When Bob and I decided to go to Scotland, it went without saying that we would climb Ben Nevis, at 4409′ the highest point in the British Isles. Our original idea was to do the exposed ridge traverse from the subpeak of Carn Mor Dearg to the Nevis summit, but when the forecast called for fog and rain, we opted to go by the well-graded, switchbacking tourist route.
In one respect, Ben Nevis reminds me of Katahdin in Maine. Both of them are rocky glacial peaks that have a “front” and a “back.” At Katahdin, approaching from the south, you climb up onto a vast broad tableland and follow a gently rising trail to the summit, where the mountain abruptly drops away into a steep-sided cirque. At Ben Nevis, also approaching from the south, you climb up to a wide summit plateau from which fierce ridges and gullies descend.
Each of these peaks is so asymmetrical that photos taken from one side or another seem to show completely different mountains.
Bob and I spent the night at a B&B in Fort William. Our first two nights in Scotland, we’d stayed at a small hotel in Inverness, but this place was the home of a family that kept one or two rooms for guests and served breakfast at their own dining table. Here in the U.S., “B&B” means something quite different, more like an inn.
We were still adjusting to the long daylight hours of late June at this northerly latitude. The sun didn’t completely disappear until around 11:00 at night and came back too promptly around 4:00, like an annoying visitor overeager to get going in the morning. “Rise and shine!”
We started at Achintee on the east side of the River Nevis. We faced a significant vertical climb, as it begins practically at sea level. The trail is very solidly constructed, with stone steps. Before long we encountered some cross traffic.
The sheep were a matching set, each with a white body and a black nose with pretty little white splotches on the side of its face.
Soon we were swallowed in clouds. We encountered many other people as we made the steady, even climb toward the summit. When we arrived, Bob and I celebrated with a taste of Scotch.
Like many prominent summits, the top of Nevis has all kinds of marks of human activity: the remains of an observatory, various cairns, and a small shelter suitable only for emergency use. I read that some hikers wandering on the summit plateau discovered the carcass of an old piano. No one knows how it came to be there.
We headed back down to the valley and re-crossed the frontier between cloud and sunshine. It had been a good day.