Ben Lomond? More like Ben SNOWmond!

Having just got back from climbing Mount Snowdon, I thought I should write up my ascent of Ben Lomond from early April.  I’ve written this from beginning to end rather than as a “travel piece” as I wanted to share some useful information about the climb.

Ben Lomond.
Ben Lomond.

Ben Lomond is 974m high and it’s a Munro but it’s not even in the top 10 highest mountains in Scotland – which starts with Ben Lawers at 1214 metres high, which is over 200m higher than the highest mountain in England (Scafell Pike, 978m), as a reference. Ben Lomond is only 4m lower than Scafell Pike, so I thought Ben Lomond would be a better climb since S.P. was an abortive mission back in February due to flooding and the whole of Wasdale (where S.P. is) had given me a VERY eerie “get out” kinda vibe so I was in no rush to return. Also Ben Lomond was on my ORIGINAL 30 list before I subbed it for S.P. when I posted about my list as I thought it was unfair to England if all the mountains from the UK were from Scotland (and one from Wales). I retract this wholeheartedly – Scottish mountains are just the absolute best in the UK, seconded by their milder friends, the Welsh mountains.

Scottish mountains are like dogs – they’re so excited to see you and boisterous and so much outdoor fun (but they can bite you); Welsh mountains are like rabbits – they’re very mild mannered and friendly, but they’d never eat you unless you looked like a carrot (but they might nibble); and English mountains are like cats – they just refuse to co-operate even when you bring them treats, and insist on hanging out in hard-to-reach places.

It started off in Rowardennan car park, which is on the East side of Loch Lomond.  To get to the car park, you have to drive to take a left at Drymen (Rowardennan is signposted) and drive up a very long country road with forest on one side and Loch Lomond on the other.

Parking was fairly cheap, although, being early April, it was still the off-season when I went (which surprised me as I’m used to the tourist season starting a month earlier, in March, in England).

There is a set of public toilets that are near the beginning of the route, and these were excellent with benches to sit on to put boots etc on since it was drizzly raining outside.  I decided since it was drizzling to go up in my trainers.  My husband went up in his walking boots, which he has had since about 1997, which were a poor choice as they have cracked, hard soles.  His feet got wet before mine.

A mysterious trapdoor in the ladies toilets.  I wondered where it led, but couldn't get it opened to find out.
A mysterious trapdoor in the ladies toilets. I wondered where it led, but couldn’t get it opened to find out.

The initial climb is in a straight line and everything seems easy if somewhat steep as you get up past the treeline.  Then, out of nowhere, it makes you choose a path, left or right, neither of which seem to be going UP the mountain.  But that’s okay because the summit straight in front of you isn’t Ben Lomond, it’s the taller one to the left that looks like it’s on a separate mountainside (because it is).

So it’s very important to go left here, otherwise you will spend a VERY long time being lost.  When we climbed it, starting at about 7am and ending around 11am, it wasn’t teriffically busy.  We were literally the only people on the mountain until we started our descent, so if anything had gone wrong we would have been a bit stuck.

I Considered the Evidence for The Fauna of Ben Lomond

As soon as we started on the left hand path, we were suddenly attacked by a very very harsh strong wind and it still drizzled constantly on this bit.  Loch Lomond was on our left at this point.  We kept going and saw loads of what we thought was dog poo, although since seeing so much of it that looks the same, I think it must have been fox poo.  There are no wolves in Scotland, as they were hunted to extinction, so it definitely wasn’t wolves.  Which was odd because all the poo was larger.  This probably doesn’t matter to most readers, but being an archaeology graduate, this did bug me, so I did some research and found two possible animals – the Scottish Wildcat, or a special red-fox subspecies (a giant red fox breed) called Vulpis vulpis vulpis (it’s apparently much larger than the standard red fox vulpis vulpis crucigera).  This giant red fox is apparently only native to Scotland.  Since there was also plenty of what looked like giant oval-shaped rabbit poo, I inferred that the giant rabbit poo came either from deer, because sheep do similar droppings, or mountain hares.

