My love for mountains, climbing and pretty much everything outdoors obviously alerted Facebook’s algorithym and an advert for learning winter mountaineering skills in Scotland popped up. I have always wanted to learn how to use ice picks and crampons so I signed up for a weekend expedition with Much Better Adventures (and Atlas Mountaineering) heading for Ben Nevis. This is my very disappointing review.
How, Why & When did I book with Much Better Adventures?
I’m always looking for more adventure. we’ve been skydiving in Queensland, camped on top of a volcano in Guatemala (3976m) whilst watching another explode, dived the shark infested waters of Belize, been canyoning in Croatia, caving in Yorkshire, hiked an active volcano (2212m) in Sumatra. I guess you could say we love adventure and love the challenge of positive risk taking.
So when I saw an opportunity to increase the skill bank and go winter mountaineering in Scotland, I jumped at the chance. You see, Scotland is the fatherland for me and I’ve spent a fair amount of time up there. I saw this as an opportunity to introduce my kids to the cloudy lands of Bens, Glens and Lochs.
I booked and paid on March 18th 2019 through the Much Better Adventures website.
How Much Did the Trip Cost?
The two day trip cost £333 for 2 days not including any travel to & from Scotland or in fact food. The tour guide forgot I was vegan, so I provided my own meals too.
What Was Offered Instead?
I received the first email from Connor, the tour leader, from Atlas Mountaineering, on the 23rd April (just 24 days before the trip was due to go ahead) stating that winter conditions were not favourable and that we could not complete the original course.
However, we would complete the following skills instead:
- – Learning to effectively plan a safe winter day out
- – Group planning
- – Avalanche avoidance
- – Navigation
- – Important emergency procedures; what to do should something go wrong
- – Emergency shelter building as well as what to do with a casualty, be it their evacuation or care
- – Movement on steep rocky terrain
- – Use of helmets and climbing harnesses
- – Climbing-specific knots
- – Tying into a harness
- – Belaying a climber
- – Use of a rope
- – Abseiling
- – Lowering another climber
- – What to do if your belay device has been dropped
- -As this would be slightly different to the winter skills you have signed up for, we will be including another instructor for your weekend, this presents great value for money and will allow you some great time learning with either myself or Rob.
I thought this sounded okay. I started learning to climb back in January 2017 in Norwich and it’s been a bit sporadic and indoors since then which is why we spent three days in Derbyshire climbing outdoors. I love rock climbing so the chance to hone some skills and practice more was appealing.
Plus Much Better Adventures refund policy would only allow for a 50% refund if I cancelled. I’d already organised our family’s travelling around this trip so it would be inconvenient to cancel it all.
Driving Up to Scotland
As we were staying in the north of the UK, we didn’t envisage any problems driving up to Fort William where Ben Nevis is located but due to a large accident we had to detour through the Lake District. What a shame! I spent my youth growing up in the Lakes and any opportunity we have to go back is relished.
Any way, I’m digressing, I received a phone call from Connor whilst we were driving and we discussed the trip to Ben Nevis – which is the UK’s tallest mountain at 1345m. I already knew that we wouldn’t be completing the winter skills so we discussed scrambling the north face and taking the route over the CMD arrete. I told him how excited I was as I was planning to take the kids over the CMD arrete the following week, albeit from a different route and I’d love the practice.
Day 1: The 3 sisters
We met Connor in the lobby of the hotel and he took us over to The Three Sisters in the Valley Glen where he proceeded to teach us about risk. It was painfully eye-rolling, stuff kids should have learned in primary school, and I had this sneeking suspicion that the entire weekend was going to be like this. It’s a sad state of affairs when grown adults cannot prepare for a walk on the mountains.
Sadly the other people in my group were not risk takers in any way. Two females worked in retail and were pretty honest that they didn’t know the first thing about mountains, let alone scrambling or rock climbing. I guess if nothing else it was an insight into how aversion to risk affects adults!
We hiked the middle of the three sisters, Gearr Aonach, with a very small section of Grade 0 scrambling. Embarrassingly we were forced to wear our climbing harnesses and helmets for the scrambling which was so basic my kids do similar. We ticked off one of the learning skills though if nothing else! It took us an eternity to get over the scrambling section (as the others had never done it before) and I saw a slightly different route which would have suited me much better. I waited until everyone had completed their scramble before I asked to do it and was told no as I might find it too hard. Literally, this route was 6 ft/1.8m high and it consisted of jagged, scissored rock on multiple ledges. It was SO easy!
I was livid at being patronised by a man half my age on what I may or may not find difficult. Surely that’s the point of the weekend, right? This was sadly one of many misogynistic comments I endured throughout the weekend. Although I kept my calm and didn’t say anything, I am now wondering why I didn’t combat the patronising and insulting comments? Why do we as women keep quiet? I really should have challenged him. Especially when he later made a comment about ‘big girl pants’. OH BOY!
