22 January 2017

A Wee Walk To The Top Of The UK, Ben Nevis, Scotland

Looking from the Summit of Ben Nevis
Hill Master Laminated Map (Circa 1990's)
View from Glen Nevis Caravan Park

View Before the Start

Breakfast at the Chippy Wagon

Start Point
Ben Nevis the highest place in Scotland, in fact, the highest point in all of the UK. A must visit location if you enjoy hiking, hillwalking or mountain climbing. There is more then just the tourist path up this mountain. But, I am getting ahead of myself.

Bridge over River Nevis @ Visitor Centre
Our story starts on the morning of the 20th of August 2016. The day before we finished the North Coast 500 ( NC500 ) and visited Castle Sween (Castle Sween). Our return trip from Castle Sween had us searching Fort William for a place to stay, which we finally achieved at 0130hrs 20 August 2016 - Glen Nevis Caravan Park, Glen Nevis - outside Fort William and the foot of Ben Nevis. Although, late.....it did put us in a great starting location for later in the morning. So, at 0800 I left our tent and went to the office to checkin for the two nights (44GBP). As we arrived after 2300hrs, we had to park outside the gates and walk our tent and sleeping gear in. 
The Trail Ahead

After checkin, moving our vehicle to our tent site, breakfast at the onsite chippy wagon, we were ready to start our hike up Ben Nevis. 0950 is our official start time. We followed the path from the caravan park to the Ben Nevis Visitor Centre and crossed the bridge over River Nevis  and got a place in the line going up. This is a very well visited hiking trail and you are unlikely to find yourself alone out here.

We noticed shortly after crossing the River Nevis that there is a hostel?!?, The Ben Nevis Bunk House, just adjacent to the trail. If I were to bring a Scout Group over, this might be a good location to base out of. It was a short distraction, for shortly past there the trail began to climb. It is a high quality trail. Packed gravel in many of the lower areas and then rock inlaid as the trail continues up to Half Way Lochan. The inlaid rock forming steps and stairs in many places.

Looking Up The Glen

Never Alone on the Tourist Path 

Ben Nevis Bunk House

Trail Marker

Heading Up

Grazing Control Point - Sheep Waiting To Head Out

We started this hike as a family unit. Trying to get as far together as possible. The route is not for the weak at heart. In the middle of Summer it is highly unlikely for a seasoned, experienced hiker to get lost, but....in fog, mist or snow it could happen, especially at the top. I understand Mountain Rescue performs a number of search and/or rescue missions each year for those who get turned around in the fog. 

My trip up Ben Nevis back in the 1990's, I had purchased a Hill Master laminate map from an outdoor shop in Fort William. I could not find those same maps on this trip, so I am glad I 
Further Up The Glen

Looking Back at Glen Nevis Caravan Park
brought my old map along. A good map is worth its weight in gold.

So, although it looked like we were going to be in the clouds when we got to the summit, our day was going to improve for the better. Having said that, remember mountain weather can change in a flash and you should always head into the hills fully prepared for the worst weather and conditions. To this end, I did gamble a bit and went a wee bit light on fluids. I managed to refill my water bottles enroute, but I know better than to gamble on finding water on the way. Got lucky this trip. 
Plenty of Stone Steps

A Little Higher

Looking Good

Switching Left

Switching Right

Emergency Shelter

Bridges in Great Condition

Trail Erosion 

Still Busy on the Trail

Trail is Rock Solid

Water Fall
We did pass an emergency shelter on our way up and there is a stone shelter at the summit, both lend credibility to the challenges that can occur on this mountain. Know your abilities and prepare for all possible situations.

We as a family made it to a switch back below Half Way Lochan. At this point my wife was concerned her pace was holding us back too much. She said she would make her way to the Half Way Loch and wait for us on our return trip. I do not like splitting up but this is a very well traveled path and my wife knew she was pushing her limits.

My son (& I) really wanted to summit Ben Nevis on this trip. Not a good reason for splitting a hiking party, but that is what happened. My last trip within sight of the summit, I was forced to return due to snow and my hiking partner not having good enough footwear for hiking in snow.

So, after Half Way Lochan there is a waterfall on your uphill side. On this trip it still had a good flow of water even in 

Lochan Meall an T-Suidhe (Half Way Lochan)
August, and I would refill my water bottles here on both the up and down legs of this hike. But, as I noted before it can be dangerous to gamble that you can find water along a route.