This theory was borne out when we turned a corner slightly and came face to face with two grazing deer.  They must have heard us coming but they still seemed surprised, and only ran off when my camera made it’s “beep beep beep beep” turning on noise (the MOST annoying thing when trying to photograph ANY animals at all as it always makes them move).  So we could tick that mystery off as solved (although I was disappointed that it wasn’t mountain hares, but you can’t be TOO disappointed because deer are soooooo adorable).  We saw quite a few other deer out and about at this time of the morning, so I think the droppings probably weren’t from mountain hares.

Shortly afterwards, I saw an interesting-shaped rock on the ground.  It was a pentagon, and it was almost regular, which was amazing because it was clearly done by natural processes such as weathering – there were no cut marks on it at all!  This was not evidence of animal activity, but it was still an interesting feat of nature so I took a photo.

An interestingly shaped rock.
An interestingly shaped rock.

We reached a gate thingy then we went along another path for quite a while, then we went through a second gate where we soon found a sign that said Ben Lomond.  We joked with each other that we must have reached the top -although we knew full well that this was clearly the start of its prominence.  The prominence is the part of the mountain where it’s not part of another peak, mountain etc, which is almost always lower than its elevation.  When people talk about “Ultras” or “Ultra Prominents” they mean mountains whose prominence is over 1500 metres, but that just means that 1500 metres or more of the mountain sticks up above all the rest of the mountains in a group or the rest of the land if it’s on its own.  The first “Ultra” on my list of 20 mountains is Arcalod, in France.

Are we there yet??
Are we there yet??

We carried on past the sign and the drizzle remained stopped but the wind started to blow worse, after a little while I took this next picture of the view, it’s the last picture I got before we came back down.

This was the very last picture I got before that whiteout in the distance reached us and started gnawing at my face.
This was the very last picture I got before that whiteout in the distance reached us and started gnawing at my face.

Those clouds moved VERY fast, the wind must have been blowing them across, and we then fought with side winds of over 60mph and some very vicious hail at one side of us.  There was no shelter from it, as Ben Lomond is a very exposed mountain, and we basically had to climb it with one hand covering our left ear to protect us from the 60 mph hailstones.

Whiteout in April

As we trudged ever upwards, we discovered that the snow we’d seen from below was actually made from these same hailstones that were attacking us – millions of them combining to form icy snowlike stuff, covering the surfaces more and more, until a bit where we needed to scramble (a climb not long or steep enough to require rope) up a 20 foot section and suddenly the ground was totally white.  The path was just about visible.  Then as we kept going the path disappeared completely, and it stayed like that with the biting hailstones and wind, which my husband found he could sit backwards on, and be kept upright (literally, he was sitting as if he was on a chair, and the only thing holding him in place was this strong wind).  We were frequently being blown sideways and progress became very very difficult, until we finally got to the top.  The wind and hail were awful, and I couldn’t get my phone out to take any photos because I was afraid it would get blown away.  All the “respect the mountain” type information goes on about taking an ice axe and crampons, but I don’t think they consider that these aren’t the ONLY solution or the ONLY things you need to take up a mountain, because the main problem was the wind and the velocity of these sharp hailstones, they would have just been dead weight in my pack.  I think the crampons at least would have been useful on the top but they wouldn’t have solved the worst difficulty which was not being able to open your eyes because of the barrage of projectiles.  It was like being repeatedly shot in the face with an airgun, and we both had a lot of redness and bruising on one side of our face from our ascent (and I had the lower half of my face covered with a cotton scarf for protection).  There was no view, just hail in our faces causing a total whiteout, so we didn’t linger, and turned back, making our way back down the mountainside a lot more quickly.  The wind and snow stopped again when we reached the Ben Lomond sign (peculiously) and by this time of the day, the path we had climbed was now covered in water and we were paddling back down the mountain.

My face on the way back down.
My face on the way back down.

