Today I planned to climb Ben Nevis. The day started on a worrying note as two people went missing on the North face of Ben Nevis last Sunday, however, the route we took was the pony track, a deceptively easy sounding name, but still a huge mountain slog. The mountain was in the grip of a full winter, with deep snow, ice and crazy weather buffeting it.
The forecast was poor for the week, so we had to pick our day carefully and dad monitored this closely over the few days before the ascent. The better day to attempt an ascent would have been Monday, but we lost that day as I wanted to go Snowboarding. As a result, we had gone up to the Nevis Range to do some boarding. Then on the Tuesday it was a poor day, full of rain and cold, so we headed off to look at the sites where they had filmed Harry Potter around here. So we went to the Glenfinnen Viaduct, looked at Loch Shiel where a lot of the Prisoner of Askaban and also the Tri-Wizard competition was filmed. We then drove to Glencoe to see where Hagrads cottage had been built for the film sets, however now there was nothing left to see, but I did recognise the trees and mountains there.
Anyway, back to Ben Nevis. There are several places to start this route, but we decided on the visitor centre in Glenn Nevis. I had been really exciting about walking up Ben Nevis for many weeks, and I had helped my dad with the planning of my winter three peaks challenge. My Aunty Ave drove us to the start of the walk at the visitor centre, where we got ourselves dressed into our waterproof clothing. It was very windy but dry initially.
We swung our bags on our backs and set off across the bridge into the Glenn. The walk started along the river Nevis bank on a rough and rocky path. After a short while it turned right up and past the Ben Nevis Inn. We followed the rocky path as it steadily climbed up the valley side, crossing small burns and copse of tress. The cloud level was very low so we couldn’t see the mountain tops, however it was very clear in the valleys below the cloud level.
We passed the youth hostel path to our right and continued meandering up the valley. After a while, we passed some conservation workers who were building drainage channels across the path. We said hello to them. After these workers we crossed a bridge before heading along the path as it turned left into a valley. We followed this steeply along a snow covered path up to a small lake, known here as Lochan Meall an-t-Suidhe.
We had stopped for a drink and snack a couple of times, but when we go to the Lochan, we stopped for ten minutes and had some hot chocolate, some pink wafers and some snickers. As we started back up, the visibility dropped to near zero and we got a little bit worried. Dad got out a rope and tied the team together for safety. We then continued up the west flank of the mountain on large but gentle zig zags that crossed the face. There was a lot of snow up here and it was fun, but a bit scary. The rope on us helped with our confidence.
We plodded on for a while,, slowly gaining height up the mountain. There were quite a few other people on the mountain that we had to walk around or give way so they could pass us. We weren’t the slowest, but we weren’t the fastest either.
At one of the corners of the zigzag we stopped and put on Crampons so that we could walk on the snow and ice whilst minimising the risk of slipping on the mountain. Dad fitted them to our boots and tightened them, as a brisk cold wind swept up the mountain face. Dads hands went very cold and he had to bang them together to get feeling back in them as he pulled on his gloves. Once we had the crampons on, we started up the mountain again, the rope attached to dad guided us through the foggy, cloudy route.
The route was a good steady one, which when built, was designed for pony’s to carry supplies to the old observatory which used to be built on the summit.
At the top of the zig zags, our legs were so heavy and leaden from the effort, it felt like we couldn’t go on. However, we dug deep into our energy reserves and plodded up an icy slope that ascended out of the clouds and suddenly we were in perfect clear skies and could see for miles, the North face of the Ben appeared in stunning clarity and the skies cleared and suddenly it looked like a perfect summers day with snow on the ground. The North face of Ben Nevis looked so inviting, but sadly, that is where the two climbers are missing from the weekend.
We walked up onto the top of the slope known as McLeans Steep and reached the summit plateau. We were exhausted. We sat down and had some food and a drink, enjoying the hot chocolate and snacks that we had taken up the mountain.
After a break of fifteen minutes and some photos, we set off back down the mountain. Dad kept us on a rope and we descended straight down the west flank of the mountain rather than following the zig zags. We kept to the snow fields and quickly lost height as we descended back to the halfway point. From here, we slid on our bums across some of the snow, making a quick descent onto the ascent path.
We followed the path back down into the valley and the man made steps really played up with our knees and hips. We got caught in a really bad blizzard on the descent and ended up in whiteout conditions. This was a bit scary as we couldn’t see more than 10metres. We did have our snow goggles on though and this certainly helped, although the snow was really sharp on our faces. This blizzard passed and we carried on descending.
We eventually got back to the carpark. Eve’s hip had given up in the last few hundred metres so dad picked her up and carried her over the bridge back into the carpark which was funny.
This was a really good ascent, very tough and at times very cold with poor visibility, at other times very cold but with beautiful views across the area. A mixed day of varying weather conditions, but a brilliant climb.
Now on to our next climb at Scafell Pike.
<i>Editors Note: The team started out as Joshua, Eve, Joshua’s Aunt Avril and Joshua’s Dad. Joshua and his aunt turned back earlier than Eve and dads summit ridge. However, all enjoyed a great day on the UK’s highest peak. </i>