The girls summit Ben Nevis!
I was a little embarrassed. Actually, no, I was very embarrassed. I am well-known as FionaOutdoors in Scotland yet I had never summited the country’s iconic Ben Nevis. But then, it turned out, during a chat hiking another Munro over New Year, that neither had my good friend Ellen. So, back in January, we vowed to tick off the UK’s tallest mountain from our to-do list. We also decided to invite along a few of our girl friends.
After long negotiations on Facebook and email, the final count included seven of us. Only one, Jill, had walked Ben Nevis before. Two had never even walked a Munro. One was on the biggest keep-fit drive of her life, after giving up a long-term addiction to cigarettes and a decade of somewhat unhealthy eating and sitting around-itis. Another woman had given birth to her second son only three months previously.
I had no idea what to expect on Ben Nevis but I was anticipating much laughter and great female chat, plus the usual dose of outrageous four-seasons-in-one-day Scottish weather.
The walk up Ben Nevis
Ben Nevis is not a particularly tough hike but it is long (some 10 miles) and the route does head from sea level to an impressive 1344m (4409ft). The “tourist path” is well trodden and I have never before seen so many walkers on one Scottish hill. Nor have I encountered such a breadth of walkers from four-year-olds to people in their 70s, and from those sporting jeans and trainers (silly people) to those in full-on mountaineering kit. There were also a great number of dogs!
Despite a dismal weather forecast (I have no idea why we even consult the forecasts) we set out in great spirits – and under a sunny and blue sky. To start with the trail quickly steepened and for the first couple of miles many walkers would be forgiven for thinking they will never make the top. With newbie walkers with us, we took our time, stopped frequently for snacks (yes please, more Soreen!) and to drink water.
Then, just when required, the trail flattened out a little and offered a straightforward upwards march. This is not to belittle Ben Nevis, but because of a well-laid and well-worn trail that zig-zags efficiently uphill, the hiking is some of the easiest I have encountered on a Munro. Still, it’s a long, long walk.
I confess that I did, at times, find it hard to walk at the right pace for the group. I am more used to the G-Force’s quick-fast trotting pace. One of the group did suggest that next time they will have a t-shirt printed for me saying: “I don’t normally walk this slow, but I am being kind to by friends”! Mostly, however, I was very content to chat with different members of the group and catch up on gossip, some going back years.
Some three-quarters of the way up, we began to encounter snow. In fact, one walker who had already been to the summit and who we exchanged a few words with, reported that “although tricky because of snow, the summit was possible”. This made me think of Everest, and I felt some relief to be carrying a map and compass, and with the sure knowledge of being able to use them. Some 10 years ago a friend lost his life descending Ben Nevis in snowy conditions and I knew there was a tricky section near the summit that can demand good navigation skills to avoid two severe drops.
But still, with so many people on the Ben and such clear skies, I found it hard to believe that the route would not be easy to find. In the event, it was! I wonder now whether the descending walker was a little inexperienced or if she had summited shrouded by early cloud but our walk to the top was very straightforward. Indeed, thanks to the snow, it was easy to pick out a route marked by thousands of footprints!
Reaching the summit of Ben Nevis
I know, after speaking to a few of our group, that they were extremely relieved to see the top. Walking up hill for four or five hours is hard, especially if you have never done so before. Even SuperMum Kat, who this year summited Kilimanjaro, revealed she had tired leg muscles!
The summit of Ben Nevis was crowded! Think Sainsbury’s on a Saturday morning and you’ll get the picture! If you turned your back to the crowds, however, and surveyed the magnificent landscape all around, looking across mountains, moors and lochs, the sense of height and wildness was more achievable.
The summit picture of our group reveals the delight of reaching the highest place in the UK!
Descending Ben Nevis
If you’ve walked mountains before, you’ll know that the descent can be more exhausting and challenging than the ascent. Certainly, we all suffered sore knees, thighs and calves to a greater or lesser extent. There were a few snow flurries. And it felt as though the walk was longer going back than going up (why is it always like that?!). But there was very little moaning. Women are great for keeping spirits and morale high.
I am delighted that I have now summited Ben Nevis (and I no longer feel embarrassed!) – and I am so proud of all the girls. What a fantastic day out.
And a special mention for Super Ben Nevis Walker Debbie
Just a year ago, Debbie smoked 20 a day, was overweight and lacked energy. She couldn’t believe that she would enjoy any kind of fitness activity. Then she bought a bike (with my help) and started cycling, took up walking and then running, gave up smoking, replaced fags with an exercise addiction and lost lots of weight. It was truly uplifting to see her delight at walking Ben Nevis.
PS Thanks to Ellen for her photos. I forgot my camera!