Ben Wyvis – History

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A short history of Ben Wyvis follows (but only the last millenia or so!):

“Uxellum Montes” mentioned in ancient times. (Ptolemy)

900-1000AD
“The Chief of a roving pastoral tribe who had their headquarters in the Wyvis corries, a man of renown in the north . . . He captured the wife of the leader of the Norse rovers . . . And she was later recaptured after a great conflict on the slopes of Ben Wyvis . . .” In the end apparently the Chief became a friend of the Norse invaders. (Taken from the “Orcades” of Torpheus, originally in Latin, by Norman MacRae)

June 1767
James Robertson climbed Ben Wyvis. “From Strathpeffer I went to Loch Glash, passing over the top of Ben-we-vis, said to be the highest hill in Ross-shire. It is certainly an excellent scene for a botanist… On the summit I was whitened by a fall of snow, and in many lower parts of the mountain it lay underfoot to a considerable depth” (National Library of Scotland ms. no.2507, p46). James Robertson had been appointed by the Commissioners of the Forfeit Estates to investigate the Jacobite lands, and the Highlands in general, with a view to assessing their mineralogical and botanical potential. His is the first recorded ascent, although it is very unlikely that this was the first time the summit had been traversed.

1769
Thomas Pennant noted: “Sir Henry (Munro, of Foulis) holds a forest from the crown by a very whimsical tenure, that of delivering a snowball on any day of the year that it is demanded; and he seems to be in no danger of forfeiting his right by failure of the quit-rent, for snow lies in the form of a glaciere in the chasms of Benwewish, a neighbouring mountain, throughout the year.” (A Tour of Scotland , 1769, Thomas Pennant)

July 1819
Captain Colby of the Ordnance Survey visited the mountain, whilst carrying out a reconnaissance along the eastern coast of Inverness-shire, Ross-shire and Caithness for the first triangulation of Scotland. The triangulation point was marked with a stone, about two feet square, with a one-inch hole in the centre. (The first triangulation was not finished until 1852, there having been no progress made in the work between 1825 and 1838.)

c1820s
Rev Thomas Grierson climbed Ben Wyvis, in what turned into an epic journey of thirty-three miles. “We crossed the river by a wooden bridge, and passing some cottages, directed our steps to the summit of Ben Wyvis… and, to our mortification, found it covered with newly-fallen snow. Showers of snow fell all day on the mountain” Upon asking a shepherd the best mode of ascent, he told us we could not reach the “Monument” as he termed the Cairn, that day, and that we were sure to be benighted. That put us on our mettle, and we never stopped for three or four hours till we came to the bottom of the last ascent, which was fearfully rugged, and the upper part covered with snow.
It was now half past four, and before we got to the top, it must have been at least six; but we were actually afraid to look at our watches, as there was now a certainty of our being benighted. The snow fell fast, and lay several inches deep; we had to struggle with our hands as well as feet. The difficulty was now to find the “Monument”, for we could not see above fifty or sixty yards in any direction. We agreed to separate, that we might have three chances instead of one. After a considerable time, our young friend shouted, “I have found it!”” (Autumnal Rambles Among the Scottish Mountains, Rev.T.Grierson, 1850)

The ascent of Ben Wyvis became a popular undertaking in Victorian times, with the most usual route being from the south. The ascent usually started at Achterneed, near Strathpeffer, traversing the broad and relatively featureless slopes leading up to join the main summit ridge.

1886
Wyvis Lodge built by Walter Shoolbred, a London cabinet-maker, at the head of Loch Glass. The furniture and fittings were of the highest quality.

1892
The first person who claimed to have climbed all the Munros, Rev A E Robertson, apparently failed to reach the summit of Glas Leathad Mor, turning back not far from the summit when the rain came on. It is now thought likely that he never did reach the top of Ben Wyvis – the only Munro which he did not summit on.

1935-9
The present triangulation pillar is erected by the Ordnance Survey, in preparation for the second triangulation of Scotland. The actual triangulation was delayed by the outbreak of war, and was eventually carried out in 1949-50.

1970
The first recorded graded climb on the mountain. Klettershoe, 90m, Very Difficult, on the cliffs of An t-Socach above Coire Mor.

23rd January 1985
Martin and Joy Moran had a narrow escape, when they skied onto a cornice near the summit and triggered an avalanche in Coire na Feola. Joy recounts how they strayed slightly off course on the final approach towards the summit: “Suddenly I slipped over what seemed to be a small bump in the snow; but found my skis hanging in space poised over what in fact was a considerable drop! Martin held out his ski-stick to help me back to my feet, but before we could conjure a single thought I heard a dull crack and was immediately carried off downwards.” Martin recounts how he realised that they had broken through a cornice, and found himself struggling for survival: “I struggled desperately to keep upright and stay on the surface, alternately swimming and clawing in the amorphous flowing mass, but powerless to get free. As the slab crumbled into huge blocks, I was certain that my skis would get trapped, twisting and snapping my legs like matchwood. Beyond that was the imminent prospect of being buried. After maybe ten seconds, the avalanche finally halted. I was left half-submerged in the debris, but seemingly in one piece. Apart from a madly thumping heart, a deathly silence and a ghostly whiteness reigned once more. . .” Martin found Joy about 30 metres away, lying in front of a block the size of a small car. Joy recounts: “The cloud had cleared a little and looking back up I saw that the slope was devastated across a width of two, possibly three hundred metres – stripped completely bare to its grass surface. Above it hung the broken jagged edges of a cornice.” They had witnessed a full-depth slab avalanche, on a slope angle of maybe 35 degrees, carrying them down approximately 100m from the ridge. This happened only about 200 metres from the summit cairn. (quotes taken from The Munros in Winter, Martin Moran)

31st March 1985
Dr Hamish Macintyre, 27, of Abriachan, was caught by an avalanche whilst cross-country ski-ing near the west end of An Cabar, and was swept down the mountainside to his death. There had been heavy snowfalls down to sea level during the days preceding the accident. Dr Macintyre was reported missing by his wife, and at first light the following morning a search was mounted by Dundonnell Mountain Rescue Team, assisted by Police dog handlers and a helicopter from RAF Lossiemouth. Shortly after 7am the helicopter crew spotted ski tracks in the snow near the west end of An Cabar summit. Conditions were described as difficult, with low cloud and snow, but the Police dog handlers and dogs were winched down and quickly located Dr Macintyre’s body, trapped under five feet of snow. The officers retrieved the body, which was taken off the mountain by helicopter. (information from the Inverness Courier)

April 1985
Craig Caldwell climbed Ben Wyvis, on his marathon journey over all the Munros and Corbetts.

November 2002
A £42,000 programme to repair and upgrade a previously eroded and boggy section of the Ben Wyvis mountain footpath in Ross-shire is now complete after several months of work. Funded by Scottish Natural Heritage, the upgraded path runs for 1.5km, from the entrance to the Ben Wyvis National Nature Reserve to the steep section below An Cabar on the south-west flank of the massif. (Article in the Press & Journal)

Autumn 2008
A further programme to upgrade the upper section of the An Cabar path is undertaken – this lasted until spring 2009.