Good morning folks,
Well I have finally done it, after months of worry, planning and training I managed to summit the highest mountain in the UK, Ben Nevis, at 4408ft. That said, she bit me on the ass before I escaped her rocky clutches and left me with a reminder about the dangers of this particular passtime. But more on that later.
The plan was a 4 day trip, setting off from Blackpool at 7:30am Friday and returning on Monday so two days of travelling and setting up/taking down the camp (my first time in a tent) and lots of very decent hiking. Sadly, it didn't work out that way and I am sat writing this from a hospital A&E waiting room on Monday morning. Groan... The routes we had planned looked like this:
Day one: (The mountain track) This is downloaded from my Suunto Ambit3 Peak watch after the event.
Day two: (In Blue... The Carn Mor Dearg Arete) This one is our intended route for Sunday.
This was to be a serious weekends hiking taking in both the relatively easy "mountain Track" route, and then the harder "CMD Arete" route on Sunday.
So, all packed and excited, my wife Mandy kindly dropped me off at Steves on her way to work at 7:30am Friday morning and we transferred my cases to his huge Chrysler Grand Voyager, our trusty steed for this camping trip and perhaps the perfect vehicle for the job. It's huge - and comfy. Best of all, for the first time ever, I'm not driving!
We collect Paul from Preston at 8am and hit the M6. It's roughly seven hours from here to Fort William and the Ben Nevis campsite we are staying at which is right at the foot of the mountain. It's a long slog and we break it up with a few stops here and there. (Tebay of course included)
As we get into the highlands the driving hours just flitter away in no time at all as I find they always do up there. I just love the place, especially the section between Loch Tulla and Glen Coe. It's just so beautiful and dramatic. Here is a snap I took out of the window en route while still moving. It doesnt matter where you point your camera round here really, it all looks something like this, but I must admit to being chuffed capturing this decent compostion from a car window at 60mph.
We arrive at the campsite and get our first glimpse of Ben Nevis. (Well, half of it anyway)
After paying, we make a start with my first ever camping experience. It has to be said, it's amazing how compact these tents fold down. this came out of a sports bag sized holdall. My first ever view of a tent in a bag at 43years old. Bizzare!
I always imagined they were still triangular with a pole in the middle that always got knocked down like in the old films. Ha ha. Steve had this tent erected from his bag in 19 minutes flat (i checked the time stamps on these images) with minimal help from us. Incredible.
One of the first things we noticed here was a helicopter regularly going overhead. We would later watch it (or one like it) rescue someone!
Once the tent was up and running we stopped to grab five minutes in the sun. We had struck lucky with the weather today. What a great time to crack open a beer! (Paul left, Steve right)
Then we set off to find some food. The nearest town, Fort William, has a Morrisons so we headed there. The good thing about camping is it's cheap. At least, that's what I was told. It didn't seem that way to me at the till! £110. Mind you, I estimated the basket at £120 and Steve guessed £50. I suspect he doesnt do the shopping at home. LOL
We spent the rest of the evening wandering around the campsite familiarising ourselves with the surroundings and facilities and working out where our route would take us the next morning. This is our view of Ben Nevis from the tent (Its the one on the right). The cloud line there is approximately half way up we think having consulted the map against prominent features and contours we can make out from down here.
One thing about Scotland at this time of year that is always challenging is avoiding the midges! A quick snap of the sky shows the amount of them buzzing around looking for some humans to feast upon! And the cooler it got, the more came out!
Paul and I bought some spray on stuff called "smidge" that's especially formulated for Scottish MIDGEs (SMIDGE...get it? Lol) and Steve went for something different along with some extra protection for us all... Head nets! I think our faces are safe tonight. Paul seems to have chosen to wear his backwards...
Back at the tent we ate, drank and generally just enjoyed camping. It was a great experience. We had planned an early start so we're in bed trying to sleep for about 10pm I think... Here is me about to start my first nights sleep in a tent!
Our final plan was to do Ben Nevis twice. On Saturday we were going to both ascend and descend via the mountain track which takes you up with zero ridge exposure and then on Sunday the plan was a little different. We were going to ascend round the rear and up to the mighty North Face and ascend the Carn Mor Dearg (CMD) summit and then split up and take two different routes... Paul was going to head back down towards the tarn while Steve and I were going to go across the famous CMD arête up to Nevis summit again and then down to the tarn to regroup with Paul. This is because he prefers to limit his exposure so didn't fancy the dangerous ridge but he wanted us to still have the chance to enjoy this famous arete while we were there so we planned a way for us all to get what we wanted. Sadly, the second route never happened thanks to me. More on that later.
