Tuesday, 5 August 2014

100 - Ben Nevis - Highlands, Scotland and the UK - 29th July 2014

First slopes of Ben Nevis
I have now been doing my Highest points challenge for nearly 2 years and have so far managed to complete an amazing 99 out of 236 on my list of highest points in the UK, it was now time for number 100 and it was going to be a very special one. When I first decided to officially started this challenge back in August 2014 I had just climbed Scafell Pike with Chris and Amy, 2 years before that in 2010 I had climbed Snowdon, this time with Chris and Amy and Nat too and so now 2 years on from Scafell Pike it was Chris and Amy's idea to climb the highest mountain in the whole of the UK and that would mean taking the long drive up through England and half way across Scotland to the town of Fort William and Ben Nevis.

Glen Nevis

My climbing companions
I was being joined by Nat, Chris and Amy for this trip and we had all spent a good few months planning our trip to Scotland, we were camping and my tent was no where near big enough for 2 so on a trip to Go Outdoors Nat purchased a nice new 5 man tent ready for the trip. We also purchased a new gas cooker and a few other bits for the trip. Due to the long drive up to Scotland we decided to break up the drive with a night in a hotel on the way up and on the way back so hotels were booked and routes were planned, then on Sunday 27th July I picked Nat up and headed off to Chris and Amy's for a lovely pre-trip lunch.
We Left after lunch in a convoy of 2 cars and took our time as we were not in any rush to get to our first hotel, we had booked the Travelodge at the Lancaster services on the M6, on arrival we had a quick cup of tea and headed off to Morcambe for a short walk and then dinner, then it was back to the Travelodge for a sleep. The next day we had breakfast and headed north on the M6 towards the mountains of Scotland. Driving through Scotland was amazing, we passed Glasgow and then across the Erskin bridge and then along the length of Loch Lommond for what seemed like hours. 

A short stop for food
Chris having a munch

After Loch Lommond we continued further north and along some amazing roads surrounded by mountains, There came a moment where I got the urge to listen to some of the soundtrack from the James Bond movie Skyfall, it just seemed appropriate as it looked just like some of the locations used in the film, we later found out that this was the exact location they used in the film so it was quite a coincidence. After the Skyfall mountains and valleys we continued further north eventually arriving at Fort William and then the Glen Nevis campsite at the foot of Ben Nevis. After setting up camp Amy cooked us a lovely dinner and then we headed off to bed ready for our climb the next day.

Glen Nevis getting smaller
Amy admiring the view
Red Burn Waterfall

We started the day off with a lovely cooked breakfast which Chris cooked and then we got our bags ready, we left the campsite and walked the short distance to the Ben Nevis visitors centre where the path to the top started. the car park was bustling with climbers getting ready so we didn't hang about too long and crossed the bridge over the river Nevis to the start of the path up the mountain. The first part of the path was along a very short part of the river bank but it soon headed away from the river and up the first of the slopes. The path started to rise gradually and it was not too hard walking, it was quite a long path and it zig zagged a couple of times and then started to bend around to the left very slowly.

The Shelter on the summit

The walking was pretty slow going do to the very uneven path, it was a mixture of gravel, stones, rocks and steps with the odd occasional bridge crossing a few streams. After a while the path had slowly curved into a valley called the Red Burn, below us a small river was running with waterfalls dropping into it from the mountain slopes. For some time along this part of the path it was quite difficult climbing, the rocks were very uneven and there were some big steps, it was also along this part that the rain started to fall so we had to get the rain gear out.

Nat and Chris enjoying the cable car

Here I am with Amy

Fort William and Loch Eil
The path zig zagged once more and then flattened out onto a large flat area between the mountain slopes, up here there was a large lake with a few wild campers next to it. We had now reached about 570 meters about sea level so we were well on our way to the halfway point. The path now reached a junction and we forked back on ourselves and the path started to climb again and heading towards the small river again. The path crossed the river at a point where there were waterfalls above and below us, this was right at the top of the Red Burn valley and was the half way point. Carrying on from here we climbed further and further finally reaching the first of many large zig zags, the terrain was now much more rugged. Each of the zigs and zags seemed to take us aged to walk along, there were 7 or 8 zigs and zags in the path and each one took us between 10 and 20 minutes to walk along. My knees up until now had been fine but they now started to give a twinge of pain here and there.

The View from the top station.

