Neither of us are easy morning risers, and this is supposed to be vacation after all, but we did our best to get out on time, only ending up 30 minutes later than scheduled, eating some Tesco granola bars on the drive after tea in the room. Looking out the window of our hotel at 6:30am we were dubious since it was all misty, but we both said "Heck, Cupertino is even like this in early morning but by 11am or later is bright & sunny" so we decided to trust the BBC Scotland weather report that said we had an 80% chance of cloud-free Munros, which is darn good odds considering! So we were on the trail by 8:30, which left us about 11.5 hours of daylight to finish the "6-8 hour" hike. Plenty of time to go slowly and stop for photos we hoped!
About 15 minutes into the hike, as we had already started up the steep stairs up the side of Glen Nevis, the rain started. Not too heavy, but enough to put on my jacket that I had already taken off since I get warm very quickly once I start moving. Ben got soaked, since I never got the message he didn't have a rain jacket to bring, since I could have brought a spare for him! Ah well...The rain didn't last long anyway, and we dried fairly quickly. I was moving faster than Ben, who was using his new walking sticks already like a pro, so I was able to keep stopping and looking back - "Ben, look!" which would always prompt photos. In Scotland, you never know how long your view will last, so capture it quick! ;)
Ben & Britta on the way up through Glen Nevis
My thighs were still sore from Beinn Alligin, but I had no doubts I could make it there & back again, but we both knew the question was Ben. He was worried the whole way up about getting back before dark seeing how slow he was going, even though I kept telling him that we would just stop at 2pm & turn around even if we hadn't made it to the top, just to be sure we'd get back before dark. We kept stepping aside to let quicker hikers pass us, only to see them paused up the hill as we passed them. That kept making me me think of the Tortoise and the Hare - "slow & steady wins the race." So, the fact that everyone else was also taking their time, stopping for breaks when they needed to, plus a pair of friendly middle-aged men who said, "Go as slow as you want - we'll probably only get there 5 minutes before you!" was all very encouraging that we could actually make it.
It was actually sunny with dappled ever-changing fluffy clouds all through Glen Nevis on the way up, but we couldn't see the summit even when we turned the corner and were supposed to be able to, since it was shrouded in mist as it reportedly is 300 days of the year! When we reached the "turning point" where we were recommended to make our decision based on weather whether to turn back or continue to the summit, we weren't sure if we should, since we had our fill of misty summits back in Torridon. However, those two friendly men were right there, only a couple steps ahead true to their word, and they encouraged us to continue, saying the hard part was the steep steps behind us, and this was their third trip up to the summit this year, going slowly each time. So we forged onward, past the grazing sheep immune to tourists, past the waterfall where we filled our bottles with the best water yet, up & up & up...
Britta & Ben still climbing!
Mist, mist and more mist! Not only mist, but the grassy hillside with the grazing sheep faded into a bare rocky landscape that seemed endless as it disappeared into the white-gray blur. We had already started meeting people on their way down (how early did THEY get up?!?) who gave us estimates of "oh, you're about halfway to three-quarters up - maybe another 45 minutes?" which we doubled or more for our pace. We only checked our orndance survey map once or twice, but since we hadn't counted our switchbacks, even though we could see the general area, we couldn't pinpoint where we were anyway. I figured since there were so many other people on the track, we'd be sure to have people to follow the whole way up, so we wouldn't get lost. We kept playing "leapfrog" with a middle-aged couple who kept resting when we were moving & vice versa. The woman, who was stopping much more frequently than the man, was friendly and encouraging as well, discussing pacing with Ben. I kept moving at my faster pace which was much easier on my sore thighs, but I would only go so far, then stop to keep an eye on Ben and wait for him to catch up.
We finally made it to the large plateau before the summit, where we were warned that heavy mist could make it treacherous since the path goes so close to the cliffs. The mist was heavy enough we still couldn't see anything below us, but we could still see all the large well-placed cairns that marked the path the whole way across the plateau. Here with hikers silhouetted in the mist with only rocks around us, it was truly the moonscape described in the book! No vegetation anywhere to be found, silent of any birds or animals except the hikers and a couple of dogs accompanying their people up the mountain!
