Having a bucket list is a good thing, but in some cases (as in mine) it can also be a bad thing! The reason is two fold ; firstly my bucket list is endless, every week I seem to add more and more to it and I should rename it “my dreams” ; secondly, in this case specifically getting the conditions at a time when I am free has been a major pain So many times I have noticed a weather window and for one reason or another I cannot make it to the hill and this has prevented me from ticking this one off the list.
Not this time though. The weather gods had been smiling down on Scotland for months and when I noticed the high pressure system centered over Ben Nevis, I knew this was the time to start planning.
Vidoes of adventure:
My last trip here was an absolute belter – another high pressure weather window but that time it was the middle of winter and I experienced one of my best ever days in the great outdoors (see bottom of report!). Today and the seasons were flipped, middle of summer and rather warm. My planning had, as usual, looked for the nearest water source to my intended campsite, however with the months of dry weather I was skeptical on whether the stream would have any water in it! So an extra , extra heavy backpack. My photography gear weighs the same as my camping gear and now I had 3.5 liters of water to humph up the mountain! Ho hum…..
My plan was a steady hike to Carn Mor Dearg to find a pitch with one of the finest views in the UK – The North Face of Ben Nevis! In addition to my water research I had also been scouring the web for others who had done the same but it seems not too many others have! This usually means that finding a suitable pitch can be difficult and my memories of other trips round the arête (in summer conditions) were of lots and lots of rock and not much grass!! But nothing ventured, nothing gained so I set off under a blazing sun in the hope that I’d find a semi flat area to pitch up!!
As usual the views were fabulous. The steady pull up Carn Beag Deargs slopes was punishing! Lots of stops were required and you can imagine my bipolar response when I eventually reached the stream just about 900m up! It was full of water! My anger at this act of nature not drying up in the heatwave and causing my knees and shoulders to suffer more than normal was soon replaced by joy as I splashed the cool water over my face and cooled off and rehydrated . I refilled all my water carriers to keep me going for the next 24 hours which was re assuring Coffee was not going to be a problem in the morning!
After my lengthy water break I shouldered the two ton bag and trudged on. The views were really opening up now and the cliffs of the North Face are a sight any hill goer should experience.
1000m, 1100meters – up I went. The terrain felt more like central Spain with the arid conditions and dusty paths, it hadn’t rained in over a month and the ground was showing it! Dust was soon replaced by rock and I was soon cresting the North West ridge of Carn Dearg Meadhonach and the views of the Aonachs came into view. Possibly the best viewpoint on the route, I stopped and eyeballed the landscape from its summit, desperately seeking out some greenery and a possible pitch for my SCARP1!.
The bealach between Carn mor Dearg and Carn Dearg Meadhonach looked a possible site so I headed down to have a look. However about 20 meters from the summit I found a very small area of grass on a slight slope that looked like it could work. I took the backpack off and lay down on the ground. A bit lumpy but it would do. Right on the edge I wouldn’t have pitched here had there been a NW gale flowing but I knew it was to be calm and my exped mat would flatten any lumps and bumps out
Tent up and I was knackered. I lay down outside and snoozed for some time in the warm sunshine – not often you can do that at 1200m in Scotland!
Waking up in the early evening and things were looking great, I bumbled about some more and by 9pm the light was starting to turn into a photographers dream. Deep reds came out as the lower sun hit the north face and Carn Mor Dearg and I spent the next two hours snapping away and enjoying myself on the summit of Carn Dearg Meadhonach.The slight breeze that had accompanied me up (and was most welcome) had now died away leaving a breathless evening. This can sometimes be a bad omen for Scotland as the lower the wind, the higher the chance of the midge finding and eating you!! Not tonight though, I was truly blessed to be up here and experiencing this, it was well worthy of its place on my bucket list.
Better was to come though. some photos of day 1 and sunset and dusk:
CMD to Aonach Eagach by Scotland's Mountains, on Flickr
Ben Nevis North Face by Scotland's Mountains, on Flickr
CMD by Scotland's Mountains, on Flickr
11pm and I settled down and a few hours later I was up again feeling excited at what lay outside the tent doors. Getting up and looking outside the tent at 03.45 and it was glorious. There was still about an hour till sunrise but there was no wind and no sound – a bit surreal actually but absolutely perfect. Excited for the Arete I was soon rock hoping my way to the summit of Carn Mor Dearg where I watched the sun rise over the Aonachs to the east and light up the north face of the ben – one word – stupendous!
The next few hours were bliss, easy scrambling over the arête an upon reaching the end of the arête , another treat lay instore. A family of very friendly snow bunting welcomed me and kept me company whilst I enjoyed another snack. This was turning into one of those mornings that would live with me for the rest of my life. Someone was definitely smiling down on my from the heavens
The North Face by Scotland's Mountains, on Flickr
Ben Nevis by Scotland's Mountains, on Flickr
CMD ARETE MORNING sunshine by Scotland's Mountains, on Flickr
The Ben by Scotland's Mountains, on Flickr
By 0530am I was pulling up the final slopes towards the highest point in the UK. There were a couple of tents but the occupants were still in dream land. I had the summit to myself as I did 6 years previously after a fantastic winter round – what a place!
After lingering about, I soon reversed my route and was soon striking camp under a blue sky and a glorious morning. I started meet the first people I seen since leaving the car park the day before – weekend warriors like me were surprised to see me heading down the way so early, after their super early starts. I didn’t have the heart to tell them they had already missed the best part of the day …..
Link to winter ascent vid:
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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.