No rush to get up at all today as I am right on my route and it is a short day. Kingshouse has turned out to be comfortable if a bit shabby, but at £30.00 for a double room with a great veiw of the Buchaille and an en suite bath to soak in last night I am not complaining.  The £30 does not include breakfast but I have promised myself I will get a cooked breakfast. But when I go down to the dining room and see the prices my innate meanness kicks in and I sneak back upstairs to breakfast on hot-cross buns and tea, as I watch a deer in the little patch of forestry in front of the hotel.

Fortified I set off into a clear cold morning. Much colder than yesterday and there is plenty of ice on the track. I cross a river on a minor road that goes behind the hotel and set off.  The sun is illuminating the tops of the mountains, slowly descending their bright white crags. The Buchaille is looking more itself, black rock and white snow and ice presenting a more ferocious aspect than last night's pretty-in-pink.

There is ice on the road in places and I need to watch my footing. Behind the hotel it swings round and heads straight for the Buchaille for a spell.

I get another look at Srno Na Criese wondering how I ever got up it in conditions not so different to this (I was dragged up by someone who knew what they were doing, is the answer!)

After about a kilometer a footpath leaves the little road. There is a gate which I struggle with as it is frozen..With views of Glencoe  ahead and more of the Buchaille coming into the sun I stop frequently to take photos. The camera seems to have survived the damp of yesterday but there is a worrying patch of discolouration in the viewfinder.

For three kilometers the track picks its way over the hill. To start with it goes high above the A82 and I am am watched by deer and a buzzard or two as I pick my way over the ice.

After a couple of K, though, it winds back down towards the road until I walking a few meters from it into the  few houses that make up  Altnafeadh.

A couple are getting ready to walk or climb in the car park as I pass an old iron sign post, pointing the way ahead. Here the path turns due north, perpendicular to the east-west road, and it  crosses a we bridge before heading seriously uphill.

This is the route to The Devils Staircase, and promises to be the most strenuous part of the day. In fact the gradient is not bad. This is an old military road and famously was used by navvies building the Blackwater Resevoir dam. They took it after getting paid to walk to Kingshouse, the nearest drinking place, and some did not make it back alive in winter.

But though I am unfit I am not drunk and there is no blizzard to confuse me, indeed the day is beautiful.

Though I am not alone. A guy comes down the path towards me and we stop for a brief chat. He has been taking panoromas. Only after we part company do I think I could have asked him to take a picture of me.

Oh well, the people from the car are toiling up the hill behind me. I am taking this easy, partly because of unfitness but also because I have all the time in the world, am really enjoying the views, and don't want to work up too much sweat. And yet the car people are not catching me up.

It is not that obvious where the Devils Staircase starts but eventually I conclude that the zig-zags that I am on must be it. There is a theory that the name comes from the devilish difficulty the road builders had in bringing in materials. That makes sense because it is by no means a brutal gradient and there are no potential terrors like sheer drops. No exposure.

Eventually the couple do pass me as I am taking photos of the views between Buchaille Etive Mor and Buchaille Etive Beag. But they don't stop for a chat and I miss the chance to ask them.

Onwards and upwards. The gradient becomes really gentle and it feels as if I am getting to the summit, though you never know.

But then I see a cairn at the side of the path and after a few more steps the whole Mamore ridge comes into view in front of me. And it is stunning.

I have walked most of that ridge and some of it in Winter and I stop to try to figure out the the way we went, up Sgor Eilde Beag along the ridge to Na Gruagaichean and then a fairly terrifying traverse of  Na Gruagaichean's south ridge, in near total whiteout conditions. The snow was thick and soft and the ridge narrow and we could not tell if we were walking on snow over rock or on a cornice, which means snow over empty air.

Scary as it was it was a great day out and it is great to be able to trace the route we took in perfect visibility.

Now the path heads downwards towards a river, and I can see that I will have to go up again to traverse a side ridge of the great ridge I have just crossed. This is the far end of the Aonach Eagach, but at this end it has none of the menace of what becomes the narrowest mainland ridge over to the west, beyond Am Bodach.

Here the main and side ridges are rounded, gently sloping and flat topped.

The river has stepping stones across it and of course these are covered in a lovely, unpredictable, mixture of snow and ice. I give thanks to Almighty Tiso for my walking pole as I negotiate them.

As the path rises again I get glimpses of the Blackwater Resevouir, clearly frozen, and a section of the dam.

The couple from the car have stopped and are returning. This time when they reach me none of us are winded so we stop to exchange proper greetings and I sieze my chance. The man defers to the woman but she is confused by my camera. I realise that it is because I am using the viewfinder rather than the lcd screen.

