Monday, June 12, 2017

Ben Nevis is grim

The sun sets, seen  from Glen Nevis.

Panorama out to the north west from 2500'.
The Observatory before it got really ruined.
The weekend was dominated by one big family task. Getting up and getting down Ben Nevis. Of course we were not the only folks to have that idea on Saturday past. The day began wet and  miserable and before we were even on the hill the rain had started and we were in our wet weather clothing. We were on the path before we knew it and suddenly the assent began. A long, tortuous climb on pathways made up of rough cut debris, sharp stones and strangely angled slabs of rock, the wind howled and it was a time for teeth gritting, and trudging, heads down into and against the wind. Of course here in Scotland the weather, famously changes every fifteen minutes and even after a few hundred feet we were in sunshine and a few hundred feet later we were back in pouring rain. As Saturday was forecast to the best day of the weekend the crowds were out, streams of colourful, hopeful individuals some well prepared, some badly, all ready to take on the challenge of the hill. Many had brought their dogs, tiny lap dogs painfully unsuitable for the ordeal, happy and eager if stupid sheepdogs, wet Spaniels and faithful, trudging Labradors. A bizarre array of dogs getting on with the job unwittingly, dragging or being dragged by stubborn humans staring into sat-nav screens or the blue horizon. 

The views, in the moments that the clouds cleared were spectacular, huge panoramic swathes of green country below as we floated like gods in some painful, high purgatory, eagerly squinting into the distance before the next grey torrent hid the land below as the great vapour shower passed over. It took us about six hours to reach the top, there were many breaks, stumbles and stops on the way. Once there we passed into the heart of the cloud, dripping wet and stony, stubborn winter snow still prevailing in corners and on suicidal cornices as the crowds of walkers trudged to the trig point for the essential selfie or triumphant group shot. Like some scene from Game of Thrones or Vikings tired walkers huddled amongst the ruins of the old observatory, cowering down by the soaking, sharp stones as the anger of the storm passed over us. There was elation, misery, pain, cold and rather damp sandwiches held feebly by fingers too frozen to unzip or unscrew anything. 

The mountain top is a strange carnival of pained achievement, damp misery and a acute sense of broken and bruised history. Nothing new grows here, it's as desolate as a desert. Here at the highest point in the land you can see nothing but exhausted people, masses marching into the clouds and then laying down to clutch their phones or water bottles as they take a thin breath and huddle to find warmth. Getting up there is a battle, getting back down is an even bigger one.

It was too miserable to stay long on the top, there was no point, the bottom and flat land calls out loudly and the suffering is acute. The descent however was tough. Long redundant muscles are called into action and they don't like it, mine complained from the top down and for days after. It was a long, drawn out slow stumble all the way. The path, created by some stone carving sadist seemed far worse that it had on the climb. Every fall and angle was set against normal foot movements, even fit youngsters, hopefully overtaking us headed for the pub were also suffering. It took us another four hours of concentration and the avoidance of slips and trips to finally enjoy the walk across the flat wooden boards of the River Nevis bridge. Boy was I happy to see it and happy to cross over, back to civilisation and away from the grey, lurking cold hearted monster that is Ben Nevis. Phew!

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