Before reading about how I tackled the Devil’s Staircase, if you’ve not yet read days 1-5 on my West Highland Way Adventure: Start Here
Despite my amazing and tranquil accommodation in Kinlochleven, waking up after a 20 mile hike knowing you have something called “the Devil’s Staircase” to tackle on your next hike definitely makes you feel a bit worried. My body was tired, but the wonderful night here had my mind feeling refreshed. It was only a 9 mile day, so perhaps the ominous name wasn’t so ominous in reality.
This morning, I had to be more structured heading to breakfast. My transfer would be arriving at a set time to take me back to Kingshouse, where I left off. I enjoyed my breakfast from the perfect people watching spot at a table in the back corner. I was grateful I’d return here for another night’s stay.
After 20 miles on the rough parliamentary roads yesterday, this one should be a piece of cake. My mind was feeling good, I just hoped my aching muscles would cooperate, too.
Back to Kingshouse
My transfer arrived promptly at his designated time and took me back to Kingshouse. It was an overcast and rainy Scottish day, but I didn’t mind it one bit. The only thing I was sad about was that the visibility in the iconic valley at Glencoe was low.
The start of the hike was relatively easy, with little incline and some flat stretches along the road. It felt like there were more people out and about, however this was a common area for people to visit and hike outside of the West Highland Way, so it wasn’t surprising.
As the trail veered away from the A82 highway toward more rugged terrain, I wondered to myself, “is this it? Is the famous Devil’s Staircase arriving soon?”. I didn’t research much about the path ahead each day, only quick overviews on what to expect. The more I looked into things, the more mental terrorism I set myself up for. I did better going with the flow, not knowing exactly what lay ahead or which mile I was at.
The Devil’s Staircase
When you approach the climb, the trail starts a zig-zag pattern up to the steepest point of the climb (and along the West Highland Way). The Devil’s Staircase got its name sometime between the 18th and 20th century. After a night out in the pub after work, many dam workers had to struggle up the path, and underestimating the trail in harsh conditions, didn’t make it home. It is said they were “claimed by the devil”.
My own climb up the Devil’s Staircase wasn’t as treacherous as I’d imagined. It was busier on the trail than previous mornings. I stopped often for rest breaks or waiting for people in front of me. Don’t get me wrong, I was still *heavy breathing*, but I felt like I struggled more on the Conic Hill climb. Perhaps because that stretch was earlier along the Way and I was less conditioned, or because it did not have the zig-zag path to soften to blow.
Despite the overcast day, the scenery below was beautiful. I stopped often to snap pictures and enjoy the view. I can’t imagine how it looks on a clear day! Remember to take a break from climbing and stop to enjoy the view.
Not Today, Satan
I made it through what I thought would be the most challenging portion of the day. At the top, there was a rocky section with a large cairn where climbers tossed their rocks after a successful climb. I didn’t contribute to many of these cairns on the hike, but I did toss one in here.
The descent was steady and offered more beautiful views of the mountains. I loved the contrasting green grass with the clouds as I walked. The weather was cool and I was enjoying the ease of the descent, so I took my time knowing it was a shorter day.
Kinlochleven in Sight
Because I stayed in the village the night before, I knew it when I saw it. Surely it was closer than it appeared and it wouldn’t be another Kingshouse situation where it still took ages to get there. I hiked on, excited to be back in my lovely room overlooking the river to rest my tired legs.
I trucked along, enjoying the views. It wasn’t until we got out of the views and closer to the town that my mental strength started to fail.
Is This Really a Short Day?
Despite being a shorter day than others on the trail, this last stretch dragged on for ages. The scenery wasn’t as spectacular the more we descended, and the trail ended up along a paved road. Without the scenery, the path can be more mentally challenging to tackle. This, in combination of it feeling longer than it actually was, made this stretch particularly painful for me.
I was able to distract myself close to town by looking at the hydro power station and waterfall. The large pipes running down the hill fascinated me. I found myself thinking that it would also make for a fun, but intense, water slide.
Back to My Little Oasis
After what felt like an eternity, I made it back into Kinlochleven. If I was in any shape to run, I would have sprinted to my little spot in the window to unwind and listen to the river outside.
I felt bad that I had such a mental struggle on my penultimate day on the trail. I found myself wishing it didn’t have to end so soon, despite all the ups and downs (literally and figuratively). I’d make the most of my last day. After all, who knew when I’d get to go on one of these adventures again.
Per usual, I got back and was ready for a shower. As I took my braids out, I discovered that the Scottish rain was much better for my hair than the Missouri humidity. It’s too bad I can’t bottle it up and tame the frizz back here at home.
Before heading to dinner, I enjoyed my final night in my lovely little oasis, sitting in front of the window and reading a book. Dinner in the pub was once again an enjoyable experience, with great service and a drink. Of all the places I stayed, this was one I was extra sad to leave.
One More Day
In the morning, I would embark on my final day, closing my chapter on the West Highland Way. I wasn’t excited that it was almost over, but it did mean other exciting things were coming. I was a little over a day away from reuniting with Chris in Edinburgh, and a few days away from my Wedding in Scotland.
Cheyenne – 1, Devil’s Staircase – 0