DAY 24: The big climb
R had been getting excited; for several months now. As I’ve mentioned he has a thing for mountains but we’d never walked up one. Well today was the day. Or was it?
After the restaurant last night we ducked into the shop to look at the forecast for tomorrow before bed; it didn’t look good. Low-level cloud was predicted rising later in the day, with a small chance of intermittent sunshine, oh and drizzle on and off, and cold. A few climbers also checking were grumbling which didn’t bode well. ‘Perfect’ for our first attempt at conquering Ben Nevis.
Morning, up we sprang, heads out the door. Grey. Like the hideous yesterday. Mizzle in the air. Quick check of the weather on the phone and it is still the same. No rush then we slowly get ready, do breakfast, I pack a pannier. We’d give it a go and see how far up we’d get before it became atrocious. 2hrs later and it had changed, the cloud base was rising, people were making a bee line to the paths, it was on!
We set off just gone 10 o’clock. Cross the River Nevis at the YHA and ascend a steep and windy path hewn into the side of the Glen’s lower slope. Soon we are just down to T-shirts. I was prepared though with all the layers we’d need: extra tops, jackets, gloves; and food and water. And R had his emergency whistle from Nana just in case.
We joined the Mountain Track and the gradient levelled out. Later we found out that a Model T Ford was driven up this track to the summit in 1911. We were stomping. Occasionally we’d stop for some water or a snack and join that big caterpillar of the ascending throng.
I’ll let some photos do the explaining….
As you can see the cloud cover just kept rising. It was warm and sunny. Loads of people were out, some already descending. R had a few moments where he didn’t want to continue but after I told him we wouldn’t get a chance to try this again for a long time he would plough on. I’d read the amount of climb left off my nav app so he knew how much we were closing in on the summit.
Obviously the higher we went the cooler it got. It was at about the beginning of the zig zags R donned some extra layers. It was still clear but looking up you could see the bank of cloud buffeting up against the south eastern face, spilling cloud around and over the summit. We were nearing the top, moving between the cairns. Colder still R added the final layer, one of my tops. We’d be in cloud then it would be clear. With a few hundred metres to go R stopped. He’d had enough. No matter how much persuasion he didn’t have the beans to make the final bit and steep climb up the scree to the summit plateau. No option then. I grabbed him and swung him over my shoulders like a sack of potatoes and practically ran it!
We were surrounded by cloud. 2 cyclists who’d passed us earlier carrying their bikes were attempting to ride back down. Then it cleared. We were stood next to a gully and had views over to the Carn Mor Dearg (CMD) arête.
In planning our route up Ben Nevis I’d chatted to my friend Robert who enjoys hill walking. He suggested scrambling up from the mountain rescue post below the North Face to the CMD and use the arête to the summit. If the weather forecast had been more favourable we would have done this; splitting off from the Mountain Track at Halfway Lochran and traversing the North Face before the final assault. Something for another time…
Then we were there and I dolled out the hug and got a big squeeze back from my Limpet! We were so lucky having views across The Great Glen [see header photo]. One of my brothers has climbed Ben Nevis 3 times, Grandpa Pom once; neither had had a view! We queued to climb the trig point. Now we were on top of the UK!
And just in time as the cloud set in. What do you do when you are on top of the UK? Call Mummy of course! #braggingrights
We took the time to have lunch, as did many others, in amongst the ruins of the old meteorological observatory; it had a hotel annex back in Victorian times! We were probably there for about half an hour, not moving much. The chill began to set in so we set off back down; this for me was the toughest part and I would feel it in my legs the next day. R just floated down like some mountain goat!
And as we went down the more layers came off. Rather than climb back down to the YHA we followed the gentler ascent of the Mountain Track; all the way to the Ben Nevis Inn for some much deserved food, a beer or 2 for me and of course a peppermint tea with a straw for R, in a GLASS!
8 hours climbing one way or another, then having sat down for an hour I hobbled back to the campsite as R danced like a sprite and shot off to the swings in the playground. Enough said really. Apart from me mate Rob says Ben Nevis is one of the hardest peaks to climb, there aren’t that many that achieve that amount of elevation gain from starting point (practically sea level) to summit.
What a fantastic day!
19.8km walked | 1320m climbed (& carried) up then stumbled/floated down