Conquering Ben Nevis Mountain - Attempt 2

August 24, 2008 - Halifax, United Kingdom

16 yrs ago, in 1992, Tania and Debbie made a very poor attempt of hiking up Ben Nevis Mountain.  Ben Nevis, for those who don't know, is the highest mountain in the UK, and is about 1300mtrs high.  It is in the Scottish Highlands and we did a trip way back in our youth when we should theoretically have been much fitter, and decided when we were in the area we'd stroll up Ben Nevis.  We carried nothing but a bumbag with a chocolate bar and that was about it.  We were very optimistic and left the youth hostel, walked over the river and up the path and must have got all of 100mtres up the mountain when we gave up and came back down.  At the time our excuse was the weather was coming in - but in reality we were ill prepared and unfit and have just only just admitted it to each other now! 

Over the last 15yrs or so, we have been saying One Day, we will go back and attempt it again properly prepared.  So about 3 mths ago we started toying with the idea and then marked a date in our diaries for this weekend.  Not much training later (we did the odd walk round the local Halifax hills, and a few gym sessions) we set off on Friday after work to give it a go.

We left a few hours early from work on Friday afternoon and headed North towards Glasgow and then another 100 miles North West to a little town called Fort William in the highlands.  It is a bank holiday weekend and we expected traffic but were pleasantly surprised that the run up was traffic free and we made in 6 and a half hours.  Unfortunately when we arrived at our campsite it was dark so we had to pitch the tent with Tania's keyring torch but 10mins later it was up and we were in bed ready and nervously anticipating our early morning start. 

Having followed the mountain weather reports all week and being warned off by the Ben Nevis information service who said it was going to be pouring with rain and 50mile an hour wind gusts with zero visibility and getting worse as the day progressed, we decided to get up super early and try and get the best of the weather window.  So the alarm rudely awakened us at 5:30am, and we were on our way by 6:15am.  We were pleasantly surprised that at this stage there was no rain, and through the atmospheric mist it was going to hold out for a few hours.   We hoped it would hold out until we got to the top.  

We started by walking over the river on a swing bridge and then gradually meandered up the hill towards Ben Nevis quite gently at first.  Once we hit the mountain path though it soon let us know what were in for.  The path was rocky and uneven, and steps and more steps and even more steps for the first couple of miles.  Debbie had a cold and at this stage found it tough enough that she thought she was going to have to back out.  But the thought of going back to work and telling everyone she didn't get up was enough to push through!  Tania on the other hand bounded up like a mountain goat - she is too fit for her own good!  We plodded up for about 2 and half hours with regular catching breath stops and photo opporunities and then reached the half way point which is lake.  The scenery so far was gorgeous, it was still misty at the ground level but we got some good views.  The path evened out and walking was flat and easy at this point.  So easy, that we both felt we could run!  We met some people who had done the walk before and gave us an indication of what was next.  For some reason we misinterpreted what they said, and we thought halfway point was still to come.   The next section started zigzagging up the hill, crossing a waterfall and then progressed to get steeper and the path turned got muddier and then turned into a scree slope.  We still thought we hadn't reached halfway until a few miles later when we realised that we'd already passed it and had almost completed the worst section of the walk so it was a pleasant surprise when we realised this.  From reviews we have read, most people found this zigzag section the toughest, but we thought the first steps section was worse.  It was just a matter of trudging up and not losing stamina and just looking one bend at a time.  By this stage the mist had come in quite heavily and while we could still see the path and we could see views of the scenery below, but we couldn't see much in front or above us.  We had just sat down for a breather when somebody walked past and told us "not far now". they reckon it was only a 5min walk to the top.  We didn't believe them as everyone always says that but they were right.  It was only a few minutes more when we reached the top.  Initially with the mist so heavy, we still didn't realise we were at the top because we couldn't see far ahead to view the trig point cairn.  It wasn't until were about 10mtrs away from it and saw people taking photos we were certain we had made it.  It was a marvellous feeling especially knowing how many years we have talked about coming back.  We were so fortunate too because just as we were taking our photos suddenly the mist lifted for about 2mins, just enough for us to catch excellent views into the valley.  It was so quick we didn't get photos of this view, but we were thrilled to see it anyway.  We spent about half an hour up there, had lunch, took photos, looked at the observatory ruins, sent a few bragging text messages and then it started getting cold and we headed down.  We checked the time and it had taken us 4.5 hrs to get up and this included lots of breaks.  The way down was easier and quicker and not as hard aerobically, but our leg muscles certainly felt it as it was quite unstable and uneven.  We expected that the weather was going to roll in on the way down and this was predicted but were absolutely amazed that our luck got even better and it cleared up so much we saw views for miles.  Alot of the views on the way down were hidden by mist on our way up so again we spent many breaks taking even more photos.  Stunning scenery.  It took us roughly 4hours to get down but we did stop for 30mins for a second lunch at the halfway lake to enjoy all the views and make our day last longer, and of course to try and rest the jelly legs.  Both of us were very surprised how well we felt both at the top and the bottom.  No major aches or pains and no injuries.  Today, the day after, our legs are feeling a few muscle twinges but nowhere near what we expected.  Gosh we are fit (they say sarcastically!)    

Not bad for two Nearly-40 old ladies who seem to be much fitter now than in our 20's!


1 Comment

kris:
September 27, 2008
Well done!
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