Author: Emily@TMBtent

How to Train for the West Highland Way

When it comes to having your best possible West Highland Way experience, there are some things that are out of your control (weather, midges, crowds, travel delays), but there are…

When it comes to having your best possible West Highland Way experience, there are some things that are out of your control (weather, midges, crowds, travel delays), but there are a few key things you can control that will make all the difference.  Perhaps even more important than planning out the logistics, knowing how to navigate, and packing the right gear, is making sure you are prepared both physically and mentally for this major undertaking.  

Views from the top of the Devil’s Staircase- a fitting reward to a challenging climb!

Because of its relatively low elevation and minimal technicality, the WHW is a very approachable long-distance trek for the casual hiker. That being said, it’s still a serious feat of endurance that will push you to new limits.  You will enjoy your trip infinitely more if you train ahead of time. This is even more true if you plan on camping (and carrying the heavier backpack that goes with it).  If you don’t know where to start when it comes to training, don’t worry- we’ve got you covered. Read on for straightforward advice on how to feel your best and enjoy your West Highland Way experience to the fullest.

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Six Months Before Your Trip: Build the Base

Obviously, everyone will approach the WHW with varying levels of fitness, past injuries, and overall health needs.  You’ll know your individual situation best, but you should generally focus on building your aerobic endurance in the months leading up to your trip. While most of your days on the Way won’t be particularly steep, they will be quite long.  On our 8-day trek we averaged around 12 miles (19.25 km) per day, with our longest day being 15 miles (24 km). These distances are no joke, especially when carrying a heavy pack and hiking day after day with little rest in between.

For this part of the training, if you’re already a runner/walker/cyclist/etc, just keep doing your thing!  If you don’t regularly do any sort of “cardio” exercise, or you mainly focus on yoga and strength training, start trying to incorporate longer bouts of walking or running into your regular routine in order to build an endurance base. This will lay your fitness foundation for more challenging training in the future.

Three Months Before Your Trip: Focus on Strong Legs

Relative to other popular long-distance hikes, the topography of the West Highland Way is on the gentler side.  You won’t be required to traverse over high mountain passes each day or spend hours navigating insanely steep ascents and descents. Don’t let these facts fool you into thinking this hike will be easy though- it won’t be! You’ll still be covering long stretches of undulating terrain with a variety of underfoot conditions.  In order to feel great throughout your trip and avoid injury and burnout, you’ll need the endurance base you started building in the previous training phase, plus ample leg strength. Ideally, at this point in your training you should increase the frequency and intensity of your hiking. Your main goal is to build your aerobic endurance and train your leg muscles for long-distance hiking.

If you can’t hit the trails, you can achieve similar results by doing anything that involves incline: bike uphill, set a treadmill to high incline, or spend some time on the step machine at your gym.  Heck, you could even walk the stairs at the local high school stadium if you wanted to. Additionally, try to incorporate a leg strengthening routine into your weekly training. Everyone’s fitness goals are different, but we generally recommend completing the following short workout 2-3 times per week to build Highland-ready legs: 10 goblet squats (with medium weight), 10 lunges on each leg (add weight or jumps to increase challenge), and 10 step-ups on each leg (weight optional). Complete three sets of each exercise.

Shoreline walking on Day Two.

Two Months Before Your Trip: Put on Your Pack

Remember all of that brand new gear sitting in your closet? Now is the time to break it in! In the eight weeks or so before your trip, try get in as many longer hikes (or walks) with your gear as possible.  Think of it as a “dress rehearsal” for your trek. The benefits of breaking in your gear at this point are twofold. First, you’ll be able to test your boots, backpack, socks, and so on to ensure that they fit well during longer hikes. Second, you’ll begin training your body to hike while wearing a heavy backpack.  If you’re new to backpacking, you’ll be surprised by how much more challenging it is to hike with the extra weight. For me, the biggest adjustment was learning to deal with the extra strain on my hips and knees when hiking downhill. Even if you’ve been strength training, chances are you’ll be using new muscles when hiking with a backpack.

The best way to condition your body? Hiking as much as possible with that heavy backpack! You might be wondering how to add weight to your pack without completely packing for your trip. Our advice? Look around your home and throw anything-literally anything- heavy into your bag. When we were training, we threw five-pound weights, jars of oats, bottles of water, blankets, and textbooks into our bags. Then we headed over to our local trail. Did some fellow hikers look at us like we were crazy with our giant backpacks? Yes. But did we strike up some awesome conversations AND get our bodies in shape for the WHW in the process? You better believe it.

Reminder: During this training phase, you should keep up your aerobic and strength training from the previous sections!

 

Camping on the West Highland Way? Save time and money with our downloadable guide!

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One Month Before Your Trip: Time for a Test Run (Hike)

This stage in your training is awesome because it requires you to take a vacation (you’re welcome). If at all possible, try to take a 1-2 night backpacking trip in your local woods.  If you aren’t planning on camping along the Way, you don’t need to take an overnight trip, but you should still try to fit in two back-to-back days of long, hard hiking. This important step allows you to try out different ways of packing your backpack for maximum fit and comfort, practice setting up camp, and get your body used to hiking for consecutive days in a row. It will also give you the chance to see what items you packed that you don’t need, and what you may have forgotten.

Old drover roads can make for rocky underfoot conditions.

