For our first full day in Fort William, Alex and I tackle Ben Nevis, the highest peak in the UK at 1,344 meters above sea level. Despite the height though, Ben Nevis is pretty accessible for a mountain. On a good day anyone with two legs and a reasonable level of fitness should be able to make it to the top (some with more rest stops than others). It’s a long climb, but the path is well marked and it’s not as steep as some other paths I’ve been on. It is still a mountain though, so some warm layers and the sense to turn back if the weather turns bad are a must if you’re going to attempt it.
We set off bright and early to get started on the ascent of Ben Nevis. There are a variety of routes you can take to the top but we’ve gone for the standard tourist route, which is well marked and the easiest way to get to the top. We stayed the night at the Ben Nevis Inn Bunkhouse the night before, which besides being great value, has the start of the trail right on its doorstep. Great pub upstairs too.
We’ve lucked out with the weather, apparently its been pretty rubbish for the last week or so. Today there’s a bit of cloud about, but the visibility is pretty good and the wind isn’t too strong.
The track starts with a steady ascent up a well kept dirt path. Easy going, but already with lovely views down Glen Nevis. It’s a busy path, there’s no lack of company and I quickly start to recognize familiar faces as we start leap frogging various hikers on the trail.
The track gets rockier and rougher as it gets higher. Some sections are well cut steps but others are involve scrambling over big chunks of rock. To compensate, the views get more spectacular. The track winds past hardy mountain sheep and breathtaking vistas. If you have any breath left that is. It’s not the hardest climb I’ve done but certainly no joke for the thigh muscles.
A little above the half way point the track turns into my favorite kind of terrain. Loose rock. The chunks of rock are a decent size, so not as bad as the scree around Tongariro, but I make lots of excuses for rests along those sections. Luckily, with views like these, excuses are easy to find.
As we get near the summit we hit the snow line and a chill sets in. My hiking boots are fairly grippy but not really equipped to deal with snow so there is some amusing slipping and sliding. There are a couple of girls doing the trail as a sort of 3-legged race for charity though, so if they can make it up the hill in the snow surely I can! Another lady has a small fluffy dog that is not only much better at walking in the snow than me, but seems to positively love it. In spite of his tiny legs, I can’t even come close to keeping up with him.
The snowy hill is the last big hurdle and we make it to the summit in around 3 hours. Pretty good achievement considering it’s not even noon yet. We hang around the top for about half an hour to have lunch, take in the wonderful views, and stand on a platform where you can be (briefly) the highest person in the UK. There is some cloud around which obscures the views some of the time, but it moves quickly so there are also periods where the clouds part to reveal the grand vistas below. The views really are spectacular. The summit is high above everything as far as the eye can see. The mountains that were towering above us at the bottom are now well below us, dwindling down into the distance. Our fingers start to get pretty cold up there though so in the interests of avoiding frostbite, we begin our descent with tired legs, smiles and full bellies.
The way down is a bit more haphazard but much easier on the legs. Some of the views are easier to see from this direction as well which is a nice treat. An array of sweaty faces going the other direction gasp hellos as they pass us. I’m glad we’ve done that bit already. We make it back to the bunkhouse tired but satisfied and immediately head to the supermarket for some cold beers. I even find some Singha. Celebrate climbing a Scottish mountain by drinking Thai beer? Why not? There’s live music at the pub upstairs tonight too. It’s a hard life.
Listening to: Thick As A Brick – Jethro Tull