Evening Hike, Devil’s Den, Weston CT – October 2nd

AMC-logoFollowing a successful evening outing last week, I will lead another Appalachian Mountain Club Connecticut Chapter hike in the Den this Thursday. Details from the AMC announcement below.

C2C means under 5 miles, fast pace, average terrain. There is no need to be an AMC member.

Thu., Oct. 2. Ambler Gorge, Devil’s Den, Weston (C2C), West of River, CT. We will take an evening hike to Ambler Gorge and back, taking in streams, ledges, and the rocky chasm itself. We’ll cover approximately 3.0 miles of mostly gentle grades in about 1.5 hrs, stopping at vistas on the Ambler Trail. Meet Pent Road parking area 4:30 p.m. for 4:45 sharp departure. Co-Lead welcome. Call Rob to car-pool from Rte 7 commuter parking lot next to Orem’s Diner, Wilton. Heavy rain cancels. L Rob McWilliams (203-434-0297, robert.c.mcwilliams@gmail.com).

Across Scotland – Ratagan to Fort William

Start, finish and overnight stops of Week Three.

Start, finish and overnight stops of Week Three.

Week Three of my 2011 walk across Scotland took me to Fort William, the halfway point. A town of 10,000 people, it felt like a metropolis after the northwest Highlands. I reached it after a 22-mile, storm-battered day on the Great Glen Way, and stayed for two full days to get ready for the West Highland Way.

Fort William doesn’t get good reviews. The Rough Guide uses adjectives like grubby, wrecked and tacky to describe different aspects of the town. I did find hanging out there for two days tedious at times, but all my days off were a bit like that. Perhaps it was the sudden loss of the easy purpose of walking. Anyway, there was plenty about Fort William that I liked, from friendly folk through good curries to the West Highland Museum.

Notes for Week Three:

START: Ratagan youth hostel, Saturday September 17th.
FINISH: Fort William, Wednesday 21st.
DISTANCE: 67 miles.

TERRAIN: The usual selection, plus canal towpath into Fort William.
BEST WEATHER: Occasional sunshine, rainbows.
WORST WEATHER: Gale-force winds, lashing rain by Loch Lochy, south of Laggan.
WILDLIFE HIGHLIGHT: Thinking of – but not actually seeing – wildcats in Glen Affric.

Day 15 - At Bealach an Sgàirne,  looking east toward Glen Affric.

Day 15 – At Bealach an Sgàirne, looking east toward Glen Affric.

MOST IMPRESSIVE HILL: Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan (skoor nan ker-uh-van) seen from the glen between Glen Affric and the Cluanie Inn.

BEST COMPANY: Colin, warden of the Glen Affric youth hostel and maker of strong tea.
BEST “CRAIC”: At the Tomdoun Hotel, now sadly closed – good food, drink and talk in Scottish, English, Dutch and Hungarian-Romanian company.

BEST LODGING: For location and atmosphere, it has to be the Glen Affric youth hostel, 6 miles from the nearest tarmac. But I must mention the spotless Great Glen Hostel in Laggan too.

Day 18 - Loch Garry towards hills of Knoydart, a few miles from Tomdoun.

Day 18 – Loch Garry towards hills of Knoydart, a few miles from Tomdoun.

HIGHEST HIGH: Finding, eventually, a faint path leading away from the River Loyne. Without it, I’d have been heather-whacking over to Glen Garry.
LOWEST LOW: Occasional tedium in Fort William. I enjoyed much of the stay, but the days were gray, and kicking my heels was hard.

HISTORY NOTE: The last ten miles into Fort William followed the Caledonian Canal. It opened in 1822 after 19 years under construction, but quickly became a white elephant as the new ships – built of iron and powered by steam – neither fitted in it nor needed its shelter.

Taking a Hike – Treading Redding

Rock Lot & Scott Preserve, Redding CT - Warrups Rock, named for Indian leader Chickens Warrups.

Rock Lot & Scott Preserve, Redding CT – Warrups Rock, named for Indian leader Chickens Warrups.

“Taking a Hike”, my monthly column, was published last week. After New York’s Catskills in July and Vermont’s mountains in August, September’s column is local – the town of Redding CT. Local, but far from familiar. I’ve written about two walks, and less than ten miles of trail, all new to me. There are at least 50 more miles of Redding trails to explore, all attractively set out in the town’s The Book of Trails. I plan to hit as many as possible. Anyway, please enjoy the column either at The Hour or Hersam-Acorn Arts & Leisure.

June’s “Taking a Hike” is now available in full on this site (via the Taking a Hike tab – 2014: “June – Spring Miscellany” – or by clicking here).