Almost there! I swear I was just about ready to snap if one more friendly person coming back down were to stay that once more! haha...After 5.5 hours of steady climbing, we were ready for it to be true. Ah, there was the cliff finally, the treacherous one, so that means we must really be close! The path was fairly flat there, and we could barely see the ruins of the old observatory faintly in the distance, so I started the videocamera to capture the moment. We were really there!
So were lots of other people of course. There is even a memorial where people have left mementos, which was moving to see. We still couldn't see any view, which was a shame since we're sure it would have been amazing, but we were documenting this occasion anyway, mist be damned! ;) As we were walking towards the elevation marker, where everyone was taking turns being photographed, we were commenting to each other "I wonder if we can get anyone to take our photo." Melissa sitting there eating lunch with her friend volunteered, so she got a quick lesson on using both our digital cameras (to Ben's zoom by the actual lens ring, she said "Oh, like a proper camera!" heh!) AND the cameraphone (full signal at the top roaming on VodafoneUK!), then graciously took our photos for us - hooray! Of course, all you can see is us through the mist, but WE know it was really at 4406 ft up - the highest point in Great Britain!
Britta & Ben at the highest point in Great Britain! :D
We weren't the only ones excited. I was asked to take photos of Melissa and her friend, then a couple guys handed me their cameras, when I took a couple snaps each. When I asked after taking a couple how many they wanted, the one guy said "Oh, one or two, five hundred - make sure we get a good one while we're here!" haha...We also saw the two encouraging men there strolling around, as well as the other leapfrog couple, so we all congratulated each other on reaching the top. :)
We huddled in the wind near the steep cliff of the north face to eat our lunch before heading back down about 3pm. Now that I had stopped exerting myself and cooled down, I was starting to shiver in the wind & mist even inside my jacket, and since I had stupidly forgotten my gloves in California, my hands were ice and took quite awhile of walking to thaw. Once my blood got moving well again, I was fine, and the jacket came off again, tied around my waist, with a camera in each pocket balancing myself out.
About 15 minutes of walking down, again through the misty moonscape, the mists began to part...could it be true? Is that a mountain over there, or just a shadow in the cloud? Cameras came out, everyone stopped walking, snap, snap, snap, as the mists kept parting even more! It was like everything was slowly but surely coming into focus. We really were up high! We could see all of Fort William, countless other lochs shining in the sun in the distance, and all around us in the far distance were more & more mountains everywhere! Absolutely beautiful and definitely worth the climb! Once it seemed the view was staying for awhile, we kept on descending. We were meeting others still on the ascent, with one guy who said this was his fourth trip up in his life, and he had never seen it so clear so near the summit! For once, BBC Scotland's weather forecast was correct! ;)
Amazing views from just below the Ben Nevis summit
The amazing views stayed with us the entire descent, so we could see what we missed from the mist on the way up. It was still a moonscape towards the top until we found the grazing sheep again, but without the mist and seeing the bottom of Glen Nevis again, it was no longer as mysterious and forbidding. Thankfully, even with all the worries about Ben's knee since it only started hurting during the descent of Beinn Alligin, this descent really was easier than the climb, so Ben was fine with having popped two Aleve at lunch and his new walking sticks. Since I was taking it slowly anyway, not wanting to get too far ahead nor overdo it myself, Ben even forged ahead a few times! We probably could even have made it down even faster, but since we could actually see the views this time, we took every photo we wanted, and that was a LOT of photos! Thank goodness for digital cameras, extra batteries and extra memory cards, eh? ;)
Andy was right - this was nowhere near the kind of challenge that Beinn Alligin was. It was a different kind of challenge, since this was more pure endurance of lasting through a continuous upwards grade of switchback paths, so I am glad not only that we tackled Beinn Alligin first, but that we were able to experience both.
Back at the car at 7:30pm, 11 hours after our start, we even made it back to our hotel before dinner ended, but with the best French onion soup ever, plus a leek & lentil canneloni dish I couldn't even finish, no dessert this time. We drank our calories instead with cider and Archers & lemon each...Ben said I got him hooked in Torridon! haha... As Ben used the laptop to write an entire novel about his Ben Nevis experience, I soaked in a nice hot bath, then crashed around 11:30pm, so tired I couldn't keep my eyes open even to read my book. For me to sleep before midnight is an accomplishment, but in this case we earned our rest!