Day 246: Sea to Ben Nevis

Inverness-shire - South, Scotland

7.28am Paper mill at Corpach with Loch Eil beyond, Highland, Scotland.

Today I plan to conclude the trilogy of walking to the summit of the highest mountains of England, Wales and Scotland as a loop from the sea in a single day. I leave the kebab strewn streets of Fort William at 5am. My head torch guides me past a steaming distillery, through a golf course into a knotted birch wood and out onto the open hill. The stars are bright overhead. 500m up I shelter from the ferocious wind behind a boulder with clear views across the hills in all directions but the summit is in cloud.

7.41am path to Ben Nevis from the north, Highland, Scotland.

8.03am Allt a’Mhuilinn and the north face of Ben Nevis, Highland, Scotland.

8.11am Meall na h-Eilde and Meall an Tagraidh from Carn Dearg Meadhonach, Highland, Scotland.

8.20am Ben Nevis ridges I, Highland, Scotland. [if you can ID this ridge please mention it in comments below]

8.40am Gulvain from Carn Dearg Meadhonach, Highland, Scotland.

8.41am Stob Coire a’Chearcaill, Highland, Scotland.

8.41am Loch Eil from Carn Dearg Meadhonach, Highland, Scotland.

8.52am Carn Dearg, Highland, Scotland.

9.42am Lochan Meal an t-Suidhe and the path to the CIC hut, Highland, Scotland.

9.44am Ben Nevis ridges II, Highland, Scotland. [if you can ID this ridge please mention it in comments below]

10.17am Burn, Carn Beag Dearg, Highland, Scotland.

10.49am Pool, Carn Beag Dearg, Highland, Scotland.

11.03am Corpach and Loch Eil, Highland, Scotland.

11.04am Carn Dearg with Loch Linnhe beyond, Highland, Scotland.

11.06am Ptarmigan, Carn Dearg Meadhonach, Highland, Scotland.

11.11am Path to Carn Dearg Meadhonach I, Highland, Scotland.

11.23am Path to Carn Dearg Meadhonach II, Highland, Scotland.

At 900 metres as I approach Carn Mor Dearg Arete the ground is covered in snow and a group of ptarmigan. The snow cover is extensive but grippy. I don’t have an ice axe or crampons so I double check every step I take and make a slow, careful route at the side of the arete so that a slip can be controlled. The whiteout conditions help me concentrate: hand, foot, hand, foot, hand, foot.

12.15pm Carn Mor Dearg Arete, Highland, Scotland.

2.31pm Meteorological observatory ruins (manned from 1881 to 1904), Ben Nevis summit, Highland, Scotland.

As I clamber over the jagged boulders towards the summit, the ice-covered ruins of the observatory emerge from the whiteness. I’ve been out for ten hours now and haven’t seen a soul. As I round the raised refuge near the summit cairn, two men are inside, and gesture for me to enter as the wind is too strong to talk. Lukas and Kuba shuffle along to make space for me, they’ve just climbed the Ledge Route, and their rope sits between them. Although I’m warmed by the shelter and the conversation I decline their offer of whisky feeling I need all of my faculties for the descent.

2.32pm Instrument frame, Ben Nevis meteorological observatory ruins, Highland, Scotland.

2.33pm Instrument frame with summit refuge, Ben Nevis, Highland, Scotland.

2.34pm Summit trig point, Ben Nevis, Highland, Scotland.

2.35pm Summit trig, Ben Nevis, Highland, Scotland.

3.27pm Summit refuge, Ben Nevis, Highland, Scotland.

4.03pm Descending the Pony track, Ben Nevis, Highland, Scotland.

4.12pm Glen Nevis from the snow line on Ben Nevis, Highland, Scotland.

4.13pm Zig zags on the Pony track, Ben Nevis, Highland, Scotland.

4.21pm Dusk on the approach to Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe (aka the half way lochan), Ben Nevis, Highland, Scotland.

Dropping out of the monochrome world of the summit the snow line ends abruptly, the wind softens and the temperature rises. I exhale. The rich autumnal colours of the surrounding glens and mountains return. Halfway down the tourist path and head torch time again. Far below are the twinkling lights in Glen Nevis as I zig-zag down.

4.50pm Last light above Glen Nevis, Ben Nevis, Highland, Scotland.

After fifteen hours in motion, the loop is complete, and I’m back to Fort William. When I review the photos from the day, it looks like a week’s worth of images spanning four seasons.

Date of walk: 11/11/2018

5.10am Leaving from Fort William.

6.40am Through the woods

2.19pm Summit grin.

Historic photo of observatory during use from 1881 to 1904.

Historic photo of observatory during use from 1881 to 1904.

Lukas and Kuba in the summit shelter refuelling having just climbed the ledge route.

Lukas and Kuba in the summit shelter.

The row of cairns on the summit help to keep away from the cliffs in poor visibility.

6.47pm back to the luxury of a pavement




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British Architectural & Landscape Photographer.

15 thoughts on “Day 246: Sea to Ben Nevis”

  1. Harris says:

    Gosh. This must have been an exhausting day and it must have been a relief to have been on easy ground again with descending in the dark. I found the post very interesting as I haven’t climbed Ben Nevis and also quite nerve wracking as the increasingly harsh conditions nearer the summit were gradually revealed! The photos and videos give a good sense of place. Thank you for including so many.

    • It was exhausting but very fulfilling. It was hard to know what to expect at the top as the snow was there one day and gone the next during the time I was there. I would never normally go into the mountains in these conditions alone and without ice axe and crampons which added to my anxiety but it wasn’t practical to hire them at short notice as I made a last minute decision that the weather would be better for photography on this day The easiest way to walk up is going up and down via the pony track from Glen Nevis rather than the route I went up via the Carn Mor Dearg Arete.

  2. Alastair S says:

    Superb stuff and a great effort to get round that route at that time of year.

    I believe the first (8.20am) ridge is Tower Ridge. Not sure of the second.

  3. You sure know how to whet an appetite! I do so have a hankering for Ben Nevis right now.. just not in brrrrrrr-time 😉 Thanks so much for the armchair indulgence. It’s gearing me up for my long (and perhaps, somewhat flatter) walk later this year in Italy 😉

  4. A classic route indeed. I have twice spent the night in the refuge – a gift of a cloud inversion on one morning. I was ranger on the Ben for a summer years ago now – gosh did I get fit up and down that mountain.

    • Lucky you! I’ve never experienced a clear view from the top myself. What did being a ranger on the Ben entail apart from developing buns of steel!?

      • walking up and down the Ben. Loved leading guided walks on the other side of the Glen to the vitrified forts. Have you done the 10 in a day munro chain of the Mamores Ridge?

      • A joy to share these places with people I’m sure. Some of the Mamores but not all ten in a day. Coincidence that you should mention the vitrified forts as I only learned of them and their mysterious history on a rest day in Fort William after this walk. Will make a visit to see them in future.

  5. What an episode! I could swear that some of the time you were in Tibet. Really extraordinary to be able to follow you on this bit of your journey – and I loved the videos. That misty moving cloud sequence is hypnotic. Thank you!

    • I really felt I got my money’s worth! Those ridges in the mist are pretty menacing aren’t they, I’m in awe of people who climb them.

  6. Wonderful trek, extraordinary shots – love the contrast with the 3.27pm Summit refuge portrait. Enjoying travelling in your footsteps as it were…

Whether you have comments on the photos, some knowledge or a personal story on this area you’d like to share, or you’ve spotted a typo or error, I’d love to hear your thoughts.