The Crianlarich Hotel is a Best Western faded grandeur offering that sits on one corner of the main junction in the town that marks the half way point of the West Highland Way (WHW). As I would be arriving late the night before the trek I booked myself in for bed, evening meal and breakfast. This also meant that I could park my car in the car park until I got back a week later.
A hotel is a good strategy that ensures you start the trek prepared - and dry. Crianlarich as a start point allowed me to pick up the WHW for the first few miles and I would pick it up again a day from the end. I was keen to see at least part of the route just so that I could experience its character - to see what type of walk it is.
Meals were great at the hotel but breakfast didn't start till 7.30, I was first into the dining room. I started my trek at 8.40 by walking up the road to the railway station, on the opposite side of the road a track undulates through woodland and eventually joins the WHW, which is a broad engineered path heading North West at this point.
The weather was wet, not heavy rain but 'mizzle' then drizzle, I started with full waterpoofs but was overheating quickly, so I switched to softshell and felt instantly more comfortable. The route dallies with the main road before crossing it to visit the site of an ancient priory, then sweeps West to cross the road again. Shortly after this, at a small hamlet called Dalrigh my trek left the WHW and headed up the Cononish valley to the farm of the same name. I crossed the river via the old footbridge and headed directly up the slope till I gained the ridge.
Following the ridge South the weather was deteriorating, heavy mist severely reduced visibility and a light wind turned my hands very cold around my trekking poles, I unpacked the gloves. Eventually I reached the main ridge which forms a T-junction with the climb I had just completed, I turned left and headed up to the summit of Beinn Dubhchraig, arriving at 13.25, about 5 hours after leaving the hotel.
I've climbed this Munro before but on the first occasion the weather was bad and visibility was poor so I'd decided to climb it again - no change there then. The weather was still grim so I didn't linger and returned to the T-junction on the ridge, heading straight past and on to Ben Oss. This requires a bit of descent, a swing to the left and back up onto its summit - which I nearly missed because the path seemed to stray too far to the left and I followed it blindly. There were occasional breaks in the drifting cloud so I could get my bearings and I got a nice glimpse of Loch Oss nestled in the corrie.
On realising that I should have been climbing and the path was contouring I checked my bearing, I then left the path to climb up to my right and gained the summit ridge a short time later, and the summit at 15.15. The route from Ben Oss to Ben Lui involves an initial descent then a coutouring route around the head of a V-shaped valley, and by this time the weather had improved, the drizzle had stopped and at lower altitude, below the cloud, visibility was much better.
At around 5pm I realised that if I continued to the summit of Ben Lui I would have a further descent to a suitable camping spot and I wouldn't therefore finish till quite late. I decided to camp where I was (GR263255) and got the camp setup dry, cooked my meal and settled down to plan my next day. This turned out to be the right decision as the heavens opened at 7.30pm.
After a great nights sleep I got up at 6.50am, porridge and coffee for breakfast, ready to leave by 8.20, 90 minutes from 'wake to walk'. I contoured a bit further then turned right to take the direct line to the summit of Ben Lui. The weather was fantastic, bright sunshine with cloud roving round the summits, I reached the top just before 9.30am. After photos and snack I descended on a good path to the saddle with Beinn a Chleibh then up the other side to the rounded summit.
I decided to pick my way down the the North West face of Beinn a Chleibh as my map showed a path through the plantation below giving access to the River Lochy, but the descent was steep and messy and not recommended. When I did reach the plantation the path was no where to be found - I followed the perimeter East for 20 minutes or so before reaching a gate in the perimeter fence giving access to a path through the plantation. The path obviously linked with the saddle, now high above me, and I realised a much better route would have been to re-trace my steps from the summit of Beinn a Chleibh back to the saddle and down what looked like a good path.
The route through the plantation is nice but its extremely boggy making progress quite slow. I stopped for lunch and a rest at a picturesque clearing before continuing down to the valley floor. At about 1.15pm I arrived at the abrupt end of the path which seemed to give me nowhere to go. Ahead was the railway line and beyond it the river, but there was no access, furthermore there didn't seem to be a route either right or left, I crossed the railway line and waded across the river, it's quite wide at this point but only knee deep. I accessed a car park by the side of the A85 trunk road with a picnic table and emptied the water out of my boots - the sun was hot and I snacked on and energy bar.
