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Ben Nevis road trip (Part 1)

I can't remember how the idea came up, but we decided to climb the highest mountain in the UK; Ben Nevis.

After a few weeks of meticulous preparation (map buying, route studying, gear buying) me and Jade loaded the car and set off on a mild Friday afternoon in early October.

Burger King, Carlisle Services, M6

Several traffic jams, diversions, overpriced burgers, and eight hours later, we were in the highlands, and skirting the edge of Loch Lomond in the pitch black of night.

Around this time we were stopped by local police - on the pretence of there having been a lot of wind that had caused branches to fall across the road; but I think they were looking for drink-drivers - who didn't seem too perturbed seeing Jade asleep in the reclined passenger seat nor how long our journey from Sheffield had taken us!

The A82 from Glasgow to Fort William is beautiful, picturesque drive... during the day. At 11/12pm in the latter part of the year it's simply dark and winding. I was almost ready to pull over and try to sleep where we were when we started to spot the eyes of red deer reflecting back at us through the mist at the roadside.

We'd reached the eastern edge of Rannoch Moor on the way to Glencoe, home to several herds of deer.

Red deer on Rannoch Moor

Not the best conditions to try and photograph wildlife!

We were the only car on the road though, which gave ample opportunity to stop and admire them. Just a shame I couldn't really get the shot!

Around 2am we finally pulled over in a lay-by at Glen Nevis, just past the visitor centre.

Night sky and stars over Glen Nevis

I'd not seen so many stars in a long time and couldn't resist getting my camera out for a few shots while Jade slept.

Night sky and stars over Glen Nevis

Came out a little bit noisy this shot, but I think it's pretty cool converted to black and white.

The mist was thick in the glen and we awoke in the morning right next to a house we hadn't seen when we parked up!

Dawn at Glen Nevis

We really could have done with a little more sleep but I was keen to start early and avoid the potential crowds. As we got ready in the visitor centre car park there was already several cars and minibuses full of people preparing to make the ascent!

Our bags loaded with food, water and a whole load of other hiking paraphernalia, we crossed the bridge over the River Nevis and began following the path towards Meall an t-Suidhe - the smaller peak that forms a saddle with Ben Nevis proper and holds a Lochan (small loch). The summit of The Ben isn't visible anywhere during the ascent. Infant, as we set off, not much of anything was visible - there was a cloud inversion in the Glen which shrouded everything.

Cloud inversion at Meall an t-Suidhe in Glen Nevis

Cloud inversion at Meall an t-Suidhe in Glen Nevis

I've actually managed to pull the above shots back a lot in Photoshop (and may even make a separate blog post on the advantages of the amazing Dehaze tool) but the actual view as we set off was more or less pure white!

Cloud inversion at Meall an t-Suidhe in Glen Nevis

The peak you can see in the image above is Meall an t-Suidhe. Ben Nevis itself is behind that, and is almost twice as high, but because of the angle and how far behind it is, the summit isn't visible.

Cloud inversion at Glen Nevis

Cloud inversion at Glen Nevis

As we climbed higher we emerged from the mist and it became apparent that it was a cloud inversion in the glen. The sun was still coming up and the light was constantly changing.

It truly was beautiful and not a view I'll forget in a hurry.

The path became rockier and steeper the further up the lower slope we got. We knew it would be tough, but we were tired and aching a lot sooner that we'd anticipated.

Glen Nevis and Red Burn. The Mamore Hills in the distance.

Rounding a corner where the path turned north east and ran parallel to Red Burn, the path practically disappeared and we were scrambling over rocks and boulders.

In the shot above you can still see the cloud inversion in Glen Nevis and the Mamore Hills in the distance. For the most part we were still in the shade of the mountain and it was nice and cool for walking.

After another couple of switch-backs we were almost at the saddle where Ben Nevis and Meall an t-Suidhe meet.

Ben Nevis ascent

As the Loch that sits in the saddle came into view we were greeted by not only the sun shining bright on the side of Meall an t-Suidhe but also another huge cloud inversion in the distance in the direction of Loch Lochy.

Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe panorama

The shot above is the first time I've created a panorama. The view was so good I decided there and then it would need something else to show it off. Click it to see a larger version over on my Flickr page.

Glen Nevis cloud inversion from Ben Nevis

Glen Nevis from Ben Nevis

The path by the Loch is very easy going and the flattest part of the climb. We were following the "tourist" or pony trail and turned right at the junction as we began to head up the face of Ben Nevis itself.

After a while the path crosses Red Burn and this marks the half-way point of the ascent. From here on the path gets a lot rockier and harder on the knees and ankles!

It isn't long before there is little to no vegetation. The path switches back on itself over and over, each turn seeming to be steeper and rockier than the last. As we climbed higher the landscape tok on an almost lunar look to it. It was pretty surreal. But the view over the Glen and into the distance was unbelievable.

Ben Nevis view to Loch Eil

Ben Nevis view to Loch Linnhe, Loch Eil and Lochan Meall An T-Suidhe

The summit looked tantalisingly close at every turn but was always out of reach.

Finally, after the last big switch-back and climb, we reached the summit plateau - still a long way off the top but supposedly no more steep sections.

Jade's intramedullary nail and it's associated problems - knee and hip - had been causing her problems for most of the ascent and I'd been promising her that the summit was close. She'd pushed on determinedly but we both decided it was time to stop and have a good rest once we hit the plateau.

Taking a side path short way we threw our bags down and set up camp - I'd brought a small gas stove which we used to fry some bacon for sandwiches!

Making bacon sandwiches on Ben Nevis

Part 2 coming soon!

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Craig Skinner Photography | Astrolandscape photography, nightscape photography and astrophotography.

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