Today, I was to climb Ben Nevis, the highest peak in the whole of the United Kingdom, on my own – Stef had decided that she was done with the peaks. She had climbed Snowdon and she was happy with that. I was so proud of her completing Snowdon, I was cool doing this on my own. I’m sure I would be taking a few photos along the route for her to look at when I got back!
The weather had been dreadful the past few days. I couldn’t tell you the last time I saw an actual blue sky. I’d experienced more rain in the last few days than I had in the last few months back home in London. It had been crazy.
When we’d checked into the campsite, the weather report said today would be the best day to hike to the summit of Ben Nevis. It wasn’t great weather, but it wasn’t raining for the first time in a week and that’s all that mattered as far as I was concerned!
Ben Nevis stands at 1,345m (4,412ft) above sea level and every year, 125,000 people complete the climb to the very top. A further 100,000 partially make it to the summit. The majority of these hikers take the Mountain Track. It is the old access route to the now ruined Observatory at the summit and was even designed as a rough bridle path for ponies! Stef had seen on the internet that back in 1911, someone had driven a Ford Model T car up there (Click here for the video)! With so many people taking this path and the fact it has the nickname “the tourist track”, I’d be crazy not to follow suit.
I’d packed my bag the previous night with all sorts of goodies such as trail mix, sweets, meat and fruit. The only thing I didn’t have was a map. Having looked at the path and how easy it was, I thought I wouldn’t need one.
Stef drove me to the start of the track where other hikers were beginning their adventure. It was about 9 am and there seemed to be a steady flow of people taking part. As I get cold quickly, I decided to wear a pair of thermal leggings under my trousers and a thermal top. Although it wasn’t the warmest weather at the base, I was pretty sure it would be freezing at the top and I wasn’t going to take any risks! The base camp was a little portacabin where there were a couple of guides providing information to hikers. I stood by them listening to their advice. Now the way they were going on about wrong turns and people getting lost, you’d think it was a nightmare climbing it. To avoid any issues and to assist in my safe return down Ben Nevis, I decided to buy a map. I already had a compass so why not go full professional with a map as well!
As I got back to the campervan, I decided to take off the thermal leggings. Although it was coldish, they were just too constricting. It was too tough on the legs and I needed all the assistance I could get! They had to come off, I just hoped I wouldn’t regret it.
With the map bought, bladder drained and my possible final farewells said to Stef, I started the five-mile hike to the summit of Ben Nevis.
Ben Nevis – The Mountain Track
The hike started with a wooden bridge going over a river. This was the gateway to the highest mountain in the UK. It was going to be a great walk. I couldn’t wait. As I started the ascent, I could see a number of people ahead of me on the path. They ranged in numbers and ages. It was great. It was a little cloudy but I could feel the sun wanting to come through. Within the first half mile, I was dripping with sweat! The coat and fleece had to come off. Whilst stopped, I decided to crack out the hiking poles. They are probably one of the best things we have bought. My knees have had it. I’m 36 going on 96. Any terrain more than a simple gradient and I’ll be in agony the next day. The poles help take the stress off the knees; as your arms help pull you up. Great bit of kit – plus it doubles up as a selfie stick…perfect for when you’ve been abandoned by your wife!
It was a nice atmosphere along the track. As people stopped for a breather and a nibble, you’d pass them and give a little hello. You’d stop later on and they’d do the same. Stef was panicking about me walking the track by myself. She knows how clumsy I am at the best of times. I constantly trip over, bang my head everywhere and bump into anything. Sending me up a mountain alone was a recipe for disaster. As I still had phone reception, I sent her a text to say I had buddied up with a group. However I hadn’t, there were people every 200-300m in front and behind me and no one’s walking speed even came close to mine. If something happened to me, someone, hopefully, would help! My natural walking speed normally gives people stitches when they try to keep up, it was impossible for me to stay with anyone. Maybe my speed walking is why I always trip up. Note to self…learn to walk properly.
The path zig-zagged around the mountains. I would get to the end, hoping it would then continue onto the next range, but it didn’t; it just backed up on itself and kept going up. It felt like forever but looking at the map, it only happened a handful of times. The views up to this point were nice and clear at a low level. I could see the surrounding fields and our campsite. It made our campervan seem very small.
I finally made it off of the range I started on and made it to the one where the summit was. At this point, I was about 500m above sea level. The terrain then changed from a big rock path to a smoother path. It was a lot easier on the legs and gave my arms a break. The path took me past Lochan Meall An T-suidhe, a lake that seemed like it disappeared off the edge; just like a suicide pool. Opposite the lake on the other side of the path was a massive stream that ran from what looked like the top of the mountain, all the way down. Along the same side, you could see the path zig-zag its way up the mountain. You could make out people on their way up. They were very small; I had a long way to go!
I finally made it onto the other side of the mountain and onto the path leading to the summit. Bizarrely, it started to get a little chillier; so on went the coat. I did well in bringing it as if it was cold here, imagine how cold it would be up at the summit. It wasn’t long before I hit the stream running down and straight through the path – There wasn’t a bridge, it was just a case of hopping over some stepping stones. As I approached it, I saw a number of people trying to cross it. It took them a while and they made it look quite difficult. This didn’t make me panic, but I did wonder how far I would make it before I would fall in. It wasn’t deep but the thought of hiking the remaining distance with soggy shoes didn’t sound too good.
