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Motorcity Madmen take on Ben Nevis from the North

Motorcity Madmen take on Ben Nevis from the North

Postby andrewclyde » Thu Nov 28, 2013 6:49 am

Route description: Ben Nevis by the Carn Mor Dearg Arete

Munros included on this walk: Ben Nevis, Carn Mor Dearg

Date walked: 22/10/2013

Time taken: 7.3 hours

Distance: 16 km

Ascent: 1073m

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Monday, October 21, 2013
My son Drew and I spent our first week in Scotland visiting relatives in Glasgow and making day trips into the city and countryside. Today was the official start of our walking and wild camping in the highlands. Uncle Benny and Grampy Joe dropped us off close to the Ben Nevis north side trailhead just outside of Fort William. We geared up and began the walk under the threat of rain at 12:35.

Geared up and ready to go!

We followed the dirt roadway into the north side parking lot and continued on into the forest to begin the walk up towards the Ben Nevis mountain cabin.

North Side Parking Lot

The first part of the walk was wooded with a well-defined walkway made of packed earth and gravel. The slope became quite steep for about 1KM as we walked through the forest. We quickly overheated and stopped to remove some layers of clothing. A woman walking her golden retriever passed us while we were stopped. Her dog watched us with suspicion as we passed them back on our way up the trail. A short time later, we were approached and passed by someone on the forest trail who I later nicknamed 'spiderman'. He was a lanky and sinewy gentleman with a NY yankees ball cap, a Vancouver sweatshirt and a small backpack. He mentioned that the grade would be difficult for the first 1000 meters or so and then would become easier. He also told us the water source by the mountain cabin was good for drinking because it drew from above the sheep line. Drew and I joked later that there did not seem to be a sheep line since we saw them or evidence of their presence at almost every elevation. Spiderman passed us quickly and was soon beyond sight. We exited the forest and came upon a river and a small dam.

First view of the mountain stream from Ben Nevis.

Further up the path was a set of wooden stairs crossing over a wire fence; the only fence we would encounter for the next 2 days. The path was well defined and mostly hard-packed with some wet puddled sections. As we we walked into the open glen, the air was filled with the roar of the mountain stream. The spectacular north cliffs of Ben Nevis shrouded in cloud became visible for the first time.

Across the fence and ascending along the stream.

The upper part of Ben Nevis starts to reveal itself

The rim of the arrete was visible at times as the cloud seemed to be tamping the top of the mountain like a wet sponge. The mountain cabin was unseen throughout the ascent along the creek until we were almost on top of it. We hiked up to the cabin to check it out. Everything was locked except access to an emergency phone. Many large propane cylinders were stashed outside and a medium sized windmill was spinning quickly; fair warning of what was to come later that evening. We scouted for a spot to pitch the REI quarter-dome tent and settled on a patch of dry grass above the creek and below the cabin at 15:00.

Drew admiring the view of the north face of Ben Nevis through the cloud.

Drew surveying the BMC cabin.

'Spiderman' appeared from the base of the mountain and came by to chat. He described a possible path up the face of the north side and explained how to work your way up to the summit. We decided his route was likely beyond our capability.

'Spiderman' suggested a route up through here!

We set the tent and then ate a freeze-dried dinner. As we prepared and ate our dinner, an English couple walked up the trail and approached us. They told us they were members of BMC (British Mountaineering Club) and they had a key to the cabin where they planned to stay for two nights. Both carried relatively large backpacks that were larger than you would expect for cabin camping. I suspect they were wild camping somewhere else during their journey. They mentioned that other BMC members were doing the triple: walking the 3 tallest 'hills' in the UK. They planned to ascend Ben Nevis from the north side the next day. The woman seemed familiar with the area and talked about the ice climbers that practice on the north face of Ben Nevis in the winter.

The day had been relatively clear but became more threatening for rain as the afternoon wore on. It started to rain steadily as we climbed into the tent and our sleeping bags for the night. Some time around 18:30 the rain started to fall heavily and the wind became very strong with some violent gusts. The storm intensified into the evening becoming a torrential rain with tremendous gusts of wind that would push the wall of the small tent into the side of my sleeping bag. Amazingly, the inside of the tent remained dry. The aluminum tent poles were flexed to what seemed to be their limit many times. I am quite certain our Ben Nevis campsite was the windiest section of the mountain range. The spinning windmill by the mountain cabin had been an early omen.

Room with a view - REI style.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

We awoke to a misty morning. The top of the Carn Mor Dearg Arete was barely visible below the clouds. The rain had stopped in the night and would not return until later that evening. We boiled water with the Sumo Jetboil and ate a breakfast of instant oatmeal and freeze-dried Starbucks Via coffee. We left the tent set up with most of our gear inside and packed Drew's backpack with water and snacks for the day

Misty morning campsite near Ben Nevis.

We started our walk around 8:30 heading south a few hundred meters past the cabin then started ascending the slope towards the summit of Carn Mor Dearg. We took several breaks to catch our breath and clear the lactic acid in our legs.

Clyde taking a break on the ascent to Carn Mor Dearg. Cabin and campsite below.

The grade was surprisingly steep and footing was often difficult.

