Climbing Ben Nevis In Storm Ciara

The Mountain With Its Head In The Clouds

Ben Nevis is the tallest mountain in the UK. Being only 1345m high you’d think that would be nothing to brag about, but what the UK lacks in height it more than makes up for in elevation gain and most importantly: weather.

In hindsight, I’ve had seeds sown all my life to adventure in the outdoors. I discuss this further on a podcast I featured on with Destinations Beyond Expectations. As I began to love hiking – which is continuously growing more and more – I decided to do the National Three Peaks in my own debut way. I’d climb them in winter!

Driving To Fort William

Winter Is Coming

In summer, you just need to make sure you bring water and good boots for most of our mountains. In winter, it’s a different situation.

I know, it sounds a bit crazy to do something like this, right? Well, let me briefly explain before you listen how myself and my best friend – Dan – ended up doing this.

I had climbed Snowdon successfully in December covered in… well, snow. I had reached the top of Scafell Pike through 60+mph winds solo in January. Finally, I had this date planned to go to Ben Nevis and tick the last one off.

Then the forecast announced a storm was coming.

This completely changed everything. But not our decision to climb. Where I was packing a coffee flask, first aid, and a dry bag before, our kit list now grew more. We kept a close eye on the forecast the whole way through, keeping updated on everything. I checked the avalanche report daily and right up until we left I was checking the summit forecast, hourly at the end!

I had already dealt with extremely high wind at Scafell Pike (the way down was worse!), so I knew what that would feel like. I had watched every YouTube video and read all the articles I could find to check out the route. We had spikes, safety kit, map… and an epic forecast. We were good to go!

A Calm Window In The Summit Push From ~1200m

Climbing In A Storm

A bit of an epic day would be an understatement. This experience was incredible! But we were safe (as I discuss, links below!) and everything went perfectly. Why? Because of the planning and preparation we put in place.

There is a lake at around 500m on the Mountain Track route. That’s where the snow and wind really started to pick up.

After this, there was a cover from the wind by a waterfall where we got our spikes on. Then it was the high winds, harder wind gusts, and just us two climbing to the top.

We hiked past so many people who were on their way down. Some due to the lack of visibility, some due to wind, some to snow. But Dan and I kept pushing on. At no point were we ever in any real danger as we had mitigated so much, and there are no knife edge routes on this popular yet long and strenuous route.

Just before we did the summit push at around 1200m, we met the only other two people who had got that far. Thinking it a smart idea, we decided to stick together and move as a group, Storm Ciara taking our balance frequently.

Things were very windy (80-90+mph gusts) with occasional white-outs on the way up. But we did it! I managed to get footage of some of the calmer moments, but the summit was different. One word: Epic – and I gave my self no option but to make sure I filmed it!

The Summit Of Ben Nevis At The Start Of Storm Ciara

Don’t Be A Fool

What I took away from this was my first proper lesson in mitigating risk, working hard, staying alert, and it paying off. We were back at the car and ready to set home just before the official yellow warning was put in place at 15:00.

But know your limits, and research as much as you can.

4 ‘hikers’ had to be saved by 22 mountain rescuers sent out two days after us. They went out with no appropriate clothing, trainers, no crampons, no map etc. Please, even if it’s the summer, take hiking seriously (but remember to smile!). 

The Walk Back Down – Finished… Yet Only Half Way

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Published by Between The Mountains

Adventure travel podcast interviewing you about your travels from backpacking to expeditions

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