Mountain Survival

I didn’t really feel much of a sense of achievement because it was mostly a survival issue from before we reached the summit (the top):  The temperature was about -10 and we needed to get down to the tree line as quickly as possible before hypothermia set in, because I’d brought my standard winter gloves instead of my amazingly protective +3 Gloves of Snowboarding (I’ve never snowboarded, I have them for when I go to the Alps).  Standard gloves are fine for normal ground-level snow (when you’re not at any altitude) or for hill walking, but when you get over about 700m above sea level, I would strongly recommend using skiing gloves or snowboarding gloves (not those shitty thinsulate ones) as my hands went numb in my gloves!  It’s good to learn the exact limitations and appropriate times for equipment from experiences such as this though – as I said when I didn’t get to the top of Scafell Pike, sometimes you learn more from what you FAILED to do than what you did do, because you can often see what you need to do next time.  This time, I failed to take appropriate gloves, and I can now see exactly when I need thicker gloves (and when I went up Snowdon, I did NOT make the same mistake, and I will never take the wrong gloves up a mountain ever again).  On the flipside, I was glad I took my trainers and not my snow shoes because they are lightweight and flexible and don’t cause me excessive ankle strain or leg tiredness, and in fact keep my feet more comfortable because I get too hot in big boots.  I find that while all the respect the mountain type people have a point that walking boots are a good choice of footwear, I strongly disagree that they are “essential” for any of the non-technical climbs in the UK.  I have struggled to complete mountains in boots (I wore my snow boots to do Scafell Pike because it was February and I would have needed to wear them with my crampons except there was no snow on S.P. in Feb) because as my grandma used to say, “heavy boots weigh you down” and I find I can walk much further, climb higher and balance better in trainers.  Different strokes for different folks.  There’s more than one way to climb a mountain.

On the way back down we took a different path for a small section where we ended up climbing down a waterfall which was awesome and really pretty:

The second waterfall we climbed down.
The second waterfall we climbed down.  Going round would have been just as slippery and also muddy and therefore less awesome.

Farewell, Lovely Trainers

This was the footpath on the way back.
This was the footpath on the way back.  It’s underwater at the front too, just a different depth.

The streams on the descent were the first point my trainers got wet, but ultimately it was their death toll because we had nowhere to dry them, since we didn’t check into a hotel for another day, so they went mouldy or something, and I washed them twice in the washing machine when I got home, but they just had to go to the bin in the end because they smelled absolutely foul.  Ben Lomond might have been their swan song, but they were a very good pair of trainers and they got me up and down the mountain with no blisters or anything.  While some very expensive walking boots would have kept my feet dry (cheap ones generally don’t), I didn’t really have a problem with getting wet on the descent.

Back at the car, I changed into my jelly sandals so my feet could dry out while I drove us to the Loch Lomond entertainment complex (there was an exciting adventure with a dog cafe).  I think the whole climb took about four and a half hours up and down, because we set off at about 7am and got to the car at 11:30am.

The next day, we checked into our beautiful hotel (we were staying in our car camper around Loch Lomond, which is really hard as there are major byelaws so you have to follow the rules or risk getting a big fine) and I found for the first day that it was hard to walk down the stairs because my leg bones just under my knees were really swollen and couldn’t bend properly on stairs!!  I had done loads of training and particularly built up the muscles around my knees but my bones seemed to let me down.  I do have a problem with them anyway ever since I bruised the bone on one leg (and the swelling tore the skin right open – I have a very sexy scar on one leg because of it) a couple of years ago, when I fell down the stairs and landed with my full body weight on something sharp with my shin.  The other leg seemed to get compression problems from being walked on for six weeks straight because I didn’t take a single day off because it happened during teacher training and if you take more than three days off (at all) you fail it at the training provider I was attending.  As an aside, my childhood dog died two weeks later at the ripe old age of 16, so I took a day off for that instead.  I will write an article on Dillon one day because he was the best dog in the universe.  But that was all 2 years ago.  The bone pain from mountain climbing went away after a few days, although I’ve got it again today, the day after climbing Snowdon.  I will have to look into this at some point.

