Day 2 Ben Nevis Survey

I was with Roddy from Midland Valley and Ali from the John Muir Trust today to survey the geology along Tower Ridge.

With interesting contacts between different rock types happening in Observatory Gully before we even had got to the ridge we know it was going to be a successful day.

We made our way along the ridge in good time stopping to take readings with the field move clino app designed from Midland Valley that will go into a big database of readings all over the North Face.  There were interesting readings between the differing rock types all along the ridge which culminated in seeing Andersite rock above tower gap with a layer of gas bubbles along one edge, supporting the view that it was once part of a lava flow on that section of mountain.

Elsewhere on the mountain other teams found new populations of Hairs foot sedge on the Tower Scoop area of Tower Ridge and new populations of Highland Saxifrage around the Raeburn’s easy route area.  So a very successful day all round.

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field move clino

The field move clino app

Tower Gap

Roddy and Ali in Tower Gap

Day 1 Ben Nevis survey 2015

Today saw the start of the second phase of the Botanical and Geological survey of the north face of Ben Nevis or BGNFBN for short, running for another 5 days with the final week next year in August.

Myself Al and Gordon went back to near where we surveyed last year on the west side of Ledge Route towards the Castle gullies area.  Along the way we saw the common but stunning globe flower and lots of Sibbaldia, a nationally rare species but increasingly common on Ben Nevis now that we are looking.

On the flanks of Ledge route we found new areas of Alpine Speedwell and Arctic mouse ear which we recorded.  Along with the most unobtrusive and plain moss that is one of the rarest plants in the world, but relatively common throughout the west coast of Scotland, whose name is beyond both my Latin language skills and memory.

We then had a look round the corrie rim towards castle ridge where we found Arctic stitch-wort.

A good start to the week and only a few hours of torrential rain and thunder to liven things up a bit!

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Arctic Speedwell

Arctic Speedwell

Ledge Route

Ledge Route


Views on Ben Nevis

For all those people who I have taken to the top or near, in the cloud.  This is the view from the summit.

Nearly Spring on Ben Nevis

Today I was up with Steve, Lucy and Natalia.  And it was good to finally get the day delivered for Steve and Lucy.  Originally planned for last October, a land slide, subsequent road closure and biblical amounts of rain stopped that effort.  So 6 months on we were on our way up.

A dry day all round but the mountain is still in 2 seasons.  The bottom: warm (ish) and summer like, the top 1/3 defiantly winter still.  With slushy snow that makes the walking a bit easier than solid ice, the visibility is still very poor and there were many people ‘following their noses’ and many others follow them!  Good navigation is still important.

We made it to the top in a good 3.5 hours and then back down again in a total of 6.5 hours, a great day all round and the fitness preparation put in by the guys paid off.

According to the app, we walked 9.5 miles and burned 5000 calories over the walk.  No wonder I can’t stop eating in the evenings!


May bank holiday weekend

So with 2 days up Ben Nevis, it didn’t really feel very spring like with lots of fresh snow.  On Saturday I got to the top in strong winds and poor vis with my clients but I think that less than 10% of a busy mountain got anywhere near the top, many people not prepared for the snow.  With guided parties making a conscious decision not to kit out their groups with crampons and axes and turning around at the snow line: matching the challenge with the experience level of the participants.

Today I made it to just about 800m in a full blizzard, felling more like January than May.  There is now a lot of fresh snow down to half way and the zig zag path is now completely covered.  Definitely full on conditions.

4,3,2,1 on Ben Nevis

Today I was up Ben Nevis with Justyna and her 3 clients from Poland on a long weekend to Scotland.  But through various reasons it ended up being just myself and Justyna by the top of ziz zag 3 with the others descending sooner.

It always surprises me how quickly the weather can change.  Yesterday the mountain was very alpine, with firm old snow, dry rock, and 20 degrees.  Today after the low front has passed over last night there was fresh snow down to 500m, 5 degrees and felt more like January on the tops than April.

It was a busy mountain today with many people making a summit attempt: most of them not getting there and the few pushing on through ignorance.

I felt very overdressed in my hill clothing, crampons, axe and winter boots as only one other guided party were kited out the same and only a handful of people with just axes, all walking into a blizzard.  The dress for the day was trainers, jeans/track suit bottoms and hoodies with some rucksacks.

After chatting to a few people, pointing out their mismatch clothing to the surroundings they were in, they all decided to ignore the advice and continue on anyway, just following iced up footprints and heading up.

On the walk down I tried to think of a similar life example where this sort of attitude would apply.  The one I came up with was if I was walking in a fully insulated suit, crampons, ice axe with no bag or water in the Sahara desert and bumped into a local Bedouin riding his camel going in the opposite directing.  He then says, ‘if you carry on like that you will die of dehydration in half and day’.  And I walk past him and continue, thinking I’ve come this far…..

We are in the privileged position in this country that everyone has a right to be in the mountains, we don’t have to pay a park fee, or buy permits, or have to have recreational mountain insurance.  But somehow there is a gap in the flow of education of what is safe to do in the mountains.

Rant over.

Research on Ben Nevis

Today I was up Ben Nevis with Phillip a cultural geography professor from the Royal Roads University in Canada with the aim to add to his research on the concept of ‘Munro Bagging’ after already going to Skye and the Cairngorms.

It made for a very interesting day discussing the topic and also a very real view of the type and range of people who specifically walk up Ben Nevis.  The temperature was hot in the Glen and got much colder the higher we went as we disappeared into the cloud.  The snow has melted a lot since Sunday and we didn’t need to put crampons on until the end of zig zag 6, where the snow was still slushy and melting.  A big change from the ice from half way up on Sunday.

Phillip filming along the way soon put his camera away and focused on getting to the top, and with some very tired legs made it in 4 hours, although now I think he had wished he had picked a flatter research topic.

A good day all round and back at the car in 7 hours with more interesting conversations about his next proposed topic of ‘Wilderness’, discuss! Maybe he will start in Holland!

Sometimes the reality of the summit of Ben Nevis

Sometimes the reality of the summit of Ben Nevis