I have to travel quite regularly for my job and I’ve always tried to make sure I make the most of the opportunity to get out and see the cities and areas I’m staying in. So, during a placement in Glasgow in April, I took the opportunity to work a Friday and a Monday and get the weekend up in Scotland. I had decided, in my wisdom, this was a perfect opportunity to climb Ben Nevis and, while I was there, get a bit more experience wild camping.
I took the sleeper up to Glasgow to start my working week with a slightly less than conventional luggage arrangement. My fellow colleagues were there with their rolling suitcases and suit bags. I had a 75 litre rucksack with tent, sleeping bag and all my cooking equipment. I just about found space for a couple of relatively smart dresses!
A friend, on a spur of the moment decision took the train up on the Friday night so I wasn’t going to be out walking solo. We got the first (and only?) train up to Fort William on the Saturday morning and enjoyed the beautiful scenery – unfortunately tinged a monotonous shade of grey! Walking over from the train station in Fort William (c.1 hour) to the base of Ben Nevis, we kept everything crossed in the hope the clouds and rain would hold off.
We were really lucky – although grey and very ominous – the clouds held back and we were able to get good views as we started our ascent.
So, no rain = a success for hiking in Scotland. But, naive old London based me hadn’t factored in the other water based weather form…turns out Ben Nevis is still completely covered in snow in April.
We reached about 1000 metres and the weather started to close in really badly – we had about 20m visibility and all we could see was white (the snow merging with the clouds – see picture!). I started to feel a bit out of my depth and my friend also voiced her concerns. So, we decided to turn back – it was too dangerous without crampons and definitely beyond my experience level without someone to reassure me.
After traipsing back down to Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe we started the hunt for somewhere (not too boggy) to camp. My friend took this opportunity to announce this was actually the first time she’d been camping. Ever. I congratulated her on diving straight into wildcamping in the middle of the Highlands in Scotland. Kudos.
After setting up camp we relaxed and watched the clouds while munching on our gourmet cous cous and chorizo. The weather was awesome, changeable and dramatic – a stunning view one second would be replaced without warning the next by a hazy mix of white and grey as the clouds rolled through the valley. Very different from the stress of the meeting room on the Monday morning…
Through the night we were battered by a number of storms and the tent was pushed to its limits – I lay there worrying about my poor friend who was having to experience this her first time camping ever and wondering if she’d ever speak to me again – turns out she’d had her music in and had slept through the lot!
We packed up Sunday morning and made our way back to Fort William to enjoy a hearty full Scottish breakfast and get on our way back to Glasgow. A short but sweet launch from the reality of working life into the brilliance of the Scottish mountains.