Across Scotland – Shenavall Bothy to Ratagan

CW to SF Week 2Following on from last week’s post, here are notes, a map and two pictures for the second week of my walk across Scotland three years ago. I did fewer miles this week. Partly it was lollygagging. But I also suffered injuries that slowed things up – a bruised rib from a slip on a mountainside and, more seriously, a strained thigh muscle. I am quite sure the strain was caused by an assault course of a trail leaving Kinlochewe. Anyway, I ended up walking only four days out of seven.

Tomorrow, of course, is a huge day for Scotland, probably the biggest for 307 years. Whichever way the vote goes – independence or staying a part of the UK  – the trails, I suspect, will be much the same. Or maybe I have missed a promise or a warning from the campaign. Week Two:

START: Shenavall bothy, Saturday September 10th.
FINISH: Ratagan youth hostel, Friday 17th.
DISTANCE: 53 miles.

TERRAIN: Same as the first week, everything from trackless mountain to the main A87 road, with every standard of path and track in between.
BEST WEATHER: Thursday, definitely. Sunny and warm for the hike over a 1,700-foot bealach (pass) to Loch Duich.
WORST WEATHER: The remnants of Hurricane Katia on Monday bringing heavy rain to Glen Carron.
WILDLIFE HIGHLIGHT: Startling a stag below Bealach na Croise, north of Kinlochewe.

Day Eight - An Teallach from near Loch an Nid, the "Great Wilderness".

Day Eight – An Teallach from near Loch an Nid, the “Great Wilderness”.

MOST IMPRESSIVE HILL: An Teallach (photo right – the far-off, jagged ridge).

BEST COMPANY: Joe and Brid from Ayrshire, fellow guests at the Strathcarron Hotel. They set me on the right track to fix my injured leg, and were good company too during my enforced rest.
BEST “CRAIC”: The bar of the Kinlochewe Hotel – MC’ed by barman Scott.

Day 13 - Climbing above Camusluinie.

Day 13 – Climbing above Camusluinie.

BEST LODGING: Willie Nicolson’s bunkhouse in Camusluinie, all to myself and a wood-burning stove too.
HIGHEST HIGH: Probably seeing a soaked tent with two mountain bikes strewn outside it after decending from Bealach na Croise. They meant I would surely soon find the trail to Kinlochewe next after miles of heather-whacking.
LOWEST LOW: No doubt about this one. Developing a shooting pain along the inside of my right thigh on Monday, and fearing the whole hike might be over. Katia’s rain came along to cheer things up further.

HISTORY NOTE: The area around Kyle of Lochalsh is the most Gaelic-speaking of mainland Scotland (about 20% of the local people can speak the language). I heard not a snatch. A thousand years ago nearly all Scotland spoke this Celtic tongue. Only parts of Skye and the Outer Hebrides are majority Gaelic-speaking today.

Across Scotland – Cape Wrath to Shenavall Bothy

CW to SF Week 1

Three years and one week ago today I set off into the rough grass at Cape Wrath – mainland Britain’s most northwesterly point – to start a lone hike across Scotland. The walk was the fulfilment of a persistent ambition, and it turned into six weeks and 400 miles of rewards and ordeals – mostly rewards.

To remember it, I am going to post a few notes every week until mid-October. The notes will correspond to a week on the hike. I’ll include a couple of good photos and a map. The first map is above. It shows the location within Scotland of that first week’s trek, and my overnight stops (six – I stayed two nights in Ullapool).

I say “to remember” the walk, but that is perhaps misleading; I have never really stopped thinking about it for long. In part, that is because it was one of the best experiences of my life (after marriage, kids, that sort of thing). Mostly, though, it is because I have been writing about the journey, on and off, ever since. I do not know yet when or how exactly the book will be published, but I hope these notes whet your appetite for adventure in Scotland, whether your own or of the armchair variety. So here goes, Week One.

START: Cape Wrath lighthouse, Saturday September 3rd.
FINISH: The bothy (walkers’ hut) at Shenavall in the “Great Wilderness”, Friday 9th.
DISTANCE: 90 miles.  

Cape Wrath to the Solway

Day Three – Looking north from Bealach nam Fiann (between Achfary and Kylesku).

TERRAIN: Everything from trackless moor to two-lane road, with every permutation of path and track in between.
BEST WEATHER: Sunday morning, when the sun shone bright on Loch Inchard.
WORST WEATHER: A lot of competition for this one. I’ll go for the bone-chilling wind and horizontal rain on the slopes of Glas Bheinn on the Tuesday.
WILDLIFE HIGHLIGHT: The snorting seals of Kylesku.
MOST IMPRESSIVE HILL: The jagged ridge of Suilven seen from NE of Inchnadamph.

BEST COMPANY: The young couple who, at the end of my first day, brought me a cup of lukewarm, too-milky tea, and made up for it with great conversation.
BEST “CRAIC”: The bar of the Kylesku Hotel.

