Nevis – Day 1

by vpundir | July 7th, 2008

There are no direct coaches or trains from London to Fort William. So I decide that it would be best to take the first coach in the morning to Fort William from Glasgow. Since the direct coach from London that reaches Glasgow first in the morning gets there 5 minutes after the first coach to Fort William departs, I decide to book my journey through Birmingham. This way, I’ll reach Glasgow with enough time on hand to catch the Fort William coach.

I decide to call my folks in India before leaving London, and somehow that conversation lasts a while, meaning that I am late for my 7pm for Birmingham. Further, after spending a little while at the city bus stop I discover that the buses have been diverted away from this road. So I run down to Westminster and catch a bus from there, and upon alighting at the Victoria underground station, I run to the Victoria coach station. I arrive at the station at exactly 7 pm (or maybe a minute before that), and do not see my coach at the assigned gate. So I go out to ask the uniformed guy outside the door.

As I am waiting for him to get off his walkie-talkie, I see my coach pulling out from behind another one, and wave the driver to stop. But he doesn’t and merrily pulls away. This grinds my gears a bit, and it further riles me that the uniformed guy with the walkie-talkie refuses stop the driver, and tells me that he can’t change my ticket to get me on the next coach at 7.30. And to get onto that coach, he tells me, I’ll have to go to the ticket counter and buy a new ticket.

The ticket counter is crowded. The queue is long and slow-moving and there is no way I can get to the counter before 7.30, meaning the exact same thing could repeat itself. There is no point getting the 8pm ticket as then I’d miss my connection to Glasgow and thus miss my next connection to Fort William. So I go back to the gate. I need to try to get an on-the-spot from the driver. Till the last moment it seems like it will work out, as there is one no-show, but then the guy turns up, and I curse National Express under my breath.

So I go back to the ticket counter queue, which is now even longer, and wait for my turn while munching on a greasy vegetable samosa bought from one of the concession stands. I explain to the booking clerk that I am trying to get to Glasgow in time to catch my 7am Citylink coach to Fort William, and he books for me a seat on Silver Choice, which reaches Glasgow a full 30 minutes before the departure of the Citylink coach. God bless him!

After I freshen up at the Glasgow station, I realize that my cell battery is down, and is not even sufficient to power up the phone for a few seconds. This is great as while buying the tickets online, I had opted for a mobile ticket, meaning that the only ticket I have for the next part of my journey is stored as a text on my cellphone.

Nonetheless, I board the bus and explain the situation to the driver, giving him my name so that he can cross-check. He checks his list and nods upon seeing my name there, but insists that he needs to see my ticket number.

So I tell him to hold on and take a seat right behind him. With fingers crossed, I boot up my laptop, which had something like 7% battery life remaining last night, hooking my phone up with it through the USB-firewire cable in the hope that that will provide enough juice to switch it on and show the driver the text message. Thankfully, the plan works and I am able to kick back and relax till we arrive in Fort William at around half past 10.

There are no cabs at the taxi-stand. So I walk into the Morrison’s store and buy a couple of Kitkats and a Scottish tablet. The Kitkats I save for the hike, but finish off the tablet as I wait for the cab. Finally one arrives and takes me to the Youth Hostel.

As I pay for the night, the receptionist tells me that I’d be able to check in only after 1.30pm. That’s fine, as I plan to climb up right away without wasting any time.

Although the last time around I had vowed not to carry up my laptop, I decide that for this climb it would be good practice to carry up my backpack and everything in it – the laptop, a 2L bottle of water, a change of clothes, toiletries, and a jacket. The bandana I wear right away.

At the foot of the path I meet a pair of middle-aged Scottish men from Fife who comment on how far away from home I am. Well, I now live in London, I tell them, and thus not quite that far.

With that the flight of stairs begins. It is a nice, bright day, just as the forecast on promised, although there are clouds on the mountains.

One would think that in the better weather conditions the climb would have become easier, but it hasn’t. The first half hour is still pretty hard. I don’t like these stairs.

Then I see a young guy with a dog on a leash.

“Boy! If this is where you walk your dog every day, then hats off.”

“Of course not,” he says and we laugh.

