Day 3- The hard way may be hard but it’s so much more fun.
The next morning we were both sore and stiff after sleeping on some awkward rocks but got going after a bowl of porridge and sultanas (and a call of nature!). I found the first 3 hours of the day quite hard physically due to my legs being so tired from the day before and starting immediately on steep downhill loose rocks. However, once I found my stride again it was as if my legs we reborn and I was ready for some more Munros!
We approached the valley and looked for the bridge across the river that the map promised. Unable to see it Jim pointed out one towards the direction we were going, so we headed towards it. When we got near we realised it was actually on the other side of the river connecting an incoming stream not the river. If you can’t go over it, can’t go under it, can’t go around it…..yes that’s right, we went through it! Armed with a walking pole for steadying we both paddled across the freezing cold river and, of course, I slipped and bruised the underside of my foot but remained dry nonetheless.
The next part of the walk could only be described as breathtaking. We walked up a valley parallel to a river for around 4 hours, passing babbling brook to full-on waterfall. In front us loomed Ben Nevis and behind us a picture reminding us of the day we had previously had.
We arrived at a pass inbetween Aonach Mor and Carn Mor Dearg totally exhausted. We decided to have a proper break and get the trangia out for a lunch of tortelloni. Although we knew this might not be wise just before a pretty harsh looking ascent the thought of yet another cereal bar was enough to risk it. We rested at a rock built for two trying to find the path up this array of giant and small boulders and rocks. Luckily we saw someone coming down it and realised there was an actual path, which could be identified by “not as many bigger rocks” in a zigzag line.We ploughed on up this endless scramble, our thighs burning and blood pumping, the mountain ahead seeming to be getting further away with every step! We walked into the cloud and ceased to be able to see more than a metre in front. Suddenly we were faced with a cairn and realised we had reached the top of the 7th Munro Carn Mor Dearg (4012 ft).
With the feeling of exhaustion mixed with elation and faced with such an extraordinary sight (the clouds had parted on one side) I had a little cry and we marched on.
Ahead of us loomed Ben Nevis and its North Face across the Glen and a knife-edge ridge, the Carn Mor Dearg Arête. The Arête is walkable the whole way up the side of Ben Nevis going from moderate to easy scrambling. It is not for the faint hearted though as the drop either side is phenomenal and arresting. Don’t worry through there didn’t seem to be any parts where I felt I could actually fall off, but there definitely were bits where rock hugging was my new favorite past time! The arête scoops up the side of Ben Nevis becoming one large mass of rock. There is a zigzag rocky path up this but Jim and I ended up climbing over and up the large boulders in a straight line for most of the time!
We “topped out” to the great plateau of the top of Ben Nevis feeling like heroes. Panting and sweaty we joined the couples in their trainers and the kids being dragged up by their parents and the many “3 peak challengers”. We smugly pulled ourselves towards the trig point and collapsed.
I would say the walk down the usual Ben Nevis route was the hardest for me. At first I was so elated at finishing the last ascent I was practically skipping. My energy and my mood however soon took a dip and a grueling 3 hours ensued. My feet were bruised, bleeding and blistered. My spirits were on a downturn. Some people who passed us going up overtook us on the way down (3 Peakers) and this made me even more down spirited. I was practically shuffling dow. With every step I wanted to sit down. Jim was fantastic encouragement, never leaving my side and never berating me for my sudden lack of energy. After 2 hours or so I closed my eyes and had a little chat with myself; If I told you what I said I would have to kill you. After this my eyes sprung open and I marched on to Jim’s amazement – suddenly full of energy towards the Youth Hostel.
At the end I swung my bag off my tired sweaty shoulders and peered behind me in amazement. I’m sure many people reading this have felt that relief and almost light nostalgia for what they have just experienced after an epic journey or experience. I learnt a lot from this trip. I learned about the right hydration and nutrition for multiday walks. I learned about pacing myself better. I learned how to be a better walking partner (moaning doesn’t really help!), and I learned that no matter how hard we think we are, the power of the mountains will always have the upper hand. Be careful and be safe and enjoy your summer 🙂