So... at 6:30am, an annoyingly cheerful Steve wakes us up with a brew and this amazing breakfast!
What a great start to the day. I quite like camping you know. Ha ha. Steve looked after us both like kings. What a star Steve is, I don't think anyone has ever had a better introduction to camping than Paul and I had on Friday and Saturday. Thank you mate.
So... Off we go, its time to leave, but not before the obligatory start point selfie!
And we are off... heading out of the campsite towards the highest mountain in the UK. Steve as usual is ahead and his rucksack is large enough to carry a small child in!
We walk along the road to the YHA building where we cross to the entrance bridge that crosses the river Nevis. There is officially the start point and there is an information sign here worth a read. I remember thinking to myself that other national parks could learn from this.
And a few yards later, more information. All of it useful.
Then the ascent begins. A taste of things to come. We already know from our route planning and research that it never gets any easier than this. It's ascent all the way. Virtually no level sections and nothing downhill. It's Up... Up... Up... for the next 4250ft.
The (only?) good thing about straight hard ascents, is the views open up very quickly. Within 15 minutes the view behind starts to look incredible.
Looking back towards the campsite...
But the ascent angle is leveling out to its normal rake now. This is pretty much indicative of the next 4hrs of ascent.
But Paul doesnt care... and neither do Steve and I. What awesome weather so far!
Looking across to the Mamorres. Incredible. That group is one of our secondary options for tomorrow if there is a wind as we certainly wont be doing the CMD Arete if the wind exceeds 15mph.
There is a nice, well built footbridge at about 1000ft. Plenty of folk had stopped here.
Talking of people, it was amazing how busy this path was. It had everything that I go to the mountains to avoid. People, noise and quite a lot of discarded litter! Never mind, tomorrows route wont be like this I am sure... and it is nice to see people enjoying the mountains, especially families with children. Worryingly, we see quite a lot who dont look well enough equipped in my opinion, but I keep my nose out and press on. :)
Steve and Paul at around 2000ft... approximately the point my day turned a little darker on the way back. More on that later.
Onwards... and of course, upwards.
But its really busy up here. What a drain. Maybe Saturday in the school holidays wasnt the greatest time to ascend the UK's highest mountain?!
Finally, the flat (ish) section I had seen on the map. That means "Lochan Meall An T-Suidhe" was ahead of us.
And its far more beautiful than we expected. Steve and I had been plagued with the horrible midge cream running into our eyes due to sweat so we proposed a detour to wash our faces in the Loch.
At roughly 1900ft, this Loch is as high as my favourite mountain in the Lake District, Haystacks. Amazing to think its not even halfway up Ben Nevis. That gives the trip great perspective. And its a great place for a snap of me cleaning my boots in the water.
Steve enjoys the 20min break too. Our rucksacks are heavy with full winter clothing, food, drinks, hot flasks, torches, emergency shelters and first aid kits. It really is nice to take them off periodically and let your back dry out of sweat.
Looking back, we can see the top of Ben Nevis from here. Right up In the clouds!
Moving on - at 2250ft, you cross over "Red Burn" which is a nice waterfall. That sign is telling you to avoid using the lower bypass path as its badly eroded. I note some people have ignored it and used it anyway...
Looking back to the tarn we enjoyed so much... Its looking a bit smaller now!
And the view back over to the estuary that leads to Fort William.
From here on up, the path isnt so man made. Its much nicer, rockier and the route finally starts to "feel" more like a mountain than an uphill man made road.
We are all still in very high spirits and have now passed the halfway point. Its always nice when the summit is finally closer than the ground.
Here is a quick panorama I shot on my iPhone 6. What a view!
We carry on upwards and the cloud starts to swirl in. Its said that only around 1 in 10 days are clear up here, so we figure our lucks out.
That said, we have a long way to go yet, and the cloud is only swirling round one side, and its still quite warm at about 10 deg C. Maybe we will still be lucky.
Regardless, we are definately luckier than whoever the mountain rescue are heading off to collect. Hopefully its just a minor injury or even just a training flight. Its amazing watching a helicopter from above... A rare treat, but i hope its not at someone else's expense.