The view from the seal sanctuary
The walking seemed to be very slow going along here and there were lots of people walking the same paths and some were even running, in fact we had been passed my many runners on the path. It was along this part of the path that we reached the cloud too and visibility was soon very low, we occasionally got glimpses of the valleys below through the clouds but the higher we got the less we saw. After what seemed like ages the path seemed to flatten out into a more gradual climb and it straightened out, there were now man made piles of stones and I guess these are here to help walkers stay on the path when its been snowing. Talking of snow it was along this part of the route we reached a large field of snow, it was huge and we had to cross it to stay on our path, once we were in the middle of the snow field it was quite weird, with the cloud cover and the snow around everything was white, you could easily see how people get lost on the mountains but we were lucky and easily found our way across the snow.

We were now reaching the final part of the walk to the top and we passed a few sudden drops not too far from the path, they didn't look too scary in the cloud but I can imagine the drops were huge. This part of the path was now on the very top of Ben Nevis and we followed the path to the very highest point and the summit of Ben Nevis, the highest point in the Highlands, the highest point in Scotland and the highest point in the UK at 1344 meters or 4409 feet above sea level, It had taken 5 hours to walk to the top. It was hard to see too much with the cloud cover but there were several features to look at, firstly there was the summit marker with the Ordnance survey marker on top and then there was a memorial to those who fought in WWII and then a small shelter for emergency's, finally there were the ruined walls of an old weather observatory. 

Chris and his 'normal' face

More 'normal' faces
After a few photos we decided it was far to cold and windy to stick around and we headed straight back down the path towards the snow field. walking down was obviously much faster and we were soon back at the snow where we stopped for lots of photos. Pushing onwards we were back to the zig zags working our way down these one at a time across the rough terrain. Slowly my knees started to get more painful and I always find walking downhill much more difficult. on the steep slopes I was a little slow but then on the flatter parts I could speed up a fair bit. Once we were below the cloud again Chris and Amy decided to zoom ahead and Nat stayed with me to work our way down the slopes. We crossed the top of Red Burn again and then forked back down the Red Burn valley, this part of the walk seemed to go on for ages, the rocks were very uneven and it was really tough going on our knees, we had to take a few breaks to give our knees a rest and then we pushed on further down the slopes. We eventually reached a point on the path where a short cut became available to us, it was a bi steeper but was more direct and it was worth it as it cut off a fair bit of walking. We finally reached the river Nevis where we crossed the bridge and walked along the last part of the road to the camp site.

Castle Urquhart
That evening we had a very easy dinner of burgers and some pasta and then we were off to bed before 9pm for a very good sleep, it had taken us 3 hours to walk back down from the summit of Ben Nevis.

The next day we decided to have a bit of a more relaxing day as all of our legs were worn out from the climbing, Breakfast was delicious as we headed to a local cafe and then we headed off up another mountain, we cheated as we took the cable car this time which was much easier, this was the Nevis range mountain resort and it was a lovely trip to the restaurant (and cake) and amazing views at the top. After the cable car we headed to the Scottish sea life sanctuary for the afternoon which was a lovely little place with several seals and some cute otters, it also had a pretty good aquarium to look around.

A couple of monsters on Loch Ness
Glenfinnan Viaduct

On our last full day in Scotland we travelled north to Drumnadrochit and the Lock Ness monster exhibition, this was a really nice little exhibition with a nice little shopping area too, after this we headed to the world famous Urquhart castle where we had a good look for Nessie and her family. in the afternoon Chris drove us to Glenfinnan to see the Glenfinnan viaduct, this wiaduct was the same one that had been used in several of the Harry Potter films so we were all pretty excited to see it. We finished off the day by heading to the Glen Nevis restaurant for a lovely meal with Nat, Chris and Amy (I had Haggis for starters, then Scottish salmon followed by Cranachan for dessert).

Amazing views at the Skyfall valley
On our final day in Scotland we packed up our camp and had a quick breakfast and then headed off to Fort William for an explore, then we headed back south, stopping off at the Skyfall valley for a few photographs. Then it was time for the long drive back home with a night at a Travelodge on the outskirts of Preston to break up our journey.

To mark my 100th high point I have decided to start to score the high points on various aspects, these are 

difficulty to climb (D), 
how much of an adventure the walk was (A), 
the views seen during the walk (V), 
the height achieved during the climb (H) 
and finally 
a Rob rating to say how much I enjoyed the whole experience (R)

Here are my scores for Ben Nevis

D - 7/10
A - 9/10
V - 9/10
H - 10/10
R - 10/10

Total - 45/50