We had managed to get return tickets for £45 each and we were staying at Glen Nevis Youth Hostel just outside Fort William – perfectly located at the foot of Ben Nevis – and we had four full days to climb and we didn’t waste any of them.
Day one dawned dark, cloudy and (very) windy and we were sure that it was going to be a complete write-off. Nevertheless we geared up and headed out, battling against the wind and navigating over broken ground and arriving at the CIC hut at lunchtime. After a quick sandwich hastily grabbed in some shelter from the wind we strapped on crampons and roped up, and basically walked up an easy grade I gully to reach the top of the Carn Mor Dearg Arete. From there we battled the wind, cut steps, front pointed and laboriously made our way up to the summit of Ben Nevis, getting there just as the clouds cleared, leaving us with this fantastic view to enjoy.
Our route took us nearly all the way to the CIC hut, then across and up the steep neve (frozen snow) slopes onto Carn Beag Dearg, reaching an altitude of 1010m. From there the route was obvious – a three kilometer knife-edge ridge led all the way to the summit of ‘The Ben’. We tied ourselves together using a single rope and set off, picking our way along the ridge, sometimes walking, sometimes scrambling, sometimes handrailing the top and using our crampons on the slope below.
Before we knew it visibility had dropped to 50meters and the wind was gusting 40mph. We pulled out maps and compasses and paced our way to the top of Red Burn – a stream that has dug out a shallow gully over the years that fills with snow early in the season and provides an easy-to-follow route to the Halfway Lochan, from where easier paths lead back to the hostel.