Glencoe: A Chill Out Day for Me, Pap of Glencoe for Others!

25 11 2022
View from the Glencoe Visitor’s Center. Improving weather!

We were staying two nights at the Kingshouse Hotel in Glencoe. Since I was still mending from my summer-long bout with shingles and Ramsay Hunt Syndrome, I decided I’d take a rest day. The group decided to hike the Pap of Glencoe, a relatively short but steep climb to a breathtaking view of the lochs and mountains nearby. A quick read on information about the area revealed that there is a Glencoe Visitor Center down the Glen. I could learn some of the area’s history, take an hour’s hike, and then catch a taxi back to the hotel. There, I could catch up on my journal, read my novel, and maybe hang out on the picnic tables outside and meet fellow travelers. As it turned out, it went by so fast I was really surprised, and enjoyed it immeasurably.

After another hearty breakfast, we piled into our vans with our local guides Tania and Susie, and headed down the Glen Coe. As the road winds, iconic green mountain vistas open up, many with waterfalls cascading down their slopes.

This was where I learned how popular Scotland is with hikers and international tourists! At pull-outs with views, many vehicles. Later in the day, with my taxi return, it was just packed! And why not. It’s very beautiful. And, of course, it has been captured in many films and is rich with history.

The Three Sisters of Glencoe

We stopped at a pull-out in front of the Three Sisters of Glencoe. Somewhere in this valley, a dreadful event occurred. The Massacre of Glencoe. In 1692, the newly crowned Protestant King William III of England was anxious to secure the loyalty of all Scots once and for all. He issued a decree in which he required all Scottish clans sign loyalty to him, or face punishment. Allies of William, Clan Campbell quickly signed. But local Clan MacDonald had not. Clan Campbell was sent up the Glen to speak with the MacDonalds about the issue. Although they were not friendly to one another, the MacDonalds played host to their visitors. The Scottish government had offered to pay 12,000 pounds to the Scottish clans to sign the oath. But many clans, as in typical fashion, disagreed on how to divide the sum amongst themselves, delaying signing. This delay led to William’s impatience, and an example was made to demonstrate the consequences of a lack of signing. The story goes that the MacDonald chief was on his way, but delayed. William III delivered an edict to liquidate the MacDonalds. The Campbells got that instruction and massacred 30 MacDonalds in the Glen.

I was dropped off at the Visitor Center and bid my comrades a good hike and that I’d look forward to their stories later in the day. I checked out the information to be learned, including a film on the region. There is a nice forested garden out back with a view up the valley. It has a house built exactly as they were hundreds of years ago, which visitors can check out. I paused for a bit to enjoy the sun’s warmth and take in the view.

Next, I hiked the longest of several available trails within the Visitor Center property. It was pleasant, if a bit muddy from recent stormy weather. It only took about an hour to complete. Then I waited for a taxi which I’d arranged prior to my arrival. He arrived right on time, and just like that I was on my way back to the Kingshouse Hotel.

After lunch, I went outside and picked out a spot at the picnic tables, one which had a shady roof. It was getting nice and sunny! I went into the nearby pub and got myself a coffee. I didn’t get much of my journal written, as not before long, two Swiss hikers showed up and we spent the next two hours visiting. The Kingshouse is a multi-functional institution. While it has 4-star rooms and some top notch table service cuisine and a bar with over one hundred Scottish single malt whiskies plus local gins to try, it is also a genuine hiker backpacker shelter/lodge with complete facilities for them as well. Camping is allowed on the grounds. There is a large heated room to dry out tents, boots, and camping gear. It has a budget bunk house. Well, my new Swiss friends were in a pickle, because something was delayed with their bunk house accommodation. However, their luck turned golden whilst we chatted. Something was wrong with the bunk house. And so the Kingshouse Hotel gave them one of the 4-star rooms instead! They had just hit the jackpot.

Meanwhile, my trekking comrades had hiked up the Pap of Glencoe. They surely got the view promised! The evening cocktail hour and dinner was full of tales of their adventure that day.





