7 Lessons Learnt from Climbing Ben Nevis

This was a very personal goal for me. It was the highest priority on my 30 list, and after climbing Snowdon and Ben Lomond, I wondered whether we could really do it.
The first day of our Scotland trip, we had planned to do it, but I was taken ill with a severe migraine that night so we put it off.
The second day, after much ado, we called it off. The weather was heavy rain.
The third to sixth days we were in and around Aberdeen.
As our holiday drew to a close, I felt more and more miserable and started acting like a complete brat. I didn’t work out why until day 6 when I hit my head and nearly died (you’ll remember this was confirmed by a doctor when we got back and I landed in hospital). The thing I was most regretting? That I would never have even climbed Ben Nevis.  Yes, there was an “even” in there.  And this is how my lack of sense of achievement undermines my confidence.
So on the evening of the sixth day, I drove us back to the west side of Scotland and we slept at the foot of the mountain. In the morning, we packed some snacks and water, and began our ascent.

Rush hour in Scotland, several hundred sheep crossing the Youth Hostel path on Ben Nevis late afternoon.
Rush hour in Scotland, several hundred sheep crossing the Youth Hostel path on Ben Nevis in the late afternoon (on the first day when we didn’t actually climb it).

It took about 8 hours to get up and down. I learned several things:
1. Those respect the mountain people take it too far with their scaremongering. If I’d known it was going to be as straightforward (I did NOT say easy) as it was, I would’ve done it on day 2. I wore trainers and I had my waterproof and gloves.

We built a snowman from snow on the slope. It was the size of my fist, and sits on a 2x4 plank of wood.
We built a snowman from snow on the slope. It was the size of my fist, and sits on a 2×4 plank of wood.  Curiously the lack of ice axe and crampons did not hinder us.

2. You don’t need a fancy hydration system. I took a plastic 500ml bottle of water, I think 750 would have been optimal but a litre would have meant expending too much energy on carrying it up. There is a waterfall around 2/3 of the way up where you can refill anyway.

Waterfall Ben Nevis
Waterfall on Ben Nevis.

3. You don’t need trail mix, energy bars, kendal mint cake and other expensive walkery foods. I took some ready-made Morrisson’s Chicken Salad sandwiches, a cereal bar and a banana. If I’d been closer to home, I would have made my own sandwiches.

Carn Dearg (the mountain next to Ben Nevis) from Ben Nevis
Carn Dearg (the mountain next to Ben Nevis) from Ben Nevis

4. You only need 7 hours of daylight left to set off (you can do the last hour in twilight/darkness if you have a torch), so if it’s 11:00am in August you probably haven’t missed it for the day (we thought this on 3 separate days).

The waterfall that you could refill bottles from (we stopped for lunch beside it).
The waterfall that you could refill bottles from (we stopped for lunch beside it).  It goes on up but my head is in the way, despite my best efforts.

5. You don’t need a headtorch, a normal torch will do (or the flashlight on your phone if you’re confident about the battery life) and you don’t need one torch each, one between two or three is enough unless you’re stupid enough to separate from your companions.

The drinking water fall, from in front of it.
The drinking water fall, from in front of it.

6. Wellies and a map are FAR more useful than crampons and an ice axe.

The remains of the old Victorian observatory on top of Ben Nevis.
The remains of the old Victorian observatory on top of Ben Nevis.

7. More people attempt it than we saw at the summit. Loads of people (about 50%) turned back before the top. While this is fine, I do suspect they then go back to work telling everyone they climbed Ben Nevis when they didn’t actually get to the top.

The trig point at the top, proving we made it.
The trig point at the top, proving we made it.  As the little sign to my right so rightly observes, I do have a weak edge.

8. The top has an emergency shelter so if the weather turns, you can hide out (this one’s more of an observation than a lesson).

The emergency shelter is in that hut at the top of the remains of the old observatory.
The emergency shelter is in that hut at the top of the remains of the old observatory.

After I got so worried about climbing without a spare pair of tractors in my daysack, I am at my wit’s end with the shitty advice coming from “respect the mountain” type people.  Where do they actually get off?  Being an anarchist and a minimalist and a free spirit and having lived among Irish travellers, I am firmly in camp “disrespect the mountain” if it means I’m not carrying so much crap with me that I’m never going to get to the top.  If you’re wondering whether it’s okay to go up or not, and it’s summer conditions, just go for it.  As long as you’re not a complete moron it’s going to be fine.  I mean, you would really have to try to get killed in summer on the tourist path on Ben Nevis.  At which point, your last thoughts should probably be “whoops.”