As we continue upwards, the cloud moves in on us and the temperature starts to drop dramatically. This group of people are about to be engulfed by it moments later.
Now - I have included this image as I "think" this gentleman was kind enough to stop a few hours later to offer me advice when I hurt myself. I am not sure, but when Paul & Steve read this trip report they may be able to confirm and I will edit accordingly. I think the pain has clouded my memory, and it would certainly be more than a bit wierd that I chose to take this shot of him on the way up... Fate? Time will tell. **update - Paul has confirmed that this really is the gentleman**
This is the last we saw of sunshine for a while. Its just starting to sleet and snow!
Time to don some more serious clothing. Out with our midlayers and proper waterproofs and then on into the cloud line.
The cloud, snow and then rain only last about 30mins. Paul has his waterproof hard shell off in no time, he very rarely feels the cold. Now its just cold damp cloud again as we breach 4000ft.
And emerge into a weird patch of... "Sunshine & Snow"!!
And the summit plateau is now ahead of us! Look at that Snowline. You can see it will once have been a deadly cornice before it fell off and became an avalanche! I hope nobody was stood on it when it did!
The boys taking their last few footsteps out of the snow and onto the summit plateau of the highest mountain In the UK. What an achievement.
Summit shelter, Cairn, Triangulation point and even an old observatory ahead. This is a busy summit!
I wander over to read the memorial placed here in 1965.
And then have a look around the ruins of the old observatory which is still the highest man made building in the UK. Incredibly, this observatory was built in 1881, and the notable character of Clement Wragge (1852 - 1922) offered to make daily ascents of Ben Nevis during the summer months to take meteorological measurements. Aided by his wife, Leonora, who took comparable readings at sea level, Clement Wragge embarked on his ultimately epic and some might say, fortuitous, adventure (for it was this that ultimately led to the building of the observatory) with instruments provided by the Scottish Meteorological Society. From 1 June 1881 to mid-October 1881, aside from when he was occasionally relieved by an assistant, Clement Wragge climbed the mountain daily, usually setting out at 5 a.m. For his dedication and work providing an unbroken series of readings from the top of Britain's highest mountain, Wragge was awarded the Scottish Meteorological Society's Gold Medal. (Information courtesy of Ben-Nevis.com)
Such a shame it was left to ruin after the government stopped funding its running costs.
The Summits Triangulation Point.
Some of you may have noticed something interesting about the clarity of the last few images? For us it was something amazing! The cloud is moving on and we are starting to be able to see clearly.
A better image of the emergency shelter. I believe this is sometimes so deep in snow its totally inaccessible.
Having had more than enough of all the people about (Im a misserable sod arent I?) - I grab my camera and head off towards the mighty "North Face" to get some images of this incredible piece of rock. Its here that so many people have died wandering around lost in the clouds and some have literally just walked right off the edge of the 2500ft sheer drop north face. Its a climbers dream and very busy in winter with Ice Climbers, but in the same conditions its absolutely deadly to hikers.
Imagine falling off here!
I spot two people enjoying the view. I grab an image with them in it for scale, then go and take a few images for them with their own camera.
Looking back up towards the busy Summit.
Heading over to the east face, where the CMD Arete route brings you onto the summit. I hope we will be coming up this way tomorrow.
Wow... what a view. Its amazing how all the crowds behind me are transfixed by the summit and arent making the short 5 minute walk across to where you can actually appreciate the height, and beauty. Admittedly this is hard and dangerous terrain over here with no path, but the views far exceed anything from the mountain path side of the summit where everyone is gathered.
Steve and Paul join me over here after a while too. They are used to me wandering off with my camera and generally look around and just spot me. I am usually located away from humans enjoying the views. Here is Steve.
Happy hikers taking a selfie.... its the best we could do with no tripod.
Until as luck would have it, a nice young Australian (Or Canadian maybe.. we debated this too much) lady came across and offered to take an image of us all. A favour I duly reciprocated of course.
And here is an image of the last section of the Carn Mor Dearg Arete ridge.
What an absolutely incredible view. We are really lucky to have this view today. So many thousands of people make this climb and experience bad weather, poor visibility and generally just want to get back down to safety as soon as possible, and here we are, first visit and bang... perfection!
But the cloud is coming back. And that Helicopter is about again.