Phew, I’ve FINALLY posted about this trip up Mount Ben Lomond. Expect another mountain post about Snowdon very soon.  I am aware I keep saying I climbed Snowdon yesterday, and the date stamp will say this was published on Wednesday, but it’s going to be posted just after midnight so when I say yesterday all through the start and end of this blog post, I mean Monday, when I climbed Snowdon.  It’s only taken me all afternoon to finish writing this post what with seeing the (private not NHS) psychiatrist today and everything else!

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[wellness] The False Concept of Cooking

I’ve always been a big fan of eating whole, unharassed, clean vegetables. I really love the simplicity of it. I think it’s one of the things I love most about my rabbits – we can pretty much eat the same food. However, I didn’t always know how to eat. My biggest mistake when I first became vegan was that I tried looking for foods in the supermarket that were beyond the fruit and veg aisle. I found myself frustrated with the conventional foods and convenience foods in the parts of the supermarket that I’d always bought food from, the fact that dietary staples such as Packet Pasta (an example would be Kraft Macaroni), vegetarian frozen food, vegetarian chilled ready meals, curry sauces, snacks and even drinks were full of animal products. I had many a meltdown in the supermarket where I would just walk out of the shop and sit in my car and cry, because I didn’t know what to do, I was certain I wasn’t going to eat that crap, but I didn’t know what to eat.

Something my aunt told me recently, when I told her a vegan friend has found out she’s gluten intolerant, was “she’s going to have to learn to cook then.”

This is the big myth that keeps us all subjugated and enslaved to a world of shit food.

You don’t have to learn to cook. You don’t need to learn to cook.

You need to learn to eat.

A lot of “so you want to be vegan” type books (apologies if this book is real, I’m categorizing a type of book here) tell you that you need to eat more whole foods, that you can get “meaty” foods like tofu, Facon (fake bacon), scheeze (fake cheese) and so on, to replace the meat in your food.

Meat loss is not the problem.

All these eating books have built up the idea that you need to replace the meat with a solid, meat-textured object, that you only need to check the ingredients are animal free, and that if you do, POP! You’re vegan.

This type of eating is unsustainable, and really it undermines the fundamental principles of veganism. Instead of trying to find foods that you used to eat which happen to be vegan, and attempting to subsist off those (beans on toast anyone), or trying to “veganize” foods which are not vegan, or imitate foods, here’s a staggering thought:
How about try eating totally different foods, including lots of fruit and vegetables, and see where that takes you?

I’m only being slightly sarcastic here because it wasn’t until my mum died of cancer in December that I realised what I’d been doing wrong with my eating habits this entire time. We all do it. It’s so ingrained into us from birth that we must eat a particular way and when we question it we’re told it’s because of nutrition and when we get ill we’re told it’s because we’re not eating a particular way. On paper, I’ve always thought I understood this concept of “changing the way you eat” and thought it just meant, “stop eating animal products” and “move away from meat and two veg nonsense.” It’s so very much bigger than that.

What if the answer was to totally break free from all the things you think you know about cooking, all your kitchenware, all your dishes, steamers, microwave, etc etc? And then, once you’ve started listening to your body, identifying what it needs, and acting on it, you could maybe add some of those things back in?

After I got the news about my mum, I couldn’t eat anything other than raw vegetables for a week.

I didn’t understand why. My 22 year old sister, across the country, was spontaneously having the exact same problem. We both fundamentally knew, no matter what anyone told us was the cause of our mother’s death, that food was the key. In our house growing up, a meal would be chicken nuggets and chips, with maybe a tablespoon of tinned peas or sweetcorn. Snacks were crisps, biscuits and in summer, home-made ice lollies made from that stuff you dilute. We never had real fruit juice, fresh vegetables or fruit. Sometimes at Christmas there would be tangerines. When we went to clear her house, we found receipts for food shopping. Ready meals full of processed meat and other junk. I had changed the way I ate when I first left home at 18. Moving in with an Aunt while I finished school had been a culture shock. The idea of eating two freshly cooked vegetables with the evening meal literally astounded me. I felt so healthy. I didn’t even consider the possibility that this was only a moderately healthy meal. I still filled my face with chocolate and crisps, now adding biscuits and cakes to the list.