West Highland Way: Bridge of Orchy to Kingshouse / Glencoe – The Weather Breaks

8 11 2022
Above Loch Tulla with Cathy Ann!

Today we start with a nutritious breakfast. Choices are fruit, yogurt, eggs, smoked salmon, oatmeal, toast, muffins, and much more. The weather looks squally, and once again, I’ve prepared for whatever comes. The towel dryer worked well on my stuff. So again, I’m wearing full rain shell and pants, and pack rain cover. It’s 11 miles of varying climbs and descents to Kingshouse. Along the way we will hike through woodlands, grasslands, and if the clouds part, experience views of distant lochs and mountains.

We cross the Bridge of Orchy and climb the forested hills beyond. This is the steepest part of the hike. We pass by some clearcuts. With the rain, this part of the trail is a flowing stream. We have wind-driven rain, and that, combined with my perspiration, causes my new Columbia Sportswear rain shell to utterly fail. Soaked through, the only thing I had going for me was my body heat was warm due to the exertion. After an hour the rain ebbs. We emerge out of the woods into a grassy hilltop, where views open up and we can see for miles.

This section of the West Highland way is not only a military road, but a cattle drover road. These roads, built of countless round river rocks pounded into the ground, were used for driving cattle from one place to another. For me, all the round rocks were solid, but made for a sort of “rounded” movement my foot made each step.

Loch Tulla comes into view! Now, we are rewarded with the Scottish Highland views we’re longing for. It’s very picturesque and, as I learned, full of salmon.

It’s getting toward lunchtime. This section of trail is very exposed, so it’s breezy, but the views are terrific. We’re still wary of those pesky midges, so Tania picks out a lunch spot where the breeze will keep them away.

Although today’s trail lunch was better than yesterday’s, I still found the sandwich utterly below par. As the trek progressed, and we got lunches from different places, I began to realize it’s England/Scotland, not the cooks at the places we got the lunches. All of the sandwiches were plain by North American standards. None of them had lettuce, tomatoes or onions or some condiments. Just two pieces of bread with something in the middle. Nevertheless, to their credit, they did include juice boxes, fruit, and some treats like cookies or something similar to a Kit Kat Bar. The weather continued to break up during the rest of the day. Here’s a video of the wonder of Scotland opening up! From this point on, the rest of our trek had fabulous weather!

We came across Inveroran, with its adorable to-die-for, magical Inveroran Hotel, originally a 19th Century inn for cattle drovers. I could see it from above on the trail.

It’s down on the left near the trees!

Descending, and coming across a road, we crossed a picturesque stone bridge, and there it was! We stopped in for a break. Super cute cozy bar and restaurant. I kind of wish we could have spent a tucked in night there!

To-die-for location!

After Inveroran, we continued a kind of monotonous uphill climb for quite some time. It was monotonous because for several miles it was next to a forest and there was no view. However, our stubborn tenacity was rewarded as we came out, as before, into an open high grassland with miles and miles of mountains and endless views all around. Plus, the weather truly broke up and lit up the hills for the rest of the day!

Now we were rewarded with unlimited views, more warmth, and luxuriating in the sights of the Scottish Highlands we’d come for. Along the way we spotted one of Wilderness Scotland’s most iconic fauna – a red deer! We stopped for a rest by a stream flowing with peat-colored waters

And then it was on for the final stretch! Next up is Glencoe, and the Kingshouse Hotel. This was another hotel very visible from up high on the trail.

Built by the British Army in the 18th Century, this hotel is one of the oldest inns. It originally functioned as a stopping point for those crossing Rannoch Moor. Expanded and refurbished in 2019, today it’s got 57 rooms, two restaurants, a bunk house, a substantial gear-drying room, and on top of it all, expansive views of the mountains of Glencoe. It’s a focal point for all things outdoors in the region. Hikers pass through, campers can stay on the grounds. Nearby there is wildlife viewing, climbing mountains, historical sites, skiing, lochs and moors. Our meal was first-rate! Choices were generous plates of lobster-like langoustines, a plate-sized grilled t-bone steak, and venison medallions, amongst others.

