In Edinburgh, the day before my Ben Nevis adventure, a street photographer warned me about the hike. “It’s steep at the start, in the middle and at the end. And it’s mostly steps, steep slippery steps. It’s tough, tougher than you could imagine.” Nonsense, I said to myself. How bad could it be, really?! After all I’d whizzed up Sani Pass (starting at 1544m and rises 1332 vertical meters to summit at 2876m) and Table Mountain (1,086 metres above sea level). Ben Nevis stands at 1352m above sea level, not that much higher than Sani Pass. The gradient only being 15 percent steeper. What’s 15 percent in the grand scheme of things, right? Well…
Only after reading the article discovered on Walkhighlands about the hike, I thought much better of it. Perhaps Steve, the street photographer, wasn’t exaggerating after all. And not training for the walk was perhaps a little unwise from my side.
From Fort William, a town nestled along the shores of Lock Linnhe, in the western Scottish Highlands, we accessed Ben Nevis. The United Kingdom’s highest peak. With the ground wet, rocks glistening, and the mist lifting at the beginning of the hike, the two of us started the ascend at 8:20am from the car park at the Visitor Centre in Glen Nevis.
Along the tourist path we climbed up and up and up and up for 8.5 kilometres of mostly steep and stony terrain. The last 15 minutes challenged every bone and muscle in my body. You can do it, Nicola, just put one foot in front of the other and you’ll soon be there! I chanted to myself. A heavy backpack containing my camera and one lens only, food (lots of sweets and chocolate) and water didn’t help such a challenge. The few necessary stops for water and sugar definitely helped. On and on we climbed.
From about half way the mist completely enveloped us and visibility became minimal. The large piles of rocks marking the path from three-quarters of the way up couldn’t have been more welcome.
The people we passed, who passed us were all shapes and sizes, young and old and everything in between. Everyone greeted each other, some stopping to chat while we took a break. A couple got engaged at the top, inside the hot box – the hut others used to get high in. A group of men in their early twenties were marching up and apparently they didn’t make the summit last year because they had a few too many. This time, with their alcohol on their backs and untouched, they planned to start drinking only once they’d reached the top.
With every item of clothing drenched, we made it. I couldn’t feel my numb thighs for the cold. I barely operated my camera for my icy, trembling hands wouldn’t function as normal. Each time I wiped the lens of my camera, the moisture instantly saturated the glass. My phone, with a full battery, switched itself off, frozen temporarily. It felt as though I’d been stripped naked and rolled around in snow and then put on a mountain top amidst a gale force wind. Unable to withstand the cold any longer, only lasting twenty minutes on the top, we raced back down. I had to warm up somehow.
Survival tip – bring a warm layer of dry clothing and keep them inside a waterproof bag!
Three-quarters of the way down, the mist started lifting and we could once again appreciate the lustrous scenery, nature’s firework display exploding with autumnal colours.
What a feat! A 5 hour and 50 minute feat. We did it! I did it. And I’d do it all over again. But perhaps I’d wait for spring or summer. And I’d start before the sun came up.