The next stage was a walk along the road - it took about 90 minutes to reach the Spar shop in Dalmally which serves take away coffee from a machine in the shop - I had ice cream, two coffees and a portion of a fruit cake brick which would accompany me on the rest of the trip.
I could now leave the A85 and follow a much smaller road through the hamlet of Glenorchy, past the extraordinarily picturesque parish church eventually arriving at the entrance to Castles Farm. Following the track towards the farm gives access to a track that strikes up the fell towards my next Munro Beinn a Chochuill. I reached the point where I would leave the track and climb up to the ridge but it was 6.45pm so that would wait till morning. I set up camp looking back down towards Dalmally and Kilchurn Castle, built on a spit of land jutting into Loch Awe. The weather had remained hot and clear all day.
The weather had changed by the morning - a lot more cloud about, but as yet no rain. I got up at 6.45 and was walking by 8.20am, the climb up to the ridge was comfortable and I turned left to reach the summit of Beinn a Chochuill at around 9.50. There was low cloud at this height so visibility was poor and it was quite cold, luckily very little wind though.
I retraced my steps back down the ridge and up to the summit of Beinn Eunaich which I reached at 11.15. Met another hiker who was out for the day and based in Dalmally. With poor visibility I took bearings to ensure I found the correct path towards Meall Copagach, which is a secondary summit on the ridge that should give me access to the Lairig Dhoireann path down into Glen Kinglass. The path I was following seemed to skirt the summit of Meall Copagach on the left hand side and I initially followed this thinking it must provide a way down. However it petered out and the descent looked precarious so I turned and headed for the summit. Breaks in the cloud allowed me to see a route down to the Lairig Dhoireann which I followed and was glad to see it was a good cairned path.
The cairns didn't stretch very far however and once on the descent the path disappeared again. I followed the line of the path as marked on the map, which swung left and headed West for a good distance before linking with a footbridge over the River Kinglass. Before swinging left though I decided to cross open ground to the right where there was another footbridge that was in the same direction as I was headed - if I could get to it I could save an hour or so. I came across fences, gates and openings which I used to negotiate my way to the footbridge, I had to climb a fence just once but was very careful.
I crossed the bridge (GR152368) in the rain and camped part of the up the next path that follows the right hand bank of Allt Hallater. I stopped at 5pm, it was still raining, the place was thick with small insects, I made my meal and got into the tent at 6.30pm as there was no point in being outside.
Set off about 8.20am. Weather miserable again - visibility was just a few metres at times but the path is quite distinct and I followed it up into the corrie then took a bearing for the saddle on the ridge. On reaching the ridge there's a good path running between Beinn nan Aighenan and the Bheinn Mhor/Ben Starav pairing, I turned right and headed for the summit of Beinn nan Aighenan, visibility still virtually nil I arrived at 10.45am.
I doubled back and headed off for the Ben Starav/Bheinn Mhor ridge and arrived just before twelve and spoke to a couple of hikers who said the weather was to clear after 'lunchtime'. Boosted by this news I had my lunch and headed up the track to Bheinn Mhor, there's a secondary top on the route to the summit so there's a degree of up and down to do - I reached the summit at ten past one with only swift breaks in the cloud to make it interesting.
I retraced my steps back to the saddle and started the ascent of Ben Starav. This is obviously a fantastic ridge walk as you are close to the rocky edge, but with poor visibility I couldn't appreciate it. Close to the summit there's a flattish area marked by a cairn which tested me a bit, I followed a path but it didn't seem to be going in the right direction so I stopped, in the mist I lost a sense of which way I should be going and started taking bearings - these also didn't seem right and a fumbled about for about twenty minutes until I found the summit cairn at 3.45pm.