The day’s sunset over the Glencoe area said to us, “Your weather fortunes have turned! Go forth!”

Our stay here was two nights. So, I opted for a ‘day off’ the next day. Whilst the rest would go conquer the Pap of Glencoe, I’d sleep in, check out a visitor’s center, work on my journal, and take in some sunshine!





Scotland: The West Highland Way to Bridge of Orchy

5 11 2022
On the way to Beinn Dorian. This was the 8th attempt at this image due to winds!

It’s the first day of our inn-to-inn Scottish Highlands Trek! My primary guide on this trek was American Cathy Ann Taylor, of Cattara. I’d been on three other treks with CAT, the Chomolhari Trek in Bhutan, Annapurna Sanctuary Trek in Nepal, and the Cordillera Huayhuash Trek in Peru. Those were high altitude treks, and we camped every night. Mind you, these were fancy glamping style treks – breakfast and dinner served at tables in dining tents, and your tents carried by horse, llama or porters. Here, however, it was staying in fine inns every night! Beds, showers, and some very fancy meals too! On this trip, we’d do 8 days hiking and a total of 46.12 miles. Tame compared to the other treks, but with my limited time to train and my body still fighting shingles, it was plenty challenging!

I’d been checking the weather forecast each day of the week prior. It was positively horrendous! Upon arrival, the BBC meteorologists forecasted this ‘stalled low pressure system’ west of Scotland, which would deliver days of rain and squalls. With that in mind, we all donned our full rain gear for the first day’s hike! Like they say in the movies, Scots really do say, “I’ll take it as it comes.” Our group of 10 were greeted by our local Scottish guides, Tania and Susie, from Wilderness Scotland. They would be with us the whole trip. After grabbing trail lunches, we set off in mini vans out of Glasgow, past Loch Lomond, to our trailhead near Auchtertyre. This was about the half-way point of the West Highland Way. The entirety of the West Highland Way is 95 miles, about 12 days, over moors, mountains and forest. The 21-miles we’d cover over two days were part of a military road constructed sometime in the 1700s.

Along the ride over, I glimpsed rain showers cloaking many of the hillsides. Upon reaching our starting point, I noticed other hikers. They were wearing full rain gear – pants and rain shells. Most had trekking poles and day packs with rain covers. We outfitted ourselves the same. Well, the rain held off for our start, but the wind did not. There was a good breeze with temperatures in the low 60’s. Considering our pace and athletic output, the breeze was most welcome. I was perspiring, and this evaporated the moisture and kept me relatively cool and comfortable. Every so often, gusts would muscle through with winds above 45 mph! At one point, I asked that a fellow trekker take my photo. Right then one of those gusts cranked up, and it took about 8 attempts to get that image.

Although the skies were gray, we had good views, and passed through some history. We paused at a historically significant battlefield – he Battlefield of the Battle of Dalrigh. Here, in 1306, Robert the Bruce’s army was intercepted and destroyed by Clan MacDougall, who were English allies. Legend has it that they threw their remaining weapons into one of the Lochans (ponds) here. But a modern-era ground penetrating radar search revealed nothing. Still, it was truly cool to stand in such a place.

We stopped at a spot safe from the midges to eat our lunch. My sandwiches were so awful, especially after athletic hiking, that I couldn’t eat them. Plain slice of cheese between two pieces of white bread! Susie was greatly concerned that I wasn’t going to get the calories necessary for the rest of the hike and thoughtfully bought some power bars for me at a package store when we crossed the road.

This day’s hike was often within eyesight of a highway, which really wasn’t so annoying. We also crossed a bridge over the West Highland Line railroad, and a small, four-car passenger train passed under and tooted its horn at us. It makes a stop at the Bridge of Orchy, our destination for today!