Above the waterfall the trail becomes more rocky.....and then, just rock. Cairns mark the route through the broken rock. (For those of you who do not agree with altering the landscape with cairns, I assure you on alpine terrain such as Ben Nevis, the cairns keep the hikers on one path and thus do less damage to the environment than if they followed a thousand paths.)  
Water Fall

Way Down to the Caravan Park

Half Way Lochan

Hills in the Hood

Fort William in the Distance
In the snowy seasons, the tops of the cairns are probably the only reference points one would have to stay on trek, safely. Wandering off the path near the summit could lead to a mishap of dire consequences, having a cornice break and you may fall down a ravine. Not good.

This is a slog of a trail in parts and you just have to keep putting one foot in front of another. I was in better shape the last time I was on this hill and did not notice the slog. Older and lazier, I noticed every step. But old has an advantage, mind over matter. I just would not let my body say it was too tired. We
Going Up

Cairn Markers - Helpful in the Snow

Just One More Rise

Into The Clouds

Another Cairn

And Another, Still Going the Correct Way

Above the Tree Line 

Never Alone

Sun Trying to Peek Through

The Other Route Up!!


Ravine Near the Summit

The Down Route??
were slow but we did not give up. I wanted to be on top of this hill. I wanted to see the summit shelter. I wanted to stand on the summit.

Onward. Upward. Repeat.

The views along the way are awesome!!. My son was getting a little perturbed, for I was taking lots of photos. In fact, on the down trip he suggested, rather strongly, that I should try not taking any photos. I am sure I snapped at least 200 photos on this trip. It was difficult to limit the shots for this post.

When we started the summit was shrouded in cloud. However, as we climbed higher & higher, the sun seemed to peek through more often. This was a double edge sword, more sun = better views.....more sun, need more water.

After one final ridge we could see the top and we were re-energized. The last couple hundred meters you only had a couple dozen metres of elevation gain. A pleasant reprieve after hours of uphill slogging.

We arrived at the summit at 1435hrs. So, old fart takes 4 hours 25 minutes to summit highest mountain in the UK. 

We enjoy beverages and snacks, take photos and just hangout at the summit for 23 minutes. Seemed like an eternity and a micro-second, at the same time. Time is relative after all.

We started our descent at 1458hrs. Gravity was my friend on the way down, I have more mass than my son, so I was pulled downhill. The knees were screaming from time-to-time, but it was way easier than the slog up.

At about 1643hrs we were passing the location we separated with my wife. She was not at the Half Way Lochan nor at this location. We continued as planned down the hill. At 1719hrs, we are all back together again. My wife was waiting for us at the bench just above the junction on the trail that leads to the Ben Nevis Youth Hostel. We decide we will take  
Summit Shelter
the path to the youth hostel, as it was shorter but steeper. It was a fair choice. Soon after starting this path a rain shower finally catches us. It was short lived and a bit refreshing. 

We cross the bridge at the youth hostel and follow the Glen Nevis Road back to camp. We arrive at camp at 1800hrs. So, our return trip was 3 hours and 2 minutes.....not that anyone was keeping track. Total time on Ben Nevis was 8 hours and 10 minutes.

Summit Shelter

Ben Nevis, Survey HCP

Summit Looking North

Dirty Patricia on Top of the UK
We got cleaned at camp and then returned to the Glen Nevis Pub for supper. No one was happy with the choice to walk to supper, but it was good for us, helped stretch out those leg muscles. The food was excellent and so was the Glen Nevis Ale. 

Our day ended with chores - laundry. Then to bed at 2115hrs. It was a good day. Every sore muscle, every hotspot, every tender under foot was worth it. Worth every step.
Ben Nevis Summit Looking NW

Fort William is Just Over That Rise

Mountain Weather Changes Fast!!

On Our Way Down
So, if you are ever in the Fort William area, set aside a day to go to the top. The top of the UK. The summit of Ben Nevis. This is the throne of the Highlands!!

I hope you enjoy these pictures. This is a trip worth taking.

Until next time,

Good explore something new!

The Half Way Loch, Again


Youth Hostel at the End

Hill Master Map - Summit Details