Special Considerations for the West Highland Way:

Underfoot Conditions

There are many sections of the WHW that present walkers with less than desirable “underfoot conditions.” When I read that term in my guidebook before starting the trek, I kept thinking to myself,  What does that even mean? Well, let me enlighten you. It means it’s going to be really, really rocky. Like, walking for several miles along an old drover road that seems to be entirely comprised of baseball-sized stones kind of rocky.  We didn’t find this troublesome to the point where a specific training regimen was warranted, but it is worth mentioning for a few reasons.

First, even though the trail might be pretty flat, challenging underfoot conditions can mean that you are expending extra energy (both mental and physical) and using additional leg and core muscles to navigate the trail.  This is where your training will really pay off! You might also consider taking an added break and/or slowing your pace on these sections to prevent fatigue. Finally, make sure you have trekking poles and sturdy boots too minimize the chance of twisting an ankle or straining a muscle.

Get Your Head in the Game

This article mainly discussed how to train your body for the West Highland Way, but of equal (if not greater) importance is the mental side of things. Numerous research studies have demonstrated that we can train our brains to improve mental toughness. It is inevitable that you will face challenges during your hike from fatigue, long days, discomfort, poor weather, or swarms of midges.

 Hopefully the long training hikes you took in preparation for the WHW will have helped you to build the confidence you need to remind yourself that you can push through the less-than-wonderful moments and savor the amazing experience you’re having. If you focus on building your mental endurance prior to your trek, it will not only pay off on the hike but also in your life off the trail.  

Chafing and Blisters, Oh My!

So far we’ve talked about training your body and your mind, but unfortunately it’s a little harder to train your skin for the long miles you’ll be covering on the WHW. However, a little advance preparation can go a long way towards making your West Highland Way experience much more enjoyable.  It’s amazing how even a small blister or a little bit of nasty chafing can derail a beautiful day of hiking! This is the most common ailment we see fellow hikers struggle with when we’re out on the trail. Due to the variable and moist conditions (think pouring rain one day and hot and sunny the next) coupled with those lovely underfoot conditions, the West Highland Way presents a huge risk for chafing and blisters. Don’t let those pesky buggers ruin your trek!

The best way to prevent blisters is to break in your boots in advance.  Make sure to use the same socks on your training hikes as you plan to use on the WHW. Good quality socks and sock liners can really make a difference. Additionally, if you are especially blister-prone, more breathable trail runners are worth looking into. In terms of chafing, pay attention to any hot spots that arise when you’re training. Try to train in a variety of temperatures, weather conditions, and clothing combinations to anticipate any potential issues. Products like BodyGlide can help prevent chafing and blisters, too.  Finally, make sure to bring some good-quality blister pads in case all else fails!

Adapting the Hike for Varying Ability Levels

The West Highland Way is very accessible for hikers of all ability levels.  If your training doesn’t go as planned due to injury, illness, or the realities of life that inevitably creep in from time to time, there are ways to reduce the level of challenge on the trek. Here are a few suggestions:

  • If possible, consider adding an extra day or cutting out a segment to reduce the average distance you’ll need to cover each day.
  • Consider using a luggage transfer service to eliminate the extra demands of carrying your heavy pack.
  • Plan for a rest day midway through your hike. Bridge of Orchy, Tyndrum, and Glencoe Village all make great options.  See our West Highland Way Logistics article for more information about luggage transfer and rest days.
  • Enlist a few friends or family members to come with you and rent a car. You can alternate between hiking and driving the support vehicle to customize the amount of time spent on your feet.  Plus, you’ll still be able to enjoy much of the same spectacular Highland scenery from the road.

Looking for an itinerary built for your unique needs? Let us help!

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The Bottom Line:

Move, preferably uphill and with weight on your back, as much as possible. Do this and you will be able to enjoy every moment of your incredible trip so much more. Plus, the time and effort you spend working towards your goal will make the real thing that much sweeter. I can’t stress enough how glad we were that we’d prepared for the challenge of a thru-hike like the WHW, and I hope our experience can help you have your best possible trip.

 

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What’s next?

Enjoyed reading our training tips and ready to keep planning your own West Highland Way adventure? Be sure to check out our entire series on the West Highland Way and learn everything you’ll need to know to prepare for your trip!

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Guide to Hiking Chasm Lake

Length: 8.5 Miles. Moderate to Strenuous. Approximate Time: 6-8 hours. Nestled against the granite wall that forms the Eastern face of Longs Peak, pristine Chasm Lake is a truly spectacular…

Length: 8.5 Miles. Moderate to Strenuous. Approximate Time: 6-8 hours.

Nestled against the granite wall that forms the Eastern face of Longs Peak, pristine Chasm Lake is a truly spectacular sight to behold. Getting there is pretty incredible too.  The trail climbs gently through varied terrains, offering spectacular views, waterfalls, and plenty of marmot sightings. This hike is only steep and moderately technical in the last half-mile or so; the rest of it should be quite manageable for most fit(ish) hikers.

Getting to the Trailhead

This hike starts at the Longs Peak Ranger Station in Rocky Mountain National Park, which is accessed via CO-7, either from Estes Park or Allenspark. If you are coming from the Front Range, head to Lyons, then turn left onto CO-7. Stay on that road past Allenspark, and keep an eye out for signs for the Longs Peak trailhead.  When you see the turn-off (just after you enter into Larimer County), take a left. You’ll follow this road until it reaches the ranger station and trailhead. If you are hiking on a busy weekend or holiday in the summer, expect to park along the road, as the lot fills up very early. Although the hike is within Rocky Mountain National Park, visitors do not need to pay an entrance fee at this location.

