Complimentary breakfast on the sleeper train these days consists only of a hot or cold drink - the croissant is now a chargeable extra. We got some great views of Rannoch Moor from our bunk beds, but the spells of rain did not look too promising for our planned assault of Ben Nevis later.
The light rain was still in evidence as we disembarked at Fort William at 10am. As we still hadn’t had any proper breakfast, the café at Nevis Sport seemed liked a great idea for a first port of call. It turned out to be excellent, on the upper floor of a modern pyramid-shaped glass building, with large portions of food and drink available for much less than we usually pay in Devon. Dillan had such a large plate of beans on toast for £2.50 that he couldn’t eat it all!
The jolly proprietor of the Nevis Bakery supplied us with a range of hot pizzas, pasties and pies for our Ben Nevis adventure and assured us we would like them so much we would be back for more tomorrow morning. Fully stocked with provisions we rode the few miles up to Glen Nevis youth hostel, which this year had been fully booked when we were looking for accommodation. It looked very different from the last time we visited in 2010, so we called in to chat with the warden. The hostel had just completed a £2 million refurbishment that included new cladding outside and the replacement of large dingy dorms with smaller, modern, light and airy rooms and a fabulous kitchen and reception. The warden kindly gave us a full tour – it really felt like a brand new hostel and we were quite disappointed that we had been unable to stay there.
We left our bikes in the bike shed and set off at 12:50 over the footbridge opposite the hostel that leads to the easy path up the mountain. There was still some light rain around and the top half of the mountain was shrouded in thick cloud so we didn’t think we’d be going too far up. By the time we arrived at the lake the mist was so thick that we couldn’t see any sign of it even though it was only a hundred metres away. We continued on a little way, expecting to turn back within thirty minutes, but then, as Michael filmed, the cloud lifted and the lake gradually became visible. Suddenly the summit seemed a possibility, and both lads were very keen, so on we pressed.
We were amused to see that virtually everyone we passed on the way up was kitted out with expensive boots, Gore-Tex coats, backpacks and walking poles while we were just wearing our cycling gear. We imagined them calling in to Nevis Sport, saying they wanted to climb the easy path up the highest mountain in the UK and being sold equipment more appropriate for an expedition up Mount Everest. Having said that, Michael would have put on his walking shoes rather than his cycling trainers if he had realised we were going to the top, but we certainly didn’t need walking poles.
The cloud was still lifting and conditions were remarkably hot for the time of year, so we were wearing just shorts and t-shirts as we neared the top, and our pace was slower in an attempt to stay cool. There was still snow lying in places on the mountain despite the warm weather. We finally arrived 3¾ hours after we set out from the hostel, a great achievement for everyone and only the second time in our club’s history that weather conditions allowed us to go all the way. The summit itself was up in the clouds but we could see everything we needed to see, including the refuge for people stuck on the mountain in bad weather and the triangulation marker on the peak, which of course Dillan had to stand on.
The return journey took 2¾ hours. We thought we had left at about the latest time to be sure of getting back before dark, but we were passing people going up even as we neared the bottom. We were told later that it never gets totally dark in the summer, but even so it’s probably not a great idea to be walking back down at 1am.
As we neared the bottom everyone had sore leg muscles but Michael was paying the price for wearing soft trainers - every step was painful. It was a great relief when we finally reached the hostel. Our walk had been 4.3 miles each way with a total climb of 1314m. Congratulations to everyone on a great achievement.
Michael wanted a coffee and a cake at the hostel but they only sold coffee and the other cafes we had seen earlier were closed. We ended up getting some food from Tesco and then going to the Pierhead Takeaway in Fort William for hot pizza, which we ate inside. There was then a 1.4 mile ride to Alltonside Guest House where we were very, very grateful for hot showers and a good night’s sleep.
View to Rannoch Moor from our sleeper train
Jude and Dillan at Fort William station
Outside the Nevis Bakery, Fort William
Dillan and Jude outside the Nevis Bakery, Fort William
The start of the path to Ben Nevis, from the bridge opposite the youth hostel - 22m above sea level
Looking back to the youth hostel from the the bench
Our first view of the lake - Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe - as the cloud lifts
Dillan fills Jude's glass bottle with spring water
Higher up now with even clearer views
The rocky upper sections of the path
Dillan near the top, with snow lying nearby
Jude can never resist throwing snowballs
Finally, the summit
Waiting our turn to stand on the trig point on Ben Nevis Cairn
Dillan and Jude on the Ben Nevis trig point - 1345m above sea level
Congratulations are in order as we get close to completing our walk
HD video footage from today's ride