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A missed opportunity in Scotland’s outdoors

Written by Fiona April 28 2011

On reaching Glen Nevis, a glen in Lochaber, the self-proclaimed Outdoors Capital of the UK, I was somewhat dismayed. In fact, you could say I was crestfallen. Just a mile or so walk from a car park at the end of a narrow winding road, the beautifully hidden glen is truly jaw-droppingly gorgeous. The views include majestic mountains (some of the highest in the Britain), three of the highest waterfalls in Scotland, , including Steall Falls, a dazzlingly clear river and lush grasslands.

So why was I so down-hearted to have discovered such a gorgeous place? Well, just the night before and after cycling to meet the G-Force in Fort William, my Munro bagging partner had suggested we walk into Glen Nevis for a spot of overnight wild camping. I swear he’d told me it was a few miles of a walk, with full overnight kit on our backs, followed by a walk back out the next morning… before we’d even get to start our big day of walking two hefty Munros.

Steall Falls

At the time, this didn’t sound like much of a treat (I’d just cycled 50-odd miles) and so I said I’d prefer to find a pitch at the Glen Nevis campsite, close to Fort William, and enjoy a meal at the Ben Nevis Inn. Don’t get me wrong, the campsite is lovely and the woman at reception is the perfect example of what every front-of-house person should offer by way of Scottish hospitality greetings. The meal and atmosphere at the inn, located at the foot of Ben Nevis, were superb. We also had a good night’s sleep and woke early to start our day of Munro bagging feeling refreshed.

But on arriving at the glen itself I felt horribly cheated. “You should have persuaded me to wild camp,” I whined to the G-Force. “This is just so gorgeous and it’s only  a mile form the car park and I just wish you’d made me walk here last night and camp overnight. It would have been so perfect.”

Anyway, we were passing through the glen en route to two biggie Munros, Aonach Mòr (1221m and the eighth highest of all the Munros), and Aonach Beag (1234m and the seventh highest of all the Munros). The G-Force had ticked off two others in the area on the Saturday and kindly left the toughest hike of the weekend for the Sunday!

G-Force and FionaOutdoors on snow-covered summit of Aonach beag

The hike to the top of the huge beast of Aonach Mòr, while wonderfully scenic, just seemed to go on for a very long time. This wasn’t helped by the persistent rain, which surrounded us about an hour into the walk and didn’t ease until about an hour from the end of the walk. Essentially the hike up seemed to be split into three climbs, each with a flatter more gradual ascent followed by a steep hike.

The final climb before the summit plateau was extremely steep. I employed my “don’t be frightened of heights” strategy of refusing to look back down the slope. The G-Force did look back down every so often and seemed really spooked by the whole ascent. It was wet and the rocks and grass were slippery so the best technique was to sort of scramble upwards with both feet and hands holding on to the ground.

Finally we made it over the last steep section and walked for what seemed like a very long time (again) to reach the summit proper. The delight was knowing we had made it to the summit rather than giving in to a very strong urge to turn back and come back another day when the clouds had lifted!

We crossed the path of two other Munro baggers who were doing our walk circuit in reverse. They had already summitted Aonach Beag, where we were now heading.

Although Aonach Beag is the higher of these two Munros, it seemed by far the easier to summit. Of course, we had already done most of the hard work by ascending up to the ridge of both Munros, so the walk to the second summit was “simply” a case of descending some 150m or so and re-ascending that height to make it to the snow-covered summit of Anoch Beag. In fact, there was so much snow on this Munro that the summit cairn was barely in view.

We met six other walkers on the top of this Munro (very unusual, as we rarely see any other walkers at the summits during most of our Munro ascents), and one said that her GPS was giving a reading of being several feet above the summit height. It seems we were standing atop many feet of snow and the cairn would normally be some six feet or so tall.

With all the fantastic weather of late it did feel odd to be standing on so much snow and in freezing rain, but at such a height it pays to expect the worst kind of weather.

Of course, we then had a steep descent to tackle. My thigh muscles have become more used to cycling, running and swimming in recent months so the descent was agony on my thighs. (Days later my legs are still sore!). But as we descended below the cloud and came out once again into the glen I found myself with a renewed sense of eagerness to climb more mountains.

The G-Force is down to his last 25 or so Munros and I can’t always join him because of family responsibilities but I am determined to  head out as often as possible again this summer. And I will definitely be keen to return to Glen Nevis again this summer, if only for a night or two of sublime camping.

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