Scotland - Ben Nevis overnighter

9:00 a.m. on September 8, 2014 (EDT)
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This weekend, I set out with the best intentions of a mini scrambling adventure in the Scottish Highlands. It started with an early morning flight to Edinburgh, then train to Fort William via Glasgow (5 hours later). The end goal was to reach the summit of Ben Nevis (4409 feet, the highest point in the UK), with the goal of doing it via a scramble up the CMD arete (a knife edge linking several other summits to Ben Nevis).

Since this would be a fast (less than two day) outing with the necessity to move quickly, I went as light as I could with my gear. This is all that I packed into my Montane Torque 40L climbing pack, which is what I checked in as hold luggage for my flight.

Tent: Gram-counter Gear Litehouse solo tent (only 840g!), with Rab (Integral designs) solo ground sheet and selection of Ti pegs (6 V, 6 5g Ti pegs, 2 2g Ti pegs, and just in case 8 x 13g Ti nails in case of rocky ground).

Sleeping: Multimat Superlite Air mat (in the red stuff-sack), MEC down pillow, lifeventure silk liner, (in the orange podsacs event compression sac) Blacks Cosmos 400 sleeping bag (90/10 goose down, 1 C-5 C comfort range, down to -15 C extreme), (green podsacs stuffsack) merino top and leggings. and mammut inflatable pillow I use as a body pillow for side sleeping.

Extra clothing: (in clear Mammut dry bag which also makes an ambient lantern!! review to come) OR Neoplume primaloft jacket, an acrylic beanine and MEC windstopper gloves. The grey and orange mesh stuff sack contains a Montane Spektr eVent smock.

Essentials: OR backcountry bag with almost everything I need, SAK climber, trovel and garbage bags, 3L source insulated bladder, and some disinfectant wipes.... the small pink/red mat is a multimat compact kumfie which weighs nothing and has lots of uses!... and a podsacs waste management dry bag.

Camera equipment: Fujifilm X20

Cooking/Food: GSI halulite set (with firemaple Titanium stove and primus gas cylinder inside), a selection of Mountain House freeze dried items, 1L nalgene of cooking water, 1 Clif bars, 1 granola, and 1 energy gel.

Other items include TNF Verbera Lightpacker boots and Fizan ultralite poles (double as tent poles!).

The start of the hike!

Of course this being the UK, you cant trust weather forecasts.... and a beautiful clear day already started quite cloudy! I began my ascent at about 5pm, which is when everyone was coming back down. Its a strange feeling passing big crowds all going in the opposite direction, and it certainly draws some stares as to why this weirdo is running up the mountain when everyone clearly cant wait to get down!

There were a few moments of beautiful light and I managed to take advantage and get some lovely photos. Also a good reason to carry a quality small camera that isnt as much of a hassle as an SLR setup.


At about 1750-2000 feet, you hit a fork in the road, one which takes you up the main zig-zag path up Ben Nevis, and the other which takes you around to the other side of the massif (and away from the crowds).

I went to the other side! Which has a wonderful open feel.


Tired (mostly from a long day of planes and trains), but happy!


I found this spot just about 5 miles out from the start of my hike, and at 2200 feet. It also faces the entry way into the couloir where I was hoping to scramble up the next day.


I found a decent spot of dry and somewhat level terrain and set up camp. I was fortunate to get some stunning lighting and skies. At this point I didnt feel so envious of those people heading back down the mountain to sleep in a hotel room anymore!


The colours of the sky were really stunning!


At one point the whole plateau was bathed in bright yellow light.


I managed to get this shot just as the sun went down. The colours were not doctored.... in fact I had to tone down the saturation as everything was lit up with beautiful amber tones.

However, you will note the heavy cloud cover already descending over the mountain!


This was my view as I ate my dinner and got ready to sleep.


Unfortunately, when my 4 am alarm rang.... I woke up in a cloud, with rain coming down all around me! Not the conditions needed for a graded scramble and a knife-edge ridge in unknown territory. So I went back to sleep for another hour hoping it would clear up a bit. Unfortunately it did not, so it was time for plan B.

I had breakfast, and packed up quickly and started my ascent up Ben Nevis up the more common mountain path. I was disappointed I couldnt do my scramble, but I had to at least summit!

