Always very popular on the meet calendar and 2016 was no different, with 51 members booked in at the Ben Nevis Hotel Fort William. I think this is very popular with members for being reasonably priced, the services the hotel has to offer, and the great quality of food.
If no one has previously been on this week, I would strongly recommend that you give it a go based on the qualities mentioned above. As always thanks should be given to Jonathon Howells for organising and liaising with the hotel to make the week possible.
Originally I was going to travel up with Nigel Tarr, but Nigel informed that his car may be a little “cosy” due to already having three other individuals travelling up with him, so I was informed that Dave Hellyar & Mike Nicholls were travelling up so I arranged that I would go with them. On the day prior to departure (Friday) I got a text from Simon Grove stating that he was travelling up on his own, so to avoid Simon going on his own I decided to accompany him. Thanks to Nigel & Dave for being accommodating and offering transportation.
Simon picked me up at 09:30am on the Saturday morning and we started our journey north bound on the M6. We decided to stop off at Carlisle and have an all day breakfast at the local Morrison’s. The weather was sunny which makes the journey more enjoyable. We arrived at the Ben Nevis Hotel at around 17:30 hours, were we met other members and then checked into our rooms. I opted for a single room this time around, ensuring that I would get good nights sleep with no snoring. (No offence to one of my mates, I won’t mention names :) )
My room as always was very nice and quite spacious; ensuring that any wet gear could hopefully be dried overnight. On the Saturday night we had arranged with the hotel to have our evening meal a little later at 20:00 hours giving sufficient time for people to settle in, or more importantly if anyone was arriving late they would still get their meal.
Everyone tends to meet in the bar or the reception area and conversation normally revolves around what individuals are doing the following day or the week ahead. Normally books, maps, routes are being discussed.
We went into the dining room and the table I sat at consisted of Ann Parrott, Angie Murdoch, Andrew Mitchell, Nigel Tarr, Dave Hellyar, Mike Nichols, and Simon Grove & I. The menu choice always gives multiple choices and the food is excellent at the hotel.
Some weeks prior Chris Dean had kindly offered to do a winter skills day, and on the Saturday evening Chris informed that this event was going to take place on the Sunday. So the following day the majority of members were up relatively early to get an early breakfast and early start on the hills.
The skills group consisted of Chris Dean, Graeme Stanford, Hilary Jones, Pater Kane, Simon Grove, Adrian Shaw and myself, we was heading to Ben Challum, we parked the cars and started to get our gear and rucksacks on, there was a light covering of snow on the ground.
We started to make our way up, the plan was to tackle one of the gullies and head up onto the saddle. The main scenario of the day was to give individuals a refresher on how to be prepared in the mountains in winter conditions, so the group was shown how to check for avalanches by cutting out snow and testing the layers to check the condition of snow to see if it was safe. This is often referred to as snowpack tests or stability tests.
Chris tasked us to cut out a small cylinder of snow with our ice axes and then wrap your arms around it and then pull on it, this is a quick way to test how well the surface snow is bonded to the underlying snow.
I have to admit there were some real pieces of art out there with individuals making masterpieces with their axes. The group was also shown how to put on crampons, and Chris recommended that this be done with gloves on. We were also shown different walking techniques with crampons on and then we ditched our rucksacks and had numerous attempts at doing ice axe arrests, unfortunately the snow was a little soft which stopped us from sliding, however fun & laughter and learning was had in an abundance.
We had originally wanted to tackle one of the gullies, as we approached we could see that the snow was at risk of avalanching, little did we know that some days later some climbers got avalanched in the same area.
We then started to head up towards the saddle testing ourselves with the incline, remembering the techniques that Chris had taught earlier. By now the weather had started to get worse with snow and wind, we got to the top of the saddle, got our breaths back and opted to call it a day and head back down. Everyone enjoyed the day and thanks to Chris for giving up his time, everyone learnt something from the day. We headed back along the long winding track back to the car park, encountering a good snow blizzard prior to just getting back at the cars. Also I would like to thank Adrian Bates who had kindly lent me a climbing helmet prior to going on the skills day. We made the short drive back to the hotel in preparation for our evening meal.
