It was the end of a working week in Glasgow midway through September. I had my suitcase and my hiking equipment and all I needed was the hire car. The company that hired the cars had provided a great service. Every Friday after landing in Southampton I would disembark the plane and collect my hire car for the weekend - returning it on a Sunday afternoon before flying back to Glasgow.
This weekend I had planned on remaining in Scotland and so I would collect the hire car, from the same company, but from a depot in Glasgow. On entering the reception the lady behind the counter looked rather perplexed - as if perhaps, they had run out of hire cars. With the vehicle I would commence the 100 mile journey to Fort William. Unusually the lady receptionist had to do a security check because a car had been stolen the previous week. So the details of my identity were entered via keyboard to computer and it was a great inconvenience when the lady said the security check had failed. So I had booked the car and paid the fee and now the company had reneged on their side of the deal. I didn't believe what the lady was saying and I was annoyed - stranded with suitcase in a car depot in the middle of an industrial estate.
All this was a setback to the weekend's objective. To climb Ben Nevis - which is, at 4,408 feet, the highest mountain in the British Isles. I had to find another way to get to Fort William, the nearest town to the start of the ascending trail up Ben Nevis. Before dropping me off at the hire car depot, the taxi driver had offered to drive me to Fort William himself for 120 pounds, and while this is a lot of money I almost wished I had taken him up on the offer. The other options were the coach or the train. I decided on the latter and called a cab to take me back into Glasgow central train station. Having a few hours to kill I got myself some gloves, a hat and a hiking map covering the Ben.
The train journey from Glasgow Queen street station to Fort William is a spectacular three and a half hour journey. To have laid track through such a mountainous land indeed must have seemed almost impossible - but the track is there and such a trip is highly recommended. Beautiful views made even more pleasurable by a train full of merry Scots excited with a weekend free from toil and with heads buzzing joyfully on whisky and beer.
I had booked the Ben Nevis Hotel and I was impressed with the hotel's spacious layout and relaxed atmosphere. The room was warm and the bed was comfortable and the foyer provided wifi. I do like to research a climb and such preparation is vital when attempting a mountain as dangerous as Ben Nevis. Every year the mountain has its casualties and so I would not be stepping on the mountain without compass, sat-nav, map and warm and rugged clothing.
The next morning a taxi driver dropped me off at the Glen Nevis Tourist centre. It was here I would meet up with Gary, my hiking mate who I had befriended while working in Glasgow. We would take the tourist route up to the summit of Ben Nevis. The term tourist route is misleading. The hike is a serious endeavour and really does require some preparation along with a decent level of fitness and a knowledge of navigation. To be lost in the mists on Ben Nevis is to be one step away from a deadly lesson in gravity.
The air was warm and the clouds were high and so there was the possibility of a view at the top. I had climbed the mountain five years previously only to have a view that was within a cloud. The tourist route is also known as the Pony trail and it was laid down in 1883. The path begins with a steep climb to the saddle of the Halfway Lake at 570 meters and then will ascend zig-zag fashion 700 metres up the west side of the mountain.
Gary and I began the hike mid morning. A fresh breeze kept the body from boiling over and we stopped every hour for the hydration. Most can relate to the exhaustion of climbing several flights of stairs – and to keep such an exertion going for several hours requires a certain frame of mind. One foot in front of the other – with thought neither of distance passed or distance to go. This is the way. To climb and to ascend with a mind giving nothing to pain nor to exhaustion – in this fashion can a mountain’s demands be obliged.
And it was with great pride, after several hours, to have made it to the top. The air was bitingly cold and the summit very busy and we were quite exhausted. Once again the cloud prevented the view but none of this mattered. We had made it and what a joy that was. I could never demand from life the indulgences of a fine car or a palace, an Italian suit or a marbled floor – but to experience, occasionally, such marvels of nature is all I will require. And so I leave the readers with some photos taken on this great hike up and to the very top of the United Kingdom.
Peace to All