The route along the Pony Trail consisted of 1383 mtrs of ascent and descent over 16.7 km.
It’s strange the way things pan out….
After I had climbed Ben Nevis the previous month, I wouldn’t have guessed in a million years that I would be back here again so soon!
After checking the weather forecast it looked like that we would be good to go, even if the conditions were marginal.
Having not been in a hiking party before, I wasn’t sure where to place myself.
Initially, I started off in the front as that seemed a good place to be. But it soon became apparent that the team had a wide range of fitness levels. I realised that if I stayed at the front, there was a very real danger of losing the less fit members of the team.
My biggest worry was that some members of the team might even turn back, resulting in a bit of a panic as the numbers failed to add up later on.
However, in the event, this never happened. The whole team pulled through and made it to the top of the mountain, despite it being a long hard slog.
I had found that by moving myself to the rear, it was easier to keep an eye on the rest of the team and it put me in the best place to help out the people struggling at the rear.
However, my lack of experience with working in a team environment had caught me out big time on this day…
The weather on the peak had been truly atrocious with everyone being freezing cold and wet. As a result, as soon as the team photo had been taken, everyone was keen to get off the mountain as soon as possible.
I waited until everyone had gone by before taking up my place at the rear. However, unbeknownst to me, three of the team had gone up into the shelter to rest, eat and drink.
This resulted in us leaving three of the team behind – a bad mistake on my part.
Once we got to the bottom and realised that they were not with us, we sent up a small team to intercept the three stragglers and take them down the mountain.
This incident rammed home how important it is to keep track of everyone. Luckily no one got hurt. From here on in I would be relying on counts to ensure that everyone would be accounted for.
One thing for sure, I won’t forget this lesson in a hurry! 🙂
Anyways, I’ll let the photos tell the story!
The first task of the day is to cross the River Nevis. The bridge that we used could only hold 4 people at a time, so we all had to shuttle across in small groups.
Everyone is now on the other side of the river and have just made it to the ‘pony trail proper’. From here on in it’s up hill all the way!
The pony trail initially starts off ok, but I know that the early stages soon form some of the steepest parts of the climb, so I try to set people’s expectations with regard to this. The weather at this point is just a light drizzle. We haven’t experienced the winds yet as Meall an t-Suidhe is protecting us from it!
This is a look back at the team as they start their climb. I initially thought that being at the front was the best place to be, but the problem with being there is that it is difficult to keep track of people and the back-markers….
We soon arrived at our first rest stop which incorporated a very handy bench to sit on!
Back on with the climb. I keep telling everyone that ‘this is the hard bit – and that it flattens out later on’… Which is actually the case for this mountain. However, I do find that I’m using the phrase quite often both as ironic humour and to encourage people 🙂
Down below the winds are forming the clouds into some spectacular shapes!
This part of the Pony Trail is the hardest part of the climb in my opinion. It is very rocky and pretty steep. I wonder how many people it actually puts off? The trail does get easier as you climb higher…
This photo clearly shows how rocky and rugged the lower sections of the Pony Track are.
We soon leave the rugged section behind. The trail here is much easier. By this stage I had realised that the group had quite a large variance in fitness. Given that there is only a singular track going up to the top with no possibility of getting lost, I decide to let the fitter people take the lead, whilst I fell back and kept an eye on the back markers.
This is a photo where I am now in the back marker role. I didn’t want to lose any stragglers behind, or have them turn back without telling anyone, hence my decision to move to the rear of the party. I also found that I could more easily see what everyone was up to from here too!
The weather hasn’t been too bad – so far. Just the odd drizzle to contend with, though the winds at this elevation were really starting to pick up.
However, the weather soon changes very quickly. Visibility is now extremely limited, the winds are high with the added bonus of sleet into the mix. To make things worse, the winds were blowing the sleet right into our faces, which stung a lot!
We soon encounter the snow field that I had walked through on the previous month. It is now considerably smaller, but it is still very slippery.
A close up of one of the cairn markers – these markers proved to be most useful in the poor visibility. By this stage of the climb we had to try to keep moving just to keep warm! You wouldn’t believe this was August!
Here I watching the rear of the party catch up. They did a sterling job of sticking with the climb – despite the horrendous weather!
We soon get to the top and pose for the camera despite the freezing winds and rain. It was soon after this photo was taken that I made the biggest mistake of the three days…
The cold, winds and rain had prompted everyone to start the descent immediately. I waited until I saw everyone go by before taking up my position as back-marker. However, I didn’t have the presence of mind to count everyone. I thought I was the last off of the mountain, but unbeknownst to me, three of the party were in the shelter…
The weather was switching very rapidly between good views and no rain, to the complete opposite. Many of the team comment on this and seemed quite surprised at just how quickly these weather changes were taking place!
The weather starts to clear up as we descend. On the way down we see many people ascending the mountain with completely inadequate equipment. It seems that they were being lulled into a false sense of security by the better weather at this level…
There weren’t too many photos taken on the way down as I had both my hands full with the walking poles. Once again the poles proved their worth as my knees were in top-tip condition when we got to the bottom.
Eventually, we do all make it down safely.
At this point, most people would just chill out and be happy that they had just climbed the highest mountain in the UK. However, we had other plans and had to get our skates on as there was now a long drive ahead of us to get to the Lake District ready for the next climb.
I’ll post that one up tomorrow!