Friday, 5 October 2012

Ben Nevis and the Cumbernauld Ladies

I first climbed Ben Nevis thirty years ago via Tower Ridge. Since then I have been on top of the mountain five other times, but I confess I have never climbed it via the mountain path. It never appealed to me because I am generally a lone walker and prefer the solitude of far more remote hills.

However all that changed last Saturday. I climbed Ben Nevis by the mountain path for my first time, on one of the busiest days of the year, in the company of seven other walkers, and I must admit, it was one of my most enjoyable days on the hills yet.

What changed my mind about the mountain path walk ? Well ... It started with this conversation.

LL “Hey DonnyW, care to sponsor me for my charity walk ?”

DW “OK..where are you going and when ?”

LL “Ben Nevis on Saturday. We are doing it for the Breast Cancer Charity”

DW “Wow..the weather this week is wicked ..are you sure you know what you are doing”

LL “ Nope..but we will have some fun and we will get to the top.. or die trying”

DW “ Sounds like you could die trying .. have you been on mountains before? “

LL “ Yup..we all went up Ben An in the Trossachs as a test was fantastic. A couple of us have also done Ben Lomond. We are sure Ben Nevis will be OK for us. Perhaps one or two wont make it ..but Im sure I will”

DW “Can any of you use a map and compass ?”

LL “Nope..but we just follow the path..dont we ?”

DW “ What will you do if one cant make it”

LL “ We will go on to the top and they can wait until we return, or they can go back themselves..we are all sensible so won’t get into difficulties”

During this conversation I googled the weather forecast on Ben Nevis on Saturday. It was for heavy rain in the morning, with gale force winds and snow on the summit. Dry spells in the afternoon with strong winds, then severe gales and torrential rain during Saturday night.

I didnt want to burst this woman's bubble of enthusiasm by giving her a lecture on mountain safety but I knew it would do no good anyway, so instead I said ..

DW “Its going to be a rough day for your party on the mountain. The weather is bad and your safety could be at risk. Would you like me to come along to ensure none of you get into trouble, I can guide you when the mist is down. That way you and your friends need only worry about the walking aspect of the challenge”

LL “ would do that for us ? I would love you to come along as I was a little concerned about the weather forecast myself”

DW “OK..its a done deal.”

I knew I had just taken on the responsibility for the safety of a party of six women whom I knew little about, except that they were of different fitness levels. I would never dream of leaving a straggler to wait in a freezing cold mist for our return, so summoned the assistance of another experienced walker to accompany us. Both my thanks and the ladies thanks go to Russell, for volunteering to assist with the journey.

It was clear around the half way point that a couple of the ladies were not as hill fit as the others. However by working as a team, and by carrying their packs for them, motivating them with small talk and encouragement, everyone made the summit and got back home safely. They raised £1500 for their chosen charity.

Here is their story .. I hope you enjoy reading it. I thoroughly enjoyed my day walking with them

Ben Nevis is the highest mountain in the UK and to reach the top involves a 10 mile hike which climbs steeply to a height of 4370ft. It is a demanding challenge even on a day with good weather but in bad weather it can easily become an impossible journey. On Saturday six brave women from Cumbernauld set off to try to reach its summit in an effort to raise money for the Breast Cancer charity. The weather forecast for the journey was heavy rain, gale force winds and snow showers near the summit, but the ladies were prepared.

They were full of smiles and laughter as they got their boots on at the Nevis Centre which is where the hike begins.

Spirits where high as they started their way up the mountain path walk towards the Ben. The low cloud and heavy rain prevented them seeing their target.

It always takes a while to catch breath and find a walking rhythm on a steep start, but the ladies were full of fun right from word go.

As the path levelled near the half way lochan, they stopped for a break. The rain was still relentless. They knew that soon they would be in the mist, and it would be too cold to stop for long.

The path steepens considerably as it zig zags its way up the barren shoulder of Ben Nevis. Leg muscles and knee joints were now being stressed to their limits.

A brief respite in the rain and a quick break in the clouds reviled some amazing views. The walk started at those white specs of houses, far below in the green of the valley floor. However, the ladies knew they were little over half way up the mountain.

Soon they were engulfed in a freezing fog on the ever steepening rocky path. The wind was beginning to howl and tear at loose clothing. The chill factor made temperatures feel like minus 10 degrees centigrade.

Then the path entered the snow line around an altitude of 4000ft. Although it was bitterly cold and everyone was very tired, the ladies now knew it wasn’t too far to the summit.

Great care had to be taken while passing Gardiloo Gully as a strong gust of wind can easily blow the unwary into its bottomless abyss. Three feet further forward and it is a 2000ft fall to the bottom of the gully. Sadly, it has swallowed many walkers in its dark past. The six ladies passed it with no problem.

Then it was only a short stroll across the summit plateau to the trig point and ruins of the old Observatory.

There were many walkers on the summit celebrating their achievement and raising money for various cancer charities. However there were just as many walkers who didn’t reach the top. The weather and fatigue took their toll on the way, and they had to turn back before reaching the top.

However I am delighted to say that the six ladies from Cumbernauld who set out on this amazing journey all made the summit.

This story is only half the battle, as they then had to then get down off the mountain. They all got home safely and under their own steam although I’m pretty certain there will be a few sore muscles for a day or two.

I’m sure you will all agree .. By working as a team, the ladies performed brilliantly on their chosen task to raise the money for charity

Well Done the Cumbernauld Ladies

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Fleet Bay and Murray's Island

After a quick lunch on Ardwell Island, I headed off the seaward side of Murray Island for a spot of serious mackerel fishing. I attached a trace of three feathers to a lump of lead, dropped it overboard and let line out till it hit the bottom, wound it in a couple of feet and settled down for an afternoon snooze. The bobbling of the boat kept the feathers moving as the motion put me to sleep.

Suddenly, like an alarm clock going off in the morning, a tugging of my line brought me back to reality, as I drifted peacefully between my sleep and the islands. I had just hooked my first mackerel of the year. In fact, when I wound the line in, I was delighted to see I had caught two with my first cast :-D

I continued fishing for another five minutes and when I had five fish for the table, I decided it was too much like hard work so went to have a closer look at the islands.

Murray Island is now a bird sanctuary and as there were a lot of young gulls and gannets around I didn't land on this one

I also knew from a previous landing, many years ago, that the island is over run with rats. I kept my distance so as not to disturb the nesting birds as the rats will eat the very young or the eggs if the parents leave the nest ungarded.

The ruins of an old cottage show it was inhabited at one time but human life left many years ago.

I drifted quietly past the gulls and gannets and enjoyed watching their antics as they too tried to catch their fish dinners

Then I headed back to my mothers caravan for BBQ mackerel. I thoroughly enjoyed my second outing of the year, even though it was just a short, lazy and uneventful kind of day.