The Hike

Begin your hike by following the East Longs Peak Trail.  You’ll be on this trail for most of the hike, and all of the junctions are very well marked. For the first mile or so, you’ll climb at a mellow grade through lovely pine forests. At the first junction, follow the signage and veer left.  From here, you’ll traverse a few switchbacks as you start to see and hear a stream that courses alongside the trail in several places.  A bit higher up, you’ll cross the stream (there is a bridge), and the views open up towards the forest below.  This peaceful, shady spot is a great place to stop for a snack or a short break. As you keep hiking past the stream crossing, the pine forest dwindles until the only trees left are krumholz, the short, wind-sculpted trees found at higher elevations. As you get above treeline, the views really open up.

The first stream crossing en route to Chasm Lake.

Looking to the east, you get big vistas of the entire Front Range, and to the west Longs Peak looms large. The rest of the hike winds through alpine tundra. Make sure to keep an eye out for the wide array of delicate and colorful wildflowers that dot this landscape in the summer months. The trail continues to climb steadily (and a bit more steeply) until it reaches the next junction at about mile 2.5.  The right-hand fork will take you up Battle Mountain, while the left will continue towards Longs Peak and Chasm Lake. After another mile, you’ll reach a rocky ridge.  There’s an outhouse here, and this is another nice spot to take a break. This is where you’ll leave the Longs Peak Trail (that’s an adventure for another day), and make your final push towards Chasm Lake.

From the junction, the trail hugs the side of the ridge, narrowly in some places, as it curves towards the lake. We hiked in late June and encountered a small amount of snow in this section. While it wasn’t too difficult, traversing the snow on this narrow section of trail might be a bit unsettling for some hikers.  Use hiking poles and keep your weight leaned in towards the mountain, and you should be just fine.  As you approach Chasm Lake, you’ll be treated to stunning views of Peacock Pool and Columbine Falls.  Just before reaching the lake, you will encounter a steep section that contains large boulders.  You’ll need to do some scrambling in a few places, but this tricky section is very short (and very fun!).  Spectacular Chasm Lake is waiting for you at the top.  Grab a seat on one of the many large rocks ringing the lake, relax, and enjoy this beautiful little pocket of  earth. Make sure to head down early enough in the day to avoid being above tree line when afternoon thunderstorms roll in. We capped off this perfect summer day with a post-hike ice cream outing, and we’d highly recommend you do the same.

The final approach to Chasm Lake.

Enjoy the breathtaking views of Longs Peak!

Considerations:

  • If hiking in June, check the snow conditions before you go.  July and August are the best months to complete this hike.
  • The alpine section of this hike is quite exposed, which makes it a dangerous place to be in the event of a thunderstorm. Start early to avoid getting caught up there when weather moves in.
  • If hiking on a weekend, plan for an extra mile or so of walking along the road, as the parking lot fills up very early with hikers attempting to summit Longs Peak.
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West Highland Way Trip Report

We completed Scotland’s iconic West Highland Way with a couple of friends in July of 2018.  The trail is 96 miles (154 km) long and took us eight days to…

We completed Scotland’s iconic West Highland Way with a couple of friends in July of 2018.  The trail is 96 miles (154 km) long and took us eight days to complete. The West Highland Way is an ideal trek for campers, as there’s a wealth of lovely places to pitch a tent along the route. Be sure to check out our Camping Guide for detailed maps, facility descriptions, booking information and more. In the meantime, we wrote this post to share about the less technical and more personal aspects of our journey in hopes that it will get you excited to embark your own WHW adventure. Read on for inspiration, advice, photos, and insider’s tips.

 

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Day One: Milngavie to Drymen (5 hours)

As mentioned above, we hiked the West Highland Way with another couple.  Since we were each traveling separately prior to starting the hike, we had made a plan in advance to meet at the official WHW starting point on the morning of Day One.  Seeing our friends (who we hadn’t seen in nearly a year) in another country at the trailhead was about as good as it gets. Feeling totally jazzed, we set off on the flat and shady path towards Drymen.  We enjoyed warm, sunny weather the entire day as we walked through rolling hills and bucolic farmland.

Easy walking from Milngavie to Drymen.

Having read our Trailblazer guidebook (highly recommended, by the way), we knew to look for the Glengoyne Distillery as we neared Drymen. Without hesitation, we took the slight detour from the trail to check it out. We were expecting a quaint, hiker-friendly tasting room in which we could unload our dusty packs for a wee dram before continuing on our way.  Instead, we found ourselves in something that felt a little more Disneyland than Scotland.  The woman at the visitor’s center informed us that there was in fact no tasting room, and we would have to pay royally for an hour-long tour if we wanted to taste their whisky.  Perhaps she saw the disappointment on our sweaty faces or maybe she just wanted to find a way to keep us from going on the tour, because she then proceeded to offer another option.  She suggested that we buy some shooter bottles in the gift shop as an alternative.

Glengoyne Distillery is just off The Way.

 

So a few minutes later we found ourselves back along the trail, picnicking in the sunshine while sipping on some fine whisky.  Not a bad lunch break! The final hours of the day were challenging due to the long, hot stretches of road walking and the newness of having a heavy pack on our backs. We arrived at Drymen Camping early enough to secure a nice pitch, grab a hot shower, and savor some slow hours spent looking out across the green hills.

 

Day Two: Drymen to Sallochy (7 hours)

We awoke to gray skies, but the rain was kind enough to hold off until we’d packed up camp. After a relaxed breakfast of coffee and muesli, we hit the road.  Knowing that we needed to stock up on provisions, we made an early detour into the town of Drymen.  As we were picking up the customary instant noodles and granola bars, we made an important discovery in the bakery aisle: fresh, warm chocolate croissants! If there’s something better than a hot pastry on a damp and chilly morning, we haven’t found it yet.

Back on the trail, we headed towards Conic Hill, the first real ascent of the trek. As we climbed upwards, the rain grew steadier and the landscape became more rugged.  The steely weather made the scenery even more beautiful.  After cresting Conic Hill, we descended steeply towards Balmaha and caught our first glimpses of Loch Lomond.

Approaching the top of Conic Hill.

Shoreline walking on Day Two.

 

We made a quick, impulsive stop in Balmaha to pick up a bottle of wine for the evening (it was vacation after all), and then continued along the shores of the loch towards our campsite. Arriving at Sallochy, we had our pick of gorgeous lochside campsites, each with private beach access. We quickly made camp as the rain picked up again. Once it let up, we enjoyed a damp but fabulous dinner while watching the evening light play across the expansive loch.

A lovely lochside pitch at Sallochy Campground.

 

Day Three: Sallochy to Beinglas Farm (9 hours)

We’re still scratching our heads as to how this happened, but on Day Three we didn’t start walking until about 10:00am.  Knowing this was our longest and most difficult day, this was especially idiotic. The first part of the hike started innocently enough, ambling along gentle dirt roads.  A few hours in, we stopped at the adorable Cherry Tree Cafe for a slice of lemon cake and some fresh fruit, patting ourselves on the back for making it to the “halfway point.” Little did we know, we really had another five hours of hiking ahead of us!

The Cherry Tree Cafe makes for a great lunch break along Loch Lomond.

 

As we continued along the trail, it grew more and more challenging.  Hugging the shoreline, the path afforded some spectacular views of the lake, but also presented us with steep, undulating hills, technical rocky sections, and lots of ducking over and around tree branches. It was slow going, especially with heavy packs on.  Bearing in mind that we had to get past the end of the loch, it was a bit torturous to keep looking out at the long lake and viewing just how far we still had to go.

Leaving Inversnaid, the trail continues to follow Loch Lomond for a few more miles.

The steep ascent away from Loch Lomond.

When we finally reached the end of Loch Lomond, we still had a long climb and another hour or so of walking before we reached Beinglas Farm campground.  Learn from our mistake and don’t underestimate this stage of the hike! We finally arrived at Beinglas weary but very happy.  After a hot shower in the luxurious facilities, we opted to forgo stove cooking and treat ourselves to curry and beer in the restaurant. It was a splurge, but totally worth it. As we wandered back to our tent rather delirious from the exhaustion and a few pints, we didn’t realize that the campsite had transformed into a full blown midge-fest once the sun had set. Before we knew it, we were absolutely covered in the little buggers.  Up until this point, we’d experienced a few midges, but we now understood what all the hype was about. Luckily, we escaped into the shelter of our tent and immediately fell into a deep sleep.

Beinglas Farm camping.

 

Want to know about all of the camping options on every stage of your trek? Our in-depth guide has you covered!

West Highland Way camping guide

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Day Four: Beinglas Farm to Strathfillan (6 hours)

Day Four brought a much easier day of walking, and we didn’t mind at all. About halfway into the day, we took the twenty-minute detour into Crianlarich.  There, we stopped at the supermarket for a lunchtime feast of cheese sandwiches, bananas, and cookies- a real upgrade to our typical backpacking lunch which consists of handfuls of peanuts and not much else. Throughout the day, we did a lot of gentle climbing and passed several sheep farms.

Gentle walking through beautiful scenery.

Highland cattle grazing at Strathfillan.

 

Our day ended in a gorgeous valley, surrounded by green hills in every direction.  We arrived at the quirky Strathfillan Wigwams just as the sun began to peek through the clouds.  Although the place was a little strange (think Native American motifs and a slightly sad petting zoo), the actual campsite was downright stunning.  The valley offered peaceful, wide open views punctuated only by the occasional sound of sheep bleating. We forked over the extra fees for hot showers and laundry, and then we enjoyed a fabulous (midge-free) dinner at a picnic table near our tents. It was one of those perfect evenings: great weather, good times with friends, and a totally relaxed atmosphere.

Beautiful sunset at the Strathfillan Wigwams.

 

Day Five: Strathfillan to Bridge of Orchy (4 hours)

Due to the great conversation, easy walking, and gorgeous weather, this day flew by and we were at Bridge of Orchy before we knew it! The path followed the highway for quite a long stretch which didn’t make for the most ideal walking conditions, but the scenery was still pretty fabulous. Upon reaching Bridge of Orchy, we set up camp, soaked our feet in the river, and then headed up to the hotel for some afternoon beers. Expert tip: the stout at the hotel bar is really excellent.  The evening proved to be relatively midge-free, so we were able to enjoy our time outside long into the evening.

Beinn Dorain dominates the walk to Bridge of Orchy.

Lovely camping at Bridge of Orchy.

Bridge of Orchy frames the Highlands beyond.

 

Day Six: Bridge of Orchy to Glencoe Mountain Resort (4 3/4 hours)

We awoke at Bridge of Orchy to another spectacularly sunny day. This stage of the trail was the most remote of the entire trek, winding through wide open moors and breathtaking highlands scenery. As we skirted past Rannoch Moor, fifty square miles of uninhabited wilderness, we remarked on the goodness of such wild land in an increasingly developed world.

Rannoch Moor, 50 square miles of uninhabited wilderness.

We tackled a few good climbs on this section, which was a nice change of pace from the mostly flat walking of the previous few days. After another short day, we arrived at the campground at Glencoe Mountain Resort. We’d heard that there was free camping further along the trail at Kingshouse Hotel, but since it was under construction we didn’t know what the conditions would be like.  Deciding to play it safe, we opted to stop at Glencoe instead.  Embracing the developed, ski-resorty vibe, we enjoyed a few pints in the lodge.

Buachaille Etive Mòr comes into view approaching Glencoe Moutain Resort.

 

Despite its location next to a large car park, our campsite had spectacular views of the surrounding mountains. Upon retiring to our tents after hanging out at the lodge, we discovered that the campground was being used by some enterprising kids as a mountain biking course.  We watched as they repeatedly caught air, landing within a foot or two of the surrounding tents.  It was pretty impressive and rather funny, but didn’t lend itself well to an early bedtime.  Eventually, as the sun set and the rain began, the kids packed it up for the evening and we did the same.

Great views from our campsite at Glencoe Mountain Resort.

 

Still trying to figure out your itinerary? Let us help!

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Day Seven: Glencoe Mountain Resort to Kinlochleven (5 hours)

We started Day Seven in very wet, cold conditions.  After cooking breakfast under the covered porch of the lodge building, we forced ourselves to step out into the rain.  As is typical of these types of things, the rain wasn’t as bad as it looked.  Even better, it soon eased up into a more gentle mist.  As we walked towards the infamous “Devil’s Staircase,” we spotted several red deer set amidst the breathtaking valley views.

The walk towards the Devil’s Staircase.

Hiking into the clouds on the Devil’s Staircase.

Views from the top.

 

As for the dreaded staircase, it was a steep ascent, but nothing too terrible.  Plus, the views just kept getting better as we climbed! After a lunch break at the top, we began the winding descent to Kinlochleven.  If your knees are anything like mine, you’ll agree that the downhill portion of this day is way harder than the climb up Devil’s Staircase! In any case, we eventually made it down to our final campground of the trip. The Trailblazer guide describes Kinlochleven as “an ugly, modern village,” but we found it to be quite charming. It has an industrial vibe, but one that’s balanced out by friendly people, quaint pubs, and a beautiful natural setting.

Picnicking at the MacDonald Hotel.

 

We camped at the MacDonald Hotel, which was situated in a quiet location right on the edge of Loch Leven. Since the rain had cleared up, we decided to have one final picnic in this lovely setting.  After picking up wine, cheese, olives, and an assortment of other goodies in town, we enjoyed a leisurely dinner on the banks of the loch.

Day Eight: Kinlochleven to Fort William (7 hours)

Knowing we had another long day ahead, we applied the lessons learned on Day Three and made sure we were up and out a bit earlier this time. The day began with a fairly steep climb out of Kinlochleven, then passed through the wild expanse of the Lairigmor. We took our time on this final day, savoring our last hours of fresh air, simpler routines, and great companionship.

The winding path through the Larigmor.

As we neared Fort William, Ben Nevis came into view. This massive mountain is completely captivating, and we made frequent stops to admire it and snap more photos than were probably necessary. For the final stretch into Fort William, we took an alternate route in order to avoid another long stretch of road walking.  We followed the Cow Hill trail, which involved one last climb up to some great views of the town below.  Upon arriving in Fort William, walkers are required to traverse the entire length of the main commercial district before arriving at the official end of the Way. While it was a bit of a shock to the system to be back in the hustle and bustle of the town, the final stretch was fun and festive.

Catching a glimpse of Ben Nevis on our final day of walking!

 

We celebrated our achievement with  a delicious pub dinner at the Grog and Gruel, followed by an ice cream cone and a stroll through town. In the morning, we rode the train back to Glasgow.  As we sipped coffee, we gazed out at the green wilderness, recounting stories from the previous week, and soaking in the lifelong memories we had made on this amazing experience.

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What’s Next?

Enjoyed reading our trip report and ready to get to work planning your own West Highland Way adventure? Be sure to read our entire series on the West Highland Way to learn everything you’ll need to know to prepare for your trip!

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West Highland Way Photo Gallery

Take a visual tour along the West Highland Way in anticipation of your upcoming adventure! And be sure to check out the rest of our West Highland Way posts below:…

Take a visual tour along the West Highland Way in anticipation of your upcoming adventure!

And be sure to check out the rest of our West Highland Way posts below:

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Guide to Heart Lake Snowshoeing

This is the snowshoeing adventure that has it all: easy proximity to the Front Range, minimal crowds in the wintertime, challenging climbs, spectacular views, and long peaceful stretches of trail…

This is the snowshoeing adventure that has it all: easy proximity to the Front Range, minimal crowds in the wintertime, challenging climbs, spectacular views, and long peaceful stretches of trail flanked by towering pines.  Getting to Heart Lake on snowshoes is not an easy task.  The hike is strenuous, and will likely take up the better part of your day.  However, the challenge of the trek makes the stunning views of the lake and the Continental Divide that much more rewarding.  Read on as we share all the essentials for planning your own Heart Lake snowshoe outing.

