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Ben Nevis: A definitive guide on how not to do it

Ben Nevis: A definitive guide on how not to do it


Postby Raynor » Sun Jan 12, 2020 7:47 pm

Munros included on this walk: Ben Nevis

Date walked: 20/06/2017

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I made several bad choices for this one....first, I went up the tourist path. Now I really know why it's called the tourist path! Second, I went up on one of the warmest days of the year, temperature was pushing 30C. And thirdly, I set off far too late.

So I had been talking to a friend about hill walking and he was complaining that he was close to double figures for Ben Nevis ascents and was yet to get any sort of views from the summit. I decided I would wait until the forecast gave a good chance of clear skies so I could annoy him with photos of perfect views first time.

I left fairly early and with the roughly 2 hour drive, I parked up in the main car park on the road up to the youth hostel. With the clear skies overnight, it was actually pretty chilly when I set off. That would not last long. Lots of dew about on the grass with the sun just coming up properly.

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My plan had been to hit this early and fast to try and avoid the crowds. Talking with my friend about the tourist path, he said you could literally crowd surf all the way to the top it gets that busy in summer. I thought he was joking but it really wasn't that far off it.

I encountered a few groups coming up the alternative path direct from the youth hostel and by the time I reached the halfway lochan, the path was getting pretty busy. It had also started to get pretty damn warm.

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From this point on, the walk descended into a horrible slog for me. I am allergic to suncream so I generally wear a baseball cap when it's sunny. Today, this just seemed to overheat my head and felt like it was making matters worse. I was drinking plenty of water but it didn't seem to help. Out of nowhere I developed a blinding headache and no matter how much water I drank, it would not go away and I was feeling liking throwing up every time I had water. I am really not a warm weather person and much prefer walking in wind and clag if I'm honest :crazy:

On the plus side, the views were starting to really open up.

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In retrospect, I should have called it at that moment and got out of there. I knew something was wrong but ego kicks in. I consider myself very fit, I used to be a postman and would think nothing of doing a heavy 5 hour delivery round then going for a run up and down ben lomond straight after it. And here I was struggling to make progress up a "tourist" path, getting overtaken by people twice my age that had probably never done anything more physical than climb the steps into their tourist bus! I was struggling to get into any sort of rhythm and going was ridiculously slow. I had no idea how far there was to go. All I could see was the path endlessly zig zagging into infinity ahead of me...

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The path was super busy by now. I'm generally not very sociable and prefer not to meet anyone when out on the hills, although some chat with fellow minded people can be pretty interesting. Even still, I always say hello to people I pass. It costs nothing to be polite. This does not apply on Nevis apparently. I either got flat out ignored by most or was given a weird/annoyed look. Not sure if this is just because it was tourists that didn't speak english or maybe it was so busy everyone was sick of the small chat. Either way, I decided to follow suit and got to the point I refused to make eye contact with anyone which is impressive as it was as busy as Sauchiehall street up there.

I was getting fairly close to the top now after god knows how many hours of trudging up the zigzags. To this day I've no idea how this happened but I went from being on an impossible to miss path full of people to suddenly being very much off the path with no one in sight. I ended up in an area that was very bouldery with lots of gaps to jump and it was pretty awkward. Somehow I had managed to get lost on the ben nevis tourist path in absolutely perfect conditions! Quite an achievement really. I'm going to blame the heat exhaustion and confusion. All very embarassing really :lol:

After what seemed an age of just trying to work my way in a generally up direction I heard voices and headed off towards them. Eventually I found the path again and the big navigational cairns.

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I knew I wasn't far from the summit now and the patches of snow confirmed this.

