UL in Scotland PDF Print E-mail
By J.P. O'Gorman

A bad nights sleep in Dublin airport and a beautiful sunrise while flying across the Irish sea is enough to make any Outdoor Pursuits member of the University of Limerick realise that this was no ordinary trip to the Burren. Our destination was in fact Glasgow with an onward journey into the Scottish Highlands and a town called Fort William. Our goal was simple enough: climb Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in Britain and Ireland.

This was made slightly more difficult with the fact that we were dealing with winter conditions, which manage to take a few lives every year in that area.

The team comprised of John Ringrose and Roy Barton (both who knew the mountain and were experienced in winter conditions), Ed Earle, Frank Cox, Tom Earle, Anne Donohoe, Barry Watts and JP O’Gorman. We knew we were a brave bunch of people after surviving the exchange rates on offer in the local banks. Life threatening situations up mountains seamed no problem in comparison.

On arrival in Glasgow we collected our rental van and set off immediately for the highlands. A childish excitement not even found in 5 year olds grew in most of us as the snow line on the mountains moved downwards and we moved progressively north. Everyone felt a bit better, with the exception of our driver, Roy, when we arrived in Fort William. Immediately, the group was struck with the amount of ultra fashionable mountaineers, strutting there stuff in their GoreTex jackets and tight pants. Our group wasn’t one bit intimidated thought as we has brought some nifty gear of our own. That day was spent setting ourselves up properly, buying food for the coming days, renting gear such as ice axes, crampons and plastic boots (no not the welly type!). We then retired to what was going to be our base for the next few days; a small mobile home a few miles away. After some route planning for the following day we packed our gear and got an early night’s sleep.

Awoken next morning at some ungodly hour we quickly got prepared for what was to be a training day, allowing us to get used to the gear and practice some ice axe technique. We headed for Aonach Mor (1221m), which had a ski slope on the side of it. Weather conditions were bad with strong rain in the car park. We make the decision to get the ski lift up to the snow line and skip the trudge up the path which could be found on any Irish mountain. With the shame of this hanging over us all we could console ourselves with was the fact that everyone else was doing the same thing. We started walking and were soon into deep snow. A steep slope was found and ice axe stopping technique was practised (handy if your falling down a mountain).

A snow hole was dug (just for fun really- excuse enough!) and some unfortunate members found out their gear was not crampon proof... With that practise done we gained more altitude and decided to have a bite to eat. Conditions were bad with strong winds driving snow towards us and visibility was down to 20 metres. Oh, and it was cold!


Moving on towards the summit we experienced storm force winds which were driving sleet into our faces. Outch! Some careful navigation was called for so as to avoid corniced snow (overhanging and dangerous) but we found the peak without much difficulty. We had time for a quick photo opportunity and headed back down. The weather cleared up as we descended and with a lovely empty ski slope ahead of us we did the next best thing to skiing and took out our survival bags (big plastic bags), sat on them and away we went. Good fun. One sensible member of the team let the survival bag blow away and in a foolish attempt to protect the environment ran some way across the slope to recover it. Little did he know the ski poles above him on the slope were actually avalanche warning poles. Note that one for future reference.

The next day was spent climbing Mullach nan Coirnean(939m). It was a hard slog to start with having to make our way through forest and then onto a steep slope until we finally reached the ridge which lead to the summit. We soon entered the snow line but most decided against the use of crampons. It was a nice walk to the top but unfortunately the weather was not with us again; but what else can you expect from Scotland in winter? That night was spent in the pub relaxing as the following day was a rest day in preparation for climbing Ben Nevis. There was an amazing lack of sore heads the next morning and except for one sore stomach everyone was ok. We paid a visit to Fort William’s Climbing Wall that day and it gave us a bit more of a challenge that what we were used to in UL.

We started at an even ungodlier hour than the previous days and along with good weather and an increased amount of snow on the mountains we soon realised we had selected the correct day for Ben Nevis (1344m). As usual the first hour was where most of the suffering was done and we then entered a routine. Snow was in plentiful supply and we soon reached a lake set on the side of a col. We entered cloud which stayed with us until we descended to the same altitude a few hours later. The snow deepened and after a hard slog we reached the ridge which lead to the peak. Due to white-out conditions and cornices we decided to rope up and arrive at the top in style. We were later proved somewhat correct in our decision when some unlucky/lucky mountaineer plunged through a cornice in the same area only a few hours later ending up a thousand feet down and surprisingly unhurt. There was a great sense of achievement on reaching the top and we rewarded ourselves with a comprehensive photo shot. We all crowded into a small hut and ate lunch. Shortly afterwards the top filled up with a large group of mountaineers so we were only too happy to set off down the mountain. Our task complete we were able to take things easy and managed to build a pretty good snowman for people who should have forgotten a long time ago. In all it was a very successful day.

Motivation to get up the next morning wasn’t as great but we still managed an early start. The rain had stopped but there were high winds as we left got out of our van. The mountain was Squrr a’Mhaim (1099m). We climbed for an hour and a half and got to about 500m before we had to slow to a snails pace due to gale force winds. After a period of nearly having to crawl up the mountain it was decided to abandon the attempt least one of us arrive back at the van thanks to the power of the winds. A wise decision considering we had not even arrived at the exposed part of the climb and knowing that the wind would only pick up as we gained altitude.


Even with the last day everyone agreed that the trip was a success, both in what we achieved and the amount of experience we gained with gear and conditions. Hopefully it will establish a strong foundation for a trip to the French Alps in the summer of 1999.

We would like to give a special thanks to Joanne Ryan from Usit and the Dave Conway in the University Sports Department who supported us in this trip and without whose help the trip could not have taken place.

Text - J.P. O'Gorman
Summit Photo on Ben Nevis - Roy Barton
Photo of Tom Earle and John Ringrose ascending - J.P. O'Gorman
Scanning - Liam Finn.