The ‘Erly Tour – Ben Nevis

24 July 2021. Ascent of Ben Nevis

Back in the 1980s I was in the RAF and stationed at RAF Kinloss, about 25 miles east of Inverness. I was a member of the mountaineering club but, in the nine years I lived there I never got to climb “The Ben” which is a bit of a shame because back then the mountain didn’t have a “tourist route” nor the hoards of tourists that made such a route necessary.

Oh well, that’s progress I suppose. It’s kinda fun to look back and think how much simpler life was before the advent of mobile phones and the internet. But nothing stays the same. Even nostalgia is not what it used to be.

So, anyway…

The weather had been absolutely fantastic for two weeks prior but this day outdid itself! I put on my lightweight boots, shorts and T-shirt, daysack with snacks and a full Camelbak, picked up my walking poles and got Ash to take me ashore around 09:00.

Walking through Fort William and Glen Nevis was very pleasant but I could already feel the warmth of the day beginning. Once past the visitor centre, the climb proper began. The first section is fairly easy going through the wooded lower slopes where there was plenty of shade but once out of that it quickly became apparent that it was going to be HOT!

Looking up from Glen Nevis

Bear in mind that, despite being relatively fit, I had not done any serious walking for probably thirty years, I’d had a replacement right hip in October 2020 and the left one is needing to be done as well now. So you might appreciate how difficult I found sections of the ascent.

My “Exeter Hip”

The walking poles helped enormously and I don’t think I would Have made it without them. Even so, there were a few times I considered giving up but the sight of two women with a prosthetic leg each and five year old kids going up steeled my wool!

Moon Shadow from the Saddle

I had estimated a six hour round trip but that didn’t take into account the heat. The forecast was for 27 degrees centigrade and I’m certain it was all of that and, with no wind at all it was brutal! I reached the summit around 15:00 so the ascent alone took six hours.

The Summit Hut

After a brief stop to take in the view I started the long trek back down. Going down was easier on the lungs but harder on the knees and hips!

On the way down I was desperately looking for a water source as I had drunk my entire Camelbak on the way up but, because there had been no rain for weeks all the streams were dry. Just one was flowing but I couldn’t fill the Camelbak as it wouldn’t fit into the pool but I did have a small bottle that had contained a smoothie so I filled and drank that twice and filled it again to take with me. In hindsight, I should have used that little bottle to fill the Camelbak but it didn’t occur to me at the time. Probably the first stage of dehydration affecting my decision making.

So on I plodded, looking forward to getting into the trees and out of the direct sun and heat. I knew it was bad when I saw the mountain rescue helicopter come up twice to take off people suffering from heatstroke.

Almost back to the trees

When I eventually got to the tree line I discovered that, because the sun had moved round there was actually no shade anymore. As I went, I just kept thinking “take it steady, just keep moving”. Along the way, I met up with a guy who said he would give me a lift from the visitor centre back to Fort William, for which I was very grateful! We got separated by a group of very slow walkers and I called ahead that I’d see him at the bottom.

When I eventually made it he was nowhere to be seen.

The visitor centre had closed for the day and the only water available was from the disabled person’s toilet. Of course, it was occupied so I sat on one of the benches to wait. When it was free I stood up to go to fill my Camelbak and it was at this point that I realised how dehydrated I was. I could hardly stand, my legs felt solid and I was staggering around like I was drunk. I missed the door handle and nearly fell over but somehow managed to keep my balance. I filled the Camelbak and then went and sat in the shade and slowly sipped the water. After about half an hour I was feeling ok but I still had another three or four miles to go back to Lochaber. I really didn’t think I could make it and started asking everyone I saw if they were going to Fort William. Eventually, a couple took pity on me and agreed to take me. I’ve never been so grateful for air conditioning! They very kindly took me all the way to the yacht club and I phoned Ash to come over and pick me up.

My legs ached for over a week after that but I was so pleased with myself for doing it and not quitting on the way up.

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