Climbing Ben Nevis, the highest point in the British isles, has been on my bucket list for the past couple of years; this summer I ticked that trip off my list and after a battle against the Scottish weather, I made it to the mountain summit.
Standing at 1,345m (4,411ft), Ben Nevis isn’t considered one of the ‘Big Boys’ on the world scale but it is ranked the highest mountain in the British Isles and an iconic place in Scotland, my home country.
Combining my mountain-climbing ambition with my summer vacation, I managed to line up the hike to include the company of a fellow adventurer, my brother. The plan was set.
Although our scheduled climb date was in mid July, the middle of a British Summer, you can never guarantee the weather in the UK as it can change in the blink of an eye; therefore, we had to pack several layers of clothing and weather proof items along with our days essentials. With a good nights sleep and a hearty Scottish breakfast in our stomachs, we laced up our walking boots and headed out for the start of the Ben Nevis trail. The ascent and descent can be attempted in one day making it a great, yet ambitious, day trip. The recommended time is 7-9 hours on the mountain to tackle the 17km/10.75mile round trip.
As we set off from the car park and headed across the first footbridge crossing the River Nevis I could already feel the chill of the wind on my skin. After 5 years living in the Middle East my body isn’t acclimatised to the UK anymore. The initial trail took us along some farm tracks and up the hillside overlooking the stunning Glen Nevis. With miles of rolling green hills, there is no denying that Scotland is an incredibly beautiful place.
Rising up higher above the Glen the crowds and wooded areas begin to thin out as the day-trip-picnic crowd separates away from the climbers with their focus set on reaching the mountain summit. With the tree line far below us we gain elevation quickly climbing the rough steps built into the mountain side – my quads are burning like fire but with my super fit brother leading the pack there is no time for rest. Our trail takes us past a large mountain lake in the hillside, made entirely of rain water running from the high slopes. The rain clouds are heavy and threatening as we switch to our waterproof gear. As we reached the half way mark the moorland and areas of grazing sheep begins to disperse to make way for the loose rock and gravel slopes leading us up high into the clouds.
Pressing ahead climbing higher we begin passing fellow climbers wrapped in cold weather clothes and already on their descent – some warn us of the weather ahead and some simply encourage us ahead to keep our morale up – which was hugely appreciated at the time as my base layers which were wet with sweat had started to chill my core.
Entering the clouds is a disorientating experience as we walk all we see around us is a white sheet, it’s hard to tell how long we have been walking for and how long there is left to go. I pull my frozen digits back up inside my sleeves and laugh a little to myself that this is the summer season in Scotland. As the fog engulfs us the visibility is down to less than 10 meters, determined to make it to the summit we press on and sing songs to keep our minds focused on something other than the eerie mountain fog and the effort of walking directly into the forceful mountain wind.
Just at the point where my mind was starting to think that this was a crazy idea we literally stumble upon the summit of Ben Nevis like a mirage. We hadn’t seen anything ahead of us other than each other and a white fogged horizon for the past 45 minutes so we were completely unaware that we had successfully reached the pinnacle.
As we attempt to take our ‘summit selfie’, a must of course, I try my best to anchor my legs to stabilize myself against the incredibly powerful wind – especially because the visibility is so poor that I can’t see where the edges are! With the windchill at minus 6 degrees our time on the mountain summit was brief but still an incredible feeling especially that we made it in an impressive time of just 3 hours.
As we begin our descent we pass the encouragement on to other climbers on their way up to attempt the mountain summit in the unfavourable weather. Even though the weather wasn’t ideal and I didn’t manage to catch a glimpse of the scenic views from the top my adventure was still worth every minute. As for the weather, it is inevitable, it is Scotland after all.
With Ben Nevis ticked off the bucket list it’s time to start on some bigger, crazier plans!