Ben Nevis: my lucky Munro

Posted: August 29, 2015 in Adventure
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I climbed Ben Nevis on a lucky day. For 355 days of the year there are clouds at the top of Ben Nevis, blocking the view, and for an unlucky some – the edge. I reached the summit of ‘the Ben’ on a day where the sun was blazing and the clouds were non-existent… for a few minutes at the top at least.
The Glen Nevis campsite was my base for the weekend and it is one of the best campsites I’ve ever stayed in, despite being eaten alive by midges. Somebody brought along what I can only describe as an electric tennis racket for zapping midges – it actually worked! Then after a couple of beers you find yourself wielding it like in some sort of juvenile Lord of the Rings sword fight. I think the other campers were a little jealous.

Glen Nevis Campsite

Glen Nevis Campsite

The epic climb began near a youth hostel, a short walk from the campsite, and I brazenly sauntered towards the notoriously named ‘Heart Attack Hill’ with that pre-climb enthusiasm that every Munro bagger knows all too well. ‘Leg Attack Hill’ would probably be a more suitable name as this first stage climb consists of a relentless ascent up a steep rocky staircase. The trail eventually meets a path coming from the left where on this occasion I was met by a jolly line of climbers who had smiled their way along from the Ben Nevis Visitor Centre. Clearly they knew something I didn’t, or maybe they just followed the recommended route rather than the most direct route – a mistake I commonly make when bagging Munros.
After the initial shock of Heart Attack Hill my body adapted; acclimatised if you will. Climbing Ben Nevis became, well, easy. Scaling Ben Nevis is essentially hiking up stairs for hours. I regularly run a route that sees me run up eight flights of stairs like the scene in Rocky – I even shadow box when I’m done. I also walk a four mile journey home from work every day, so I’m reasonably fit. I’m not saying climbing Ben Nevis is easy for everyone, but if you have a decent level of fitness, or have bagged a few Munros in your time, you’ll be fine on the Ben. Other Munros are far more gruelling.
After the Halfway Lochan you are rewarded by stunning views. For me, the day was so clear I was able to survey what looked like the entire Highlands. It was amazing! I made a point of stopping at the pinnacle of each zig-zag on the famous Tourist Trail to reward myself with the ever-impressive views.

Ben Nevis
The whole experience of climbing Ben Nevis is fairly repetitive until you get closer to the top. Eventually I felt like I’d wondered into an episode of Star-Trek set on some type of alien rocky surface. No grass, no trees, only rocks. Then you reach the fun of the permafrost and set eyes on the summit for the first time and instantly feel uplifted. You may even feel the need to lob a snowball off your friends’ heads! I know I did. People suddenly became happy again and visibly moved quicker as the summit became closer.

Closer to the summit

Closer to the summit

On a clear day the view from the top is outstanding. I was lucky enough to enjoy it in blazing sunshine for about 5-10 minutes before it suddenly started snowing. It sounds like a lie, but it honestly isn’t. People always warn that the weather on Ben Nevis can change in an instance and I didn’t really believe it until I experienced it for myself. Some people climb Ben Nevis over and over in the hope of actually experiencing a clear day at the top. I was really lucky to see it first time out, and it was worth it.

If climbing Ben Nevis was a bit of a scoosh, the descent was a different story altogether. I’ve come to the conclusion that climbing Ben Nevis is not the challenge – it’s coming back down in one piece you need to set your target on. I fell three times on the way down. The first was a rather embarrassing comedy style starfish type fall – I bounced back up to try and pretend that nothing happened only to find about 20 strangers laughing at me. The second fall was when a dog, which was not on a leash, leapt past my leg onto a rock I was aiming to step on. I changed my stride and went down like a sack of spuds. This fall really hurt and I very nearly broke my hand. The final fall was a slip on the well trodden wet rocks of Heart Attack Hill. I landed on my backside and lost a few layers of skin from my hands while stopping myself from sliding down the trail into the people in front. By this point I was really tired of falling over, and of the relentless impact pain on my knees and ankles from climbing down rocks.

Nevis Summit
I could have climbed Ben Nevis quicker if it weren’t so busy; in the end I was up and down in about six hours. I then spend a similar amount of time in the Ben Nevis Inn for a triumphant plate of fish and chips, and various celebratory beers. The food is fantastic and the setting is spectacular – I particularly recommend the beer garden round the back of the inn for panoramic views while indulging some well earned beverages.

Ben Nevis Inn

The Ben Nevis Inn

Alas, if I hadn’t had the luck of a clear day I may have become one of those courageous souls constantly searching for that elusive view from the top. But I was lucky. I don’t need to climb Ben Nevis again and I’ll probably just move onto my next Munro. If I do ever take the urge however, I won’t be taking the tourist trail; I’d like a closer inspection of the North Face. If I do ever return to Ben Nevis, hopefully luck will again be with me.


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