May 21, 2012
The day dawned bright and sunny, so we knew had no choice but to climb Ben Nevis. (The highest mountain in Britain, at 1344 metres.) Besides, what kind of walkers would we be if we stayed in Fort William without doing that?
We made breakfast in the lodge’s self-catering kitchen by using up some porridge which was on the sharing shelf, then organized our day packs. We stopped in at the Tesco to buy some oat crackers, apples, and Mars bars before walking to the trailhead at the Ben Nevis visitor centre. Basically this involved retracing the last 3 kilometres of our route into town yesterday.
We briefly looked into the visitor centre and then set out. The first part of the trail was easy, as it paralleled the River Nevis, but soon it went sharply uphill and climbed across the side of Meall an t-Suidhe. The path itself was in good shape, so the going was good. It didn’t take long before we turned into the ravine created by the Allt na h-Urchaire (Red Burn), where the path now became much steeper. In this area the path was covered with rocks of various sizes, which made the going tough.
We were only two of numerous people who were heading to the top to enjoy the good weather. At the top of the ravine was a wide grassy knoll where we decided to have some tea and crackers. There is a lot to be said for having a full Scottish breakfast as well as porridge, because both of us were hungry. From here we could see people toiling their way up the steep trail above us.
Finishing our food we set off again, and now the grade of the trail was quite good and the footing not so rocky. The trail seemed to alternate between well-trodden dirt and what we called “Hadrian’s Path”, which consisted of a pavement of large rocks embedded in the dirt. The first switchback was very long and we gained quite a bit of elevation with it. The path now became a series of long, steep zigzags which eventually got us up to the snow line.
The last 300 metres of elevation gain were over snow, which actually made the going easier. We could see large cairns sticking out of the snow, not to mention we could follow other people, so getting lost was not an issue. Finally we reached the summit four hours after leaving the visitor centre. Luckily even though there were some dark clouds, we still had a fantastic view in all directions. It was cold on the summit, so we both put on our warm clothing. Sitting at the trig point we had our second lunch of sausage and crackers plus the rest of our tea.
We stayed up there about half an hour before we started the descent. The first part was easy, as we boot-skied as much as we could, but once we reached the stony path it was harder. After three hours we were down and on our way back to the lodge. Originally we had planned on making our own dinner but both of us were tired and hungry, so after having showers we headed out for dinner, settling on the Ben Nevis Inn.
We started out with soup (Paul) and salad (Rosemary) and we both had a half roast chicken. As usual the portions were large but we managed to eat most of it, saving the sausages for tomorrow’s lunch. Then we wandered down High Street past the place where the new Travelodge is under construction, and stumbled upon the new official end of the West Highland Way. It has a map of the way, with its major landmarks, imprinted in the concrete, as well as a statue of a man sitting on a bench with one boot off, rubbing his foot. Tomorrow we’ll need to walk back there to take some photos.