The simple things can reward. They make it easy to draw you in, then hook you.
A simple plan, allbeit a long drive. It was to be a 3 day weekend mission, leaving here in Nottingham on Friday, via Manchester airport to pick up Owain who was over from Munich, then up to the luxury of a house we’d been given kind permission to stay in, yes yes, we all would have camped if we had needed to. Walk up Ben Nevis, drive back.
It had been a long time since I’d been on ‘The Ben’, in fact it had been a long time since I’d been into the Scottish Highlands full stop, so a trip was well overdue. Well wouldn’t you know, I recently got asked to accompany a bunch of 40 year olds in a quest to put right their missed opportunity to summit some 20 odd years ago. Matt had just turned 40 and wanted a suitable celebration, so dragging back two of his old pals from Venture Scouts they were on a mission and nothing was going to stand in their way.
So first up, it certainly hasn’t got any closer. After some re-routing to avoid traffic hold ups on the M6 we made it to Manchester Airport and were soon trundling northwards passed the Lakes. Discussion turned to the inevitable weather and it soon became apparent that another pair of waterproof trousers was needed amongst the group so we pulled into Gretna retail outlet for a flying visit. An hour and a half later we were pulling into another outlet village and concerns were heightening that this was turning into a boys shopping weekend, but thankfully this time it was just for petrol. Unfortunately darkness descended as we skirted the lower regions of Loch Lomond so we were not blessed with the views as we made our way across Rannoch Moor into Glen Coe, but finally after 9 hours we pulled through Fort William and turned towards Arisaig. The road was dark and the odd ghostly figure of a large deer by the roadside kept Matt alert as we finally reached the sleepy village.
Spirits were high the following morning as we realised that it wasn’t raining too much. It might be the highest mountain, but the ‘tourist route’ didn’t fill us with much excitement and so although the primary aim was to get to the summit we were also after a bit of adventure, which meant we'd be taking the Carn Mor Dearg arete to spice it up a bit. Parking up at the visitors centre in Glen Nevis we would head up to Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe before splitting from the main path and traversing round to the CIC hut sitting at the foot of the northern buttresses, heading steeply up onto the arete and coming back round to the summit of Ben Nevis before looping back down the tourist route and finishing with a good celebratory drink in the Ben Nevis Inn.
The first section was pleasant enough and you gain height quickly, but it is just a trudge. Despite the rather drab weather it was surprising to see so many people out, testament to the draw of reaching ‘the highest point’. The impact of the numbers coming onto Ben Nevis can seriously threaten the stability of the path and there’s been a lot of work ongoing to protect against erosion. Large bags of rock dotted the path, evidence of the effort and work of the Nevis Landscape Partnership and ongoing volunteering from the Friends of Nevis. We reached the split and escaped the flow of people heading towards the summit, enjoying the relative isolation and more interesting walking. We skirted round the mountainside at just below cloud level and the path took us up to the CIC hut where we stopped for lunch underneath the hidden crags.
As we left the CIC hut and headed on a compass bearing towards Carn Mor Dearg Meadhonach the low cloud thinned just slightly to allow glimpses of the dark imposing North cliffs rising steeply above us, giving a far greater appreciation of the scale and grandeur of the setting. We stood for a brief second transfixed and hoping it would clear and show us more, but alas the clouds reversed and the cliffs withdrew back to keep their secrets hidden for another day. It was, even for a short moment, one of those memories that gets imprinted in your mind and makes heading into the hills even on days like this so special.
And so with that we turned and began the long slog up the steep grassy and scree slopes to the ridge line with the rusty legs feeling a little under trained in this terrain, but with heads down we plodded on and upwards. Finally the gradient started to ease, the wind started to pick up and the rain finally became a bit more intense. We knew we were nearing the top and luckily the equally rusty compass skills had proven sufficient. Not wanting to hang around we turned and headed to Carn Mor Deag from where we then dropped towards the CMD arete.
Despite the lack of a view, the ridge made for a pleasing and interesting walk and even in these conditions it was easy to see why it 's rated as one of the best in the country. We took the easier path that dropped down the side to escape the wind and driving mist and rain, but were treated every now and again to the occasional steep drop off opening out into the void and alluded to the stunning views we may have been treated to. I hadn 't remembered anything of the walk up from the CIC hut from previous visits, but making our way along the ridge I finally stated to get flashbacks to making my way along here%C2%A0 just goes to show you often quickly forget the tedious bits!
Halfway along we passed two chaps, the only other people we 'd see on the ridge. One of them had dropped his phone down the steep slopes and was scrambling back up after successfully recovering it, they seemed to be in control so we just said our hello 's and carried on our way.%C2%A0 Anyway, after the delights of the arete you are thrown straight into a laborious steep rocky, boulder filled slope. In nice weather I guess it may have been fun picking your way through the rough line to the summit, but with hoods up, heads down, we didn 't care for it much. Funnily enough I 'd forgotten about this bit too. Then before we knew it the shelter, old observatory and summit cairn all came into view signalling that we 'd made it. Standing on top in the cold and wet we cracked open the rather dubious little bottles of German Underberg that Owain had brought across, were not overly impressed and followed it with a nip of whiskey form the hip flask to take the taste away. A digestif made from aromatic herbs from 43 countries it didn 't convince many on the top of a cold wet mountain, but would come to my rescue later that evening after overindulging on copious amounts of steak pie and Cauliflower mash.
With no view to speak of we didn 't feel inclined to hang around so made our way from the summit and started the long descent back down. From this point there was not much of interest other than trying to save the knees as much as possible, but as we dropped back out of the cloud we we 're even greeted by breaks of sunlight calling us down and spirits were buoyed by the views. The long path led us back to the cosy Inn a well deserved sit down and a quick drink. As the heat rose in our cheeks, legs aching, everyone was happy with the days achievement. There 's always something special about spending the day out walking in the hills, shared with friends or on your own, in good weather or challenging weather.
I 'd fallen in love with the mountains of Scotland when as a family we used to return summer holiday after summer holiday, I 'd enjoyed watching our dad sitting all night clinging to the pole of our old fortress as the wind and rain shook it to within an inch of it 's soggy canvas life, Our mum probably didn 't enjoy so much the gale force winds hitting us head on as we battled along the Lairig Ghru, but in essence it all added to the experience. We 'd be out most days on short walks through the forests or 14 hour days ticking off the Munro 's.
Fast forward a few years and we were off to Uni, the family holidays drifted away, save for a period of New year trips climbing in the Cairngorms. We 'd perhaps got a bit more comfortable when we realised we could do just as much climbing if not more with shorter walk ins, our own families arrived, it seemed more effort to make the long journey for a weekend, there were more %E2%80%98exotic ' places to discover. It 's hard to nail down a specific reason why it had been so long since I was last up in Scotland enjoying these magnificent mountains. But you know what, I think I may have just seen that spark again.