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Snowshoeing Packing List

While snowshoeing shares many similarities with summer hiking, it does require some different gear.  Our packing list will ensure that you have everything you need to stay warm and get…

While snowshoeing shares many similarities with summer hiking, it does require some different gear.  Our packing list will ensure that you have everything you need to stay warm and get the most out of your next snowshoeing adventure.

ItemOur RecommendationComments
Snowshoes (Men's)Crescent Moon Silver 9 SnowshoesThis local Colorado company makes the best snowshoes around. They are lightweight, comfortable, and durable.
Snowshoes (Women's)Crescent Moon Silver 13 Women's SnowshoesThis women's-specific model is engineered for the female body to make walking in them feel more natural.
Men's Snow BootsSalomon Men's X Ultra Winter BootsIan has used and loved his Salomon winter boots for over 10 years! They still keep his feet warm and dry.
Women's Snow BootsSorel Women's Caribou BootsThese boots are comfortable enough to hike in all and stylish enough to wear into town at night.
BaselayerSmartWool Merino 150 Baselayer- Long SleeveThese shirts are expensive, but they are truly amazing! Always warm, not too hot, never smelly, and they last for years!
GaitersOutdoor Research Men's Rocky Mountain High GaitersHigh-quality gaiters are an essential piece of snowshoeing equipment for keeping your feet warm and dry. These gaiters stay firmly in place and they are completely waterproof.

Smaller women: Be sure to buy the women's-specific model, as the men's may be too large.
Ski GogglesBolle Mojo Snow GogglesThese offer much-appreciated protection from the wind, snow, and sun.
Snow Baskets (for hiking poles)Kelty Snow BasketsPoles offer great stability and support when hiking on deep or slippery snow/ice. These inexpensive baskets will keep your poles from slicing all the way through the snow.
Hydration BladderCamelBak Unisex Crux Hydration Reservoir- 1.5LWhile not a necessity, a bladder will allow you to drink frequently without having to stop hiking and take off your gloves to open a water bottle. It also keeps your water from freezing, since it's kept warmer near your body and inside your pack.
Down JacketPatagonia Down SweaterSuper warm when you need it, and perfectly packable and lightweight for when you don't.
Fleece JacketMarmot Norhiem Women's Sweater Knit Fleece JacketThis is the perfect mid-layer. It adds a lot of warmth without being too bulky.
Glove LinersSeirus 2116 Innovation Heatwave Glove LinerSure, these shiny silver liners look a little silly, but they work! They add quite a bit of warmth, while being thin and flexible underneath your heavier outer gloves.
GlovesHestra Fall Line Leather GlovesThese are the warmest, most flexible gloves around. Well worth the money!
Hat and/or Ear WarmerThe North Face Triple Cable Pom BeanieThis hat is warm and cozy, stays in place on your head, and looks great.
SnacksBananas, peanut butter, dried fruit, and nuts all make great fuel
Thermos of Hot Cocoa or CoffeeTrust us, you'll be glad you brought it.

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Colorado’s Best City Hikes

Recently, I took a trip to Palm Springs, California to spend the Thanksgiving holiday with my family.  We’re spread out all over the country, so the desert city is always…

Sunset over Palm Springs. CA

Recently, I took a trip to Palm Springs, California to spend the Thanksgiving holiday with my family.  We’re spread out all over the country, so the desert city is always the perfect place to meet up and get some early winter sun.  One of our favorite traditions is to hike the iconic Museum Trail.  This trail winds straight up from the parking lot of the local art museum (hence the name), and is accessed from the center of downtown.  We like to do the hike late in the afternoon so we can watch the sun set and the city lights turn on below us as we descend.  My family likes to cap off this annual hike with a trip to the Mexican joint a few blocks from the trailhead for margaritas.  This year, I came to an important realization: city hikes are awesome. Don’t get me wrong, I love and appreciate the solitude of trekking the remote backcountry as much as any nature fanatic.  However, there is also something fabulous about walking or biking to a trailhead, savoring spectacular urban views, and having an array of apres-hike venues mere steps from your finishing point. In this post, I’ll share my five favorite city hikes right here in Colorado. I hope they’ll make you love urban hiking as much as I do.

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How to Train for the Tour du Mont Blanc

Imagine the following scenario: You are hiking the Tour of Mont Blanc, the trip you’ve been dreaming about for months, if not years. The scenery is surpassing your expectations as…

Imagine the following scenario: You are hiking the Tour of Mont Blanc, the trip you’ve been dreaming about for months, if not years. The scenery is surpassing your expectations as you encounter idyllic villages and jaw-dropping vistas.  The only problem? You can hardly enjoy it because of the aching of your knees, back, and hips, not to mention a blister the size of Switzerland that’s threatening to erupt inside your hiking boots at any moment. You’ve dragged your sorry self up to the top of (yet another) steep pass, but you can’t stop long to enjoy your accomplishment because, due to your slow pace, you’re behind schedule to reach your stopping point for the day. When you finally reach the campground, all of the best spots have been claimed by faster hikers and there’s no hot water left in the showers.  Exhausted, you sloppily pitch your tent, scarf some dinner, and fall asleep. The next morning, instead waiting around for the freshly baked bread,  you’re up and out before anyone else because you know you’ve got another 10-hour hiking day ahead of you.

This could be you if you don’t train!