The trail took us right past the iconic cone shaped mountain Beinn Dorian. It’s 3,530ft high and dominates the landscape. It’s one of 282 Scottish Munros. A Munro is a mountain in Scotland at least 3,000 ft high. This area is highlighted by views of fields with sheep grazing. As we hiked, the weather was a series of breezes, rain squals, brightening, back and forth.

And then, we arrived!

At last, we were within striking distance of the Bridge of Orchy Hotel.

It’s a classically old-style inn. Out front and inside the original building very cozy. They’d built some out-buildings with additional rooms, where I stayed. Unfortunately, these, while very comfortable, were not constructed in a style matching the original hotel. Nevertheless, my room was welcome after a squall-filled hike. It had a heated towel rack, which was most helpful in drying out soggy clothing and boots!

Dinner was lovely table service! Wine, mackerel/cucumber appetizer, burger with salsa topping, and then I tried the iconic sticky toffee pudding with ice cream for dessert. Then off to my room for some me-time (writing my journal, of course). Tomorrow’s another “take it as it comes” kind of day! It was a stormy night, rain pelting my window.





2022: The Summer that Wasn’t. And Triumphing Over Shingles So I Could Trek in Scotland! Off to Glasgow.

31 10 2022

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted to this blog, and mostly it’s because in 2022, I’ve had a series of health issues! But with great determination, medical attention and tenacity, I’ve pulled through.

In January I had plans to join friends on a Tour du Rockies alpine ski road trip. But Covid got to two of us, and it didn’t happen. Then, suddenly, with work time off still approved, I got better. I managed to go all by myself! I went to Crystal Mountain, Big Sky, and Mount Bachelor. Then, in February, I returned to Mount Bachelor, where I had a ski injury which strained my shoulder. I spent several weeks in physical therapy. Still, I managed a trip to Taos New Mexico in March! In May, I had a bout with salmonella. Then, in June, I was diagnosed with shingles in my left ear. This eventually led to Ramsay Hunt Syndrome, which paralyzed the left side of my face. I couldn’t use my left eyebrow. My left eye wouldn’t close. I could not chew on the left side of my mouth. I was not allowed to be outside for any length of time because my left eye would not close. But I’m back.

I am a passionate outdoor enthusiast, and to not camp, hike, sail, run, and paddle outside was torture! For all practical purposes, summer 2022 was canceled. No less than 4 camping trips were canceled. My job involves paddlesports. My boss and coworkers were very accommodating, and I am thankful for that. We guide and teach paddlesports, but we also sell retail. So, I could work inside our store. I had booked a trekking trip in Scotland’s Highlands and Isle of Skye for September – So I was very anxious to prepare for that!

By late July, I could close my eye, and drink normally from a cup and chew on both sides of my mouth. My doctor said I could exercise. So, with great determination and tenacity, I worked up a training regimen. My flight to Scotland was to leave August 31st. I had just a few weeks to train, but train I did! I hiked 7 miles every 3rd day. I did as much lower body and abdominal exercises at my gym that I could manage.

This was to be a terrific trip. We would hike the West Highland Way, then Glencoe, then Isle of Skye, and then Cairngorms National Park. I’ve been on treks before, two to the Himalayas (Chomolhari in Bhutan, and Annapurna Sanctuary in Nepal), plus the Cordillara Huayhuash in Peru. Those were glamping trips. But on this trip, we’re staying in inns and hotels every night! Wow! Showers and restaurants! And on August 31st, I was packed, ready as I could manage, and I was off to Glasgow!

I was fortunate to book a non-stop flight from Portland, OR to Amsterdam for the connection to Glasgow. That way, I could avoid the problems associated with making connections in the USA, plus any weather delays or missed flights. Once landed, I grabbed an airport taxi. After chatting with the driver, it turned out that he had picked up my tour leader, Cathy Ann, earlier in the day! I checked in at the Ibis Styles in downtown. It’s a hip-modern style hotel. The bar food isn’t much to praise, but it was adequate for my jet lag.

