The Acent And Decent
Fort William Travel Blog› entry 4 of 4 › view all entries
All that advice you get given about travelling light certainly in mind contradicted itself when going up a mountain. Being on my own I thought that I had best go prepared, so naturally I carried everything bar the kitchen sink. I wasnt aware so many people went up the mountain, so at one stage even considered bringing some fireworks up with me incase I got stuck at the top with no help. Fortunately I didnt, but I did wear a military chest rig usually used for Airsoft and paintball full up with torches pens, firelighters etc. Also in my backback I carried a sleeping bag, another spare jumper, a thick winter coat, a large piece of water proof material meant for building shelters but only one bottle of water. Thats without mentioning my DSLR camera and bag and tripod which for some unknown reason I thought may have been of some use.
At the bottom it had been raining but slowly got very sunny and warm on the accent. The path uses another adjacent hill as a bridge across to Ben Nevis, and then snakes up the mountain side. From the ground it doesnt look very tall or steep, but once you begin to see those dots in the mist above are people it really begins to become apparent that this is much harder than it looks. The people in the visitors centre said it would take 4 hours up, 3 hours down, a time I thought at first would be for some family of 5 with kids dragging their feet. In my stupidity I was now dragging my feet only 20 minutes in with the weight of all my gear on my knees. I hadnt thought the path would be so perilous too, huge rocks digging out of the path to negociate took me by surprise.
I was however making good time and had overtaken some serious walkers, something I felt quite proud of since the last time walking I had ever done was on flat Essex countryside at the age of 17. I stopped at a bench and took on a few sips of water before carrying on. Walking though a hillside of ferns made me feel as though a raptor was going to jump out and attack me. A strange revelation came that these mountains are as dinosaurs would have seen them all those millions of years ago. The rocks on show are 400 million years old. Even the ferns that surround the path are a whisper of a by-gone age when ferns were the prodominant species of plant before grass and flowers evolved.
Around an hour in I met a middle aged couple named Lynn and Mick who were also from Essex, so naturally we began talking and I ended up spending the whole time whilst on the mountain up with them. Its funny because once you start talking the climb feels so much easier simply because its not the only thing your thinking about.
Around 2pm we had made it onto the main peak and had begun up the snaking path. Way above you can see others who had left an hour before hand still struggling on. Everytime you come to a turn to come back on yourself you hope that that is the last leg, but its not. Around half way up the main peak I got fed up carrying the tripod that had now begun trying to strangle me. I marked the location with someone litter, and hoped it would be still there when I came back down. My knees had now turned to jelly, and only the thought of 'Well im half way there now' kept me from turning around and coming back down.
I had been told when I asked someone down the bottom that the running water coming off the mountain was not fit for drinking water, they explained, because there is sheep crap in it, or you could get a disease if something died and fell in the water. Thats great I thought, but that only applies to where there is animals. Putting this theory to use whilst up half way I had re-filled my water bottle at a fast flowing stream, completely safe I thought...until later....
The weather began to change so I put on my thick jacket which actually made me too hot. Ironically just at this point some eastern european idiot (sorry no other way to describe him) came up wearing just a pair of shorts with no shirt on. Being only 3/4 of the way up, it was already beginning to get misty and cold, this guy would surely freeze up and die I thought, and im not carrying him back down the mountain! Rain came across at began to pelt us, and the mist engulfed the the level at which we was at and lower leaving no more beautiful views of the scenery below us. A kid who had obviously decided he didnt want to go any further used the mist as an excuse to call it severe weather and begun making his way down, a little odd I thought at this point because it was only another hour tops to the top.
We drudged on talking, and soon enough we reached the first caern, a pile of stones telling us we hadnt inadvertedly gone off course and was about to topple over the edge. Of course it was impossible not to know because of the sheer amount of people. Apparenly many locals call the tourist trail the M25 because of the amount of traffic. Its clear to see why there is such an on-going effort to maintain the mountain with the use of designated paths. Whilst we we're up there there were hundred of bags of hardcore waiting to be laid down expertly into fairly safe paths. Around half way up we had gone past three sleeping workers around a digger.
It was'nt long before we saw the reminance of snow! I have never seen snow, or at least frozen sludge, in July before. It was quite amazing to see, and to think that just 2000ft down everyone else was basking in sunlight. Within minutes we were at the top. The usual cliche peak top photos were taken, we had a quick snack before starting back down since the weather was getting cold. Even our old friend whod gone up topless was now wearing a jacket!
On the way down we met a woman who had been left on her own by her husband and son! We felt guilty because at the time the weather was terrible but after we had walked down with her the peak became completely clear, and it was obvious she had wanted to do it do show her family up. Still I wouldnt want a woman going to the top in fog, you never know what weirdo your going to get at the top. It was a bit of a harsh thing to discover though - leaving your mum to it is surely a little immoral lol.
Even further down were people jogging up, we were within 20 minutes of getting off the track completely and these poor souls were already knackered! Then there was a bunch of kids playing on their mountain bikes coming down the path. Considering the path has 'steps' staggered sometimes 3f or more, and is completely irregular - it was very dangerous. It just shows in the short space of time how many accidents are waiting to happen. Some joggers werent even using the paths and were just coming up any old way. It begs the question, what would happen if they fell over and became unconcious. Noone would have the slightest clue where to look.
I made it down by 8pm, said goodbye to the couple I had been with the whole day, and departed back for home. My feet were destroyed, by back hurt, but the sense of achievement was great.
On the way home it was not a leisurely pace like it was coming up. Whereas before I was quite happy to sit behind every lorry and bus, this time I was overtaking anyone on the small lanes going under 70mph. It wasnt because I was feeling the need for speed, it was meerly that all the petrol garages in rural scotland shut at 10pm. I needed to move quickly in case I ran out of petrol. Also I needed to get as far south as possible before drifting off to sleep. Sticking with what I knew, I stopped at Bamburgh again and slept.
This morning on the 30th July, I left straight away and went full steam back home in case there was anything wrong with my animals. Fortunately there was not. I got in not a moment too soon because that water I had drank at the top of the mountain had given me the terrible sh...!
So yeah, my advice is, in the summer travel light up Ben Nevis, and never drink the water, no matter how deliciously refreshing it looks. Unless you have a drop of Iodine. And a gas stove. And a stomach made of steel. Then again...it could have been the water, or that Egg and Bacon burger I had on the way up... :S