July 3, 2019
Hiking Ben Nevis was my plan from the moment I started planning to walk the West Highland Way a year ago. It was going to be the perfect end to the Way. My heart was set on doing it via the CMD arête. Since my hiking buddy Sonja wasn’t able to do it with me I was hoping to maybe meet someone with similar plans. Luckily the first night in Drymen we went for a pint with few fellow hikers from the campsite and one of them, Jeremy from Finland, mentioned planning to hike Ben Nevis via the CMD as well. We greed we’d go together, if we make it to Fort William at the same time, which we did. (Report from the WHW: https://www.walkhighlands.co.uk/Forum/viewtopic.php?f=25&t=91105). But as exhausted from the WHW as we were, with blistered feet, and with a forecast that promised clouds all around the summit, we decided to take the tourist path. Safety first. Always.
We met up shortly after 8 am at the Ben Nevis information / visitors center and before 9 we were on our way, meandering between groups, small parties and individuals heading the same direction. The low lying clouds were covering Ben Nevis’ summit, but, as the forecast promised, no rain. As we were getting higher and higher, we got nice views of Glen Nevis. Passing by a group with a guide I overheard that the glen is known for being used in Harry Potter as well as Braveheart. I was aware of the “nearby” Glenfinnan Viaduct and its connection to the Harry Potter movies, but didn’t know about Glen Nevis. Now it made more sense that there is a Braveheart car park in the glen.
We continued up and the temperature continue to go down. So did the clouds. I pulled up my second layer as we passed the Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe. Shortly after passing the Allt na n-Urchaire (“Red Run”) waterfalls we entered the clouds. The visibility lowered and when we managed to get little ways away from other hikers and stand still for a moment, we were surrounded by complete silence. With the clouds all around, it was mystical and eerie at the same time.
We reached the summit in 3 hours and 45 minutes. It was busy! No views, just clouds all around and strong, cold wind. The temperature was around 5˚C / 41˚F. With the wind, few minutes on the summit were like standing in a rain. We didn’t linger long – waited our turn to climb to the trig point, snap a quick picture, make few seconds long video and down to find a little shelter from the wind. But the wind was everywhere, so we decided to start heading down. It felt like forever to reach the cloud line again. We met more people on their way up and I was surprised how many of them were utterly unprepared for the conditions on the summit – sandals without sock, shorts, tank tops, no sleeves, only small backpacks (more like purses carried on backs) that definitely couldn’t hold any serious warm layers, waterproofs, or enough water or food. Some of these hikers were visibly cold and unhappy, yet they continued up. What’s up with people???!!! I think little bit of respect for the mountain would not hurt and might safe them some health trouble later on…
Our descent took us about 2 hours and 30 min. As I was nearing the glen again, I was more and more glad we took the tourist path. Even though I got a good night sleep and felt fine (and full of energy) in the morning, I started feeling the tiredness from the previous 7 days and walking the WHW more and more. I was also glad I had my sturdy hiking boots as there were two close calls where I might have twisted my ankle otherwise. But we were finally down, back at the visitor center; wet gloves off, extra warm layer off, and back to the camp for hot shower and a nap. In the evening I met up with Jeremy, Alex (another fellow hiker who did Ben Nevis the same day), and Nick (a fellow hiker from the WHW) for a celebratory dinner in Fort Williams. It was also a goodbye dinner for the guys, as Jeremy and Nick were heading to the Isle of Skye the next day.
Hiking up Ben Nevis was absolutely great, despite all the clouds around, no views, and the near winter conditions on the summit. It only reminded me of the forces of nature and the mightiness of mountains. I’d certainly would love to come back in the future, if at all possible, and hopefully take the CMD arête.
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