Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Ben Nevis, Again

Sunday, September 20, I climbed Ben Nevis, again. I left the camper at 8AM, summited at 1:24, and got back to the camper at 4:34, a bit slower than my 1989 pace (5PM to 12:30AM, summer solstice, full moon, according to Vicki's 1989 diary). Oh well. Getting old is a bitch. The first third of the way was in hopeful sunlight, with great vistas, then, turning up the canyon past the Red Burn, things fell apart, with the semi-permanent cloud cover, a veritable hurricane of wind and cold rain. Like Mt. Washington in New Hampshire, the Ben is a magnet for foul weather. At 4,406 feet, it is the highest mountain in the British Isles. I have climbed it twice now and never seen any but its lower slopes. 355 cloudy days per year. This was one of them. Vicki suggests I try again in 20 years, possibly on the vernal equinox.

Keats' thoughts on his ascent, in August, 1818, are of some comfort:

"Upon the top of Nevis blind in mist!
I look into the Chasms and Shroud
Vaporous doth hide them; just so much I wist
Mankind do know of Hell..."

My sentiments exactly. Same wist entirely.

While I was away, she reorganized the camper and did the wash and other such domestic things. Also read some of the guide books. The record ascent/descent of Ben Nevis, as of 2006, she informs me, is 85 minutes.

After a night in the campground, we moved down the road to the free parking of the Glen Nevis visitor center. Dinner for me was of well-deserved fried eggs and, the box said, “haggis neeps & tatties.” (Is this like “eats shoots and leaves”?) I enjoyed the haggis neeps immensely, and the tatties too; or maybe I enjoyed the haggis immensely and the neeps and tatties too. It was all washed down by some great-tasting McEwan's Export ale. It also helped tremendously that I did not read the haggis label until well after dinner was over.
After-edit: this is Ben Nevis, from the south
Very famous castle we passed on the way to Fort William
Lower slopes of the Ben the evening before, from the
campground; I was hopeful of actually seeing the mountain
this time
Some other mountain across the Glen; nice day so far...
Fort William below; still nice
Then things fell apart; me, in the summit hurricane, hoping
my pack wouldn't blow away

Summit structures, an old observatory and hotel, now a
shelter; the Victorians had some interesting ideas about
where to put hotels

Sign I should have read at the visitor center,
especially the part about 355 cloudy days per
year; Denali is not that bad! But I probably
would have done it anyway...

Vicki adds:

Ft. William, Scotland, September 21, 2009
It is raining like crazy so we are just spending the day (and 2 nights) in the parking lot at the foot of UK's highest mountain--Ben Nevis. Mark climbed it yesterday and only one hour slower than he did 20 years ago, so not bad. I decided that a 4,000 ft climb on a gravel path with rain guaranteed for half the 9 hours was not to my liking so I did the wash and reorganized the camper.

We have been in the camper four months now and are really quite satisfied with it. It is small--21ft. RoadTrek Adventurous--but well laid out and after spending 6 months living out of a suitcase and then 3 1/2 weeks in Ireland in a tent, it feels quite luxurious. I am sure we would have not felt quite the same if we had moved directly from our 2,000 sq ft house on five acres!

Scotland has been cool and wet but today (and the rest of the week) have been the only all day rains. We loved the Orkney Islands and also the Isles of Lewis and Harris. They were bleak and desolate but packed with prehistoric sites--Mark's blog will have all the details and pictures. We have had plenty of opportunities to free camp so that has helped with the budget.

Groceries are also very reasonably priced--I know we are not spending more than we would have at home and we are eating out much less. That will change when we get to France and Italy, but right now we haven't really missed it. I do buy a lot of semi prepared meals. The grocery stores have a tremendous variety of Indian, Chinese, etc. meals to just heat up and they mark them down to half price just before dinner time. I can just switch on the generator and then we can use the microwave. Generators aren't allowed in most campgrounds as they expect you to plug in--but we usually don't need the electric so why pay the extra $5-6 a day for an electric hookup? Propane has been easy to get, except in northern Scotland. We are using about 1 tank a month right now--about $35. It runs the refrigerator, hot water heater, generator, and the furnace. We pretty much use the furnace every morning and on and off during evenings. At night we have a DC electric mattress pad with dual controls that makes sleeping quite comfortable and so far we haven't had to even use it much as the travelsac sleeping system we have is warm enough. So as long as we can find propane we can manage our energy needs pretty easily.

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