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23rd Oct 2023

Why Volunteer? – Autumn and the Allt a Mhuilinn

The North Face of Ben Nevis: a dark towering mass of once volcanic crags, gullies, and ridges. Patches of crisp white snow and ice lay sleeping, a stark contrast exemplifying an incoming cold winter that has climbers and mountaineers sharpening their crampons and dusting off their axes. Below, the Allt a Mhuilinn runs fast from Coire Leis, augmented by the recent rain fall. The rugged path that sits parallel to the river is our office for the day. Our goal: to clear the vital path network of potential erosion for the 150K+ people that climb the UK’s highest mountain every year…

We began in the top car park, cutting out about 650m of uphill in order to maximise our work time. As the five of us pulled the hardy tools from the van, the birch leaves dripped around us, gradually defrosting after another clear night under the frosty stars. We climbed over the stile that was preventing the deer from nibbling the pines and started up the muddy path.

Our aim was to make it roughly 3km to the CIC Hut, clearing every cross drain and water bar along the way. This would prevent braiding and erosion, hopefully before the classic West Highland Weather brought downpours that could wash away the path.

Straight away the repetitive swing of the mattock warmed us up, but inevitably the shedding of layers notified the powers above to bring on the mizzle, causing the watching crags to disappear into a sea of murky grey.

We cracked on, coming together in our shared experience of the work, weather, and incredible landscape. We told stories, laughed, and helped each other, too focused on the task at hand and the warmth between us to notice as the frigid water nipped at our fingers and our first pair of once-dry work gloves threw in the towel for the day.

We were passed by several hikers and runners, out on an adventure of their own. Their shouts of thanks as they sped past or feedback of appreciation as they stopped to examine our strange appearance filled our hearts and helped us realise the difference that we were making was tangible – not just to the visitors who use the path, but to the mountain and its wildlife and habitats too.

North Face Snow

Time passes differently in this kind of environment; it would have been easy to forget that the hours were progressing, if not for the indecisive clouds drifting overhead, alternating between sprinkles of snow and clearing away to reveal the remaining warmth of the sun. We were so engrossed in our mission, so determined to complete it, eager to be part of something bigger than ourselves. We encouraged each other up every steep incline, and nodded “well dones” and “great jobs” at each section completed. The five of us were relatively different people, from a range of backgrounds with varying interests, but out on the mountain you come together as a team with a common goal, passion, and enthusiasm.

As we neared our end point, a couple of hikers stopped to ask if we were digging for treasure, and then informed us that the river was too high to cross up ahead. This meant we weren’t going to reach the final group of cross drains below the CIC Hut. Our work had come to a slightly abrupt end, but rather than feel disheartened by the fact, we looked out over the landscape and took in the scale of the difference we’d made throughout the day. We stowed our mattocks and spades, and walked back out to the van, trooping across our newly restored path with great pride in our work.

We are lucky enough at Nevis Landscape Partnership and Friends of Nevis that this sense of achievement both for ourselves and amongst our volunteers is present at every volunteer day that we host; whether it’s path maintenance on the Ben Nevis Mountain Path, removing invasive species up the Glen, or litter picking along the river. The very nature of our work makes a positive difference to the landscape, the wildlife, habitats, and the locals and visitors who come to the area every day. To be a part of something bigger with likeminded people and spend some time in one of the most incredible places in the UK, visit our Events page and sign up to volunteer.