Cape Wrath to the Solway

Day Seven – Shenavall bothy in the “Great Wilderness” (actually taken on the morning of Day Eight).

BEST LODGING: The Inchnadamph Hotel was very welcoming, but Shenavall bothy (left) all to myself is the winner.
HIGHEST HIGH: Again, a lot of competition – my first steps from Cape Wrath; sunny Loch Inchard; pitching my tent in the heather five minutes from the Kylesku Hotel. But I’m going to go for Bealach nam Fiann, pictured above. A bealach is a hill pass, and from this one I could see a day’s worth of hiking behind and ahead.  
LOWEST LOW: The last dim, rain-lashed miles to Shenavall bothy (followed, it must be said, by a big up as soon as I was inside the shelter).

HISTORY NOTE: I spent two days crossing the district of Assynt (Kylesku to a little north of Ullapool). It was an area badly affected by the Clearances – the removal of people by their landlords to make way for sheep in the late 1700s and the 1800s. The people of Assynt gained a kind of justice for this in the 1990s when they banded together as the Assynt Crofters’ Trust to wrestle their land from fickle modern landowners and big-time finance.    

Taking a Hike – Two Peaks in Vermont

The "Chin" and Summit of Mt Mansfield, VT.

The “Chin” and Summit of Mt Mansfield, VT.

One of the good things I have discovered about writing about hikes is that it keeps them alive for longer. Before, I took a hike, then came home and forgot about it. I exaggerate, but the hikes did go little reflected upon. Now, to take the example of the two climbs that are the subject of August’s “Taking a Hike” column, I went hiking, posted a few notes and pictures about it on this blog, and later wrote a column based on the outings. Then, when the column was published, I re-read it in order to write this post. It has all served to keep the Vermont hikes pleasantly front and center for a month and a half. It might be time to move on. But before I do, here are the links to the column at The Hour and Hersam Acorn Arts & Leisure.

May’s “Taking a Hike” is now available in full on this site (via the Taking a Hike tab – 2014: “May – Norwalk River Valley” – or by clicking here).

Day Hike Notes – Mount Mansfield, Vermont

On the "chin" of Mt Mansfield, highest point in Vermont.

On the “chin” of Mt Mansfield, highest point in Vermont.

On our way home from Quebec last month, as on the outward journey, youngest and I stopped in Vermont to climb a mountain. This time it was Mount Mansfield. Unlike Mount Pisgah, nobody had recommended it. In fact, everything I had heard suggested that Camel’s Hump – VT’s highest undeveloped peak – would be the better hike. We went to Mt Mansfield for the essentially dumb reason that it is the highest in the state. Hey, I’ve now been on top of seven state high-points. Whoop-de-doo!

We lucked out with our weather and accommodation. Torrential rain gave way to sun for our drive into Vermont, and the sun mostly stayed with us on the mountain. Underhill State Park was the real stroke of luck. We drove to it as a name on the map, without knowing if we could even pitch a tent there. At 15 miles off I-89, some of them on dirt, it would have been a long wild-goose chase. The park turned out to be a gem, a basic campground in cool woods hard against the mountain; and right at the start of the trails leading up to the alpine tundra.

DATE: Wednesday, July 30th.
START & FINISH: Underhill State Park campground, Underhill, VT.
ROUTE: CCC Road–Halfway House Trail-The Long Trail-Sunset Ridge Trail.
DISTANCE: 6.8 miles.
TIME: 5-6 hours, with lots of lingering.
TERRAIN: 2,550’ elevation gain to 4,395’ summit. Some clambering on slick rock higher up the Halfway House Trail. Easy going on ridge (Long Trail). A few downhill scrambles on the Sunset Ridge Trail.
MAPS: Simple trail map available from state park office, alternatively “Northern Vermont Hiking Trails” (4th edition) from Map Adventures.

WEATHER: Dry and mostly sunny.
WILDLIFE: Turkey vultures (?) circling the summit.

PHOTOS: Here, including some from our earlier Mount Pisgah hike.
BREAKFAST: Coffee, cereal, odds and ends at campground.
LUNCH: Cold quesadillas, assorted trail food on the way down.
– The mountain’s undeveloped and picturesque west side.
– Views from the ridge to Lake Champlain and the Adirondacks.
– Hearing the sounds of Stowe resort (east side, 2,800’ below) from the summit.
– The busy ridge, made possible by the Toll Road from Stowe.
KIT: Be prepared to put poles away when the clambering starts.
COMPANY: Only my daughter until the ridge, thereafter throngs (well, not exactly Times Square, but thronged for a mountain top).

Sunset Ridge, along which runs the Sunset Ridge Trail.

Sunset Ridge, along which runs the Sunset Ridge Trail.