Cape Wrath Trip Report

CAPE WRATH TRAIL – MAY/JUNE 2010

Hikers:

Dr. Robert E. Livezey (66, “Bob”), organizer and de facto leader, retired Chief of US National Weather Service (NWS) Climate Services.

Dr. William G. Collins (69, “Bill”), retired Research Meteorologist at NWS Environmental Modeling Center.

Bartlett Rhoades (67, “Bart”), retired US Department of Defense.

Bob and Bill have over 30 years of long-distance backpacking experience (including completing Appalachian, Long, John Muir, Wonderland, Art Loeb and Tahoe Rim Trails), and are members of Northeast 111ers.

All are regulars of Washington, DC area Tuesday Vigorous Hikers (http://groups.google.com/group/Vigorous-Hikers)

Figure 1 Bill, Bart and Bob (from left) at dock in Ft. William (photo by Bart Rhoades).

Goal:

Fort William to Cape Wrath by foot in 16 days following the Definitive Route (DR) of Brook and Hinchliffe (1999) but with the “Variant Warning” (p. 91) route for Stage 8.

Descriptions and maps for both western and eastern routes from Ft. William to Morvich convinced the organizer that the former was more interesting and challenging than the latter.

Reality:

Perhaps we could have completely fulfilled our goal to the letter if we were all 15 years younger, but it likely would have required 18 days now. Since we were constrained by airplane schedules and home commitments, we made compromises. Nevertheless, we did travel by foot from Ft. William to Cape Wrath following Brook and Hinchliffe’s (1999) DR, but not with the “Variant Warning” alternative, but rather with Variants 9 and 10, and with a Stage 17 Variant that utilized a few kilometers of A837 and a path along the southwest slopes of Glas Bhein.

Bob (from the perspective of age 66) believes he has experienced only a few comparable length trail sections more challenging and difficult. These include the northern 2/3 of Vermont’s Long Trail, the Appalachian Trail from Pinkham Notch, New Hampshire, through the mountains of Western Maine, and the International Appalachian Trail in Quebec through the Matane Reserve and Gaspesie National Park.

The challenge and difficulty were mostly a consequence of the large number of off-trail miles requiring route finding in often very-steep, heavily eroded, highly irregular or complicated terrain with mostly wet, boggy, and uneven footing. Additionally, our packs were as heavy as any we have carried in recent years; everything we brought to Scotland was on our backs the entire time and we were prepared for the full range of Scottish three-season weather and various uncertainties about accommodations and supplies.

Summary of On-Trail Accommodations:

6 tent sites, 2 bothies, 1 hostel bunkroom, 2 hotels (serving dinner), 4 B&Bs. We set off with provisions for about 7 days, counting on many meals at establishments along the way and some resupplying at Kinlochewe.

Accommodation Superlatives:

Kintail Lodge (including best pub food), Clachan Farmhouse B&B (best of all, often missed by others because of Ullapool detour), Newton Lodge Hotel, and Corrie Lochan B&B (Durness). Inchnadamph Bunkhouse and Hostel also deserves mention.

Day by Day:

May 24 – Stage 1 and part of Stage 2 to tent sites beside Allt Camgharaidh at “D” on p. 45. Gorgeous day.

Figure 2 First camp by Allt Camgharaidh (photo by Bill Collins).

May 25 – Rest of Stage 2 (large herds of deer descending to Strathan) and most of Stage 3 to Sourlies. We were advised by the tenting Scottish party of 4 (also heading to Cape Wrath) that there was room in the bothy. Another fine day.

Figure 3 Knoydart (photo by Bill Collins).

May 26 – Rest of Stage 3 and Stage 4 to B&B at Kinlochhourn (which also provided dinner and trail lunch). Third day of exceptional weather. Scottish party stopped at Barrsidale.

Figure 4 Carnoch ruins (photo by Bill Collins).

May 27 – Stage 5 to Kintail Lodge Hotel (Wee Bunkhouse, fantastic dinner, and laundry). Snow on the peaks overnight, some rain (and a wonderful rainbow) in the morning, ice pellets below the Saddle.

Figure 5 On Meallan Odhar (photo by Bill Collins).

May 28 – Stage 6 to tent sites next to bridge and phone booth (hostel was full) in Killilan. After Falls of Glomach, rain, wind (in face) and cold got steadily worse. Spoke briefly to tenting Scottish party of 2, not registering the fact that they were half of the party of 4 we spoke to at Sourlies.

Figure 6 Refuge in Killilan (photo by Bill Collins).

May 29 – Rainy Stage 7 to Strathcarron Hotel (dinner, in not-so-friendly pub, and trail lunch provided). Witnessed a wonderful demonstration of sheepdog teamwork and discipline in fields approaching Attadale.

Figure 7 Strathcarron (photo by Bill Collins).

