Navigating Lochs and Drams in the Scottish Highlands
Words & Photos by Amy Kading
In early spring 2017, my husband Kelly and I set out for our annual “thru hike”. Although this time we didn’t quit our jobs or pack up shop to become nomads.
Back in 2015, we left our cushy lives in Dallas and said goodbye to our closest friends and family. We got to experience two months and 900 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail. It was an opportunity that changed our lives and planted an unquenchable thirst to see more of this beautiful world we are so lucky to reside in. Our time on the PCT was also my gateway into the ultralight scene, and I quickly figured out the impact from the simple statement “lighter = better.” Now that I have a few years at Hyperlite Mountain Gear under my belt, that simple statement means more to me than just a gear philosophy. It’s a lifestyle model.
Skip ahead to 2016. At this point, Kelly and I were back to full-time jobs, which we were ready to do as long as we stuck to one caveat that was crucial to our both our individual lives and our life as a couple. One big hike a year. Not big as in the hardest, the highest, the longest, or the gnarliest. Big as in, we pick a place we have never been, plan for it, commit to it, train for it, and save up for it. Since I work in E-commerce, going off the grid completely is a tough task. It’s a career that involves constant attention, and I thrive on it, except for the one week of the year I have gifted myself to disconnect my inbox from my phone and re-balance myself.
So, in 2017 we pulled up a long list of hikes we had been compiling, calculated miles per day, and picked a bucket-list trek that was realistic; the West Highland Way in Scotland. The WHW is a 96-mile linear long-distance footpath in Scotland and runs from Milngavie north of Glasgow to Fort William in the Scottish Highlands. The trail was approved for development in 1974 and opened up to the public on October 6, 1980. At this time, it became the first officially designated long distance footpath in Scotland. Thankfully for us, there was no crazy high elevation to fear (we live in Maine which = sea level lungs). We did, however, skirt around some pretty “hilly” areas that delivered some epic scenery.
Picking our packs for the trip was a no-brainer. My 2400 Windrider goes with me on any overnight trip, and with the spastic Scottish rains, I knew it was the pack for the job. My better half, who I might add is slightly competitive when it comes to the lightest gear, went with his fully-woven Dyneemaâ Summit Pack. To each their own right? I will never forget walking up to customs in the Glasgow airport, and the attendant looked us up and down and asked, “That’s all you brought?” That was a theme we heard across Scotland. Whether we limped into a restaurant by Loch Lomond for lunch or took a quick detour to a distillery along the trail, people were constantly in awe of the size of our packs. Folks often asked “Why?” and to this day my response is still “Why not? Why should I spend my precious time out here being miserable if I don’t have to?”
Overall, the WHW was a dream. It started out with lush green landscapes, and after an unexpected snow storm, ended with post-holing through snow-covered highlands. We created so many new memories that will forever stick with me. From busting my ass in the mud one afternoon – an afternoon that gave my Windrider a beautiful new trail patina – to the summit of Conic Hill’s on a rare clear day to gaze at the largest loch in Great Britain.
The 12-mile remote stretch between Bridge of Orchy and the Kings House Hotel ended up being my favorite part of the trail. It was like we were the only two people existing on a different planet.
Followed by nine more miles that afternoon that included the Devil’s Staircase that was so windy at the summit we didn’t even get to snap a pic.
And then that last day. When a nice lad gifted us a local ale and told us to drink it at the lookout point when Fort William came into view. Which was precisely what we did.
We finally gimped our way to the statue of the man with the sore feet that marks the completion of the trail and the end of this particular journey.
The perfect ending came by way of the loveliest lady pouring us a dram of whiskey to cheer our accomplishment.
Never again do I want to say, “We don’t have enough time.” This trip was just enough to keep us going and proved that we can still experience what we love the most without being the most extreme.
Amy Kading is one of our all-time favorite people ever. The Sales and E-Commerce Manager for four years, she kept the ship afloat with otherworldly smarts and intuition. Her beacon of positivity is balanced with a blanket of trademark sarcasm–a perfect combination for any office. We’ll never forget how lucky we were to work with her. If you cross paths with her out on a trail, ask her if she’s seen Traci.