Day 1’s short route of 7.4km with 343 mtrs ascent and 27 mtrs descent. (Click for larger version)
The planned first day/night of the walk was designed to get me to the base of the mountains ready for the main hike the following day.
This is the first walk I have done that practically starts at night which made the whole thing feel rather odd.
It is also the first walk where I have managed to earn the dubious distinction of getting myself locationally challenged on a…. Golf Course… of all places! In fact this might be a first for any hiker in hiking history! I wonder if there is a prize for that? 😉
As usual I will let a handful of photos from my Facebook journal tell the story….
I arrive at Fort William at 2210. It’s already technically after sunset hence the street lights. However, once again, my camera’s auto light compensation makes things look a lot brighter than they really are!
The first part of tonight’s walk is a road walk of around 5km. The plan is to get myself in position at the base of the mountains ready for tomorrow’s walk.
Up ahead is a roundabout that I need to hang a left on to cross a bridge. Once again, the Google Maps practice runs that I had put in have paid off. I’m intimately familiar with the area, despite having never been there before!
In the distance I spot the two pipes coming off the mountain to service some local ‘works’. This was one of the features I had to keep a look out for to prove that I’m headed the right way!
Up ahead is another roundabout, but this time I need to continue straight on. The weather has been warm, but there is a continual light drizzle. One can tell that the camera shutter is having to stay open a long time by the brightness of the road sign’s lamp reflections in the road. This makes taking photos very tricky as the slightest movement results in ‘camera-shake’.
I’m soon breaking out of the urban areas and into the country where I feel more comfortable. I’m keeping a sharp look out for the Fort William Golf Club on my right, as this is where I will be turning off toward the mountains.
I soon get my first views of Ben Nevis. I notice there is still snow present, even in late June! I start to wonder whether I should have packed the ice axe?
This is a photo with the flash on. This photo gives a much more representative view of the real lighting levels. Pretty soon I will have to put the Petzl Myo RXP headlamp on. I knew it would be required for this part of the walk, so I purposely had it hanging from my chest strap ready to put on. It can be seen dangling just under the GPS on my right shoulder on the left of the picture.
I soon find the golf course and make my turn off. I have a choice to make, either follow the car park or take the trail which is headed in more or less the same direction. The car park looks like it is a dead end despite what the map is telling me. As a result I elect to follow the trail.
The bridge under the railway line. This was something I was looking out for. But alas, unbeknownst to me, it is the wrong bridge!
I’m now headed South East toward the tree-line at the base of the hills. The intent is to enter the tree-line, then head up the hill until I exit the forest.
To the South West I can see Fort William lighting up the night sky. I wonder what all it’s people are up to on a busy Saturday night?
I soon realise that I have become locationally challenged as the terrain wasn’t making sense. The first give away was that on reaching the boundary at the stream, the forest was only on the other side of the stream, it should have been on both sides, even though the boundary profile was the same shape that I was expecting. I double back to the trail and notice that it was doubling back beneath the overhead electricity wires. There is only one place on the map where it does this! I now know where I am! I’m too far to the South West. I decided to rectify the situation by following the overhead electricity wires NorthWest until I reached a stream. I then hand-railed the stream to the tree-line where after a little scouting I once again find the characteristic shape of the boundary that I was looking for. This time the right one! (click for a larger version)
Here I’m following the overhead electricity lines North Eastward in an effort to relocate myself back in position. The photo is me looking back the way I came. The lines made a very handy navigation reference!
I’m now back at the tree line. Up ahead on the left I spot the rather hidden entrance into the tree-line.
Once in the trees, the trail becomes much more distinct. A quick compass check shows it is heading the right way. I’m now confident that I’m back on plan!
The trail soon widens up adding further evidence that I’m in the right place as there is only one trail on this side of the stream that is heading up towards the mountains. Until I had reached this point, I was a little concerned that I was out of position on a smaller unmarked trail.
The trail soon begins to lose some definition as it heads up the hill. The ferns that line the trail are soaking wet resulting in my trousers getting wet.
The trail then takes me out of the trees, which provides more opportunity for getting sight lines onto various features.
Behind me I get a spectacular view of an illuminated Fort William down below.