This song sums up my attitude to the prospect of my own death by misadventure, learn it, before you canoe back down Everest being towed by mountain dolphins:

When we reached the summit, I didn’t really have a sense of achievement. I guess I must be developing a good sense for things such as the top of the mountain really being a halfway point not an end. And this was borne out, because (as with Snowdon) the descent was far more painful on my poor damaged lower leg bones and on my feet. When we reached the little wooden bridge (we took the Youth Hostel Path as it’s got free parking and less hikers before it joins the “tourist path”), the magnitude of the achievement struck me. Not the physical demands because let’s be fair I’d barely done any exercise for a month before we climbed it and I found it was only the compression on my leg bones on the descent that caused an issue. The achievement was that I was able to fulfil a promise to the me from the past who wrote the 30 list. Ben Nevis was one of the most important things on the list. A gateway to bigger things.
I guess now I need to try and work out what those bigger things were.
Any ideas?

Britain's highest war memorial. Because one generation's pretentious junk is another generation's national treasure.
Britain’s highest war memorial. Because one generation’s pretentious junk is another generation’s national treasure.  Actually if you read it, it’s for soldiers from Fort William, the nearest town, which makes more sense than the “Nepalese War graves” all over the UK – why oh why aren’t they home on their mountains where their hearts belonged?  Didn’t they give us enough already?

This was a Travel Tuesday post but it’s taken my internet 8 hours to upload all the pictures even though I’ve well reduced the image sizes.  We really need to get the internet fixed but we have no way of contacting BT since our phone line being partially severed is the whole problem.

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Back from Scotland

I’m back, I got back from the Highlands, Islands and Aberdeenshire this afternoon.  Did you have a nice quiet week without me?  I will catch up on blogs as and when I can.

So I was pretty ill on my first two days of travel and then the day before yesterday I hit my head pretty hard on a large piece of Scotland, so the holiday was far less productive than I anticipated, however, I have now been able to tick the following things off my 30 list:

  1. Visit the Brochs in Scotland (yay I can finally tick this one off – I went to Tappoch broch near Falkirk in April which I did a Youtube video about here: 

    ; and now I have seen two more up at Glenelg – Dun Telve and Dun Troddan which were even more spectacular (I filmed them and THEN realized I haven’t sorted out the sound on my new camera so I may have to Redo from Start).

  2. Go to Skye.  On my 40 list it’s more specific and says I have to go to the caves but my 30 list just says to visit Skye.  Which I did.
  3. Climb Ben Nevis.  This was the most exciting thing I did on holiday (and I did it yesterday so I’m probably suffering from the recency effect) and I felt really proud given that five years ago I couldn’t even walk to the front door unaided because I had a back problem.  Ben Nevis is the highest mountain in the UK and I climbed the crap out of that badboy.  I have the hip pain and “runners knee” (except I get it after I climb mountains) to prove it.

I did a bunch of other stuff as well, including getting sunburnt on the beach 20 miles north of Aberdeen (I couldn’t believe it, I didn’t even take suncream), going around some of the Harry Potter filming locations (I will do an article on this VERY soon) and photographing a beautiful partial moon that was BRIGHT ORANGE (I haven’t seen an orange moon for AGES – probably since I moved away from Bonny Scotland) with my new camera.  It needs a decent telephoto lens but it was cool to have an opportunity to try out astrophotography even if it was a bit of a non-starter.  Here’s how those pics came out:

This was a 10 second exposure of the moon when it was orange, taken in the Highlands. The bit underneath is cloud and it wasn't a full moon.
This was a 10 second exposure of the moon when it was orange, taken in the Highlands. The bit underneath is cloud and it wasn’t a full moon.  The tripod moved slightly when I was taking it.  It was taken with the 18-55mm Canon EOS EF-S lens on my new EOS 650D camera.  The lens isn’t very good as it came without a lens cap and all smudgy and dusty (I got it second hand and cleaned it all up of course; I could never afford a brand new one of these babies), I can’t wait to acquire a telephoto lens to do better pictures!
The tripod stayed still for this one and the ISO was lower.
The tripod stayed still for this one and the ISO was lower.
This is a picture of the Big Dipper with the same camera and lens - if you've ever tried to photograph stars with a camera you'll know why I got so excited when I saw how this one came out. I have brightened this one so you can see the big dipper, I haven't ever used picture editing software before so I'm sorry if it's come out bad but I was so excited to see these stars came out - when I shot them, I was going to delete the picture because I thought it was just blackness. I wish my tripod had stayed still for a longer exposure but I'm so excited to try again next time I get to somewhere with the same lack of light pollution.
This is a picture of the Big Dipper with the same camera and lens – if you’ve ever tried to photograph stars with a camera you’ll know why I got so excited when I saw how this one came out. I have brightened this one so you can see the big dipper better, I haven’t ever used picture editing software before so I’m sorry if it’s come out bad but I was so excited to see these stars came out – when I shot them, I was going to delete the picture because I thought it was just blackness. I wish my tripod had stayed still for a longer exposure but I’m so excited to try again next time I get to somewhere with the same lack of light pollution.
The original pic of the big dipper before I brightened it, should you wish to compare.
The original pic of the big dipper before I brightened it (above), should you wish to compare.

