A Beginner’s Guide to Ben Nevis
Ever since we had decided to visit Scotland, we had set our hearts on conquering Ben Nevis. It definitely was a challenge-the highest peak either of us had tackled-and we weren’t exactly in prime physical condition at the time. We’d both slacked off the gym, we hadn’t even been out walking that much, that’s not to mention the fact that I was pregnant. There was definitely a couple of moments where I doubted the wisdom of us even attempting it. Luke, on the other hand was strangely determined.
In order to reassure myself, I took this hike VERY seriously, having not one, but two maps to hand. I also intently studied the weather conditions, researched routes up and we even purchased walking poles. Oh yes, I was leaving nothing to chance. I heeded all the warnings, I wouldn’t be one of those unprepared fools who ends up being airlifted off the mountain in flip flops.
In reality I honestly needn’t have bothered. (N.B. The Helpful Hiker always recommends thorough preparation). It is, after all, quite a popular walking spot, especially on a warm, sunny day as we enjoyed. The appropriately named ‘Tourist Route’ (or Pony Track) from Glen Nevis is well marked and you’re likely to walk up in procession. I would like to say now that my advice is based on tackling the summit on a clear(ish) summer’s day. Winter is a whole other ball game and, quite frankly, way beyond my limited expertise.
So, after a breakfast of champions (or a McDonald’s drive thru) we joined the line of hikers snaking their way up and began the long, slow ascent. The path is easy to follow, although steep and increasingly stony. We started in t shirts as it was such a beautiful day. I couldn’t believe our luck, the weather was perfect. We made it up in a steady 4 hours. The poles were invaluable at several points, especially as the path became less stable underfoot the higher we got. It was a long, hard slog and I’m not going to lie, I may have sworn a bit along the way. Luke pulled me through, again his odd determination to get to the top reared it’s head. He didn’t even let me stop for a food break.
A couple of pics of the path up
Some views of Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe (also known as the ‘Halfway Lochan’) at 570 m
A great view as we climbed higher
As we climbed it became ever colder, luckily we were well prepared with several layers. There was still snow at the top which was a great contrast from the warm sunshine at the bottom. At the top of Ben Nevis is a rocky plateau of about 100 acres, a trig point denotes the highest point, while there is also a ruined observatory (now a shelter for those caught out by the weather). It is rare to get clear views from the top, and indeed the cloud had closed in. There were, however, enough breaks to allow for some breathtaking vistas, which quite simply made it all worthwhile.
Some views from the top
With an enormous sense of achievement I sat down to enjoy my pasta lunch. However, before I was allowed to eat, the reason for Luke’s dogged determination became clear. I was starving and probably moaning about wanting to eat, however he led me off to a quiet corner and reached into his bag. He then produced a bottle of Prosecco, 2 glasses and a diamond ring! It was quite possibly the most perfect marriage proposal ever. My hunger (momentarily) forgotten, obviously I said yes. It then dawned on me that he had carried all that the whole way without a word. He subsequently mentioned just once or twice (every 15 minutes) how it had dug in his back all the way up. As people remarked later, it was a good job I said yes, or it could have been a frosty descent!
For me, going back down was easily the hardest part. My lack of fitness became all too obvious as I waddled down like an old lady. It took us the same amount of time going down as it did to get to the top.
So, next time (there will be a next time) I will definitely be fitter. I will also take more water and snacks.
Anyone with solid navigation skills, appropriate clothing and a head for heights can do this. There are always plenty of guided walks if you prefer that approach.