Suddenly, the temperature dropped a good ten degrees, it got extremely cold very very quickly and we knew that was our cue to get off the summit. We turned round to this... a mass exodus of people leaving very quickly and not much visibility left at all.
We descended as fast as we safely could and amazingly passed literally tens of people whom seemingly had no coats, gloves, hats, nothing. Just the T-Shirt and trainers they left their sunny tents / hotels / caravans in this morning. Madness. Its amazing how many people put their lives in danger just through a lack of understanding. They certainly dont intend to do it im sure, they just dont understand that mountain weather at altitude is truly deadly. Those beautiful white clouds we see in the sky are killers. It will still be a lovely day 4400ft below us in Fort William... this is probably just passing cloud, but its deadly to be stood in such clouds for any length of time without good exposure protection.
30mins later as we dropped out of the cloud and back down to about 3000ft, all was well in the world again.
Looking back up to the summit flanks, its still grey and no doubt freezing cold up there and we spot a chap who has descended right down the south western screes. Brave chap, but obviously very experienced as he was moving at a great pace. Can you see him in red? He came straight down the middle!
The descent back is uneventful, and as its the same route we took on the way up I didnt take many images unless it was just because the light was more favourable than on the ascent when the sun was ahead of us. here is one such image of "Red Burn" snaking its way down the face of Ben Nevis to the waiting River Nevis below.
And here... is a sheep. The last thing I smiled at on this trip. Indeed it was in fact the very last image I personally took...
Before I crashed to the ground!
I was just walking along and chatting with Paul, nothing unusual, normal rocky terrain, nothing different to any of the other 77 summits I have done this year so far... In fact, its easier than a great many of them as its so well maintained. But it was wet from the rain cloud that had just passed us by and I guess that because it was such an easy path I was a little complacent with my footwork. As I transferred weight to my right foot to drop my left down to another level of rock my foot lost grip and slid forward, my body went backwards and then my sliding foot jammed and my ankle bent right back. I heard a cracking sound which I was sure was from my ankle and then the pain started. :(
Paul was fast to respond and urged me to stay where I was while he ushered other hikers past. I started to shake and when I tried to move my ankle I realised that I was in trouble. Something in my ankle joint certainly wasnt as nature intended!
After 20mins sat down trying to regain some composure and stop shaking I took out my hiking poles and started to use them as best I could like crutches. The pain was incredible, certainly the worst I recall ever experiencing, but then to be fair, its a very long time since I hurt myself. Paul offered to take my rucksack to lessen the weight but I declined as I would rather him have both hands free to catch me if I fell. Sadly, Steve was quite some way ahead by now as he had missed all the action. He probably didnt hear my yelps of pain for all the talk of football and Eastenders from the crowds of people around him. (Yes, no doubt including the ones in T-Shirts and trainers who hadnt fallen over and ended up in danger like the one who went up prepared for a hurricane... LOL)
We were sadly still at just under 1800ft when this happened but I hobbled along for a while until we met up with Steve whom had come back to look for us. He took my rucksack and carried it most of the way down before Paul took over and did the last mile or so with it... its no easy task carrying someone else heavy rucksack when you already have your own on your back.
There were a great many time I thought about giving up and calling out Mountain Rescue, but I kept giving myself a good talking too. I still had one good leg and two even better friends. Mountain rescue have to be a very LAST resort so I had to carry on.
At about 1300ft a nice chap asked how I was and what was wrong as he heard me yelp in pain near him. When I explained what had happened he offered the advice that some relief can be found from filling the boot with cold mountain stream water as it acts as a cold compress. This turned out to be invaluable advice that I will never forget. We used my flask and Paul topped me up with water. The relief was amazing! Whoever you are sir, I thank you very much.
There is nothing else to report now.. I hobbled down and stopped at the campsite pub for a beer! From looking back at the data that last 1800ft took us 3hrs! So sorry fellas, what a terrible end to a great day. Not just for me, but for my two great mates as well, but I am indebted to them for their help. Proper team work from great friends. When the proverbial hits the fan, you cant beat it. I took a lot of stick of course, but thats how we are with each other, everythings a laugh a minute, especially if the comedy can be poked in our own direction!
Safely back at the tent, I tucked into a LOT of comfort food feeling embarassed, in pain and pretty sorry for myself. While doing so we saw mountain rescue winching somebody from a similar position via helicopter. A camping neighbour later returned after watching it from a closer vantage point up by the YHA and told us they had been alerted by shouts from someone in distress and then mountain rescue had turned up and winched them away. I grabbed this image and if you look carefully you will see the helicopter... it was hovering there for a good 20mins as the fells turned red around them with the setting sun.
