Self reliance is a fundamental principle of mountaineering. By participating we accept this and take responsibility for the decisions we make. These Conditions Reports are intended to help you make good decisions. They do not remove the need for you to make your own judgements when out in the hills.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

It's all about scale. Climbing mountains is rewarding because they are big. The bigger the better; the more challenging and the more rewarding. Since Ben Nevis is the biggest mountain in the UK thousands of people climb it every year. There are of course very many fine peaks of more modest stature, but the biggest peaks always seem to hold the greatest draw.

However, when you get onto the climb, it comes down to the small details. Every climb starts with a single step. We break down the climb into small sections which themselves break down into smaller parts. We depend on tiny details such as the zips on our jackets and the detailed curves of contours on the map. Every step depends on the rock and the friction. Every hand hold connects us to the mountain.

The thing is, the more we know about the details, the more we appreciate the whole experience. The more we focus on the very small things, the more the big things come to life.

Two weeks ago we finished working on the Ben Nevis North Face Survey. This was the most comprehensive and logistically challenging survey of a Scottish mountain ever achieved and it would not have been possible without the support, professional expertise and vision of the following organisations and individuals:

Funding for the project was kindly provided by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and The Highland Council (THC). The technical and logistical challenges of the survey would not have been met without the generous support of equipment manufacturer Mammut and the collaboration of Midland Valley Exploration.

Central to the survey are Ben Nevis’ two landowners, Rio Tinto Alcan and the John Muir Trust, both of whom must be acknowledged for their ongoing support of this project and the Nevis Landscape Partnership. Particular recognition is deserving of Fran Lockhart, Sarah Lewis and Alison Austin of the John Muir Trust, and Jim Beattie of Rio Tinto Alcan.

The details of what we found are in the Project Report : Phase One here. We found saxifrages never before seen on Ben Nevis and many good size populations of what we thought were very rare plants. We found geological data that challenges the current model for the formation of Ben Nevis which will need to be updated now as a result. With two more years of the survey to come we will learn even more about Ben Nevis which will enrich every ascent.

Working on the survey was much more than just a scientific project though. We spent two weeks with specialist botanists and geologists whose knowledge was astounding. They also seemed to appreciate our skills and experience as mountaineers. There was a feeling of working together towards a common goal, to learn more about the details of Ben Nevis, while sharing in the wonder of working in such a big place. It was great to know that we all had much the same appreciation for Ben Nevis and, now we know more about each others' areas of expertise, we will all appreciate it even more.

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