I am very tired and my head is still very sore from where I hit it (egg cracking sound still making me cringe as I keep reliving it over and over) and I set off for home from Fort William at about 11:30pm last night, so I will sign off for now but rest assured, gentle and fearless readers, I shall return in…

Jasmine Honey Adams:  The Full Scottish Breakfast that Loved Me  (cue James Bond theme).

Twelve Inspiring Sunsets

To follow up yesterday’s post, I thought I’d post some sunsets today.  I wanted to write about Newgrange but the hundred or so photos I’d taken have all mysteriously disappeared.  And I’m probably not going back any time in the near future as I have a LOT of other places on my 30 list (a list I wrote when I was 18, of all the things I want to do before I turn 30) to go to.  So, instead, here are lots of pictures of sunsets I’ve collected from England and Scotland (the last one’s from St Paul’s Cathedral, Vatican City, photographed from Rome).  Enjoy.

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Sunset behind Ben Nevis (obscured by clouds), Scotland.
Sunset behind Ben Nevis (obscured by clouds), Scotland.
My mum used to call this colour "sky blue pink."  It was her favourite colour.
My mum used to call this colour “sky blue pink.” It was her favourite colour.
Sunset behind St Paul's Cathedral, the Vatican, Rome.
Sunset behind St Paul’s Cathedral, the Vatican, Rome.

All these photos are my own, and you can use them for whatever you like (please consider acknowledging that you found them on Invoke Delight).  I did stamp the Vatican one because I’ve used it a few times before; it’s one of my favourite travel photos.

Travel Plans 2015

It was raining so much that I couldn't get my phone out to take pictures once we were out of the car!
This was how much of Scafell Pike we could see when we looked across the water. I can’t show you the left hand side (where we were headed to park) because it was raining too heavily to get my camera out of the car.

Sometimes travel plans just go wrong. Other times they don’t materialise at all. I made a plan to climb 3 mountains during the February half term, and I climbed a grand total of half. How do you so comprehensively fail to achieve a goal? Well, it turns out you can’t climb a mountain when the path leading to it has turned into a white waterway. It’s simply too dangerous. So I turned back. While it’s irritating as all hell and disappointing and all the rest of it, I don’t think there’s any shame in knowing when to stop. I trust my own judgement and I really wasn’t confident that the mountain was safe.

It was hard, having bought petrol, made plans, hoiked equipment and trudged all that distance, only to have to admit defeat in the face of white water and whiter fog, which was closing in rapidly. But I know I made the right decision.

It has affected my bigger picture of travel plans for the year though. I had a progression of mountains planned for the year, and hikes, cycles and walks, and now I need to re-order things and try to make it all work with even less time, a problem that’s compounded by the fact that my current work contract has been extended by 5 months, meaning I won’t be free to properly travel until the end of July.

Here’s my current plans for 2015:

1. Climb Ben Lomond and Ben Nevis.

2. Hike the West Highland Way.

3. Climb Scafell Pike.

4. Visit Orkney

5. Visit the Broughs at the top of Scotland

6. Walk Hadrian’s Wall.

7. Cycle the Pennine Way

8. Spend the night in a castle

9. Climb mountains on the Via Ferrata in France and Andorra

10. Climb Serra do Gerez and Serra do Estrela in Portugal

11. Drive to Morocco via Spain (and France, Andorra and Portugal)

And here’s my current music plans:

1. Steeleye Span, March (like, this Sunday).

2. Lynyrd Skynyrd, April.

3. Download festival, June.

When compiling my list, I tried to group things by location, so for example all the Europe stuff can be done in the same trip because it’s all along the Morocco route (or at least, a meandering journey in the direction of Morocco). Again, my UK-based travelling is all in the same relative direction from me – it’s all northwards (except the Pennine Way, which starts 100 miles south of me, but it does end about 150 miles north of my house), with an emphasis on the West of Scotland. As for #8, there are plenty of castles in both Scotland and France which open their doors to tourists – if you can afford their rates. I’m hoping to get one for a cheaper price before tourist season kicks in, but you never know.

For the music plans, I chose a mixture of styles and picked one at £20 (Steeleye Span), one at £40 (L-S) and one expensive festival (Download) so I could see the maximum amount of bands, genres and time-periods without going to a different one every week or bankrupting myself.

A big factor in all my planning was my car. All of my plans are very dependent on my car working and being hospitable inside. I’ve added curtains and put one of the back seats back into the car (they were all removed before) so there’s somewhere for a passenger or rabbit if we need it.

These are the curtains to the car camper - tutorial to follow.
These are the curtains to the car camper – tutorial to follow.

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