Humans and Mountain Ben Nevis

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Gerry Machen / Flickr images

If this summer you are contemplating to climb Ben Nevis, you may be interested in some of the following facts. Ben Nevis at 1,344 meters (4,408 feet) is the giant amongst other mountains in the British Isles. A monumental challenge to anyone hoping to get to its summit. To the neophyte who gets to its peak, you can relax and chill in the knowledge that you have achieved an enviable feat. While for some, getting to the top is not the issue, but the manner in getting there.

The word Ben Nevis is Gaelic when translated to English means ‘Mountain of Heaven.’  James Robertson, an Edinburgh botanist, made the first ever documented climb in 1771 and in 1883 Clement Linley Wragge (nickname – Inclement Wragge) was pivotal to building a footpath and observatory.

Weather at Ben Nevis:

Whatever day you chose to climb Ben Nevis, you will hardly find a perfect day. As there is roughly one bright day in ten at the mountain’s summit, making the odds against you. Old weather records from its observatory indicate that there were on average 260 gales and 4,350 mm of rain yearly. These figures are more than twice that of the town (Fort William) below it. December is the wettest, while April, May, and June are the driest when rainfall just dips below 25 cm per month. The mean temperature at its peak is – 1 °C (30 °F). There are large pockets of snow all year round, particularly in the north-east and northern cliffs. The snow falls at any time of the year.

About 100,000 people visit Ben Nevis annually, going up through the stipulated path during the summer is relatively safe. However, off the route climbing becomes perilous. There are more deaths on Ben Nevis than on Everest yearly. This has been mainly attributed to the climbers who go up without proper gear and clothing, A walk to the top is a strenuous activity, but a fit person should be able to get to the summit in one piece by following all the safety precautions and common sense.

  • Ensure you check the weather before you proceed on your journey.
  • Tell your family of a friend when you are going up the mountain, so that in case you don’t come back, they raise an alarm.
  • Keep to the stipulated path.

Ben Nevis meteorologist:

The meteorologist, Wragge would climb Ben Nevis every day collecting weather data from different points on his way up and down, while his wife took readings from their home at sea level. His daily round trip up the mountain took him 8 hours. In 1881 and 1882 from the 1st of June to the 14th of October, he climbed daily unfailingly. After sufficient funds had been raised in 1883, the path and observatory were built. Further funds were raised for maintenance by taxing walkers who used the route on foot 1 shilling and those on horsebacks 3 shillings. These permits were either bought from a shop at Fort William or from a path maintenance personnel.

In 1884, two bedrooms, one visitor’s room, an office and a 30 feet tower were adjoined to the observatory. At this time the observatory had a telegraph connected to the post office in Fort William, later on, a telephone was installed. After 1904 when funding ran out, the observatory was from thereon continuously staffed. The summer shifts at this outpost were usually two months.

The staff in isolation amused themselves by making sledges, skis, a ping pong table made of frozen snow, carved wood, played the pipe, violin, mandolin, accordion, and flute. They were also involved in some unusual activities such as hurling large boulders over the mountain’s cliff for fun.

Ben Nevis Temperance Hotel:

Soon enough Ben Nevis had its first hotel, the Temperance Hotel owned by two young ladies providing room and food during summer. Lunch cost 3 shillings, while tea, bed, and breakfast would set you back 10 shillings at the time. With 21 shillings you could make the ascent fashionably with a guide on a hired pony. By 1916, the hotel ceased to exist, and the buildings destroyed by fire and climbers in 1950 who stripped the lead off the rooftops and tossed it down the mountain.

Unusual incidents up Ben Nevis

An unnamed man from Fort William climbed to the peak and back pushing a wheelbarrow before 1911.

Henry Alexander Jr drove a 20 horse powered model T Ford up the mountain in 1911 as a publicity stunt. He returned to Fort William, a hero. He later re-enacted this feat in 1928, but this time with a Model A Ford and the last 0.4 km was driven with four passengers.

In other to raise funds for cancer research, Kenneth Campbell of Ardgay in September 1980 carried a barrel of beer on his ascent to the summit of Ben Nevis.

A group of medical students from Glasgow University in 1981 dragged a bed up the mountain. The then 48-year-old former newscaster (Reginald Bosanquet) who accompanied them collapsed 1000 feet up. He was resuscitated and later walked down.

I hope these unusual events would inspire you whether you plan to climb or have just accomplished it. Remember the man who did this climb day after day to take temperature readings or the many who have tried under severe conditions.


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