[Kingshouse to Kinlochleven: 9 miles/14.5 km]
Resting in the shadow of the famous climbing mountain Buachaille Etive Mor (‘the Great Herdsman of Etive’), the Ladies Scottish Climbing Club must be one of the most photographed clubhouses of all time. I’m sure every tourist or trekker than drives or walks through Glen Coe lifts their lenses to the quaint white stone building with the giant craggy face behind it and thinks, ‘Yes. That’s it. I’ve captured Scotland.’
It’s true, you cannot miss this peak as you make the descent from Rannoch Moor, past the ski lodge to the left, and down to the Kingshouse Hotel. The Way leads walkers just past the hotel, which offers food and lodging if you don’t mind the porcelain-doll-behind-dusty-glass-creepy-vibe the place puts off. Zach and I chose to walk three extra miles and camped on a flat space just up the hill, facing Buachaille’s north side.
The rain and wind wailed that night. The storm that passed through this wild stretch of land was so powerful, I thought the stakes of our tent would surely rip from the ground and drag us away. Luckily, we woke up dry and completely intact to a ray of sunlight over the great mountain.
The next section of the trail is known as ‘The Devil’s Staircase’ as it climbs north over the hills and away from Glen Coe. Unlike the climb up Conic Hill, the Staircase is a series of clear cut switchbacks which make the climb more manageable. But between being the highest point on the trail, in the most remote section, and mere kilometers past an iconic peak, you can expect the most spectacular views at the top of the Staircase.
The word ‘dramatic’ pops up a lot when describing the Scottish landscape and that’s because it is a very apt word for what you’re looking at. While standing at the top of the Staircase, the stark peaks of the Glencoe Mountains cut the land to the south and to the northwest a blatantly flat moorland stretches before the distant Mamore peaks and Ben Nevis, Britain’s highest point. It is a horizon of extremes on either side as you make the long descent into Kinlochleven.
And it is a long descent. Six miles of slight downhill which will have you wondering whether this town even exists (especially after the long, empty walk since the Bridge of Orchy), and whether or not potential shin split is a good reason to call it a day just at lunch. You’re getting close as you pass the hydroelectric system for the aluminum smelter and as you snake down the path, the River Leven and the town of Kinlochleven come into view.
Kinlochleven is practically a cosmopolitan hub compared to the villages the Way has passed so far. There are multiple cafes and pubs to choose your lunch from, and several options for all levels of accommodation as well. Nestled snugly in the crook of the valley with Loch Leven stretching out to the west, it is a gorgeous place to hang around and check out if you have the time.
Zach and I had arrived early in the day, however, and our journey took us onward with exciting dreams of Ben Nevis dancing before us. We took one last, fantastic view over Kinlochleven before turning our sights on the last leg of the West Highland Way.