  Now picture this: It’s early afternoon, and you’ve just crested the first major pass of today’s hike. You’re tired, and the hike has been challenging, but you feel good.  You enjoyed a leisurely morning before starting your hike today, sipping some coffee while breaking down your campsite. Now you have time to eat lunch and soak in the views before beginning your descent.  You arrive at your next destination in time to claim a great campsite, shower, and enjoy a beer in the sunshine. You’re sore and tired, but you feel excited for another day of hiking tomorrow.

Everything you need to to plan your TMB trek – all in one place.

Whether you prefer mountain huts or hotels, fastpacking or meandering, luxury, dirtbag or something in between, we’ve got you covered.

From custom itineraries and GPS maps created specifically for you we can help you plan your perfect Tour du Mont Blanc adventure!

Our downloadable Guide to the Tour du Mont Blanc is ultimate resource to help you plan your perfect trip.

Guide to the Tour du Mont Blanc

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Our 50+ page downloadable guide has everything you need to know to plan your Tour du Mont Blanc adventure. From three unique itineraries with custom GPS data to a full training plan, our guide is the quintessential handbook for trekking this incredible trail. Each section provides in-depth information and resources, including:

  • Stage-by-stage itineraries
  • Detailed maps for every stop
  • Complete 9-day, 11-day, and 12-day TMB itineraries
  • Custom GPS data for the entire route & all three itineraries
  • Offline map access for the entire route
  • Lodging recommendations
  • Getting to/from the TMB
  • The ultimate packing list
  • A 15-week training plan

Get your digital guide today and start planning!

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Guide to Hiking from Aspen to Crested Butte

If you’ve lived in Colorado for a year or thirty, you’ve likely heard of the hike between Aspen and Crested Butte.  While it’s a nearly 200-mile drive between posh Aspen…

If you’ve lived in Colorado for a year or thirty, you’ve likely heard of the hike between Aspen and Crested Butte.  While it’s a nearly 200-mile drive between posh Aspen and laid-back Crested Butte, the two mountain towns are actually only a couple dozen miles apart as the crow flies (if you’ve lived in Colorado awhile, you’ve probably heard this expression a bunch too).  Not only can you hike between Aspen and Crested Butte in one day, but the hike itself is one for the ages. Be sure to check out our other Aspen to Crested Butte resources below:

We decided to make a long weekend out of it by hiking from Aspen on a Friday, staying the night in Crested Butte, and then hiking back to Aspen the following day and spending a night in Carbondale on the way home.  Despite this hike’s popularity, we found very little on the web in the way of the logistical information needed to make something like this work.  Don’t worry, we fumbled through the practicalities so you don’t have to! Below you’ll find everything you need to know in order to tackle this amazing adventure yourself.

Hiking from Aspen to Crested Butte

Start your hike at the beautiful Maroon Bells!

The Trails

There are two main trails that connect Aspen and Crested Butte, West Maroon Pass and East Maroon Pass:

West Maroon:

At just over 10 miles, this is the more popular route.  The trail starts at the iconic Maroon Bells recreation area and crosses over-you guessed it-West Maroon Pass, before threading its way through a wildflower-studded valley towards Crested Butte. The upsides of this hike are that it is the shortest option, the wildflowers are truly stunning, and it offers great mountain views from the top of the pass. The downsides are that it is more crowded, parking at the trailhead is nearly impossible, and from Aspen it requires more uphill walking (about 3,000 feet over the first seven miles).

The map below shows the route and you can use this link to open it in a new window. As always, this map isn’t intended to be used in the backcountry – only to provide you with a general overview of the hike. Be sure you’re carrying a copy of National Geographic Trails Illustrated #128 and that you know how to use it!

East Maroon:

We chose to hike the West Maroon route both directions, but we were able to dig up some information about East Maroon in our research. At about 14 miles long, this route sees less traffic than West Maroon. You can start this hike either at the West Maroon trailhead, or down the road at the East Portal trailhead. Either way, look for signs that point you towards Copper Lake. The pros of this route include less crowds, easier hiking, and lovely views of Emerald Lake, Copper Lake, and Pyramid Peak.  Cons include more mileage, having to shuttle back to the West Maroon Trailhead to pick up your car at the finish, and heavy equestrian use (maybe not a con for you, but I don’t especially love navigating through tons of what the horses leave behind on the trail).

Heads up-Both trails require multiple stream crossings.  In the first week of August, we found these to be pretty easy with water shoes and hiking poles, but earlier in the season the water levels are higher and the currents faster.

Getting to and from the Trailhead

We started our hike in Aspen, and our guide is written from that perspective.  If you choose to start in Crested Butte, this information will still be useful for you, just reverse it!

From Aspen

As stated above, both the East and West Maroon routes start in the Maroon Bells Scenic Area.  There are 35 overnight parking spaces, which fill insanely quickly.  We arrived there by 5am on a Friday morning to find both the overnight and overflow lots completely filled.  It appears that many people illegally camp or sleep in their cars, making it nearly impossible for the rule-followers to snag a spot. Here are your three options for getting to the trailhead on the Aspen side:

Park at Maroon Bells: If you’re an early riser, plan on going mid-week, or are going late in the season, you can try to park at the trailhead. From the lots, simply walk up the road towards Maroon Lake to start the hike. Make sure to bring $10 cash for the overnight parking fee, paid at the entrance. Keep in mind that the road is closed to private vehicles from 8:00am-5:00pm, June through September.

