In the first of our new Hillwalk Stories series, Helen Midouhas from Pennsylvania, USA, revisits her West Highland Way hike in May 2017 with Hillwalk Tours.
There are those trips that you can’t stop talking about years later. These are those trips that when someone asks you about it, you go off and forget the present and you are right there, experiencing the sights, sounds, and emotions. And, if you are with the others you traveled with, well, forget it, you can’t get us to stop. This kind of trip I am referring to is the one that two girlfriends and I took in May of 2017 to Scotland to hike the West Highland Way trail with Hillwalk Tours. We started in Crainlarich and ended at Fort William. We added an additional itinerary before and after the tour so we could get as much of Scotland in as we could (Isle of Skye, St. Andrews, Edinburgh, a castle stay, and of course, a whisky flight, or several).
When people ask “What is your hobby?” I often say traveling. Sounds kind of pathetic maybe, I mean who doesn’t want to vacation for a hobby, and where is the skill and fortitude in that hobby? However, for me, it is all about the pursuit, the planning, the preparing, and the execution of it. It is the thrill of the hunt, or what I imagine to be a thrill, as I don’t hunt. You will find my head down in travel books or apps, not only for the recommended sights but for those places off the beaten path – those places that if found and explored, feel like a trophy, albeit a mental one. Hillwalk’s West Highland Way tour provided me with all of this. A great hunt, a hike that was off the beaten track, and an incredible feeling every night when we peeled off our hiking socks and boots, expecting to find nothing left.
As noted, all three of us can get lost in the memories, but one that I still ruminate about (especially when I can’t sleep and instead of counting sheep – I revisit favorite expeditions) involves two words, “Devil’s Staircase.” We chose the challenging-level hike given all of us were in good shape and for one of us, hiking is like a religion. However, we were a bit wary of Day 3, Inveroran to Kinlochleven, 30 KM/ 7-10-hour walk only because of the reference to the staircase.
That day, like every day, started with a beautiful morning. We left after yet another incredible deep sleep session. That particular day, the hike was just breathtaking.
However, when I set my eyes on the staircase, midday, it was like “WHOA!” and “CAN I DO THIS?”. Well, of course I can and basically, I must. We all got in our own minds (what my one friend calls “the zone”) as we ascended the 800 meters. The beauty of the area was mesmerizing. I kept thinking about the depths of us in the valley versus the peaks of the mountains. I have been to many mountain areas and lived in the Rockies, but there is always a busy-ness around you so that scale is interrupted, but out there, it was stark. The perpendicularity of the mountains to the valley was pure science fiction. Jets flew around us, lower than the peaks and added to the perspective. This stared us in the face as we realized we would go over one of these boulders:
So, my favorite story starts with how I psyched myself to get up the staircase. I borrowed a walking stick and endured the climb by using 12 steps, 12 deep breaths. I most likely hyperventilated doing that but it created a rhythm for me. For once I shut up (our religious hiker friend would have been so proud. She goes into a zone and does not talk and is usually 10-20 feet ahead of us). My chatty friend was ahead of me and we exchanged a few words here and there, mostly grunts. But the best exchange was when we caught up and asked “where is Stacey?” Losing sight of her was not unusual; we usually caught up with her. I thought, maybe we are ahead of her, finally!!! She wore pink that day, so she shouldn’t have been hard to spot. When we were close to the summit we looked up and there she was:
We couldn’t believe it. She was already at the summit, and when we reached her, we learned she had been there for a while. In fact, she had been there so long, she had built a rock sculpture and shared a champagne with others who celebrated the summit. Pretty remarkable. But even more remarkable, us three middle-aged ladies had done it!
That night, at a Kinlochleven pub, we collapsed, drank the best pint ever and peeled those socks and shoes off. What a feeling! There is no better feeling physically than the evening ritual of removing the boots and socks. Mentally, there is no better mindset than one that comes from achievement. Problem was, after more pints and a delicious pub meal, we had yet another short hike to our B&B. I almost hiked it barefoot!
The B&B was Snow White themed. We felt like the three dwarves coming home, or more like the three bears, who found huge fluffy beds and a foot bath, that I immediately put to use.
Before bed, our one friend Marianne shared her fit bit and we had walked 21.11 miles, and 46,728 steps.
We felt invincible. That high still lives in me and given the way my friends and I can so easily go back there, the high lives in them too.
We are now on another hunt, this time Hillwalk’s Camino Frances hike in 2021. We can hardly wait!
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