As I got closer, I started studying the layout of the “stepping stones”. I found the perfect route and away I went. I got across in no time at all. I didn’t slip once which was very unlike me. There was one issue though. I forgot to take any photos mid route. Damn. So back I went, tempting fate and stood in the middle. This is where the hiking pole/selfie stick really comes into play. It saves having to juggle a few items whilst trying to keep your balance. Brilliant. With the photos taken and zero wetness in the socks, I continued on my journey. The sights were amazing. You could see right into the valley’s and the zig-zag paths really divided the hills up.
A Rocky Road
The path stopped being small pebbles and started becoming large rocks. You had to watch each step as you didn’t know if the stone would move when you put your weight onto it. It really slowed me down but with the help of the hiking sticks, I was able to use them as supports and battle through. This is the point I believe Stef would have thrown in the towel. The drops along the side of the track started to become quite steep – one of Stef’s fears. I got to a point where it was nearing cloud level. The clouds would come and go but once they surrounded you, you couldn’t see 20m in front or behind you. It was quite spooky as it really did make you feel that you were the only one on the mountain.
After what felt like forever zigging and zagging through the mountain, it flattened out slightly and the cloud cover became less. Every now and again, I would see large stone beacons which showed you the path to take. To be honest, up to this point, the path had been well defined. Looking at my watch, I was nearly at the peak. I think the staff at the information hut may have been exaggerating slightly on how dangerous and easy it was to get lost. Then I saw something I haven’t seen since Norway – SNOW!!!! There was a huge patch just to the side of the path. I was so tempted to run and jump in it, however, I thought to myself “What would Stef say?” A straight flat “NO!” probably. Knowing my luck, the first jump I took, it would land me into an undiscovered deep cavern, never to be seen again.
A few stone beacons later, the summit became visible. I was nearly there…However, before I got there, I came across some more snow. Now, this was a little different…. It was on the very edge of a sheer drop. I decided to live another day and only take photos from a distance – Stef would have freaked out anyway as I had left the path to get a decent shot. I can still hear her the last words she said to me before my voyage in my head now “stay on the path!”
At The Summit
As I reached the summit the clouds rolled in. Great. Although the wind was nowhere near the hurricane we experienced climbing Snowdon, the visibility was just as poor. Arrrghhhh. All this way and for nothing; at least I can say I’ve climbed the highest peak in the UK. Now that’s an achievement worth ticking off the old bucket list.
The wind had a nasty bite to it. It really stung my follicly challenged head so the old thermal hat came to the rescue. As I was doing so, the clouds began to clear. It was brilliant. I was moments away from giving up and heading back down the mountain! I started snapping away like there was no tomorrow. There was no guarantee how long I’d have a clear view for.
The sights were amazing. You could see mountain ranges that seemed to go on forever. It was fantastic. It is what I imagined Snowdon would have looked like had the weather been better. There were waterfalls and streams spreading across the ranges. It was a great sight and I knew Stef would have loved it. I even got to see the old observatory. It was pretty much a building made from the stones at the top. I don’t know what I thought it would be made of – you might as well use what you have and there were plenty up there!
The sights were pretty cool but one of the coolest things I saw up there was a woman and her two Huskies. She was getting them to pose for her whilst she took photos. It was a great opportunity to snap some of my own! I later spoke to her and she told me that she travels the UK with her dogs. Check out her and her dog’s travels on her Instagram page at Asher.Marley.
The coldness of the wind became too much for me despite how wrapped up I was. I couldn’t take it anymore and the stabilisation on my camera lens couldn’t compensate for the shaking of my hands. Spending about 50 minutes up there was enough; it was time to leave. I started the long descent back home and didn’t waste any time in doing so. I was on a mission. It had taken me 2 hours and 50 minutes to hike 5.15 miles to the top and I wanted to beat it coming down. Sure that might sound easy. It’s all downhill so I should be moving quicker. But it’s a lot tougher trying to keep your balance on the rocky path going downhill. If you go too fast and step on a wobbly rock, you can do your ankle in. The thought of mountain rescue coming to save me didn’t exactly appeal to me so I had to balance speed and agility.
One good thing about coming down was that the clouds had cleared somewhat. I had much better views than I did on the ascent. However, this was a negative for me as it meant that I had to stop and take more photos. I swear I could have done this hike in half the time if I didn’t take photos. Thankfully I didn’t take the drone up with me or I would have been up there much longer!
One of the craziest things I saw just had to be the number of people who were climbing Ben Nevis, the tallest peak in the UK, unprepared. Along the way down, I saw people in silly little Converse flats, people carrying nothing but the clothes on their back, and two hipsters who were doing it in T-shirts, shorts and sandals. Seriously…sandals. There were too many people without any rucksacks. I don’t know where they were storing their water or food. Were they just walking past and thought “let’s climb it, it shouldn’t be too hard” No wonder why mountain rescue are overworked with all these muppets roaming free. It was freezing up there – I was frozen and I had a thermal hat, gloves and coat! The two hipsters are probably still up there, frozen like statues. RIP hipsters.
I made it down in record time (despite taking a detour at the bottom – don’t ask me how!). It took me only 2 hours and 5 minutes. I finally made it to the wooden bridge from which it all started. I was hot. I was sweaty. I was done. I called Stef to come pick me up as my legs had had enough. It had been a journey and I loved every minute of it.
In total, it took me just over 6 hours to complete the expedition. My Garmin watch said my total moving time was just over 4 hours. I reckon I could easily get it under 4 hours if I didn’t take a camera. Maybe next time!
But for now, all I wanted was a pint. Stef…get me to the nearest pub!
Here’s the route I took to climb the highest peak in the UK: