Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Highlands trip day 3: Ledge Route to Ben Nevis

After a nice breakfast we get a reasonably early start, grab some food at the supermarket, and then drive to the Glen Nevis visitor center where we park and start walking.
After crossing the river on a nice bouncy suspension bridge (Andrea has extra fun on this), we follow the well-trod path that starts to take us up the tourist route to Ben Nevis. It's a beautiful day, sunny and not too hot, and we make decent time on the ascent. We are far, far from alone. This is the route to take to the peak and lots of people head that way, particularly on fine weathered days in May. After a good bit of climbing we hit a bit of a plateau with a lake (the Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe) and then leave the main path as it starts the first of many zigs on the way to the peak. We head northwards across the windy plateau and then around the corner, now in shade and much cooler, and along the Alt a'Mhuilinn valley until we get to the CIC hut. In total contrast to the normal route, we haven't seen a single person on our trail since leaving the main route. At the CIC hut there are a couple of people around, but it's still super quiet. We have a quick snack and scope out the approach to the Ledge Route, which we will take to the top of Carn Dearg (1221m) and the Ben Nevis summit plateau.
on the tourist route in the sun
there's the Ledge Route somewhere
After our nice snack, we head upwards, towards the cliffs off the Carn Dearg Butress following a bit of a trail that takes us up to the scree slope below the Number Five Gully. Here there's a sizable snow patch, but it's soft enough that there's no problem kicking steps to head across. At the other side we encounter a nicely trod set of steps in the snow that take us up into the gully and to the beginning of the Ledge Route. Now we follow the instructions in the book, first up the wet bit, then along the vegetated scoop, then right up to the gangway, across/up the gangway, and then a bit more scrambling until we get to a bit flatter spot where we stop and have another quick food break while admiring the views of the Ben Nevis N face and a track from someone who has climbed the very steep Number Five Gully. The next bit is mostly walking, perhaps a bit of light scrambling until we reach the summit plateau of Ben Nevis with its fantastic views. There is really something to be said for being on the highest peak around, particularly when that peak is pretty prominent: you can see forever. We walk for a bit and then rejoin the crowds heading for the peak (1344m). At the peak itself we amuse ourselves with the chaos and the views (including a great look back on the Ledge Route) before turning around and starting the long trip back down.
views, snow, cloud
For the trip down we follow the standard tourist route, zigging and zagging with a bunch of other people back down to the valley. Eventually we make it back to our car. After changing shoes and quick rest we pile in and head back to Fort William for a shower and dinner.
on the way down with lots of others...
This was a really nice trip: not nearly as challenging for either route finding or scrambling as the day before, but with a much more remote feeling while we were on that ridge. The contrasts from masses of people, to solitary ridge scramble, and then back to masses of people was fun.

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