Community hikers conquer Ben Nevis

Last weekend (3-4 October 2015), thirty people and a dog from south Leeds travelled to Fort William in western Scotland – to hike up Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the British Isles. It follows previous community hikes over the past 2-3 years, to Snowdon and the Yorkshire Three Peaks – giving local people the opportunity to take on a challenge together, get inspired by nature, and have a laugh.

The team assembles, Saturday morning (photo: Lee Robinson)
The team assembles, Saturday morning (photo: Lee Robinson)

The group set off early Saturday in two minibuses which had been generously lent by the Hunslet Hawks and Hamara, for the long (7 hour) drive to Fort Wiliam. The group ranged in age from 14 to 60 and the long journey provided plenty of time for everyone to get to know each other better.

After arriving at the Glen Nevis Hostel in the early evening, everyone shared a delicious communal supper made by group members, before preparing sandwiches for Sunday’s hike and enjoying a campfire. The majority of people then slept in the hostel, but some camped, and some even spent the night under the stars. A couple of lucky campers even saw an impressive stag at very close range!

Gathered around the campfire, Saturday night (image: Ed Carlisle)
Gathered around the campfire, Saturday night (image: Ed Carlisle)

Bright and early on Sunday morning, breakfast was consumed and everyone headed out in glorious sunshine to start the climb. Some participants had previously successfully climbed Snowdon and the Yorkshire Three Peaks, and 2-3 had previously climbed Ben Nevis independently – but for most, this was their biggest challenge yet attempted. The weather was far better than we’d dared to hope for, and it was even possible to walk in a t-shirt for a good while.

The route taken was the ‘mountain track’, taking us a distance of approximately 10 miles with an ascent of 1352 metres. The initial few miles involved a steep climb up a path made of large rocks, challenging our calves and thighs, before reaching a welcome plateau which gave great views of the surrounding valleys and the now distant hostel. The path then begun to zigzag and again became more challenging, involving loose rocks and scree. The headwind here was strong and all layers were now needed for the final ascent to the summit.

Mayhem on the mountain (image: Radek Kucko)
Mayhem on the mountain (image: Radek Kucko)

Fog had by now set in and the first of the group to reach the summit saw more fog than views – although occasional breaks gave some views of the glen (valley) below. After a short (and at -6ºC, very cold) break to look at the memorials, cairns and observatory at the top and to refuel, those first up began their descent, encouraging fellow walkers who were still on their way up to the summit! Those arriving later to the summit were rewarded by the fog clearing and good views across the glen.

All members of the group successfully reached the mountain summit, and made it back down the at-times knee-challenging path in one piece. One or two group members even ran down! It took us between 5 and 8 hours up and down. The climb itself was made easier due to the weather being so good, but was still challenging and is an achievement that each member can be proud of.

Cold but happy at the summit (image: Lee Robinson)
The advance party, cold but happy at the summit (image: Lee Robinson)

Tents were then dismantled and buses packed up, before commencing the long drive home to Leeds (via an award-winning fish and chip shop), arriving back in the small hours of Sunday night/Monday morning. Despite some tiredness and sore legs in the days following, it was definitely worth the long journey and was a great achievement and bonding experience for everyone in the diverse group.

The question now is, where next? Does Scafell Pike (England’s highest mountain, and the last of Great Britain’s famous three peaks) await? Or maybe something else..? Talks are afoot to maybe even venture overseas to tackle some seriously big mountains. Watch this space, or get in touch about future trips.

The views weren't bad (image: Radek Kucko)
The views weren’t bad (image: Radek Kucko)

Special thanks to Hunslet Hawks and Hamara for lending us their minibuses, and to all those group members who helped plan and research, who cooked and drove, and more. (By adopting such a collaborative approach, we were able to really keep costs down to a minimum.) But the trip wouldn’t have been the success that it was without the enthusiasm of all involved, so thanks go out to all attendees!


​This post was written by Niki Woods, using our Create an article for South Leeds Life page.