Thursday, 15 June 2017

Mountains, Mud & Marathons | Climbing Ben Nevis

We did it! We climbed the highest mountain in the UK and completed my first Mountains, Mud and (Half) Marathons challenge!

Ben Nevis is now the third munro we've bagged. Three out of 282 isn't many but at least we can say we've done the highest one. Despite it's height status, Ben Nevis isn't one of the most difficult mountains to conquer in Scotland. This isn't to say you shouldn't go prepared. It has a path all the way, which is well maintained, but steep and long, and slightly unstable in certain parts.


The views along the entire 7 hour walk were incredible. We parked at the visitor centre car park (there is a small charge which goes towards maintenance and the centre itself was closed for refurbishment) and made our way up the mountain route, or "tourist path" as it's often called. Walk Highlands has a great walk description as usual.


Eventually we reached the "halfway lochan" Loch Meall an t-Suidhe. I was pleased to see this as it gave us an idea of how far we still had to go! We'd set off early at 8am with only 4 other people starting at the same time. However, we started to catch up with people at this point who must of started earlier, and even passed a few keen beans on their way back down already! The path was growing steadily busier behind us as well. They don't call it the tourist route for nothing.


The zig-zagging path becomes more unsteady underfoot as you climb higher. It was at this point we stopped for lunch and suddenly felt how cold the air was. We chucked on a few layers, snapped some photos and carried on. We were blessed with epic views in between cloud cover.


Eventually we reached the summit plateau, but Lochnagar the week before had taught us not to expect the actual summit to be in sight! Instead we were met with patches of snow and cairns marking the path for us to continue our walk. Soon the cliffs of the north face came into view and I kept my distance from the edge!


At last the war memorial appeared, swiftly followed by the sight of the old observatory and the trig point marking the official summit! It was misty as hell but we took the chance to rest, refuel, take photos and celebrate with a nip of whisky - him, not me! Check us out standing on the highest point of Britain...


It was busy up there with everyone celebrating their feat but it made for a great atmosphere. One thing that did annoy me though was the water bottles and rubbish people had left. There wasn't a lot, but if you can carry it up there you can surely carry it back down! I decided I'm going to take a plastic bag on future walks and collect rubbish on my descent. Keep Scotland beautiful people!


A few tips if you're planning to climb Ben Nevis or any other munro...

1. Pack plenty water and carby supplies. Hiking is bloody hard work, you will be tired and hungry, and need to rehydrate due to all the water you lose through sweat. We took 2 litres of water each, sandwiches, a pasta pot, Grenade bars and chocolate.

2. Layer up! It was beautifully sunny day back down on earth, but at the summit I needed my tshirt, jumper and North Face jacket, a hat, thermal gloves, a Beast Race buff around my neck and sunglasses. We also packed waterproof trousers just in case.


3. Invest in sturdy walking boots! As I said, the ground is rocky and unstable with scree near the top and you'll definitely appreciate the ankle support on the stone steps climbing back down. My Scarpas did the trick and I highly recommend 1000 mile socks!

4. Speaking of stone steps... bring a first aid kit! I slipped and fell on my back side on the way down, grazing my hand and bruising my ass. It was all Gordon's fault of course. Buy a first aid kit specifically for hillwalking, like this one, and make sure it includes blister plasters!


5. Learn to use a map & compass. I will confess, I don't know how to read maps but Gordon does. I'm on the lookout for a course locally if you know of any? Second confession - we forgot our map. Our amazing B&B host had given us one with waterproof cover and all but we stupidly left it in the car by mistake. In worse visibility, or snow cover, the path wouldn't be clear enough to follow and it'd be far too easy to take a wrong turn towards the scary north face.

6. Safety first! Carry a torch and a whistle in case of emergency. And always let someone know where you're going, what route you're taking and when you expect to return. If you get into any difficulty or aren't sure of your capabilities, just turn back. The mountain will still be there for another day.


7. Toast your success! The Ben Nevis Inn features as one of the Wild Pub Walks in CAMRA's latest book and there's a good reason for that. This cosy little pub provides hot food, cold pints and a place to rest your weary feet. Gordon enjoyed a pint of Skye Red while I sipped my OJ as designated driver. Everybody is there for the same reason and it's great to celebrate with fellow hillwalkers!


Have you ever climbed Ben Nevis? What advice would you give?

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