There’s a German girl vacationing with her friends. And then other. And another.

I don’t know if there’s something about this mountain, or about German girls, but there seem to be an awful many of them around here.

There is a 60-odd years old Scottish couple taking a slow walk.

Next, I pass by a Czech girl. She is vacationing with her boyfriend, and climbing the hill with him too, but he is somewhere far behind.

As I overtake her, I notice a dancing cloud on the mountain. So I stop to videotape. It is amazing. For about 15 minutes, the cloud forms, dissipates and prances & waltzes around again and again till becomes a thick fog.

On the way up, there are more German girls and German couples. There is also a smattering of Irish and Scottish teens and late-middle-aged folks, some of them with dogs.

It is interesting to see that one needs to cross a little patch of snow on the way, even on this summer day.

Closer to the summit, I run into the Czech girl again. She is going down.

“You are FAST,” I say, “already climbing down.”

Not the case, she tells me. Apparently, her boyfriend is feeling exhausted, and she needs to go to him and help him walk to the summit. Hmmm…

The peak (Scots would call it a Munro) is quite unlike a peak; it looks more like a plateau strewn with igneous rocks. The highest point is marked by an Ordnance survey trig point placed atop a large cairn. There are ruins of the old observatory around the middle of the plateau, and right by it on another large cairn is a storm shelter hut made of stone. This hut was airlifted here from Corpach in 1991. The top of the hut is higher than the trig point, making it the highest man-made structure in the British Isles.

Because of the extremely poor visibility I was unable to experience the Ben fully the last time around, and it feels great to see all this so vividly.

The view from the top is beautiful, and to add to the joy, the sun decides to make a rare appearance, albeit just for a minute or two.

As I am soaking it all in, two brothers aged 13-14 jostle up the cairn. I laugh.

“Bet you guys ran all the way up here.”

“No, we slogged”

They live in Philadelphia and are vacationing in England and Scotland, as well as visiting their grandfather.

While I am chatting with them their mother catches up. She is Indian. She last came up here when she was 20, and now has come back to show her kids where she’d been. That must feel wonderful, I think.

“Oh, that’s a great idea, I should have brought an Indian flag too,” she points to my bandana.

On the way down, I want to wrap it up quickly. So much so, that when I reach the snow patch, instead of carefully lumbering through it like all the other civilized people around me, I just jump so as to land on my backside, and slide down all the way, paddling with my feet to direct and accelerate my motion.

And I run most of the way down. It just feels great to step from rock to rock. It’ fun, it’s fast, and I think it’s safer too, as in stepping wide, one widens the base under one’s center of gravity.

“Oh, you are faster than the wind,” chirps a Bavarian girl I had met earlier at the summit. I laugh.

At the little waterfall, I drink from the cool stream and set down to rest. And as a few people (including the Bavarian couple) pass by me, I mawk (mock hawk) fresh Scottish spring water. After resting for a couple of minutes, I continue my descent.

The Bavarian couple are very jolly, and we engage in banter. I tell them that I had to shut my spring water business down as there no takers.

“Well, people are hungry…you should sell food. That might work better,” says the girl.

“Yeah, I could sell some Bavarian food here, and then no one would climb up…they’d eat, and the lie down to sleep.”

I tell them that I plan to climb up again tomorrow, and the guy thinks it would be great if I can get out of bed tomorrow – my muscles will be so sore, he thinks. I hope he’s wrong.

Walking down the stairs, I realize that for me climbing down is harder than climbing up. While climbing up, I am moving towards a goal, an objective – to reach the top; while climbing down, I’m thinking, “Oh I’ve completed the task, send a chopper and take me home already.”

Just before getting to the hostel, instead of going onto the bridge, I jump over the fences off the track and walk down to the little stream. It feels so good that I lie down there on the pebbles in the shade of the tall, green trees, with my backpack under my head. Before I know it, my eyes start getting heavy.

By the time I wake up, the sun has gone down behind the mountains and the birds are flying back home. So I get up and start walking towards the hostel, and suddenly sense a slight pain in my calves. Hopefully a good night’s rest will fix that.

Click here to check out my pictures from Ben Nevis of 06 Jul 2008.

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