Tuesday, 25 May 2010

The National 3 Peaks Challenge - Ben Nevis (Peak Number 1)

View Ben Nevis in a larger map

Suited and booted we started off across the bridge opposite the Youth Hostel (717128) at 6:45pm we figured we had until around 10pm before we'd start losing light so we had to get cracking. This became particularly important when we realised that Ben Nevis summit was shrouded in cloud - somewhere, anywhere up in front.

We started off up the foothills following the path that zig zagged as we went. Not 10 minutes after we started everyone was stopping to shed layers that we'd donned in the expectation that it was going to be cold - err wrong, at least for the time being.

The path winds it's way up the hill then crosses a waterfall by means of a bridge. We seemed to be passing an awful lot of people heading in the opposite direction to us however only one passed us heading up the way. On the whole we got off to a great start, my heel was giving me some grief on the flat but anything more than a gradual incline and I walked on the balls of my feet meaning I couldn't feel anything.

climbing Ben Nevis national 3 peaks challenge
The path wound to the left up one side of a huge valley, it was here that we started to get some awesome views of the mountains at the far side of Glen Nevis and Glencoe far into the distance.

lochan on ben nevis
As we appeared over the initial ridge on Ben Nevis at a height of about 500 metres and we came across the Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe, here we could see hoards of people (including the only chap that passed us) in the distance heading down the path. Whether they'd hit the summit or not I wasn't sure, it did strike me that they probably had as it appeared to be an odd time for such hoards of people to be yomping up Ben Nevis - the biggest mountain in the UK. As we turned the corner (at 147725) you can start to see where materials have been lifted up the mountain in order to restore the pathways which is so vital for what is really a tourist attraction. With the number of people that walk this path on an annual basis it's state is sure to deteriorate in a short space of time, this is why it is so sad to hear that the operations of the Nevis Partnership are to cease operations (read the full article here) which will largely affect the condition of the mountain paths.

path down ben nevis
Going was slow giving priority to those going downhill at this time, it was phenomenal how many people were starting to appear from out of the clouds which were now starting to get thicker and thicker.

heading into ben nevis cloud
It was essential that at this point we all stuck together and at all times we could all see each other and should anyone fall out of sight we all hollered until we were all as a group again. Bit slow going but always better safe than sorry. Once we were in the cloud I was constantly checking the Satmap to ensure that the path that we were on was in fact the right path as visibility was limited. This is a very well trodden path and the way ahead is very clear. Some passers by let us know that it was about 20 mins to Ben Nevis summit from the start of the snow.

It seemed to be relentless with no snow in sight and no landmarks to get a gauge of the distance the only fix on location we had was the Satmap Active 10 which gave us the altitude and therefore the ascent we had left.

Realising we were running short on daylight we really had to push on and the thigh burn was really kicking in as was the biting cold. Gloves, hats, jumpers were all thrown on to keep the cold at bay even though we were slogging our guts out to get up there it wasn't enough to warm the extremities. Not far later we hit the snow and we were forcing ourselves on gasping for breath, not down to the altitude more the exertion due to the pace we were doing. Poles were now a necessity, dragging ourselves up the hill, without them would have been a case of 1 step forward, 2 steps back.

Knowing that we couldn't be up here for long as we had to be out of the cloud this side of darkness we were striding out jeering each other on, everyone was well aware of the time frame but hearing it from the other dudes made sure you didn't ease off the gas and I didn't until I got cramp, as did Si. Every step it was firing up my left quad from my knee to the top of my leg both on the inside and out - every step I was screaming into the mist in fierce pain. We'd not eaten a bite since we left the van and we were paying the price. Kenny had some nuts to hand so he loaded my palms and I troughed them, this seemed to do the trick and kept it at bay for now.