Drew 'walking' up to Carn Mor Dearg.

At 10:03, we reached the summit of Carn Mor Dearg at the edge of the cloud with a light mist and moderate wind blowing.

Summit of Carn Mor Dearg and our first munro!

After taking a few photos we began the trek across the Carn Mor Dearg Arete towards Ben Nevis. The Arete was narrow but had a good footpath with many large rocks and boulders to scramble around.

"Are you sure the Carn Mor Dearg Arete is this way?!"

Taking a break for a photo on the Arete.

We startled some grey speckled birds that seemed to be hiding amongst the rocks. They looked like white and gray patched pigeons. Their patterns and colors matched the shapes and coloring of the surrounding rocks. The cloud cover lifted just enough to allow a view of the glen to the south and the valley to the north with our campsite beside the mountain cabin.

A Ptarmigan checking out the silly walkers from Detroit.

The transition from Arete to Ben Nevis had a small rock cairn on a plateau. The climb from here to the summit of Ben Nevis was over a large boulder field with a mixture of medium to very large boulders. The rocks became wet and slippery the further we ascended up the Ben and into the cloud cover. About half way up the boulder field sat the remnant of a wooden structure about 5 x 10 feet at its base. The roof was missing, assuming it ever had a roof, and most of the walls were rotted away.

View north down to the campsite.

Stone cairn between the Arete and the final ascent to Ben Nevis.

Remnant of the past on the boulder field.

12:05 and the summit of Ben Nevis was covered with a thick blanket of cloud giving the rock strewn topography an alien and eerie atmosphere. The air was damp and cold. The cloud cover blocked all evidence of the glens below. We rested and ate a lunch of nuts with water from our pack and took several photos by the ordinance survey marker.

Ben Nevis!

We forgot the flag.

The views descending the south side of the Ben were not as spectacular or dramatic as those on the ascent from the north. The trail is well defined with sections bordered with hand-placed stone and stair steps constructed with large rocks. Many sections of the path were covered with smaller crushed stone that did not seem to be natural to the mountain suggesting some of the stone had been carried in from somewhere else.

Initial descent on Glen Nevis side of Ben Nevis.

We passed many walkers heading up the mountain from Glen Nevis below. More than a few of the brave souls appeared to have taken on a bit more than their abilities allowed. The view of Glen Nevis and Fort William was picturesque as we descended below the cloud cover. Sheep grazed along the slopes as patches of grass and bog became more frequent lower down the Ben.

View of Glen Nevis below.

Instead of taking the trail left down towards Glen Nevis, we continued on the trail branching to the right and followed along the lower slopes of the north side of the Ben. The trail was faintly defined in many sections suggesting it was less used than the trail from the Glen. We traversed through and around many wet and muddy sections of bog and puddles. Walking this section of the trail was relatively easy compared to the ascent earlier in the day but care was needed to prevent slipping and falling in the mud and sheep dung.

Making our way around the north side and back to the campsite.

View down to the north side parking lot.

We continued on the trail around the north face of Ben Nevis and met up with the original mountain stream. The trail followed along the side of the stream and back up the valley to the mountain cabin. We arrived back at the campsite to our tent and cached gear at 14:37. After taking a break to eat a freeze-dried lunch, we packed up camp and started back down the mountain at 16:00 towards the north side parking lot to find a new campsite for the night. The walk back down the valley was quick and untechnical but not easy since our legs were sore from our first day of serious 'walking'. We scouted potential campsites as we descended the valley but opted to camp at the boundary of the forest next to the north side parking lot.

Our campsite was not in the most picturesque spot but it was convenient for our hike into Fort William the following morning. We needed to catch a noon train to Mallaig the next day then on to Knoydart via ferry. We set up the tent at the side of the dirt roadway and scouted for firewood. The forest sheltered us from the wind. All of the vegetation and trees were wet and the sky was beginning to threaten rain. Drew managed to start a campfire with damp firewood we scavenged from the roadside. Drew celebrated his achievement with a dram of whisky courtesy of Uncle Benny while I prepared our freeze-dried dinner.

I attempted to take a quick bath in the nearby stream but cut it short when my legs quickly became numb. Just before climbing into our tent, a teenager popped out of the dark woods on a bike. A steady rain began to fall as we climbed into our sleeping bags for the night. Several times we heard someone walk by with a dog; the area was an obvious recreation spot for the locals. Rain continued fairly steady throughout the night. Drew played the movie "End of the World" on his iPhone. I attempted to watch the movie with him but quickly fell asleep.
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Re: Motorcity Madmen take on Ben Nevis from the North

Postby GillC » Thu Nov 28, 2013 8:51 am

Hey,,smashing report, glad you had a good time on Nevis. I still find it strange to see Nevis totally devoid of snow, Climbed via the arête in May 2012,,,under full snow when the trig point was actually at 'ground level' most of the cairns you saw were invisible lol

Well done guys,, :clap:
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Re: Motorcity Madmen take on Ben Nevis from the North

Postby mgmt! » Thu Nov 28, 2013 6:33 pm

wow guys top report there :clap: :clap: :clap:
the language used couldn,t help me think back to the boston goals guys on soccer am :lol:

keep them coming :D
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