My desire to be closer to nature was growing stronger by the day until it culminated in setting a new challenge for myself: to exchange the metropolis of London for the mountains of Scotland. But I wasn't going to climb just any mountain. I set my eyes firmly on Ben Nevis up in the Scottish Highlands. However, I knew it wasn't going to be easy, I'd never even climbed anything really substantial before, so would I really be able to climb the highest mountain in the UK? Would I really be fit enough?
Overview of Ben Nevis
With a peak of 1,345m high, Ben Nevis is the highest and most iconic mountain in the UK. The peak is part of the Grampian Mountain Range. The mountain used to be an active volcano, until it erupted and collapsed on itself, millions of years ago. There are two main routes to reach the summit. The first is the Mountain Track, also known as the the Pony Track. This is the easiest and most common route taken by walkers and the one which I opted to take since I had no previous experience of climbing. Those looking for a more challenging hike have the option to take the Carn Mor Dearg Arête route which essentially involves climbing two big mountains - Carn Dearg Meadhonach which leads to Ben Nevis via an arête (mountain ridge).
The Mountain Track starts at the car park near Achintee Farm. There is a pay and display ticket machine that is open 24-hrs. Next to the car park is an Information Visitor Centre and toilets. I grabbed a map from the visitor centre but I soon realised it wasn't really necessary because the trail to the top of Ben Nevis is along an easy-to-follow pathway (but under low visibly I would advise a map). To get onto the path you need to walk around the visitor centre and across a small bridge.
After only a few moments of walking, I could already feel the sun beating down on me, I looked at my brother and he glanced back with an expression I recognised: concern. We knew there and then it wasn't going to be easy but we were determined. Hot weather has never been a friend of mine, least of all now. The start of the route is steep and zig-zags its way upwards, over a couple of small streams and curves round, climbing above the valley of the Red Burn towards Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe, a picturesque lake which signals close to the half-way point of Ben Nevis. The views here are spectacular so we stopped for a much needed rest.
The higher we got, the cooler it became and the occasional breeze felt like it had been personally delivered by the Gods. I was happy for the incredible weather and stunning vistas, but my throbbing face from the sweltering heat was a high price to be paying. The closer we reached to the summit, we were encouraged my fellow hikers who were now on their way back down, 'You can do it!', 'Not long to go now!'. The camaraderie gave me the extra push I needed to reach the top. To those people who will never read this: thank you. By now, we were submerged in the clouds, a stark difference from down below. I put on another layer of clothing. We clamoured faster, knowing we were nearly there. Greeted by large cairns to mark the highest point on the mountain. We had made it. The feeling of relief and personal satisfaction is something I can't put into words.
After spending twenty minutes or so at the top, looking at the various cairns and landmarks, we descended the same way we climbed. We did go off the main track a couple of times, but it involved a bit of scrambling so I wouldn't recommend doing this if you have any problems with your knees. The greatest thing about the descent was the view of the surrounding peaks and valley, all of exceptional beauty. By now it was golden hour and the rays from the sun appeared almost biblical in how they broke through the clouds like shards of glass. With the hard part now over, I could truly appreciate what was laid out before me.