What an awesome service these guys provide. I ALWAYS donate money to them when I see a donation box, but on the way home I donated more than usual... Being close to needing them for the first time today brought home just how much we need those unpaid and under valued guys and girls! Off they go, no doubt to the hospital at Fort William.. and I bet their work isnt done for the day yet!
As the day turned to night, we were treated to a nice rainbow in the distance. A rather nice end to a very sweet and sour kind of day.
I finally plucked up the courage to remove my boot after a few beers and some pain killers. The swellings setting in nicely.
Doctor Steve offered to wrap it up with some bandage we carry in our kits. He was the best man for the jobs as he has wrapped up a lot of wrists in his earlier boxing career. My worry was, the wrists he wrapped up weren't already damaged and in pain. They were also probably his own. That proved to be a valid fear as he prodded the swelling and said "is it this bit that hurts?" Oh well, at least Paul didn't spill "Too Much" of his beer rolling around in floods of laughter. I however clean forgot to laugh! This image of me grimacing in pain while doctor death performs his operation by light of head torch, drunk, with a fly net on his head... sums it up nicely.
But what a good job. I texted my wife (A paediatric nurse) an image of the handiwork asking for marks out of ten. She gave it a six. I later found out she thought I had done it and didn't want my head swelling as much as my foot. She said it was really a 9. I let Steve know - he was very pleased with his drunken medical skills. Ha Ha.
We discussed options of the boys going climbing without me on Sunday but they wouldnt hear of it. The weather forecast wasnt helping as it looked like bad weather was en route so allied to being a man down we opted to leave a day early and pack up in dry weather instead of wet and take an easy trip home with a bit of sight seeing instead. The day started with a very sore ankle and another great breakfast before we packed up and said our goodbyes to the Nevis Range.
On the way home we stopped off at the famous "Three Sisters" and decided this was our next Scottish climb. Look at that for a route up a mountain. Just awesome... I cant wait to get up that one!
However... having spent the morning in A&E at Blackpool, it looks like 6 - 8 weeks until I am back to walking without crutches, never mind climbing anything more than a few stairs. Nothings broken though, just suspected ligament and soft tissue damage.
The photographer in me couldnt resist a quick iPhone snap when the doctors head was turned. This looks like a fine set of hiking bones to me... I will be back... Watch this space!
All images in this blog were taken with my Canon G7X point and shoot pocket camera. My camera of choice when hiking any distance. The Canon 5D3 SLR stays at home and only comes back with me if I come across any location really worth coming back for with time on my hands to make the best of it. (A couple were done on my iPhone too)
Here is a little Suunto movie of the trip, showing the route via Google earth.
Here is a little video on the summit.
And some data aquired by the Suunto Ambit 3 peak watch too. Interesting for ascent, descent and mileage etc. (calories are pretty accurate as I wear the Suunto Smart HR monitor too.) It shouldnt take you as long unless you try to do some of it with one leg though!
Here is some data from my Viewranger Account. (This is active and you can change the maps used to OS maps etc instead)
A little about me:
For as long as I can remember I have been passionate about landscape photography. I love nothing more than leaving the house at 4am and heading to some distant landscape with a view to capturing an awesome sunrise during golden hour and then staying out shooting all day until night falls and trying to capture an incredible sunset... this escalated into a love of hiking.
Sometimes it's very successful, as you will see from this website, but other times its extremely frustrating and I just spend 12hrs getting cold, wet and downhearted with the weather, but that comes with the British climate and makes the great captures all the more satisfying.
My equipment centres around the incredible Canon 5D MK3 Body which is a fantastic camera by any standard and with a resolution of 22mp allows me to create very large prints with no loss of detail, and I have the amazing 18mp high speed Canon EOS 7D as my backup body... just in case of disaster! If hiking any distance, or with long, hard ascents I often just take the awesome Canon G7X, a 21mp pocket camera that is almost as capable as my 5D MK3.
I hope you enjoy reading my trip reports and looking at my images. If you would like to hang any on your wall and its not part of my main gallery (A trip report image for example), please feel free to drop me a line and I will upload a high resolution version to the main gallery for purchase.