Fort William Stories and Tips

30 minutes or 2 hours

Ben Nevis landscape Photo, Fort William, Scotland

Call me naive but I believed that Ben Nevis was nothing more than a glorified hill somewhere in the Highlands. Well, trust me, I’ve been eating humble pie ever since. This mountain is certainly do-able is you are reasonably fit but don’t underestimate it. The path is steep and it gets very, very cold and wet up there. Initially we speeded up the steep paths, jumped over rocks, even took a detour to a lake some one third of the way up. But then the mist started coming in, there was no view to keep us entertained anymore and our legs started to hurt a lot. Fast forward another two hours and we long passed the last greenery. All you have left now was rocks and a bunch of tired hikers. We were right in the clouds slowly crawling along the never ending zigzag lines, convinced that it could only be bare minutes until we finally reached the top. And the temptation grew to ask the grinning hikers descending how much longer this torture was going to go on for.

So here is a word of warning: regardless how tempting it is – do not ever ask people how much longer your ordeal is going to last! Obviously we made that mistake and we lived to regret it. In a fun way obviously and it gave us some good laughs when we finally made it down. But up there in the cold it was no fun whatsoever. So imagine this situation, you are tired, wet and ready to give up at any point. All those happy people around you skip past you on their way down. They look happy, they are grinning, clearly I can’t be too bad?! So we asked some random guy. His response was "Only like 30 minutes to go – you are nearly there". Thirty minutes later we were nowhere closer to the top so we asked again. The next answer we got was "About an hour, maybe ninety minutes". Hang on, really? Alright, let’s have another break and then get going.
Zigzag after zigzag passed and suddenly the sun broke though. And what we saw was absolutely soul destroying! The mountain ahead of us was still stupidly high with its zigzags filled with hikers crawling up like ants. Thank you Mr. 30 minutes that we passed over an hour ago. Thankfully the clouds started coming in again and we didn’t have to see just how much of the way was still ahead of us. So we walked on but we were decisively less cheerful than before. A couple of minutes later r random guy shouted that we were nearly there, maybe another ten minutes or so. Given what we had just seen we were very much aware that there was no way we could do this in 10 minutes but we really, really wanted to believe it!

After another half hour we were ready for another break. A lovely old lady on her way down stopped smiled and said "Don’t worry guys, just 45 more minutes and past two snowfields and you’ll be there". I am not kidding you, that woman said snowfields. We were absolutely convinced that she was having a laugh. Please, this is a hill in Scotland and it was late June. No way there would be snowfields up there.

Well, fast forward another 30 minutes and we are in the middle of a total white out. Snow was all around us, we could not see more than 5 meters ahead and it was bloody freezing. As fun as this might sound this is actually the most treasures part. There are no markings whatsoever and it is fairly easy to lose your sense of direction. At one point we came very close to the edge and nearly tumbled down a drop off. But we were too far gone to turn around now so we pushed on and finally made it – the top of Ben Nevis, the highest peak in the UK. The landscape is dreadfully eary and we were surrounded by clouds – but still, there was hardly any better feeling in the world than standing on top of this "tiny hill".

From there on it was only a short hike (well, 2 ½ hours) hike back down. But by this point the pain in our legs and the freezing cold did not matter anymore. We had made it to the top. And at some point we found ourselves saying "Yeah, you are nearly there, it’s not that hard" to the unfortunate hikers still on their way up. Clearly endorphin alters your pain reception and time awareness tremendously.

Climb this mountain and enjoy it – but for your own sanity do not ask anyone how much longer it is going to be until you reach the top! Once you are on your way down you’ll understand why anyone passing you has such a smug grin in their face too. And let me tell you one thing – it is well deserved!

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