Got a call from My friend John last year that his good lady Nicola was planning to climb Ben Nevis to raise money for the UNICEF charity and would I be willing to accompany her ?. Well I thought I have been trying to get back into the art of Bagging the peaks again, and as John had a knee op looming and obviously couldn't do it, I accepted.
The walk was planned for 19th May and as the date approached the weather for the first few weeks in May had been the coldest and unsettled for many years so it was looking grim, but when we arrived at the Glen Nevis campsite on the Friday night, it looked like we were going to have a good weekend of settled weather.
Nicola had contacted her cousin Lynda and her Boyfriend Steven if they would like to join us on the walk, they accepted and we met up in the visitors car park at 7am on a chilly morning, full of vigor and anticipation, Lynda & Steven are of considerable years younger Nicola & myself and are total outdoor people, Steven having climbed 'The Ben' almost 20 times ..Gulp!!! Do they know they will be at a snails pace I thought!!.
We set off up the path, a bit quick to start with, but then settled down to a nice pace as the track climbed past the Campsite and the views gave way to the lovely Glen Nevis and the majestic peaks of the Mamores.The going was moderate on the well constructed path and we were starting to be overtaken by groups of walkers, some with guides, as we stood by to let them pass, some of which were sweating profusely and had a look about them as if to say 'slow down up front'!
The track then steepened via several small zig-zags to the saddle by Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe (known as the halfway lochan) onwards up the stony west flank of Ben Nevis in a series of larger zig-zags which seem to go on forever, but the views that were opening out and the peaks of the Mountains coming into view were worth the effort. We then hit the snow line, and with the passage of the many boots that had compacted the white stuff, made for slow slippy progress, good job we had the trekking poles (no skis though) as this made balance easier. I advised Nicola to try to keep to the edge of the hard snow so as to have better progress than the softer stuff, and it was at this point that she revealed to me of her fear of heights! and that she would be more comfortable staying away from the edge... not only was she doing this as a charity challenge, but a personal challenge too!
Upwards we climbed into the mist which made visibility very poor, thankfully there were a series of cairns stretching onwards to the summit plateau and the many walkers to make navigation easier. I always carry a map & compass plus my GPS and know how to use them, but I was amazed at the amount of people that were in jeans, trainers and ordinary clothing in these conditions, no wonder the Mountain rescue services are kept busy!
At last we reached the summit and took the obligatory photos and congratulated each other and had a nip of the good stuff too! As we had some well deserved lunch the mist lifted to reveal the awesome views from the roof of Britain, I have never been on a Munro summit that was so busy as was Ben Nevis but i guess its status is the lure, I was also amazed at the depth of the snow, we were level with the base of the trig point, where as on a snow less summit it would have been at least 8ft above us, but I have been told it has been covered too! Ironically although the snow made for slow progress experience told me that the rocks that litter these Munro summits can be just as hard.
So it was time to head back down, no difficulties for navigation as the cloud had lifted well above to be able to see the route, but progress was again hampered by the snow and by this time Nicola was treading very carefully, people were using their orange survival bags as sleds, one unfortunate person couldn't man oeuvre his in time before glancing of some rocks that brought a yelp as his posterior bore the full brunt!
,I lost my footing a couple of times and as had my waterproof over trousers on I went for a slide myself for a few meters, luckily not suffering the same fate as the person on the Survival bag, Nicola on the other hand was taking it nice and easy, so no slips for her! It was around this point we said goodbye to Lynda & Steven, they were going out for the night and as their pace was faster than us they decided to push on. As with all mountain descents the going can be weary and a strain on the joints, one poor chap I was chatting to lost his footing due to his knees being so weak, he fell and hit his face, but no serious injuries, I think his mountain climbing days are done considering the expletives he used at the time!
So, after a long steady plod back down the track we finally arrived at the bridge near the Youth Hostel, & it was time for one last picture to be taken, that incidentally shows the contrast from the summit and base conditions, then a short walk along the road to the campsite were we were greeted by Nicola's hubby John and their son Ewan, and a BBQ feast that they had prepared, washed down by a cold beer!. It was a great experience and I'm glad I had finally done 'The Ben' at last, plus Nicola has passed her fund raising target and donations still coming in.
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Warning Please note that hillwalking when there is snow lying requires an ice-axe, crampons and the knowledge, experience and skill to use them correctly. Summer routes may not be viable or appropriate in winter. See winter information on our skills and safety pages for more information.