I'd never been up Ben Nevis before so didn't know the landmarks on the summit, Ken did however and recognised the cairn with the shelter at the top - which apparently was an observatory in times gone by. Gotta say the view of the stars from here on a clear night would be heavenly, sadly we weren't blessed with that fortune. We had the customary photo where everyone put on a loose smile to prove that we'd been there, we ate chocolate and we got head torches out of bags to guide our way down - all in about the time that it's taken you to read the last two lines.

ben nevis summit
And we started off down the way at pace to try to get out of the cloud and out of the cold. We couldn't get out of the cold quick enough and checking the temperature it was around -2 degrees. My hands were in agony with the cold. Dave let me borrow his gloves to try get some warmth back into them. I carried my poles under my arm and put all my fingers and thumbs into the gloves together in an attempt to get some feeling back. Sadly we couldn't wait for this and had to truck down in the meantime. Si's cramp hadn't dispersed he was now onto re hydration sachets to try get rid of it. It had instant benefits but didn't get rid of it entirely. As we emerged out of the cloud the night lightened up. Bizarrely the cloud was localised over the summit of Ben Nevis itself and in places the sky was quite clear giving us enough light to descend the hill under.

From this point we didn't need torches until we rounded the valley top and walked past the loch that we'd past earlier on. Lucky really as Pike had lost his (turns out he lost it in his bag, that was on his back, we later found out). The descent was a touch slow and the zig zag path out of the valley and back to the river was pretty rocky. This is where accidents can happen so there was no point in rushing things and writing ourselves off, particularly as some of us were in trainers. My foot gave me a fair amount of grief here not having sight of where I was putting my feet.

Successfully down we got back to the van at midnight with Ben Nevis done. We literally opened up the boot chucked all our clobber in and got some food out, we were on the road within minutes following the 265 mile route to teh Lake District as laid out on the map below.

Pike was at the wheel this time, giving the rest of us the chance of some kip. Well kip wasn't really what we got as we careered down the Highland B roads and along the windy shores of the colossal Loch Lomond. I more got a headache where my head bounced off the window for around 90 minutes in a semi slumber as we ricocheted south leaving me feeling as though I was wearing the window like a brittle sombrero.

Somewhere around Glasgow (I think, I'm not sure, it was still dark though) we changed driver and Dave had a blaze.

On the motorways now I did sleep-ish.

At around 4am I was woken up (I don't know who it was by) with the words "Dave says can you drive?" I was behind the wheel seconds later to give Dave a shot at trying to get some snooze in before we set to with Scafell Pike in the Lake District.

Having been asleep my eyes were still half glued shut where my contact lens had set behind my eyelids. My vision was a touch foggy although I thought it better to keep this nugget of wisom to myself for the time being. I took over the driving as we'd just come off the motorway heading around the Northern Lake District heading for the coast. This is where we really started to regret not having bought an atlas. We had two iPhones which were both telling us to go in opposite directions. We had an OS map for Scafell Pike, which we would have been able to use in about 9 miles time, so we were in the hands of god and we guessed. After some time of blazing round country lanes in the dusky light, following our noses we somehow successfully arrived at a roundabout that we'd torn round about 45 minutes earlier, the challenge was slipping away from us already. In the end the trusty satmap got us back on track in the right direction and we arrived at the car park at 5:45am to a line of hire vans occupied by drivers awaiting the return of their climbers so that they could get underway to Snowdon, we didn't have that luxury.


Dan and Meena said...

Jeez, what a way to to start! Great pics like usual. What's the height of Ben Nevis anyway?

The Odyssee said...

I think you have done well just finding the energy to do the event blogging as you go. Well done.
Hope its a success.

The Weekend Dude said...

Yeah was a bit of a tough start but these things are sent to test us - we constantly said that all day lol. But it was a good experience all told. Ben Nevis is 1344 metres (4409 feet) I think it's about 70 metres at the base so it's a fair climb.

I did cheat on the blogging front I'm afraid to say, I logged the routes on the satmap and am writing it now with photos and maps to jog my memory. I used all the spare time we had on the day trying to sleep. The word "trying" is very important in that sentence.

The Weekend Dude said...

Sorry, forgot to add that sadly I can't take credit for these photos either. After taking only 3 shots I realised that I'd left the memory card for the camera in my card reader - at work (not much use there) so the photos I've used were taken by my brother.

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