We had a close family member affected by dementia so climbing the highest peak in the UK and Ireland in aid of The Alzheimer’s Society was something both my sister and I wanted to do. The trip was mostly organised by the charity. We paid for our own expenses (accommodation, flights, food) so that all money we raised would go to the charity.
We met the group in Glasgow where we boarded a coach for Fort William. It was a very scenic journey up along the coast of Loch Lomond. In Fort William we were staying in the Ben Nevis hotel. Upon arrival we had a briefing with information about the following day’s hike and safety. Following this we had a meal where we had the opportunity to meet some of the other members of the group.
It was a 6am start the next morning for a good breakfast before getting the bus with the group to our starting point. At this stage it was already raining. The weather for the day did not look promising at all. Upon reaching the carpark at the starting point there were some group photos before setting out in the rain. The “Mountain Track” to the summit of Ben Nevis is long and gradual with two distinct sections. The first section is relatively sheltered up along the side of  a hill. (I won’t pretend to know the names of the various slopes and peaks as I do in the Mournes).
This section was quite enjoyable as the sun began to come out and it the weather started to pick up.
The weather began to pick up a little on the lower section.
A quick snack close to the lake before starting the second section.
Above this section we stopped for a rest close to a lake. This is where the path turns a tight corner and the route changes to become what I consider the second stage of the ascent. At this point there is no shelter, vegetation quickly disappears and the ground becomes almost entirely rocky. The weather also started to deteriorate once we began ascending this section. We quickly became surrounded in thick cloud, heavy rain and gale force winds. It was not pleasant at all. At this stage in my hiking experience I hadn’t yet invested in quality gear. My boots were total rubbish and completely waterlogged at this stage. My “waterproof” jacket and trousers were definitely not waterproof and my backpack was doing a very good job letting water in only to retain it in the bottom of the pack to make sure everything got nice and wet. My sister was in exactly the same situation. We spent a lot of time in the gale force wind trying to fix each other’s bag covers in an attempt to keep our stuff dry. That turned out to be totally futile.
The path on this upper section of Ben Nevis zigzags back and forth. In one direction is was ok getting pushed along by the wind and driving rain but in the other direction, trying to walk into the driving rain was horrible. Eventually we got to the summit. We didn’t spend long there. A couple of quick summit photos and a quick sandwich and we were on our way back down.
My sisters’ summit photo.
My summit photo.
On descent my sister developed a knee injury which became increasingly painful for her. Such an injury is always much worse on descent. This slowed us considerably and I found myself walking a bit of a tightrope between offering supportive encouragement and going too far and facing the full wrath of an older sister, cold, wet and in considerable pain. I quickly learned to stay quiet! We did reach the bottom though and ventured into the Ben Nevis Inn; the part I had been looking forward to all day! The cold, the wet, even the squelching in my boots was all somehow made better when I started into that first pint.
The first enjoyable pint in The Ben Nevis Inn.
My old Garmin Etrex recording the elevation at the summit.
The track recorded on the Garmin, displayed on Google Earth.
We were transported back to the hotel in groups as we arrived off the mountain and into the Ben Nevis Inn. After a few more drinks and a well deserved shower in the hotel we had another meal. Some of the group, including myself went back to the bar after dinner and stayed up until 5am. I severely regretted that on the trip back to Glasgow the next morning!
Check out my tips and safety information for the hills here