I had errands to run. Reading up on conditions in the Highlands and talking with a Scottish friend of mine back home, I was warned about swarms of tiny biting insects called midges. The Scottish summer of 2022 was a long one, and the midges were still out and about later than usual. When I was going to be trekking! With that in mind, I set out to find some bug repellant and a mosquito net. I was told to head to a pharmacy called “Boots” in a mall down on Buchanan Street. I was also told there are some outdoor stores there.

Within a couple of blocks, immediately I noticed two things. First, there are almost zero street signs. Some of the buildings on corners had the street name on them. I was thankful for Google Maps. Secondly, it seemed there were empty offices everywhere. I wondered if there was a downturn in business, or maybe people were fleeing to the suburbs. Or, perhaps Covid had converted many Scots to telecommute from home? Walking further, the age of Glasgow became apparent. There were very old buildings everywhere. From churches to cathedrals to homes and offices. And mixed in were much more contemporary style buildings.

I reached Buchanan Street. I needed three items. Some bug spray and a mosquito net. And I needed to exchange US dollars for UK pounds. While most of the walk over wasn’t very busy, Buchanan Street was bustling with walking traffic.

Score! Bug spray. The mosquito net was more challenging. Two stores were sold out! But a 3rd had lots. Finding a currency exchange was a frustrating experience. I finally found a tiny office in one of the shopping malls. But I got it done.

In the early evening, our group met back at the hotel for our first orientation. Then tomorrow will be our first hike of the trek. It’ll be 12 miles to the Bridge of Orchy Hotel! The weather forecast is awful. In fact, it shows a full week of rain. Well, it’s Scotland, right?





Crystal Mountain, WA – The Real Deal!

29 12 2021
First time!

I’ve lived in Portland, OR, since late 1992, and Mount Hood is my neighborhood mountain. I’ve always wanted to ski at Crystal Mountain, which I’d heard was larger and more rewarding for advanced skiers than the resorts on Mt. Hood. But several planned trips were cancelled due to rain. It’s about the same driving hours as Mt. Bachelor, OR. For the 2021-2022 season I purchased an IKON Pass, and it’s good for 4 days at Crystal, so I headed up in mid-December to check it out. As it was early season both for conditions and my ski fitness level, I intended to just check it out, not get overly ambitious and then injure myself.

Everything worked out great! The snow conditions were powdery and dry, it snowed all day, and the wind was dead calm. I spent the evening prior in Enumclaw, and headed up starting before 8:00 a.m. Note: The drive prior to Enumclaw is frustratingly stop and go as it passes through a number of suburban malls. But the view of Mt. Rainier is spectacular!

Enumclaw is a poverty of breakfast spots. I drove all around town and found myself exasperated. Thoroughly hangry, I settled on McDonald’s. Then, at the very edge of town on Hwy 410, the road to Crystal, I spied Charlie’s Cafe, which otherwise would have been my salvation! Next time!

The initial phase of the drive to Crystal, on SE Enumclaw-Chinook Pass Rd., isn’t all that pretty. It has equal amounts forest, mountain views, and unsightly clearcuts.

Further along, the forest closes in, and the road winds along the beautiful White River. It was snowing, still, and the flakes piles up on pine boughs and deciduous branches. Bridges were all covered in sugar.

Crystal is nestled in a narrow valley and there is only a two-lane road accessing it. I was skiing on a Monday, but I could only imagine the crush of Seattle skiers on weekends.

The serendipity of the ride was interrupted toward the last turn off which brings one to Crystal Mountain Boulevard. Traffic was halted due to an unknown hazard ahead. In this valley, I had no cell phone reception, so the only news came from drivers headed back my way. After about 30 minutes, word arrived about an SUV overturned on the access road.

It seemed like the morning was getting late, but in fact it wasn’t even 8:45 yet. Lots time to get turns in!

