Bender & Xing

Abel Adventures

Ben Nevis

Date: 29th October 2019Summit: 1368m

Lying approximately 11km north of the Ben Lomond massif sits Ben Nevis, a freestanding, more classically-shaped mountain that shares its name with Scotland’s highest peak. Being in such close vicinity to Ragged Jack and a relatively short climb – the Good Book states 1.5 hrs to peak – it made sense to continue on and bag it aswell.

Distance: 4.8km
Time taken: 2hrs, including stops.
Difficulty: Moderate. It’s a short, well marked and easy to follow (for the most part) track, but it’s steep!
Type of track: Mix of forest pad, rock and alpine moor.
Access from: Schulhofs Road track, off Telopea Road.

Trip continues on from Ragged Jack

With Ragged Jack bagged in sufficiently quick time, my focus turned on its northern neighbour, Ben Nevis. For those planning on doing the same, a quick note about road access. I’d planned on continuing along Ragged Jack Road until it re-met with Blessington Road and continuing on east. Unfortunately, upon hitting an unnamed creek crossing I was met with a missing bridge – presumably another victim of the infamous 2016 floods.

Ah, fudge. Alas so many now-unused forestry bridges have been claimed by past floods, complicating access to many Abels.

Not relishing a long, pointless and time-wasting double-back trip to the main road via Deddington, I instead took a gamble on seemingly well-used forestry spur 500m back, and headed roughly north, hoping the locals had found an alternate route through the maze of logging coups in the area. After about 3km of reasonably good condition gravel roads (beware – some of the dips might bottom out 2WDs) a sudden increase in rubbish dumpings – sadly – proved I had indeed found my way back to Blessington Road, just before the Ben Lomond Road turn off.

Re-finding civilisation, albeit in its least appealing form. This kind of behaviour honestly makes you wonder what the hell is wrong some people.

Back on the bitumen, I headed through Upper Blessington, onto Upper Blessington Road and then headed north onto Telopea Road, taking note to reset my trip meter to track the 3.7km from the junction to the supposedly unmarked Schulhofs Road turnoff as noted in The Abels Vol. 1. Worth noting to take extreme care on the roads out this way; they’re mostly unsealed gravel, tend to be narrow and winding with a lot of animal behaviour (and sadly, a lot of roadkill) and being an active forestry area, often have heavily laden trucks barrelling down them too.

True to The Good Book’s word, a track to the left soon revealed itself with approximately 3.5km on the car’s trip meter. Even better, some enterprising individual has installed a homemade sign stating it was indeed Schulhofs Road and this was indeed the way to the Ben Nevis walking track. After so many weekends spent up nameless forestry tracks, it’s sometimes nice to have that little extra assurance you’re where you’re supposed to be!

Turn off to Schulhofs Road and the Ben Nevis trailhead – now with signposting!

At this point I was thinking Schulhofs ‘Road’ was a tad optimistic; the RAV4 had no issues but 2WDs with less ground clearance might struggle in some of the washouts.

Not struggling at all in the now beaming early afternoon sun was a healthy tiger snake, lying part way up the ‘Road’. Unsurprisingly, he required a bit of coaxing (foot stomping) before eventually slithering off the track and allowing me to drive past. Also unsurprisingly, I was now thinking it might be wise to wear my gaiters over my very much bare legs, just in case his mates were also about.

It wasn’t only me enjoying the weather!

About a kilometre up Schulhofs Road the trailhead appears, again signposted with a homemade effort that gets the point across just fine. “Steep and roughish!” was the proclamation.

The track follows what’s left of an old logging trail for about 100m before veering left and into thick scrub where, conveniently, a narrow but nonetheless well-cleared track reveals itself. Tracey had warned me that on her trip back in 2018 the scrub was impeding on the track significantly; it appears that either through increased visitation in the past year or some judicious pruning – probably both – has widened the path up the mountain, making for relatively easy going.

The track begins as a veritable tunnel through thick scrub.

I say ‘relatively’ because while the track was clear enough to pass through comfortably, it wastes no time climbing up the northern flank of the mountain. My legs were soon feeling in the steepness of the climb, already fatigued from Ragged Jack earlier in the day (not to mention Wild Dog Tier and Ironstone Mountain a couple of days’ prior).

The understory of scrub lowers as altitude is gained – all of which happens quite quickly, such in the increase in elevation.
Track turning to stone steps towards the summit plateau.
The northern tor of Ben Nevis revealing itself as the vegetation changes approaching the summit plateau.

Soon the head-high scrub lowered to reveal the typical low alpine scrub under thin eucalytus, and the track underfoot changed from loamy dirt and debris to rock. The track remained well marked with numerous cairns and pink tape, though there was one section through a band of dense tea-tree where I briefly found myself going the wrong way.

Coming out of the denser scrub below, the steepness of the initial climb is apparently.
Looking east across to Mt.s Victoria and Saddleback.

Suddenly the vegetation changed to low alpine heath and pockets of grass. The track came out onto a small creek which would prove a useful water source in all but the driest conditions.

From here the track levelled out significantly and followed a series of cairns through the natural gaps in numerous thick pockets of scoparia and other scratchy alpine delights. My pace improved markedly and soon I could spy the trig point atop the southern tor off in the distance barely a kilometre away.

Looking south-west across the plateau with the trig point just coming into view.
This prominent cairn sits approximately mid-way across the plateau between the summit and the entry point of the track on the northern side.

Cairns and pink tape highlighted the most direct route around numerous animal and human-made tracks, and were generally easy to follow. However a few hundred metres from the summit I managed to end up on a false lead for about 10 mins, ending up on the easterly ridge and, after realising it wouldn’t take me across to the summit, I had to drop back into thick scrub and push my way back until I reacquired the correct lead. Not pleasant!

Back on course and mercifully, I was on the final pinch to the summit. A short climb up and I was standing on the summit in a little over an hour.

The final steep climb up onto the summit.
Summit bagged! Note the hand-on-cap – the wind was even stronger atop Ben Nevis and at times I was struggling to stand up.
Looking north-east across the plateau – the track follows the low point of the valley from the right-hand size of the northern tor.
Looking east over the ridge I accidentally ended up on, with Mt.s Victoria and Saddleback off in the distance.
Looking west across to Mt. Barrow, with Mt. Arthur further off in the distance.
Looking south-west towards Ragged Jack and the northern midlands.
Looking south towards Legges Tor and the northern end of Ben Lomond.

After a few minutes furiously fighting the wind (that nearly cost me my cap several times) to take some photos, I was more than happy to get off the summit and make the return journey back to the car. Following the track back I discovered the point where I zigged instead of zagged.

When you see this cairn, continue to the right rather than the left. Seems completely obvious here, doesn’t it?

Now well into the afternoon I was keen to get back home and managed to run parts of the plateau track before dropping down the northern flank. With gravity on my side quick progress was made and I was back at the car within 2 hrs, and happy to have another two Abels ticked off the list. Alas, Mt. Maurice would have to wait another day.

Route taken to Ben Nevis.

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