The way off wasn't clear either and it took a few false starts before I found the path down - which, it turns out, is a very good path, but on the rocky summit with just a few metres visibility its not easy to find. This path takes you all the way down to the Glen Etive valley floor and towards the end of the day the weather did indeed clear up, though the cloud didn't lift from the summit of Ben Starav until later the following day.
I camped by the river as soon as I reached level ground, with the weather much improved and with good access to water I was able to get a much needed comprehensive wash and shave and have a good, long relaxed meal. A great nights sleep also followed.
I woke up after a good sleep in at 7.00am and prepared to leave the tent - as soon as I did though I realised the spot was infested with tiny flies - they were everywhere. I fished out my head net and promptly dismantled camp and packed up. I left at around 7.30 and moved further down towards the main River Etive. Bizzarely I quickly reached a spot where the flies weren't as bad and cooked breakfast.
The next stage is the second road walking section of my route, up Glen Etive till you reach Dalness which gives you access to the Lairig Gartain path cutting through the mountains to Glencoe. There's an opportunity to summit two more Munros today but I was behind on my schedule and decided to follow the pass through to Glencoe instead, eventually today I would reach Kinlochleven at 5.30pm, summiting the Munros would have added a couple of hours to this making a late finish and my arrival in Kinlochleven would also have co-incided with a heavy thunderstorm.
Having said that the ascent of Stob Dubh and Stob Coire Raineach looked easier than I had imagined as I headed through the pass and I have a small regret that I didn't do them.
I reached the A82 and crossed over the the WHW and all of a sudden there were lots of hikers on my route! The WHW is an engineered footpath that crosses moorland to Kinlochleven - the last section makes use of a service road for the Aluminium plant, this road winds cruelly through the forest so that you can see Kinlochleven (KLL)a very long time before you reach it.
There are a few campsites in KLL so I decided to book into the first one, closest to the route. A hot shower was very welcome though I managed to resist the trip to the fish and chip shop and made a meal from the food I'd brought. I had got my tent up just before a really heavy storm hit and spent the evening with WHW hikers in the covered cooking area.
I was dodging the showers to get my camp away relatively dry and the mist was clinging to the lower slopes of the Mamores. I headed up the Na Gruagaichean path to gain the main ridge - though even this path wasn't easy to find and follow, with lots of paths crisscrossing the area around KLL I had a few false starts before I eventually broke out onto the open fells. With low visibility I was glad that the path was quite distinct, in better weather I imagined it was a great path as towards the ridge it clings to the crags.
I had climbed up to the ridge in softshell gear to stop me overheating, but once I gained it I realised it was far too wet for my softshells to cope, I donned full waterproofs, including insulated gloves and considered my next move. I was glad there wasn't much wind, but the rain was now heavy and visibility was at a few metres. There's the opportunity to do a lot of Munros on this ridge before descending to Glen Nevis, but today progress would be slow and navigation would be difficult - not to mention that visibility would be nil.
I decided to go across An Garbanach and down the path on the other side adding just one Munro to my tally, unlike the previous day I would have no regrets about this decision as the weather never let up all day - in the back of my mind I was also leaving enough time to walk the length of Glen Nevis and still get into Fort William in time to get a train back to Crianlarich.
It took me an hour to get from the ridge to the summit of An Garbanach which I reached via the gloriously rocky route at 12 Noon, still no views though. I continued on down the steep and broken path into Glen Nevis. On reaching the floor of the Glen I tried to cross the Allt Coire a Mhail tributary but it was too full, the water roared down the falls and I couldn't see a safe place to cross, which is a pity because this gives access to the footbridge over the Water of Nevis.
Instead I gingerly threaded through the very boggy plain to the main Waters of Nevis river, its wide but shallow so I waded across. Unlike my river crossing on day one I didn't have the hot sun to start the drying process and keeping my spirits upbeat - just the lashing rain. I made up the last of my muesli and ate it up.
A short walk along the path brought me to the carpark, I was tempted to hitch a ride but decided to walk into Fort William, about fifty yards out of the carpark however I was offered a lift by someone leaving - what could I say but 'yes please'.