She is middle aged and it strikes me as interesting that the use of viewfinders is already becoming a strange exotic thing. I turn on the lcd and she takes a photo but the one she took blind is actually better.

We set off in our various directions.  For me this means going up again to round the flank of a subsidiary ridge. It is a bit of an effort on the snowy path but only because of my fitness levels. Too much Christmas food by far.

I keep seeing intriguing footprints and resolve again to do some work on my animal track identification.

The glen around the River Leven up to the reseviour is wooded and today the lower, mostly birch covered, slopes are largely snow free. I can see a building on the side of the hill in front of me, which I remember from walking  up towards the resevoir in the past. And then I get my first glimpses of the houses of Kinlochleven far below.

I have some way to go to get there yet though. The icy path zig zags down to a well made footbridge. It is the right height for sitting but this proves awkward as the ground below the bridge is not frozen and very soggy. But I manage to get seated without wet feet and have a cup of tea and a couple of museli bars.

Refreshed and slightly rested I carry on down. The track is rocky here as well as icy in unpredictable patches and it gets worse the nearer I get to the building below me. In fact I go off path altogether just before it joins the reservoir road.

The building proves to be something mysterious to do with the piping of water down, perhaps where the conduit turns into a pipeline. Whatever it is it has a decent road up to it, not metalled but well made and easy walking.

Immediately I am out of snow covered moor and walking amongst almost snow free birch woods. There is not even much ice underfoot though there are patches here and there waiting to trip me up.

The worst is after a dam where the road dips to a bridge and then climbs steeply up for a few meters. Here the ice is thin and looks innocuous but I suddenly find I cannot walk up further and then start to slide back wards. It is only a few feet and I can easily walk around the patch but it is, maybe, a warning.

The road zig-zags steeply down the hillside. At times I am beside the pipelines and I pass a place where water sprays out through the juncture where two pipes have been bolted together. Later I pass more of these. Does it matter any more? The Aluminium smelter that it was built for is long gone but I suppose they still used the dam and water for electricity generation.

There are six pipes and each one is made of sections only ten meters or so long, bolted to the next one. And the pipeline is about two kilometres long. So there must be thousands of joints like that. Maintaining them must be a major job if ageing bolts are all rusting away.

Glad it is not my job I carry on. A land-rover passes me with two guys in who wave. Maybe it is their job.

Gradually the gradient moderates and the road straightens out as Kinlochleven comes into view. I can see the old Aluminium works, now the Ice Factor indoor climbing place. As I remember it has a decent cafe.

Kinlochleven is not a pretty place. A small industriall town dumped in the most breathtaking scenery. But it has its charms and I am glad to be back here. I walk on past the power station and before I get to The Ice Factor see some strange green topped cylinder things on their side.

The building next to them is the Blackwater Hostel where I am booked in, though the guy said on the phone it was not in the hostel proper. By luck someone is there and it turns out that the barrel things are where I am staying.

What are they called? I ask. He says something like "mini-hobbit-habitats." I look blank. "Like in Lord of the Rings." He tells me they are very well insulated and not to leave the heater on when I go out.

It has to be said that it smells a bit funny. There are two beds and not a lot of room for anything else. Strangely there is a kettle, fridge and microwave but there are no cups or other utensils. By the time I have discovered this he has disapeared.

I go to the Ice factor to drink tea and eat an egg roll while more energetic folk climb artificial ice and rock walls around me. Then to the coop to stock up. I get tea and milk, a bottle of wine and some stuff for breakfast and then go back to the hobbit hutch. There may not be any cups but there is a TV with an almost complete selection of freeview channels. Very odd.  I make tea using my flask as a tea pot.

It is getting really cold when I go out again and walk down to the chip shop. A family with two small kids are getting out of the hobbit hutch next to mine and I realise that it is double sized.

The woman in the chip shop has a London accent and the array of options is remarkable. I ask if the green things she puts into the display part of the fryer are  "mushy pea fritters," she looks at me as if I am daft.

"No," she says, "those are tempura vegetables."

Tempura vegetables in Kinlochleven chippie eh? This is gettting more peculiar by the minute. I have haddock and chips and mushy peas though and they are very, very, good.

After that I have a flask cup or four of wine and turn on the TV to watch Wall E, some other rubbish, and then an early night.

In the middle of the night I wake up because I am fucking freezing. This hobbit hutch might be wonderfully insulated but it is not nearly warm enough without the fan heater on, and that would surely cook me.

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