The weather forecast on the Sunday evening suggested that Monday was going to be a nice day, so a large group opted to do the CMD Arête and then head up onto Ben Nevis and descend via the tourist path. Again another early start, breakfast out the way, we headed off to the North Face car park, the group consisted of Graeme Stanford, Geraldine & Mel Evans, Chris Dean, Heather, Adrian Shaw, Adrian Bates, Mike & Emily Smith, Vanessa Howells, Hilary Jones, Gary Winton & Pete Poultney.
After getting gear on, we started up the winding path. Little did any of the group know that a couple of days previous two climbers had gone missing on the North Face and had not arrived back at their tent at the foot of the CIC hut. To date these individuals have still not been found and our thoughts go out to their next of kin.
The weather was perfect with clear blue skies, snowcapped mountains, the group was first heading up onto Carn Mor Dearg which is the eighth highest mountain in Scotland with elevation at 1,223 metres, but is completely overshadowed by Ben Nevis. It is the perfect viewpoint from which to admire the Ben’s magnificent North Face. When heading up to the CMD you get a lot of false summits, you keep looking up thinking that you are there, but there is then another summit!
Prior to just getting to the summit everyone opted to put on their crampons and have a quick drink/bite to eat. The group avoided some of the cornices that had formed nicely on the left side, arriving at the summit everyone was overwhelmed by the views, with Munros, Corbetts, as far as the eye could see, to the left you could see the skiers on Aonach Mor. The Arête was clearly visible with the vast ridge onto the top of the Ben. Everyone made their way across in single formation, some individuals were taking photos and video footage, there was one area particular area that was a little testing having to work your way around a large lump of rock, however everyone got past it safely and headed onwards towards Ben Nevis
I said to Adrian Shaw approaching the summit “this could be a few steps forward and rest”, he promptly stated “I’m following you” just before getting onto the top I spotted Heather and she said well done, she was the first person to arrive at the summit.
Waiting at the summit the group all started arriving with friendly gestures of shaking hands and sharing of chocolate etc. The group had a nice photo taken at the summit [see photo at end of article] and then headed down, the only issue was Hilary had a crampon snap and had to come down a step descent with one crampon (well done Hilary) We got by the halfway lochan and picked the path up back towards the car park, by this time the helicopter was hovering overhead looking for the missing climbers. Arriving back at the car park everyone had a very enjoyable day in perfect conditions.
That same evening the forecast for the following day (Tuesday) was the complete opposite with rain coming in. True to word it was very wet, some individuals opted for a rest day, with a slightly later breakfast, Simon Grove & Adrian Shaw and myself headed into fort William and later on went to the Clachaig Inn in Glencoe for lunch. The rain and high winds lasted all day.
The following day a group went down to Glenfinnan, Dave Hellyar, Simon Grove & Chris Dean headed along the long path under the viaduct and attempted Sgurr nan Coirechan at 956 metres, this is after we had met the estates manager, a very eccentric gentleman by the name of Alastair who notified us that some young individuals would be coming back along the track after getting a telling off from him due to them driving their car up to the bothy, a little later three of them passed us in the car with grins on their faces. The group went into the bothy and had a look around and then carried on route. Chris, Simon & Dave, headed off to the left to Sgurr nan Coirechan, the other group consisting of Geraldine & Mel Evans, Sara & Gary Winton, Adrian Shaw, Adrian Bates, Graeme Stanford, Pete Poultney and myself was attempting Sgurr Thuilm at 963 metres, a couple of hundred feet from the summit the group got hit by a snow blizzard, the group was buffeted and virtually knocked off our feet.
It was good to hear that when we got down, Chris, Dave & Simon had got to the top of Sgurr nan Coirechan, well done Gents.