May 30 – Stage 8 and Stage 9 (with Variant 9) to Taransay B&B in Kinlochewe (lunch provided, had dinner at the hotel, and resupplied at the store). We should have headed for the A896 when we reached the ex-“forest.” Regrettably we continued. We made it through the logged-over area fine, but struggled to stay on a reasonable course and maintain a reasonable pace the last mile along the river into Kinlochewe. On the positive side the weather was good, and we saw the 2 Scots we tented with in Killilan in the pub and finally struck up a decent conversation. Colin and Hugh turned out to be friendly, interesting, and very helpful guys who were our pleasure to see often during the remaining miles to Cape Wrath. They were reprising an attempt to complete the trek that was cut short in Inchnadamph the previous October.

Figure 8 Morning break on the A890 (photo by Bill Collins).

May 31 – Stage 10 (with Variant 10) to tent sites at head of Loch An Nid. Good weather, enjoyed the route finding.

Figure 9 First sight of Loch an Nid (photo by Bill Collins),

June 1 – Stages 11 and 12 to Inverlael and Clachan Farmhouse B&B (dinner, lunch and laundry provided by the friendly, charming hostess). Bill and Bart got yelled at by a lady in Croftown who objected to us walking outside her fence, thereby inconveniencing her dog, rather than further up the hill through the thick gorse. No sign of Hugh and Colin who detoured to Ullapool.

Figure 10 Descent to Inverlael (photo by Bill Collins).

June 2 – Stage 13 to Knockdamph Bothy. More interesting route finding. We shared the bothy with Kevin from Kent who just completed his first day of his last section of the Cape Wrath Trail (passing us along the way). I failed to see the note for us from Colin and Hugh left in the bothy’s logbook.

Figure 11 Bothy neighbors (photo by Bill Collins).

June 3 – Stages 14, 15, and first part of 16 to tent sites about 1 km beyond Benmore Lodge. Charlie, the care keeper at the lodge, asked us very nicely not to pitch our tents across the small cove from and in sight of the lodge buildings. We obliged, but it extended a long day. Apparently Colin and Hugh ended up nearby, but we didn’t see them until the next morning. Along the way, just before crossing the Abhainn Dubhag, was a wonderful wood sculpture of an otter and salmon beside the track. We also stopped to treat ourselves to lunch at the Oykel Bridge Hotel.

Figure 12 Otter and salmon (?) (photo by Bart Rhoades).

June 4 – The rest of Stage 16 to Inchnamdamph Hostel and Bunkroom (laundry provided, dinner at the hotel). We shared a bunkroom with Hugh and Colin and 3 young Americans from Alabama taking 10 days to do Ullapool to Cape Wrath. The good weather continues.

Figure 13 Slabbing under Conival (photo by Bill Collins).

June 5 – With the realization that we would have to string together two straight 16 mile days beyond Kylesku to get to Sandwood Bay by the evening of June 7, we decided (on Colin’s recommendation) to adopt a less challenging, but culturally interesting and quite scenic alternative to Stage 17. The route leaves A837 at the sites of the Chambered Cairn and Ardvreck Castle and takes the track, and later path, past the Achmore Farm, finally connecting to the A894 near the DR. Our finish point for the day was the junction to Kylesku (where we got dinner), although we stayed at the Newton Lodge Hotel (breakfast, lunch, laundry, and shuttles provided).

Figure 14 Ardvreck Castle (photo by Bart Rhoades).

June 6 – Stage 18 and much of Stage 19 to tent sites where the track crosses Alltan Riabhach at “D” on p. 181. Long, difficult, mostly overcast day, which concluded with making a lumpy camp in a steady rain at the foot of “gloomy” Arkle (although I luckily woke at the right moment to witness wonderful alpenglow on the mountain). We experienced our only major midge swarm of the whole trip at our break in the forest just before Lochmore Lodge, leaving us with some appreciation of what a factor midges must be when it is their optimal season.

Figure 15 Alpenglow on Arkle (courtesy of Iceland volcanic ash, photo by Bill Collins).

June 7 – Rest of Stage 19, Stage 20, and part of Stage 21 to tent sites in the dunes at the outlet of Sandwood Loch. After the undefined path and the “path of sorts” in the morning we stopped for coffee at Rhiconich Hotel, before the long, but quite pleasant, road walk to Sandwood Bay. The weather was gorgeous, with the lighthouse marking our goal visible soon after leaving Blairmore. We pitched our tents close to Colin and Hugh’s.

Figure 16 Cape Wrath from Sandwood Beach; blow up to see lighthouse halfway along ridge on horizon (photo by Bill Collins).

June 8 – Arrived at Cape Wrath close to noon about 30 minutes behind Hugh and Colin in excellent weather. Appropriately, free whiskey was being served. After about an hour of basking in the glow of our achievement, checking out the sights, and having our group finish pictures taken, we crammed onto the old Mercedes shuttle with quite a few tourists for the bumpy ride to the ferry and ultimately Durness, the next day’s long bus and train rides to Glasgow, and the following day’s flight home.

Figure 17 The final steps (photo by Bill Collins).

Figure 18 Bob, Colin, Bart, Bill and Hugh (from left, photo by Bill Collins).