Day 1 : Ben Nevis to Stob Ban and Back via Water of Nevis. A 12 hour Epic

19th Nov 2008
25 miles 11,000 feet

My first foray into the round beyond Ben Nevis was always going to be interesting. It was even more so because Bill Williamson and Will Houghton accompanied me to do the 3 days of recceing. Bill and Will both had set their sights on the CR as their next big challenge, after their completions of the Bob Graham round earlier in the year. Unlike me they decided to leave the Paddy Buckley round to be the last of the “big 3”. It meant that we could all contemplate making an attempt on the round together, and as the round is tough to get support for, we would all need to learn the route well as we could not guarantee good navigators on the hills on the attempt. After a long drive up the night before we set off on our recce at exactly 08:00 hrs from the Glen Nevis youth Hostel.

It felt good to be setting off from the start point of the route – I never did this on my recces in the lakes or in Wales until I had reccied most of the other sections first. So my first proper run into the Scottish hills would be the same as the start of the round. The weather was heavy and the forecast was for strong winds, the mild temperature was in our favour though, no ice hopefully. We made the top of Ben Nevis in reasonable time, our ascent was not on the ideal line, but 1 hr 50 wasn’t too bad. The top was cold and windy, so thicker jackets and gloves were adorned. Now the discovery began for me, and for Will it began when we set off from the Youth Hostel. Bill however new this ground pretty well and expertly guided us onto the Canr mor Dearg arĂȘte, a ridge line that ascends to the next Munro as a ridge for 1.5 miles all the way to the summit.

We then descended to the Col ready for an out and back to Aonoch Mor, up until this point the wind was noticeable but not too strong. But it seamed to pick up to storm force now and at times it was knocking us about. But the ground was good and the small pockets of snow were a help if anything. The descent off Aonoch Beag was interesting. Instead of taking a slightly safer longer route round, we decided to ease our way into a gully and ski (on fell shoes) down the snow filled gully. We all had a shot with varying degrees of success, but it as worth it for the entertainment value. At the Col my camera came out for the 2nd and last time. After this I wasn’t in any mood to get my camera wet in the incessant drizzle and horrific wind.

I don’t remember too much of the next few Munros except that some of the ridges were a battle against the wind, at times we were almost lifted off our feet and at other times we couldn’t move against it. I do remember being blown up the last steep part of Stob Coire an Laoigh and trying to stop myself before being blown into the summit nest cairn, and descending a rock strewn way off Stob Choire Claurigh whilst Bill and Will to the left of me made much better progress. Only a race decent, when I finally cleared the boulder field, allowed me to catch them at the bottom of Stob Ban.

Not fancying the battering that would come from the vicious wind again on the top, Bill had decided to miss out Stob Ban. Will and I continued up taking a pounding from the wind. We struggled to get off the top in the correct direction due to the incredible force of the wind. But once part way down, we soon made our way towards the alt Coire Rath. We caught Bill up after about ½ an hour of following the stream. We then decided to split up from Bill again. The plan was for Will and I to run ahead, do the 7 miles of bog hopping followed by 3 miles of road running back to the car. Then drive back up to Glen Nevis to pick up Bill. This would shorten the day a bit. Well that was the plan anyway!

It was all going well; even in the early 4 pm gloom we were making good progress, down the boggy side of the water of Nevis. But as we continually crossed over the river – to find better ground – we found ourselves on the left hand side of it. Unknown to us this is the wrong side. We continued to go up and down through boggy land that now and then forced us up away from the steep sides of the river. Eventually, just as will and I were tiring, and getting tired of the blackness in front, we came up against a 200 foot crag that jutted straight up from the river. Bills head torch now seemed nearer than ever, so knackered and having run out of food and water, we decided to wait for Bill.
In the mean time Will attempted to cross the flooding river and after almost getting swept away thought better of it. Bill reached us and shouted over the noise of the raging river, that we had to back track to the bridge. ½ a mile of back tracking got us to what Bill and the Scots call a foot bridge. I would call it more of a high wire with hand supports. One at a time we carefully edged our way across the 2 bits of steel cabling that was the foot part of the bridge 100 feet or so to the other side. Now on good ground we both felt happier. I was on the verge of bonking and so asked Bill for some food, he supplied me with a small amount of fruit cake. This revived me, and Will and I ran most of the 3 miles down the road to the car. We saved Bill about ¼ of a mile by picking him up. We all vowed that recce day 2 would have to be an easy one. We were all wasted, although the Indian and a couple of beer that night did partially revive us.

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