The trail starts to steepen. In some places it is quite hard work requiring the help of my hands to assist with the climb. To my right I can hear the reassuring sounds of the Allt a’ Mhuilinn stream adding yet more evidence that I’m in the right place. When navigating at night, one cannot get enough evidence! 🙂
Eventually the trail takes me across a stream. I initially think that I could be going the wrong way as I’m not supposed to cross the Allt a’ Mhuilinn stream. However, my common sense kicks in. This stream is far too narrow to be the Allt a’ Mhuilinn based on what I am seeing on the map – so across I go!
The trail on the other side of the stream is well defined, but I’m a little concerned as the only water I can currently hear is the small streamlet that I had just crossed over to my left. I was expecting to hear water over to my right…
As I climb I take another look back to Fort William and note that I have managed to gain a little more elevation. There can’t be much more to go before I get to the planned wild camp location.
With the main climb out of the way the trail widens up as per the map. I’m now absolutely certain that I’m in the right place.
I soon find a sign that confirms my location! Wooot!
Off too my right the powerful headlamp picks out a small dam across the Allt a’ Mhuilinn.
The Petzl Myo RXP lamp is really strutting its stuff. I have it on the highest setting that I had programmed with the diffuser down. I can’t believe how far ahead the lamp’s beam manages to penetrate. This lamp is such a massive improvement over my previous not-made-for-hiking lamp.
Although I know I’m headed the right way, I leave nothing to chance and take occasional compass bearings to make sure that the navigational picture still adds up.
To my right the lamp picks out another structure in the Allt a’ Mhuilinn stream.
Up ahead I see the tallest fence and fence steps that I have ever seen! I’m guessing it is to ensure that the local deer don’t escape into the wood.
Once across the fence, I’m soon at the planned camp location. It is now just a case of scouting around for a good place to pitch. This takes longer than usual due to the darkness.
The Hilleberg Akto tent is unrolled ready to be put up. By this stage I have put up the Akto so many times that I can practically put it up in my sleep!
The tent is now up and I’m now headed toward the Allt a’ Mhuilinn stream to obtain water for camp. Once again the powerful Petzl Myo RXP does its stuff and picks out the stream from a fair way away. I’m really liking this lamp. Especially as it’s illumination doesn’t seem to have diminished despite the length of time that I have had it switched on.
Filling up the bottles at night was a very surreal experience. I can vividly remember the great view to the Northwest where one could see the glow of the skyline and the silhouetted trees in front of it. I tried photographing it, but that photo didn’t come out well
With some relief I spot a reflector on the tent as I head back. This can just be seen in the centre of the photo. When I departed for the stream I was making conscious notes of various terrain features as I didn’t want to lose my tent in the night!
I’m now back at the tent with my treasure of three filled water bottles! Now it is time to get the evening meal on!
The JetBoil Sol makes very short work of boiling the water, despite using a cartridge that was pretty low on gas. My gaiters in the foreground provide some indication as to how wet the ascent up the hill through the ferns was. I spot steam coming off my body and wonder what it is. But soon notice that it’s coming from my hiking trousers which seem to be drying very rapidly. In fact they would be dry enough by the end of the night that they could go in my sleeping bag. So tip of the day (or night) is to try and use lightweight hiking trousers – they do pay dividends!
Whilst waiting for the water to boil I’m shocked at the time – almost 0100!! Have I really been hiking that long? Time flies when you are having fun. Speaking of flies, if you look just by the watch there are three midge bites with a further one on the edge of my hand. I didn’t realise these beasts came out at night, so hadn’t protected myself. One cannot feel their bites at all for the first few hours. They only start to itch afterward….
The food is ready – an excellent Mountain House Chilli Con Carne. I wolf this down as it is the first real food I have had today.
Having fed myself I prepare for bed. Whilst packing the kit in the outer tent I notice that a moth has made the flysheet its home! That’s it – it’s now goodnight from me!
The 12 hour train journey had really tired me out. I went out like a light once I got in the sleeping bag.
I was now in the perfect position to attempt my ascent of Ben Nevis via the CMD Arete.
To see how I got on, tune in next week!