The aim of the weekend for many in my group, including the tour leader, seemed to be about getting up and down the mountain in the quickest amount of time and ‘bagging’ the mountain. I just don’t understand this mentallity. What is the point of walking/hiking so quickly that you miss the scenery, learn nothing and damage the pathway by kicking it all up? I noticed that I was frequently being left behind during the hiking by up to 40m at a time.
This doesn’t bother me, I like my own company, I’m confident on the mountains AND I hike at my own pace, I don’t alter it because I know what I’m capable of. I can’t spend up all my energy just hiking because I have a gazzilion other things to do after the hike. Gearr Aonach was nothing difficult. I do very similar on a daily basis walking the dog with the kids. Big dog = Big walks…. I was dissapointed by our introduction to ‘mountaineering’ as we were finished by 3pm and I hadn’t learned anything but I was optimistic about Ben Nevis.
Day 2: Ben Nevis
We started the Ben Nevis hike from the north car park walking up to the Charles Inglis Clark Memorial Hut. We hiked almost surrounded entirely in clouds. There were just a few fleeting moments when the cloud coverage parted and I got a glimpse of the valley or mountain.
The hiking pace was incredibly quick for me, I’m just under 5ft/1.5m, so I have little legs. Distance is not an issue but the pace is. I was frequently left behind by 50m or so and the only time I caught up was when they stopped for a break but then started again as soon as I caught them.
I don’t care that they left me behind. I don’t give a shit if I hike slowly. What I care about is that the same decency was not afforded to me when I wanted to scramble quickly. I love scrambling and I find it really easy but I was at the back of the queue waiting. It was literally painful watching them kick the rocks down on to my helmet. I’ve never met such slow but noisy and messy scramblers before. I really thought that people signing up for a winter mountaineering course would at least have some relevant experience.
By the time we summitted the Ben, one female in the group (we were a group of 4; 3 females, 1 male!) was so utterly spent she struggled to get down. This is why you don’t hike so quickly and save some energy for descending. Half way down our descent the other female said
Are we going down a different route? I thought I didn't recognise it
Regardless of the route up to Ben Nevis it’ll be approximately 16km return trip and an ascent of 1300m. In terms of difficulty, I wouldn’t say it’s very hard but it could have been made a lot more fun!
My Complaints about Much Better Adventures
I really understand that the weather wasn’t favourable to complete the winter course which is why I agreed to the new course however of the skill list provided for the new course we completed just 23.5% of the skills and NO rock climbing in sight. Not only that, we didn’t cross the CMD arrette and an additional tour guide was not made available.
Ignoring the chronic misogyny that came from the tour guide, I can forgive him for forgetting I was vegan but I feel that my learning needs weren’t met and most of the time I was thoroughly bored, standing around waiting for other people and not being allowed to do what I was capable of. Why shouldn’t I complain about that? Is it fair on me to pay £333 and just ‘take it on the chin’ because we’re part of a group? I don’t think that’s fair at all. So I complained.
Actually I complained multiple times and received responses that ranged from belittling to just insulting.
Much Better Adventure’s Happiness Guarantee
Apparently Much Better adventures have a happiness guarantee. It’s laughable especially since the email address bounces back! Eventually after I complained three times, they offered me a £50 VOUCHER to use on one of their other adventures but have refused to give me a refund because the rest of the group were happy!
The TrustPilot Review Response
I was a bit irrate with their overall email responses so I left a TrustPilot review. You can read it here. To which they obviously responded…
Again, the training element was also dictated by the group, most of who enjoyed the trip and provided feedback that they had learnt a lot despite not being able to do all of the winter skills. We received 5 star reviews from some of the members of your group who felt that the trip well suited the description provided beforehand of the new itinerary.
Another example of how you shut down women complaining is by telling them they’re the only one who has a problem. It’s a form of bullying and it doesn’t work with me because I could not give a flying fuck if I’m the only one complaining. She already admitted that the group weren’t very advanced and their skillset wasn’t very good. Of course they’re not going to complain if they were stretched in ability. However the course didn’t meet MY needs and so (as a paying client) I am prefectly entittled to complain and I will so.
I will also be following up the complaint with Trading Standards.
How can you learn to winter climb?
Save yourself £300 by finding an ice climbing centre. There are ice climbing centres throughout the UK from London to Perthshire. There’s actually one just south of Fort William, Ice Factor, and they charge £45 per session.
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I don’t always make complaints about where we’ve been. I promise! Check out where else we’ve been and what we’ve been up to recently. We’ve been on the road since 2016, mostly slow travelling our way around the globe.