Park at Aspen Highlands and Take the Bus: This is what we opted to do after finding the Maroon Bells lots full.  The Aspen Highlands Ski Area is located down the road back towards Aspen, and overnight parking on the lower levels of the garage is free if you get there before 8am. The bus costs $8 per person (return trips are free) and the first bus departs from Aspen Highlands at 8:05.  The bus then runs both directions every 15-20 minutes until 5:00pm. We found this to be an easy and convenient option, but there are a few considerations to keep in mind.  First, if you are a slower hiker and/or there are afternoon thunderstorms in the forecast, you may want to get an earlier start since the hike takes anywhere from 6-9 hours (we didn’t start hiking until about 8:30am). Additionally, be sure to schedule your pick-up on the Crested Butte side accordingly and make sure you’re back at Maroon Bells the next day by 5:00pm. Dogs are welcome on the bus.

Park at Aspen Highlands and Take a Cab: This is a pricier option, but a great choice if you want to get an earlier start than the bus will allow.  Once again, parking at Aspen Highlands is free before 8:00 am, and you don’t need to check in with the parking attendant or get any sort of ticket. Simply enter the lot and park on the lower levels. From there, arrange a cab to take you to the trailhead. Upon your return, hop on the bus for a free ride back to your car.

If you are hiking from Crested Butte, there are some Aspen Highlands buses that will take you directly into downtown Aspen where you can enjoy a luxurious hotel stay or catch another bus to towns in the surrounding area. You can ask in the gift shop at Highlands for more information on the bus schedule.

From Crested Butte

This is important to note- the trailhead where you’ll start/end your hike on the Crested Butte side is about 14 miles from town.  You’ll need a way to get to and from town if you don’t want to double your walking distance. At the time of writing, an avalanche had made Gothic Road, the access road to the trailhead, impassible about three miles from the start of the trail.  Therefore, you might end up doing a few “extra credit miles” whether you want to or not. There are two free parking lots along Gothic Road where you can park your car overnight, if needed.  These are way less crowded than on the Aspen side. Here are your options for getting to/from the trailhead from Crested Butte:

Use a Shuttle Service: There are two shuttle services (Dolly’s and Alpine) that will pick you up from the trailhead and bring you to your hotel in Crested Butte. Call and schedule a reservation in advance and they should be waiting for you at the trailhead.  Pick-up’s typically cost about $20 per person.  These services will also bring you to the trailhead from town in the morning.  At the time of writing, Dolly’s Mountain Shuttles had a two-car system that ferried hikers on either side of the avalanche damage, so that hikers did not have to walk as far along the road.

Hitch a Ride: Most people traveling on Gothic Road are friendly fellow hikers and mountain bikers who are more than happy to pick you up and take you into town.  We ended up hitching a ride into Crested Butte, and we had a great experience.  We recognized the women who picked us up from passing them on the trail, and they were so kind that they even dropped us at the door of our hotel! Obviously this is a less reliable and more adventurous option, but it is a common practice along this road that often leads to new friends and great conversations.

Ask Your Hotel: Several hotels in Crested Butte offer hiking packages that include shuttles to and from the trailhead.  If you’re interested in that option, a quick search of local hotels yields plenty of options.

Hiking from Aspen to Crested Butte

Enjoying the views on the Crested Butte side.

 

What if I only want to hike one way?

We were lucky enough to have time to stay the night in Crested Butte and hike back to Aspen the next day, but not everyone has the time or energy to do that. Below are your options if you’re not able to hike the trail round-trip.

Hire a Shuttle: Dolly’s and Alpine both offer shuttles between Aspen and Crested Butte, although they are not cheap (upwards of $300).  However, if you split this across a big group of hikers, it wouldn’t be too bad.

Rent a Car: There is a free bus that runs from Crested Butte to nearby Gunnison.  In Gunnison, you can rent a car at any of the agencies near the airport.  You can then drive to Aspen, pick up your actual car, then drop your rental at agencies near the Aspen airport. Obviously, you’ll need at least two drivers in order to make this work efficiently, since one of you will want to drive your car from the trailhead to the rental car agency so you don’t end up stranded there.

Arrange a Ride or Shuttle Your Own Cars: Maybe there’s someone out there that really, really loves you or owes you in a big way.  If that’s the case, that special person could pick you up from the trailhead in Crested Butte and drive you back to your car in Aspen.  Or, if you’re part of a group that doesn’t mind a road trip, you could drive to one town, leave a car, and then drive back to the other one.  This would be a good option if you have some podcasts you’ve been meaning to catch up on.

Have a Great Trip!

Be sure to check out our other Aspen to Crested Butte posts:

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Tour du Mont Blanc- Our Trip Report

We hiked the Tour du Mont Blanc in July 2017 over 11 days, including one rest day. We camped the majority of the nights (see our guide to camping the…

We hiked the Tour du Mont Blanc in July 2017 over 11 days, including one rest day. We camped the majority of the nights (see our guide to camping the Tour du Mont Blanc here) and stayed in a few fantastic Refuges and hotels along the way. You can find a plethora of information about the route on the internet and available through the recommended Cicerone guidebook, but the goal of this photo-filled trip report is to provide inspiration and motivation for folks considering embarking on this great adventure! We’ve included some basic information and reflections on each stage, but our main focus of this post is showing off some of the amazing scenery you will encounter on the Tour du Mont Blanc!

If you’re wondering what we packed for this adventure be sure to check out our packing list here!

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