I spent the longest day this year on the harder route to the top of Ben Nevis with a man who deserves a medal for his achievement and the best mountain guide I have ever met! You must be thinking, a strange trio, but I shall explain all. Steve Thompson is a remarkable man who despite being an insulin dependent diabetic was a climber and potholer in his youth and a hill walker in later life. Five years ago he suffered a massive heart attack, which left him with a damaged heart muscle. This did not deter him from returning to climbing, and to celebrate the fifth anniversary since the heart attack. To thank the staff at Kettering General Hospital, Northamptonshire, who saved his life at that time, he embarked on a five ridge sponsored walk in Scotland in aid of the Coronary Care Unit at the Hospital. He raised Â£3,000 and completed the ridges over six days with Andy Townsend, who is a mountain guide and instructor based in North Wales. Andy can be contacted on www.cirrusoutdoor.com or telephone 01690 720377. I joined them on the ridge walk to Ben Nevis.
I had in the past arranged to walk the Carn Mor Dearg Arete to Ben Nevis but due to a health problem had cancelled. I was disappointed as it was a ridge I had always wanted to walk and when the opportunity arose to climb the Arete, and also participate in accompanying Steve on his challenge, I jumped at the chance. The weather was not ths best that day as June this year was very wet and fairly cool but we did get glimpses of the rocky arete as the wind would blow the mist away for a few seconds. It was a memorable day in every way and Andy was an excellent guide, quite an undertaking having two diabetics and their needs to contend with but he looked after us with good humour.
Ben Nevis is the highest mountain in Britain at 4,409 feet (1,344m.) and this may not sound high but it is climbed from sea level and has crags, buttresses and spires to rival other higher mountain ranges. Walking up Ben Nevis by the erroneously named Tourist Path, you will not see the real mountain in all its glory as the climbs are only visible from the Allt a'Mhuilinn and the Arete on the other side of the mountain from the Tourist Path. Although called the Tourist Path, anyone climbing it should be prepared and equipped for a fairly serious hill walk as the weather can deteriorate within minutes without warning.
We started the walk from the golf course and headed through the forest to a landrover track. After walking on the track for an hour we reached the deer fence marking the entrance to the glen known as Allt a'Mhuilinn. We were overtaken by the cast of Rockface, heading up to the snow line with a mountain instructor to do some training. Peter headed for the CIC Hut as a nostalgic trip back to his climbing days and was entertained to tea and buns by the actors who were based there for training. Meanwhile, Steve, Andy and myself left the path in the glen and found the path heading higher to the first top of Carn Beag Dearg. It was a fairly gentle pull on a good path and we had some brief views of the sheer cliffs including the impressive North East Buttress on the Ben as we were in the mist for much of the way. On the path, we looked down on to the red roof of the CIC Hut which is used as a base for climbers but I understand that bookings in the hut have to be made in advance and are hard to come by.
We traversed the high ridge over Carn Dearg Meadhonach and reached Carn Mor Dearg which is also a Munro. It felt fairly cold so we only stopped briefly to stock up on some carbohydrates and cereal bars. We descended about 200m. and started on the narrow arete of huge granite blocks. The geology of the area is interesting as Carn Mor Dearg is composed mainly of pink granite and Ben Nevis is gray granite although the two mountains are in close proximity. We had some fine scrambling over the crest of the arete and in the brief periods when the mist cleared there were fantastic views of the rocky arete. At the point where there is a descent to Coire Leis the arete merges into the great bulk of Ben Nevis and there is a path over the giant boulders to the summit.
On the summit we toasted Steve with champagne for his amazing achievement of walking the five ridges of the Five Sisters, the Forcan Ridge, the Ring of Steall, the Aonach Eagach and the Carn Mor Dearg Arete within a week. A truly remarkable achievement and something to think about. If you would like to contribute to Steve's sponsorship he can be contacted at [email protected] On our descent by the Tourist Path we met hordes of walkers on the Three Peak Challenge which is a sponsored walk climbing the three highest mountains in Wales, England and Scotland in two days. This was their last peak and they looked exhausted but in good spirits.
Coming Attractions: Sponsored walk at the Gaick Pass, Glen Affric Weekend and the English Lake District.
E mail me with your comments at [email protected]
Thanks to Tom Addie for the photographs