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.
Ben Nevis summit observatory, cut-away line illustration detailing the original structure. Illustration by Jeremy Ashcroft.
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