Climbing Ben Nevis in winter

Its a New Year still not sure how the last year went by so quickly and remembering the previous New Year like it was yesterday and so on.. Anyway, I feel its about time I made another blog entry, and chronicle my travels from holiday season a year away.

So back in the day, I was planning a sedate holiday to relax and cherish, keeping in line with the spirit of holidays last winter in Scotland and England. However my innate desire for thrill and adventure got the better of me. Given that I was flying into Edinburgh on Christmas day a quick lookaround revealed Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the British Isles at 1344m (4409ft) above sea level, as a very tempting “day in the mountains” option. So there I was scouring the internet for a mountain guide to take me up Ben Nevis on a freezing snowy Boxing day and sure enough internet had the answer. Sure enough Davie Scott from Ben Nevis Mountain Guides turned out to be a good choice and got me to the summit and back in one piece, on a Boxing day with rather extreme weather.

Putting this plan into action, I checked in at Best Western hotel and took a stroll around cloudy and sleepy little town that is Fort William which is the base for most Ben Nevis trekkers. Fort William was absolutely deserted, bar for a couple of weird chaps who were stoned and drunk out of their senses 🙂 Soon enough I was headed back for the hotel’s Christmas special dinner which was decent enough.

Next day, on a typical gloomy Scottish morning, Dave picked me up and we drove over to the starting point and parked near Glen Nevis visitor centre and headed towards Achintee for the starting point at 20ft above sea level of Mountain Track a.k.a the Tourist Path from where it was 16km start t finish. As we strode along gentle slopes interspersed with rocky elevations we went pass assorted other climbers in small sets of 2 or 3, some not equipped to summit and just going around the mountain.

IMG_4110While walking the guide provided interesting tid-bits of history of ‘The Ben’ as the locals like to call it. The summit held a meteorological observatory in the late 1800s which was operated for single handedly for months initially by a fellow named Clement Wragge who went up the mountain daily during that period. Meaning of the name of the Ben has been disputed. Ben Nevis is anglicised version of Gaelic name “Beinn Nibheis”. Beinn means mountain ofcourse, but Nibheis is attimes translated as “venomous” or a derivation of “nèamh-bhathais” from “nèamh” meaning “clouds” and “bhathais” meaning “top of the head” and the whole thing translates to “the Mountain with its head in the clouds” which seemed rather poignant as I looked up on that winter day.

Nèamh-bhathais!!

Nèamh-bhathais!!

As we passed the 1000m mark, we had to bring out the additional gear as the snow became deeper, before proceeding on the trail. Its around this mark we passed by a climbing couple who had passed us earlier with large ruck sacks and a small puppy by their side and were now halted to wear additional gear. As we passed them we heard the cries and to our utter amazement realised they were climbing with an infant in a baby carrier in that freezing cold. That was a first even for Dave who has been up and down the Ben tons of times.

Nothing to see here. Just taking a walk with our baby and puppy!

Nothing to see here. Just taking a walk with our baby and puppy!

Further along and we turned a corner on the trail only to be astonished again to see the sun peeping out through the clouds. Another moment of surprise even for Dave who declared “this is the best weather seen in last few weeks and likely to be seen in the next few weeks!!” It sure seemed liked the fortune was shining on us to have such fine weather in the circumstances. We had started off from the base with much skepticism regarding the possibility of reaching the summit and Dave said we will try and go as far as possible.

 

Lo and behold! Sunrise on boxing day on top of Ben Nevis!

Lo and behold! Sunrise on boxing day on top of Ben Nevis!

Sun could offer its warmth only for so long however and after a while we were trudging along in deep snow with bare minimum visibility and temperatures of -15C or below with the addition of windchill as well. By this time we had been walking for 5hrs plus and every step was a struggle for me in these conditions. Dave had to bring out his compass and guiding skills as visibility was down to a few feet. An hour or so of trudging along in these conditions half out of my senses (I had to say no when Dave offered to show how to navigate from one marker point to next using compass) we finally reached the summit, a low probability event all things considered.

By the time we got back down it had taken me well over 7 hours for what would have been 4-5 hour walk in ideal conditions which ofcourse is hardly ever the reality in Scotland. Given my not so prime fitness condition the climb took quite a toll on my muscles, among those a knee inflammation that occurred during descent. But boy…was the pain worth it. What an experience and memories for a life time..!

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