5 am. Stirling, Scotland. One by one people with overflowing backpacks make their way through the quiet university campus. A promising forecast and an interesting hill is a powerful combination: even students get up well before the sunrise to make the most of the daylight. Twenty-five sleepy hillwalkers and their gear are divided into cars which point their headlights to Fort Williams.
An Early start is tough but when the road cuts through Glencoe it is suddenly much easier to keep the eyes open. Dark majestic Munros and snowy ridges rise high against the slowly brightening sky.
Behind these Munros waits Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the UK. It stands 1345 meters (4409 feet) tall looking over all the other mountains in Scotland. Even though it doesn’t battle in the same class with the mountains in the mainland Europe, it is an interesting mountain which has several different routes up to the summit. The easiest one is the Standard Track, also called Tourist Route.
Starting the walk in the rain is always nasty, but the day clears up quickly and the shadows of the clouds travel playfully across the sunny foothills. Rainbows decorate the glen underneath. It is a brilliant day out.
It is not until the snowline in 800 meters when the cloud that looms on top of the Ben Nevis hides the beautiful view. Even though the Standard Track is well marked and easy to walk on – too easy I would say –, the top can be dangerous in bad weather. In a full whiteout, it is easy to take nine steps in the wrong direction; the tenth step is already over a cliff.
The snowy top is like a different world. It is cold, snow covers rocks and the glen underneath is invisible. When we descend from the cloud it is difficult to believe that it has been just a few hours since we walked in. It feels like a different day.
Driving three hours back to Stirling after a long day on a hill is not ideal. Instead, we set up a camp nearby and spend the night around a campfire drying and frying shoes and socks. When the sun rises, the hills around us have snow on top and the loch shimmers in pastel orange light.
Although the day was beautiful and Ben Nevis great, I did not enjoy the Standard Track. Manmade steps and wide track do not belong to the wilderness. Next time I will choose the Càrn Mòr Dearg Arête. The CMD is more challenging and has some scramble bits and a nice ridge. Sound great! But I will have to wait a while before doing that.