Sometimes, when I’m reading about nutrition and I come across some of the delicate balances of nutrients that we humans need, I wonder how it is that some people are still alive. I wonder how my sister and I didn’t grow up with some serious developmental disorders due to what we were eating.

I went to university. I became vegetarian. I felt like I’d never been healthier. I swapped sausages (which I’d always detested) for vegetarian sausages. Chicken nuggets became vegetarian nuggets. Chips (fries) were still chips. Pot noodles and spaghetti hoops were still the same too. Crisps (potato chips) were still a daily dietary staple. So was chocolate. I struggled with my weight, constantly fighting to get down to a 10 (US6). I exercised and didn’t understand why I was tired all the time. It literally didn’t occur to me that my poor diet was making me ill.

Fast forward two years. I became vegan. I took the “3 week vegan challenge” and, once the three weeks were up, I never really got round to eating eggs or dairy again. I felt healthier, stronger, happier, more outgoing, my grades soared and I was finally on track to get the degree classification I’d been obsessing over for the past two years. Never had I felt better. All my life, I’d been plagued by stomach pains, stomach cramps, trapped wind, bloating and a constant feeling of nausea. I had actually associated that nausea with feeling full. When I became vegan, after the first two weeks, all these problems went away. I realised that it wasn’t normal to feel like this, and that I had the power to avoid it. That was when I first started wondering if I was lactose intolerant. I had a few false starts in the first year; every time I slipped up, I felt the familiar nausea and pains in my stomach. It became a big decision-making factor in what I ate. And nothing vegan ever made me feel like that.

Two years later, I’d become quite ill. I’d been working at McDonalds and eating fries for lunch every day, or a hash brown if I was on the breakfast shift. Milkshakes started creeping their way in. And ice creams. Soon I was feeling sick all the time again, and I had forgotten why this happened. I thought it might be gluten, I was adamant that it couldn’t possibly be milk. After six months off gluten and feeling only slightly better (probably because my favourite food was pasta and cheese sauce), I had to concede that it was milk. I was being sick several times every day. I got very ill with a mobility problem and was in bed most days, with no money to buy good food. I finally cut out milk and, while some of my problems improved, others got worse.

I had cut out milk, but I hadn’t replaced it with anything. Yes, I was drinking soy milk instead of regular milk in my tea, but there was also the lasagna, mac and cheese, yoghurt; I had replaced them with totally different milk-free foods, but I hadn’t replaced the nutrients. Primarily, the protein.

I didn’t realise this until a fitness instructor was sat next to me at lunch one day and she looked at my food, tapped the plastic container and demanded “where is your protein?” in a particular tone that the written word cannot emulate. I looked at my food. I looked at her. Nettled at criticism of my food, I said, “I have protein with my evening meal.” She told me it wasn’t good enough. We never spoke much again, but in the back of my mind it got me thinking. Where was my protein?

I got wrapped up in other things such as teacher training, and my nutrient stores got even more depleted, until one day, early last year, I realised I couldn’t carry on. I was working 70 hours per week and not getting enough time to eat. I got diagnosed with anaemia and I knew it wasn’t the only problem. I looked at all my proteins in the cupboard and I could have cried. Quinoa, advertised as a complete protein, is one of the worst sources of protein of everything ever. White pasta has more protein. My Quorn, a vegetarian substitute for meat, which I was only eating for the protein because I hated the stuff, but it said on the label “good source of protein” was the second worst offender. In some cases, less than ten grams of protein per 100g. I believe, after years of false advertising, that they changed the labelling in the last 3 months because it’s a terrible source of protein. Nuts, textured vegetable protein and tofu all did a lot better. Nuts were the best. And lentils were really good as well. Mushrooms were another shocker, with hardly any protein in them. As a comparison, I looked at the meat that my boyfriend kept in a particular freezer drawer. The salmon, lamb, and chicken were all good sources of protein – but even the salmon was not as good as peanuts and pistachios.

