Archive for July 7th, 2018

Ben Nevis with 3,000 of our Closest Friends – July 7

Up early. Way too early. And with sadness because really, we should have stayed a second night here. But this is how we end up rolling, despite the pretense of not being vacation nomads. The good news was that despite having to catch the ferry at 6:00am, we were literally a 5-minute walk away. Yay for small bits of happiness at way too early o’clock!

We arrived at the main parking for the Ben Nevis Visitor Centre only to find it chaotic and overflowing. This did not please me. We drove back out to extended parking, where I threw a fit trying to repack our hiking backpacks that had done suitcase service while on Islay. Chad meanwhile cobbled together some food to throw at me from a safe distance, hoping to calm me the hell down. It did not work.

After much equipment flinging and saying of many bad words, we stalked off to the Visitor Centre and trailhead. I was extremely anxious. Because starting a 7 – 9 hour hike at 12:30pm is a bad idea in my experience. Anything later than a 10 am start is pretty much unheard of for us. And even that is late. But the weather was perfect – clear, blue skies, little clouds, and a temperature only expected to hit 77 in Fort William.

As I stomped my way along the path to the trailhead, Chad said to me, “You’re not going to hate-hike this hole mountain, are you?”

I glared at him, “Damn straight I am. This is some bullshit.” (What exactly was some bullshit was entirely unclear to me at the time, but I was sure something about the situation was obviously bullshit.)

Here’s the thing about Ben Nevis, you can’t actually see the summit. You can’t see it from the trailhead, in fact it probably isn’t even the mountain you’re looking at because it’s not the one that seems obvious. You can’t see it when you cross the trail by the loch, which seems like a good way into the hike. You can’t even see it when you’re almost there. You finally see it when you’ve just thought, ‘well that’s pretty much it. I’m going to die up here having never achieved the summit.’ Because suddenly you’re there. And it’s enormous. This giant flat expanse. But we’ll get to that a little later.

I learned several things as Chad and I hiked Ben Nevis with thousands of our closest friends, that fine Summer day.

  1. Giving way to upcoming hikers is clearly not an international hiking phenomenon. This lead me to extend my hate hiking of the mountain for quite some time longer than it should have. (I do happily give way to any hikers coming down who are obviously in distress. I’m not a complete monster.) The only nice part of this was that when Chad and I gave way as we came down the trail, the hikers going up seemed genuinely surprised and thankful.
  2. 1/3 of the returning hikers were on the left of the trail; 1/3 of them in the center; and 1/3 of them on the right. Chaos! If you’re not going to give way, at least pick a damn side! Sweet Jesus! I’m not into playing Frogger when I’m going uphill.
  3. I don’t like hiking with hoards of people. Let’s be honest, I hate it. I hate it so much. There were people everywhere! Generally one goes to the mountains to get away, unless apparently it is Ben Nevis! Holy Moly!

So, after what seemed to be an eternity of varying types of trails – nice smooth bits, steps, random rocky goodness, loose scree/small rocky goodness – we started seeing some extremely large cairns.

At this point I just assumed that we were close to the top. Hahahahah. No. We were in fact on the part of the mountain that was basically a rock field, making the trail discernable on this lovely, bright, clear day, but probably a witch to locate should any fog, rain or snow have rolled in.

Yeah, when I looked up and could not see the summit, I was so devastatingly bummed. There was one moment when I thought I might cry or, alternatively, just reach out and punch the next person within arm’s reach. I did neither because I A) have some pride and B) am not a complete horse’s arse.

Oh, did I mention there was a snow field to cross? There was. It was a little slippery.

At long, long, long last, we were very near the summit and could see the crowds gathered near the trig station, getting updates on the World Cup Scores from some guy who had data at the highest point in Britain. Yep.

We snagged a nice flat boulder and Chad made sandwiches, while I happily let my backpack drop from onto the rock. It had taken us 3.5 hours.

 

Despite having seen plenty of photos from the top of Ben Nevis, I was quite surprised to really see how large and flat the summit was. None of the panoramic and 360 photos prepared me for it. Nor for the crowd.

We got the highest geocache in Scotland which was amazingly an ammo can. Then we took the required photos for the virtual geocache, which took some time because we had to outwait the all the people at the emergency hikers hut and the trig pilar.

Now remember back when I was all freaked out because we were starting so late and I was sure no one would be heading up the mountain after we did. It was just too late. I was so very wrong. There were people streaming up the mountain, not only while we were on top, but as we were descending. It was crazy!

We did find out that the National Three Peak Challenge was going on  – bag the tallest peaks in Scotland, Wales & England in 24 hours – which was part of the crowd, but honestly only a small percentage. There were people we passed who looked like they’d never set foot on anything rougher than a paved rail trail, and here they were taking on 4400+ feet of mountain! It was amazing and insane and maybe even a little bit inspiring.

On our way down Chad suggested we take a little shortcut to circumvent a few of the cut backs. It worked out well. Then we saw another and Chad suggested we take it too. Sure! Why not! HAHAHAH. Why not….because it was a path of loose stones that had recently been placed to help with erosion and it was straight down. Yep, straight down the side of a crazy steep mountain on footing that was the exact opposite of stable. The good news was it completely circumvented all the remaining cutbacks. Additional good news, no injuries or death; although that was touch and go a few times for me!

Finally, finally, finally, after a solid 2.5 hours of hiking we were done. Not too bad! We’d shaved an hour off our time, in no small part to our crazy gravel surfing shortcut! That would be the straight light on the below tracklog.

And the sharper descent on the elevation cutaway here….

This is what Chad looked like when we were oh so almost very close to being back to the parking lot.

This is what I really felt like –

This is me faking it, because I accomplished what I set out to do three years ago.

Check out the gallery – there are a lot more photos in it that I didn’t use and they deserve to be seen in full size. And they are captioned, so you know what you’re looking at! Aren’t I thoughtful?

chris on July 7th 2018 in Geocaching, Travel