After all the excitement I reached Lot B. As it’s in a narrow valley, parking lots are stretched out along the bottom. Numerous shuttles ferry guests back and froth from the base to the lots. Quite a number of RVs overnighted. Some dressed for the holidays!

My IKON Pass is supposed to be valid at over 40 resorts worldwide. I just had to verify at the lift ticket window that this thing is real. YES! It does work! So it was off to the lifts. Crystal tops out at 7,012 ft. It has a sh*t ton of in bounds skiing that would be outback elsewhere, including the lift-serviced Northway Area, which the trail map says is “All avalanche prone.”

Crystal has a Gondola, which is a fast way to get from the base area to the main mountain. I didn’t take it, still avoiding un-masked rides in close quarters during Covid.

I spent my day between the Chinook Express, Forest Queen Express, and Rainier Express lifts. It was such a terrific day with an embarrassment of powder snow! 1,000 giggles all around. The trails have terrific fall lines and there are lots of bowls and tree skiing! I’m definitely heading back to explore more.

The snowy drive out of the valley was to die for! But back toward Enumclaw, it was all rain. I will return to Crystal later this winter for sure!





Choosing Ski Goggles

26 12 2021
Ski goggles and lenses come in a variety of shapes and colors!

When it comes to enjoying snow sports, visibility, whether good or bad, can make or break your day! The ability to see changes in terrain, ice, bumps, rocks, other riders and trees, is especially important for skiers and snowboarders, who need to make instant changes in direction. They need to be able to see in bright light, dark, snowy weather, and even under the lights for night skiing. The goggles need to stay fog-free, and fit snug no matter the face. They also need to protect your eyes from harmful UV rays.

What about sunglasses? Sunglasses provide protection from UV rays but often do not keep wind completely out of your eyes. And no protection from the cold. If you’re like me, and you ski fast, wind may billow behind sunglasses and cause your eyes to water. Even worse, I used to wear contact lenses, and my watery eyes lifted the contacts completely off, and they blew off and stuck to the sunglasses! At the very least, choose 100% UV protected sunglasses and aerodynamic glasses.

A good fitting ski goggle keeps wind and snow out, and also helps with warmth. It will allow just enough venting to eliminate fogging.

Night Skiing and Very Dark, Snowy Days

At night, the lights, since they shine at a low angle on the slopes instead of overhead like the sun, create shadows that intensify the visibility of small changes in terrain and the bumps. Lenses that let in as much light as possible make for a better experience than those which cut out light. Clear lenses are ideal, and yellow lenses work well. Category 0 lenses let in 80% of the light.

On very snowy days, and in the fog, yellow, or rose bring visibility to flat light so that changes to terrain are more visible. These Category 1 lenses allow 43% of light to pass through.

Cloudy Days

These conditions call for Category 2 lenses, which let in 18% to 42% of light, depending on color. They could be blue, amber, or rose.

Bright, Sunny Days

On blue bird days, especially at higher altitudes, UV protection and eye strain protection are paramount. These are Category 3 lenses, which allow only 8% to 17% of light to pass through. They are often brown or gray. Often, these lenses are treated with 50% polarization to reduce glare.

Changing Lenses

Price will dictate the quality of lens, the ability to and ease of changing lenses, and how many lenses come with your goggles. Some goggles only come with one lens and additional lenses must be purchased separately. Then there are those that come with two lenses, but changing requires time consuming fiddling to complete the switch. To facilitate the switch, some offer “magnetic” lenses which quickly stick to the goggle frame and can be changed in a flash. For more money, there are photo-chromatic lenses which automatically change shade based upon available light.

Fit Is It

20 years ago, there were only two size of ski goggles: Adult and children. Today, there are choices for women, kids and some that fit flatter or thinner faces and noses. It’s all about comfort and sealing out the wind. Also, pick a goggle that works with your ski helmet, if you use one. There are even goggles that are made to fit over prescription glasses, and goggles with prescription lenses!

Price

Expect to pay $40 to $299 depending on features and quality. Rather than an afterthought in your ski kit, goggles should be a top priority!