The day started like any other with the morning cheer of fellow travellers keen to tick off another bucket list item. Cloudy weather reached far across the range with one snow-peaked top visible. Weather forecasted for minus three at the top and little rain.
The mountain path otherwise known as the tourist path was at our doorstep and was just in the final stages of a complete path restoration.
Most of the time we walked alone, watching clouds come and go, changing the perspective of the valley below. For a moment I could hear the wind growling behind us, becoming louder and more ferocious. As I turned and looked, there were four fighter jets cruising by and it reminded me of the Clipsal 500 back home.
Small sections of snow by our path turned into long and unavoidable stretches of hard packed ice and we tried to follow footprints of earlier travellers. It was actively snowing as turned another cairn and the wind blowing across our bodies, our faces becoming numb.
A glimmer of hope and surprise as a small mountain finch hopped across the snow undeterred by our presence. The dense fog closed in and only our close surrounds of rocks covered in icy particles were visible. Hikers in front disappeared and we were alone. We pushed on for another half hour and the path became unclear. To follow the snow or the rocks or is it the edge? Luckily I had the OS maps on my phone guiding us and we took the left turn across the vast white patch and in the distance another cairn would guide us to another cairn.
Sarah continued on, leading the way, whilst for me my fear kicked in. My determination to reach the peak had vanished and my only thought was of not being able to make off this mountain alive. We were only at an altitude of 1230m, but the elements were in control. It got to the extent that I was unable to balance on the ice and felt as if any slip or fall would cause injury or worse a slippery slide down Mr Nevis. As the incline sharpened, the hands became numb. We came within 99m of the peak in altitude and faced with a steep hill of ice and with poor visibility and no equipment, I declared ‘No more…we might not get down in once piece.’ Just if we had walking poles or better still some crampons (cause everyone has them in their pack), we would have conquered the mountain peak. Fear overcame me or was it sensibility?
On the precarious descent we passed a number of travellers who had become lost and disoriented in the white haze. Our scarves, gloves and jackets were covered in frost as we passed many others seeking the answer to ‘how far to go’, whilst all we wanted was warmth and feeling in our bodies to return. The strain on the legs coming down is always difficult. We both laughed as we had both been thinking about the Everest movie. In hindsight we’d ventured far further than safe limits. We felt fit and we were warm with plenty of extra layers packed if needed. We had a reasonable OS map but we were without the appropriate equipment for the elements.
The evening was well relaxed sitting in the Bunkhouse Inn drinking some local ales, chatting to new friends and listening to a highland folk dozen.
Till next time Ben.