlochleven.
The top of the Devils Staircase, the highest point on the WHW.
Sam, on the long descent to Kinlochleven.
The view of Loch Leven from our hotel.
Day 10 Fort William, 26 kilometres, 192 kilometres total. 759m ascent, 4847m total ascent.
Our last day on the WHW was another cracker, the rain that had fallen over night had cleared and as we climbed out of Kinlochleven we left the fog behind. This morning was spent climbing up to The Laigigmor which at 330 metres was todays high point, the views were once again extensive and a feature of the days walk. After crossing the gentle pass we descended another wide valley before climbing once again, with Ben Nevis in view the WHW felt like it was coming to its conclusion but the last day has quite a few twists and turns as it meanders its way to Fort William, at 26 kilometres its quite a long day too. Wandering into Fort William in the late afternoon we headed through town, eventually finding the official end to the walk about 200 metres from our hotel, The Lime Tree Inn. Finding the official end of the walk was probably the arrest navigational challenge that I faced on the whole walk, I'm definitely more at home in the bush than in town.
Our last day on the WHW was another stunner.
That's Ben Nevis in front of us.
The Dirt.
Ok, we walked with a company called Macs Adventure on this walk, they booked the accommodation organised our bag transfer for us, I'd highly recommend them and wouldn't hesitate to use their services again. We stayed at some great accommodation on the WHW, the standouts being Anchorage Cottage, a small family run B&B that we arrived at after our wettest day. Ewich House was another beautiful stop with a friendly host and our stay at Fort William was at the beautiful Lime Tree Inn, a place that should be on everyones itinerary even if only to eat in their great restaurant. I used the Trailblazer guide book on the walk, the mud maps are perfect for walking and the guide also had maps and notes for my walk from Glasgow to Milngavie as well as my unusual climbing route up Ben Nevis, of which I'll do a post about one day. The WHW was my first experience at a long distance walk in the UK and I came away mightily impressed, it was a great holiday and I'd love to get back over and do more walks, even more importantly Sam had a great time on the walk as well. Finally if this little story has wet your appetite for some more about our adventures on the WHW then maybe check out my crazy guy journal, there is over 300 photos on it though, so you'll be in for a long haul if you want to read all my waffle. 

We made it!
After finishing our walk we had three magic days at the Lime Tree Inn in Fort William.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Kings Creek Walk, Watarka National Park - December 2015

I'm sitting on the couch in Alice Springs at the moment, almost unbelievably for summer in Central Australia I've had a rain day. There has been some big floods up in the Daly River area of the Northern Territory while we've been up here, in fact the authorities have evacuated the whole town by helicopter to Darwin and left the town to the Saltwater Croc's who have moved in and are snacking on the local dogs. Now we are copping the tail end of the low in Alice Springs and its been wet and grey all day, even more unbelievably for Alice Springs in summer the temperature today only reached the mid 20's. So while I'm watching the cricket I thought that I'd knock out a post about a nice walk that we did earlier in the trip when we were back at Watarrka National Park, the short Kings Creek Walk.
Heading into Kings Canyon.
I promised Sam that this was a nice easy walk so she decided to join my on this stroll, but after arriving at the car park and finding Kings Creek flowing a banka I wasn't sure it was the smartest thing that I've ever said. A quick look at my (very basic) map showed the track going up the middle of the creek, but I seem to remember the track criss crossing the creek on its way up to the lookout, oh well there was only one way to find out. Setting off the wide paved path the track headed past the locked Kings Canyon Rim Walk, somewhat ironically with all the flowing water around, closed this time of the day due to the heat, about twenty metres after passing the closed track we got to our first water crossing.
The first crossing of Kings Creek.
Now I would normally crap on about how I prepared for my walk and tell you that I'd worn my teva sandals due to me realising the need to wade through the creek, but in reality I was to lazy to pull on my boots for such a short walk. Sam on the other hand came prepared with boots and sensible clothes, so she was no doubt overjoyed to realise that after walking 5 minutes she was going to have to complete the rest of the stroll with wet boots and pants after wading Kings Creek.
Looking up Kings Creek towards the canyon.
Now I've been here at least a dozen times over the years but I've never actually seen Kings Creek flowing so to see it gushing with crystal clear water was a bit of a treat really. Wading in to the first crossing the rushing water was just below knee height, but with the reasonably good path underneath it wasn't too bad. The day was quite warm, probably around the high 30's, but the water was cool and refreshing, I was already checking out likely spots for a dip. With the clear water tannin stained and the red rock underneath it was a little hard to see the bottom once the water got knee deep, so I crossed back and helped Sam over, have I mentioned that it was our anniversary today?  After asking Sam to wade up a creek in her boots, I was keen to do what I could to preserve some marital harmony!

Sam looks happy.....doesn't she?
The walk up Kings Creek continued in much the same fashion, at one stage the track followed long rocky terrace that would normally provide great walking, today we inched our way along trying not to step off the submerged terrace. After safely completing the rock terrace we came to our last crossing of Kings Creek, here we crossed over to the north bank before making the short climb to the lookout. This crossing was slightly deeper and the rushing water was flowing over some descent sized rocks, with the uneven surface and the deep flowing water we had to be a little careful here, I was enjoying the cool water rushing around my legs though so was not too concerned how long it took to get across.
The last crossing was a bit rougher and deeper.
To be honest the lookout is a little bit underwhelming, the views of Kings Canyon on the rim walk are much better, but the walk up the creek under the Red Gums and Cycads had been worth the effort. After taking the obligatory photo of the towering red cliffs at the lookout we started our return walk. Like I've mentioned before I'm quite partial to a nice swim and on the walk up I'd noticed a few likely spots, so on our return walk we detoured off the track to a couple of nice spots for a soak. One of the best things about being out in the bush is finding a nice freshwater swimming hole to take a dip in on a hot day, its a sublime feeling slipping into some cool water and getting that feeling of weightlessness while having a break on a hot walk. Today I set myself up below a small rapid, the cool water pummelling my back and giving me a nice shoulder massage at the same time.
The view to the head of the canyon from the lookout.
Time for a cooling dip.

Sam wasn't as keen as me to jump in so after a short break it was time to climb out of the water and head back to the ute, retracing our steps we manage to negotiate all the crossings without incident. It really had been a privilege to witness Kings Creek in flood.
Heading back down along the submerged rock shelf.

The Dirt.
This is a really easy walk, somehow I managed to stretch it out to 3.1 kilometres although on the signage its listed as 2 km, the extra distance is probably down to me exploring the creek for places to swim. We climbed 66 metres over the three kilometres, most of those metres were probably me climbing in and out of the creek. This walk is near the Kings Canyon Resort at the western end of Watarrka National Park, it is a great walk for small children or the elderly who may find the longer alternative of the Kings Canyon Rim Walk a bit tough. I used John Daly's notes out of his Take A Walk in Northern Territory's National Parks, the notes and map are pretty basic but its all you really need.

For F@#ks sake....
Hey hey, free wifi at the trail head....none at the resort though!

Mushroom Rocks, Baw Baw National Park - June 2016

I mentioned in my last post that I was heading out and doing a snow walk next and indeed that's how it turned out. The weather in Me...