The Club’s second outing of the season could not have been more of a contrast to the first. On a sunny morning in mid May I set out from Invermark in company of the two Jims and Alan for the most easterly Munro, Mount Keen. The route followed a track – a landrover track eventually reducing to a narrow footpath - which offered straightforward walking for our entire outing.
An easy gradient gave a gentle walk into the Queen’s Well before a steep ascent beside the Ladder Burn took us onto the high moorland that is crossed by a number of ancient tracks (the Mounth paths). At the very top of Mount Keen (939 metres) I just had time to register the view to the North east including Bennachie, a well-known Aberdeenshire landmark, before the scene was blotted out by cloud. It snowed as we sat in the summit shelter and ate our lunch. While the upper slopes were heather clad and populated by ptarmigan and red grouse, lower down the edge of the track was covered in a profusion of spring flowers and the open woodland around the car park was full of birdsong. The whole trip, from departure from Bathgate at 6am to return home at 4pm took a total of ten hours – a five hour walk covering 11 miles and an ascent of 810 metres.
Fast forward a month to early June. The fine settled weather we enjoyed in the latter part of May has been replaced by more ‘normal’ temperatures and cloudy skies. On Saturday evening Jim and I set up a damp and midgy camp in Glen Nevis (others in the vicinity of the woodland at Torlundy) and set our alarms for 5.30am for a 7am rendezvous at the start point of our walk.
This trip would involve ten hours on the hill – starting with a steep ascent through the forest – a distance of 11 miles, and an ascent of over 1500 metres, including the traverse of the famed Carn Mor Dearg arete. The prize: two Munros – Carn Mor Dearg and our highest mountain, Ben Nevis, by what Walk Highlands describes as ‘the finest way to climb Ben Nevis’. Shame we couldn’t see it!
Heading up beside the Allt a’Mhuillin it was clear that the day was unlikely to include extensive views from the top of either hill – below the clouds, which sat firmly on the summits all day, visibility was good and we had lovely views over Fort William and of Loch Linnhe and Loch Eil; with glimpses of clear hills to the north and west. Coire Leis was full of cloud but we could see some of the cliffs on the North face of the Ben and Lochan Meall an’t Suidhe and our return route was easily visible.
We soon left the track above the river and struck off up the side of Carn Beag Dearg. It was boggy underfoot but not excessively so. As we climbed higher the vegetation gave way to a rocky path and we were soon enveloped in cloud. We sheltered behind the cairn on top of Carn Dearg Meadhonach to eat: apart from a bank of snow in the adjacent corrie there was nothing to see. We carried on along the ridge reaching the top of Carn Mor Dearg (1220 metres) and began the loose descent onto the arete – maybe its as well visibility was poor but it didn’t look anything like the pictures you see!
Jim, Heather and Dave took the crest of the ridge while I played safe and took the lower path – donning my helmet after a stone bounced onto the path in front of me! Better safe... My path at times rejoined the crest of the ridge but my progress was considerably slower than that of the others, whom I could neither see nor hear. Eventually I made my way out over the boulders and rejoined the team for the final steep climb to the summit of Ben Nevis (1345 metres). It was bizarre to step suddenly onto the flat top of the mountain and find other people – where had they all come from? Not a pretty place, even in the mist; a ruined observatory and a jumble of odd structures, a huge summit cairn, a view indicator missing its top, and no view! I had no desire to linger. I took a couple of photos to prove I had been there and then we set off down the motorway that is the ‘tourist route’ up the mountain.
My carefully noted compass bearings for safe navigation off the summit were redundant, though if the top were snow covered they would be essential. We did have to cross one substantial patch of snow on the path. This was well trodden and did not pose an obstacle – anyone wearing trainers might have got wet feet.
Once below the level of the clouds Heather and Dave set off for home while Jim and I stopped to re-fuel and enjoy the view: we could see the campsite in Glen Nevis and the lower slopes of the Mamores; their tops were also in the clouds. There were groups of people passing in both directions: even someone talking on a phone. Then we too followed the track down to the Red Burn – now at least there was some vegetation beside the path rather than just scree and rock - before turning off towards Lochan Meall an’t Suidhe and the pathless descent across the boggy moor to Allt a’Mhuillin and our outward route through the forest.
For the record – it didn’t rain – though we did need our waterproofs and warm gear.
We did not see Gordon and Big H - they were so tormented by the midges that they set out an hour ahead of us. I hope they had as good a day on the hill as we had. Thanks to Heather, Dave and Jim for their company and encouragement!