This weekend was a bit of a marathon; Saturday was a 6am start, working for Charity Challenge on the ‘8 Peaks Challenge’ in aid of MacMillan Cancer Relief, then a quick dash back to the house for a shower, a change of clothes and a brief flirtation with my bed for a couple of hours, before heading north to Fort William and a 5am start up Ben Nevis with a group raising funds to help victims of the Syrian conflict via the Human Relief Foundation.
I haven’t been to the Lakes for a while, and it’s an omission I’m planning to remedy after Saturday’s visit; I’d forgotten just what a beautiful place it is, especially once you get clear of the tourist towns and out into the quieter valley ends. Driving up Great Langdale from Ambleside has a definite hint of the Alps about it, albeit on a smaller scale.
I’d been allocated ‘Faster 2‘ for Saturday, a group of 12 participants who’d self-selected to move at a brisk pace. We managed to jump the queue at the start and set off first, and the group proved to be impressively committed to the ‘brisk pace’ – by the time we reach the top of the climb up to our first peak; Rossett Pike, we’d already gained nearly an hour on the route card, and they kept ahead of the official timings all the way round and, with a little good-natured goading from their guide, managed to jog across the finish line as a group. All in all, a fantastic, inspiring group of people to spend the day with, especially the lady who was taking part still nursing a spiral fracture of the lower leg!
Sunday was a very different day weather-wise, with low cloud and persistent drizzle wreathing Ben Nevis as we arrived at the Youth Hostel to meet the group who’d travelled up from London, Birmingham and Manchester to take part. They had formed themselves into groups, and I found myself walking up the Ben with a group of young adults from Birmingham and Manchester. The wind picked up as we approached Halfway Lochan, driving the drizzle into our faces, but despite the grim weather, the group had really good banter, and kept encouraging each other all the way up the Zig Zags and onto the summit plateau. Thanks to a bit of a communication breakdown between myself and Cat, I’d arrived with a lunch consisting entirely of the nuts and raisins I had left from Saturday, but thankfully the group took pity on me and I ended up with a banana, a tuna butty and some Pringles to supplement my meagre supplies. After pointing out some Mountain Thyme growing at the side of the path, I also got an impromptu cookery lesson, with one of the lads explaining how to make Za’atar, which I’d never heard of before.
There wasn’t much of a view to reward their efforts when we got to the top, but, sheltering at the observatory for a quick break, I was able to give them a sense of what conditions are like in winter by telling them that the group I’d taken to the summit in May had walked across to the summit trig point oblivious to the existence of the building we were now sheltering behind, because it was completely covered by snow. However, even my skills as an alpine raconteur couldn’t disguise just how rank the weather was and we got moving back downhill fairly quickly. Adding to my frustration was my inability to get any photographs of the group; the combination of sodden gloves and a soaking wet phone screen meant I couldn’t operate the camera – I was pretty sure that if I took my gloves off to try and dry the screen, I wouldn’t be getting them back on any time soon. Given it was August, I hadn’t opted to take my pile mitts with me, but given the struggle we all had with assorted sodden softshell gloves, I’m thinking that some cheap Buffalo mitts might make better spares for the bottom of my rucksack in conditions like this.
We finally dropped back out of the cloud as we approached the Red Burn, and by the time we reached the bottom of the switchback below Halfway Lochan, it was mild enough to strip off waterproofs and let the wind dry off some of our soaking layers underneath. Thanks to the early start, we’d had the mountain pretty much to ourselves, at least by Ben Nevis standards, but we were now making our way down past a steady stream of folks heading up, some of whom were painfully ill-equipped for the conditions they were likely to encounter higher up the hill.
After dropping the group safely back at the Youth Hostel, Connor from Atlas Mountaineering then set new standards in “looking after your freelancers” by inviting Cat and I round for a very tasty bowl of pasta with blue cheese dressing, cooked by his own fair hand, which set us up nicely for the trip back to Glasgow and an opportunity to reacquaint myself with my bed for an extended period before getting into tidying up the final details of our upcoming trip into Ben Alder.