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Just minutes from the summit, I completely hit a wall. I simply could not go a step further and I just sat where I was for a good while and munched a mars bar and crisps. I was not the only one. There were people all over the place just sitting on rocks or lying down, clearly done in. The heat was horrible and not even the slightest breeze around. The sugar rush got me going again and I fought my way through the crowds to the top. I could not believe how many people were up here. There were huge queues formed to take photos of the trig point and shelter. To me this is the complete opposite of why I go walking. Like some sort of terrible nightmare coming true. I would guess there may have been close to 200 people at any one time milling around up there. I felt awful, was hating every single second of it and thinking to myself what the hell am I doing up here :lol:

The next trick was to get some photos. This was a job in itself, trying to snap angles with noone in them. I gave up with the trig one as it was mobbed. These photos make it looked like it was deserted actually, but it was just opportunistic photo taking :shock:

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I didn't really appreciate the views at the time but looking at the photos now it really is a sight to behold and it's apparently very rare to get any views so that's something.

So I took a few photos and milled about for a while. A really obnoxious group of young "lads" appeared bounding up the path. They were doing the 3 peaks challenge and were live streaming the entire thing on facebook apparently. They were just being very loud and in your face so that was my cue to leave before I accidently volleyed one of them right down the north face 8)

It took me a very long time to get down. I was in no rush, just taking it very easy. The number of people coming up was utterly insane. A constant line of humanity like an army of ants snaking up the hill when seen from above. I couldn't believe what I was seeing at times. I'm used to seeing badly equipped people on Ben Lomond but this was different level stuff. People in flip flops and people with toddlers and no bags that clearly had no water or food with them. I wouldn't be surprised if mountain rescue were called out at some point on that day.

Near the bottom I got chatting to an older gentleman who was also walking at my tortoise pace. I forget his full story (sorry) but he was up on holiday from england with the wife and this was his final ascent of nevis. I think he had done it every year for 30 odd years or something like that. I enjoyed his stories of the different conditions and tales he had to share over the years. Anyway, it was an honour to share in a small part of his final walk and was a good end to a terrible day.

Except that wasn't the end. I didn't get off that lightly. After a quick and inadvisable stop off at fort william mcdonalds where I was very confused by the self service machines, I wanted to get home as quick as possible as my head was still pounding. I mad it as far as rannoch moor before I nearly blacked out at the wheel. Luckily I know the road very well, and knew all the stopping points. I performed a pretty impressive emergency stop just offroad opposite a layby and managed to avoid dunking the car into the moor. I got out and immediately collapsed and was just lying on my back for a while half concious. I was still in full sun though so eventually dragged myself into the back seat where I lay until it all went away :lol: I carefully dorve home stopping at nearly every single stopping point just incase, but the worst had gone.

Oddly, I was at the hospital for a minor op not long after this and I got chatting to the junior doctor about hillwalking and he told me had had taken heat stroke on ben nevis just recently. On comparing dates, we thought that it was surely the very same day I had been there. Now that's a "small world" moment if ever there was one :lol:
Raynor
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Re: Ben Nevis: A definitive guide on how not to do it

Postby ScotFinn65 » Sun Jan 12, 2020 10:03 pm

Now.......... If you had just taken the lift :lol:

Sorry😉 Couldn't resist 🤣
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ScotFinn65
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Re: Ben Nevis: A definitive guide on how not to do it

Postby Raynor » Mon Jan 13, 2020 1:14 am

ScotFinn65 wrote:Now.......... If you had just taken the lift :lol:

Sorry😉 Couldn't resist 🤣


Keep your cheating ways to yourself :lol:
Raynor
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Re: Ben Nevis: A definitive guide on how not to do it

Postby Sgurr » Mon Jan 13, 2020 4:57 pm

It's hard to believe that one can get sun-stroke in SCOTLAND. I think we both managed it during the long hot summer of 1976, but Scotland LAST YEAR???? Very entertaining and illuminating report.
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Re: Ben Nevis: A definitive guide on how not to do it

Postby Jorja the Dug » Mon Jan 13, 2020 9:39 pm

Enjoyed that report a lot - cheers!

Also: "I'm generally not very sociable and prefer not to meet anyone when out on the hills..."

A common lament. :wink:
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Re: Ben Nevis: A definitive guide on how not to do it

Postby Sunset tripper » Tue Jan 14, 2020 12:00 am

Great photos. :D
Just shows you the ben can be a tough hill in all sorts of conditions.
All the best. :D
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