So it’s the middle of summer and you are seriously missing the epicness of being on snow on your beloved planks. The solution? A cheeky midsummer tour on Britain’s highest peak Ben Nevis which is exactly what myself and Emily Scott decided to do last week! Having studied the relevant maps at great length, consulted the internet for every scrap of info, scrolled through every ariel view and asked as many friends with experience of the gullies as we could we decided to go for it.
Due to one or two technical difficulties and time constraints, we departed Glasgow with a fully laden Volkswagen at 8pm. We reached fort William at around 11pm, mainly due to the combination of Emily’s fondness of a scenic Scottish view coupled with her love affair with Instagram. We parked up at the bottom of the trail in Glen Nevis to get ourselves ready for the climb to the summit. This involved packing the massively oversized rucksacks with everything you could possible need for such a tour including: crampons, ice axes, way too much heavy heavy rope, water, more water, bananas (which I believe are bad luck but Emily wanted them…), boots, skis and everything in-between. The result? A bag so heavy the clip on mine broke 15m from the car.
Despite the weight in our rucksacks, we were carried up the early slopes by our sense of adventure and search of summer snow.
Now, if you’re fond of a workout, I’d thoroughly recommend climbing a mountain with a girl that thinks nothing of 2.2 miles of swimming, 112 miles of cycling then tops it off with a cheeky marathon. It’s at this stage that I’d like to officially thank Emily for her patience! As we ascended higher and higher, darkness slowly turned to light and the head torches that had guided us with little reliability were no longer needed. There were many interesting characters along the trail, mostly Munro baggers and hiking club members taking part in the three peaks challenge. Emily and I were asked on numerous occasions to pose for pictures, at first I thought to myself finally some recognition of my superb dress sense but alas it was due to the fact that no one could believe that we were off in search of snow to ski on in the middle of summer!
After 6 hours of hiking over heather, rock, ice and snow plus a much needed cup of hot choccy in the emergency shelter (I got a little chilly), we made it to the summit. The large cairn was shrouded in mist and the seasons immense accumulation of snow was very apparent. Along the north face we could just make out the edges of the cornices and the cliffs below.
Finally the moment we had been waiting for, after a 10 week absents, we were back on our skis and living the dream! There is always something very special to me about every single turn I make in Scotland, particularly if I’ve had to hike for every one of them. We negotiated the ridge down towards our selected route, number four gully. Upon reaching the top of the gully, we saw that a huge fracture had developed in the snowpack between the cornice and the ridge. I thought to myself, best play it safe here and sent Emily out on a rope to investigate! Everything looked stable enough from the side but like good mountaineers we dug ourselves a snow anchor. Having carried the rope, harness and crampons up 1350m, I was actually elated that we actually needed to use them! As predicted, the snowpack was stable, so Emily proceeded to cut a section of cornice out with her ice axe to give us somewhere to drop into the gully from.
Looking down into the gully from the icy cornice was quite an intimidating sight. A layer of thick cloud obscured the narrowing route that descended between the jagged rock faces.
It really was a leap of faith into the unknown
I decided that Emily should go first, just incase I needed to go in and help her if something went wrong, obviously! With a cry of YOLO! Emily dropped in and began tearing up the corn snow and disappeared from view into the mist. I followed closely behind her, the first 2 or 3 turns a little tentative to feel out the snow then full charge!
The skiing was unreal, I kept expecting the snow to run out but it just kept going and going. I had read somewhere that these north facing gullies on Ben Nevis were beginning to form glaciers again after an absents of hundreds of years and from the amount of snow it’s easy to see why. We ended up descending 550 vertical meters! Of course once the snow ran out, it was time for the mandatory dram. Despite Emily’s imminent ironman completion in Nice, she decided that it would be rude not to partake in a wee nip of whisky.
After a much deserved/needed sit down, we began our decent of the Ben. I thought going up was hard work! We followed the waterfall that was roaring with meltwater the entire way down into the glen, frequently getting my poorly selected footwear of trainers wet. One haphazard river crossing after another went by without either of us falling over in which was in my opinion a massive win (not saying I wouldn’t have laughed if Emily had). We ticked off kilometre after kilometre, stopping now and again to take the travelling gypsy packs off our backs and to expand Emily’s Instagram shares. By the end we were both in autopilot simply putting one foot in front of the other.
By the days end we had been going for 12 solid hours, hiking through the night enduring freezing rain and midges but it was all worth it for one of the coolest skiing experience of my life. Stunning scenery, awesome snow, an incredible expedition and probably the most deserving burgers of our lives in town afterwards!
Scott Macbain is a BASI Level 4 ISTD ski instructor and an experienced Race Coach. You can ski with Scott in Flaine, Morzine, Les Gets and Avoriaz during winter. To book contact firstname.lastname@example.org