Ben Nevis was the first Munro that I ever climbed. For those of you that don’t know: A Munro is any Scottish mountain peak that rises higher than 3000 feet above sea level, and Ben Nevis is the biggest, topping out at 4409 feet. That first time was nearly 15 years ago and we went extremely well prepared for the conditions, with each of us carrying far more supplies than was really necessary. That said it was May, and while the day was clear it was bitterly cold at the top and there was snow on the ground. The ascent took us nearly four hours and that was going up the most simple route, the Tourist Track. This is an infamous trail amongst mountaineers as it appears deceptively easy from the ground, but when you get near the top the terrain can be treacherous and there are many places that you can go wrong and fall a long way. Many people climb it each day in the summer and a lot of them are under prepared, often climbing in inadequate footwear or without enough supplies. You only have to look at a map plotting inland search and rescue missions in the UK and Ben Nevis is a notorious hotspot.
Once we reached the top the view was breath taking. Standing on top of the impressive, and massive, North Face we could see across to the stunning Carn Mor Dearg. I promised myself that one day I would return and climb the more complicated route via the climbers hut and the Carn Mor Dearg arête.
We didn’t hang around long before getting cold and deciding to head back down. Our legs were already tired and by the time we reached the halfway lochan my quads were screaming at every step. All in all I think we were out walking for nearly 10 hours and we were all hobbling for days afterwards, but I vowed to return.
It was 2013 before I got a chance to go back. The reason for the delay was due to numerous things from simply not being fit enough and not having the time to being fit enough, having the time and then not getting the weather window. After all I wasn’t going to do the walk that I had been aspiring to in bad weather and with no view was I?
In the intervening years we spent 5 years living in Hampshire and then 7 years living near Inverness, before taking our family back down to Devon to be closer to our parents. In this time period I had become an experienced distance trail runner, and a triathlete. I had completed multi-day mountain marathons and taken part in some of the UK’s most iconic cycle sportives. I had got married to my wonderful wife Sam, who has recently battled cancer, and we have two amazing and beautiful children of 7 and 5. I was certainly fit, now I just needed the opportunity.
In October of 2013 I needed to visit various places around the UK on a business trip and while planning it I spotted an opportunity for a bit of sight-seeing. I would be travelling solo via hire car and I would be passing Snowdonia, the North Yorkshire Moors and also the Scottish Caringorms and Highlands. I started to plan some runs. The first would be Snowdon, which I completed in foul weather, up and down the Pyg Track in 2 hours. The second involved talking a walk (it was a rest day) along the stunning Sutton Bank doing a quick recce as it will feature in my first ultra marathon of 2014.
Finally I was in Scotland. I had one day spare to do a climb and I vowed to go wherever the weather was forecast to be best. It was going to be a Saturday and I couldn’t believe it when www.mwis.org.uk stated that there would be low winds, awesome visibility and an almost guaranteed cloud free day over in the Western Highlands. I was going to get my opportunity, finally!!
Despite a lot of outdoor navigational experience and time spent hiking and running throughout the UK I had never done a ridge as exposed as the Carn Mor Dearg Arete and I was starting to get nervous. Would I be able get across the technical terrain, would I be strong enough to complete the route as quickly as I had hoped. Would I remember to take the right gear. Would I become a statistic.
The night before the big day I advised my host that I would be leaving at 6.30am and I would be back in time for tea. He knew my route and looked nervous on my behalf. He used to be a Search and Rescue Paramedic and had been on sorties collecting bodies and broken people from around Ben Nevis in the past. I promised that I wouldn’t take any undue risks and went to bed.
Come back to read part 2 and find out how the day went. I promise that it will have pictures.