Most of the journey was a solitary trudge up the mountain over scree and boulders with near zero visibility. Once I got to the top you could see down the sharp edged gullies, but visibility was so poor, you couldnt make out more than a few feet ahead.


Once at the summit marker, I paused for this eerie photo of the old abandoned shelter and what looks like a mass of rubble strewn all about. It was cold and windy, and I didnt want to waste too much time. I had a train to catch in about 3 hours time, and I still had 7 miles to cover!


Finally broke past the cloud and fog, but the day wasnt all the sunny at lower levels either!


Near the end of my hike, I started encountering people on their way up and was met with tourists offering strange looks, disbelief, and obvious judgement. Some chatted in passing and thought there was something wrong with me for having spent the night up there.... if only they saw the view I had before going to bed, they probably wouldnt hesitate to do it!

I managed to make my train, and repeated all my travels from the day before... I got back to my home in Southwest England past 11 pm. Overall it was an epic-micro adventure of a weekend, and even though I am tired this morning. I am very glad I did it!

10:47 p.m. on September 8, 2014 (EDT)
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The photos looked outstanding. Such great scenery. Tourists.......gotta love 'em!

11:54 p.m. on September 8, 2014 (EDT)
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Outstanding pictures!

6:13 p.m. on September 9, 2014 (EDT)
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What beautiful scenery! Very different from my neck of the woods to be sure, but Scotland sure has a beauty all it's own.

And it rained on me every time I was there too...:)

That was a heck of a weekend trip, what with the flight, hike, and train ride! A long ay to go for a campout, eh?

I simply love the two photos with your tent in the picture. 

The amazing sunset light and  the one looking up the mountain at that wall of cloud. Simply amazing. It's moments like that which make all the travel worthwhile, isn't it? You should print those and frame 'em.

I bet that was one eerie hike over the top in that cloud!  


11:43 p.m. on September 9, 2014 (EDT)
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Jeez!  Those pics are outrageous! 

8:45 a.m. on September 10, 2014 (EDT)
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Thanks for the kind words guys!

It was definitely a heck of a trip, and really crazy when you think about how hectic it all was... talk about making the most of a weekend though! I would have loved to stay longer, but its a busy month for me and I needed to get away, if even for a bit!

12:22 p.m. on September 10, 2014 (EDT)
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Really liked the look of that camp. The rest of the pics are great too, but spending a night in that spot seems worth the effort to get there.  Thanks for posting this one!

2:40 p.m. on September 11, 2014 (EDT)
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You really must have the passion to put in all of that effort just to get to the start of your hike for a weekend. You have my wheels turning. I live in Colorado right next to the mountains (10 min drive to the trail head) and weekends just seem too short. I have to admit I am a bit older than you look. Lol. Your pics are quite stunning. I was surprised that you were at such low altitude for such awesome pics. I enjoyed your story too.

Thanks for sharing

5:18 a.m. on September 12, 2014 (EDT)
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Thanks guys. The mountains in the UK are an interesting place. Most hikes start at sea level so even if they are only 3000-4000 feet, you have to take in the whole elevation.... and also because of the island climate, you can get fairly extreme mountain weather at comparatively lower altitudes than say the Alps.

Also, jagged peaks also start much earlier on. For instance this is a picture from a trip I did earlier this year to mid-Wales. I think this looks every bit the proper mountain, but its just shy of 3000 feet!


Either way, I find it a really nice place to hike and explore. Very different from anything I have experienced before.

1:01 p.m. on September 15, 2014 (EDT)
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Wow! Thanks so much for sharing these beautiful pictures, TJ! Looks like an AMAZING hike.

5:17 p.m. on September 16, 2014 (EDT)
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Great sights, thanks for sharing. Reminds me of the finicky weather I experienced in Patagonia. Forget what the forecasts say, you get what you get. But makes you really appreciate the unexpected moments when the clouds part and the views fall from heaven.

9:14 a.m. on September 24, 2014 (EDT)
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Awesome trip report, TJ, with amazing pictures!

Ben Nevis is on my bucket list (among many other things) if I can ever get back to Scotland (I spent a semester in Edinburgh).

Now you have my pining...

p.s. I like how you include your gear list in your reports.

October 14, 2019
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