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Pyrenees Traverse, France | Cape Wrath Trail, Scotland | Zillertal Alps, Austria | Tongariro Northern Circuit and Heaphy Track, New Zealand | Cordillera Apolobamba, Bolivia | Overland Track, Australia | Sarek National Park, Sweden | Rolwaling and Khumbu Valleys, Nepal | Polar Route, Greenland | Simien Mountains National Park, Ethiopia
Aficionados of bad weather and wild country have called the Cape Wrath Trail the hardest backpacking route in Britain–no small statement on this island of hardened hikers. But the reward, as they say, is commensurate with the effort. The CWT meanders for 202 miles across the Western and Northern Highlands from Fort William north to Cape Wrath at Scotland’s northwest tip. The route varies from established trail to rural lanes to cross-country rambles, traversing a Tolkienesque landscape of rugged peaks, boggy moors, and ancient forests. You’ll also be able to bag plenty of Munros, as Scots call peaks higher than 3,000 feet high, and Corbetts–peaks with elevations between 2,500 and 3,000 feet.
The entire trek takes about three weeks (if doing it all, skip only the first three urban miles out of Fort William; take a taxi to the start of Neptune’s Staircase in Banavie). If you only have a week, hike the 50 miles from Achnashellach rail station to Oykel Bridge, resupplying in towns every three days or less and “wild camping” (as they call tent camping here) in between. You’ll cross the Torridon Mountains, where glacial erosion has carved out the signature corries (cirques) and U-shaped glens of the Highlands. Hike through remnants of Scotland’s ancient Caledonian Forest in the Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve (Britain’s first), and encounter the castle-like rock formation of Slioch towering over the long, narrow glacial valley filled by Loch Maree. En route, you’ll traverse moorlands rarely seen even by intrepid Scots.
Life-list moment: Scramble An Teallach’s legendary knife-edge ridge. The all-day climb includes two Munros and eight subsidiary “tops” over 3,000 feet high (beginners can avoid the most exposed sections). Save lunch for the top-of-the-world perch known as Lord Berkeley’s Seat. Extend the trip with extra nights in Ullapool, a picturesque fishing town with lodges, pubs, and plenty of great dayhikes.