I went around all the foods in my kitchen and I felt like my eyes had opened. I suddenly had a basis to found my dietary principles on. I was still eating a lot of processed and convenience foods, but I figured at the time that it was fine as long as I got my protein. However, I had noticed that I was struggling to get my five-a-day fruit and veg.

That was where I was at when my mum died.

Then my attitude to food was turned on its head even more.

Instead of eating for “taste” or “favourites” or “comfort” how about eating for nutrition? So, eat things that will enable you to get 45g of protein a day, eat enough things containing vitamins and minerals, get your 90g of carbs and 70g of fat. Ensure that the protein includes the right amounts of each amino acid, and that the fat contains essential fatty acids.

As long as you are doing that, it doesn’t matter how you eat. You can eat that as a meat eater, a vegetarian, a vegan, raw vegan, fruitarian or sproutarian (sorry, juicearians, if you even exist, it’s impossible to get all your nutrients from your specific diet).

When my mum died, and I was just eating vegetables, I began researching raw food diets because they have almost become fad diets. I did a series of articles on them, which explained what they all were and weighed up how easy it was to get each nutrient from each diet.

I then took that one step further and identified ten vegan sources for each nutrient, because I was sick of people saying that it was an unhealthy diet.

While I was researching all these different diets, I became very attracted to fruitarianism. I thought the ideals of the diet were beautiful, and reminded me of a renaissance garden of Eden type fantasy. Having researched it, though, I knew it wasn’t the healthiest diet to follow 100%. I know that some people do anyway, but on the other hand there are people who eat nothing but junk food – neither of these is optimal but it won’t kill you straight away, so people keep doing it. I felt myself changing inside. I felt that fruit was the answer. I had never really been interested in fruit before, so this was a revelation.

A typical fruitarian meal
A typical fruitarian meal that I ate.

So at the moment, I’m a 60% fruitarian, 40% vegan (cooked). For this reason, I eat breakfasts and lunches that are fruit and nuts. Some days, like proper fruitarians, I will graze throughout the day. Other days, I feel the need for a “conventional meal” so I prepare all my fruit and nuts and put it in a bowl to eat. It makes me feel like I’ve actually eaten, and is easier to keep track of what I’ve eaten.
Since I’ve started doing this, I’ve felt like I’m functioning at a much higher intellectual level than before – no, I don’t mean it’s made me smarter, I mean, I was struggling with processing power, my brain wasn’t processing things very quickly and was struggling to take in new information. Not only that, but I was feeling very tired through the day, pretty much four hours of tiredness, followed by four hours of wakefulness. Since I’ve been eating fruit for my daytime meals, these problems seem to have disappeared.

Another fruitarian meal
Another fruitarian meal that I’ve eaten

I’ve started eating fruits I never would have considered before – I always used to worry about buying fruit, because like many people, I would constantly buy it, eat a small amount, then it would go off, then I would throw it away. I got so mad at my wastefulness that I stopped buying fruit for years after a particularly bad incident with a bunch of bananas. Making a commitment to eat fruit during the day eliminates this problem because the fruit just gets eaten. I’ve gone from having no fruit in a week (just veg) to having four to six pieces in a “meal.” I enjoy food shopping a lot more and I finally feel like I’m getting enough of everything. I’ve also stopped skipping meals since I’ve been seeing fruit as a viable alternative to regular meals – before, I would often skip breakfast and lunch on the basis that I would look in the cupboard and feel like I just didn’t have the food I wanted to eat – but I didn’t know what food I was craving.

Another thing I really like, for why I skipped the raw vegan step entirely, is that you don’t need a bunch of fancy equipment or cooking skills to be a fruitarian. Raw Vegans cheat a bit and use all sorts of weird and wonderful food processing techniques to make their food look and taste like “real food” whereas fruitarians just accept their food in the shape and size and flavour that it comes in, and eat it whole and unaltered. I really feel like it makes me connect with what I’m eating and where it came from in a way that raw veganism could never do for me.  I’ve found myself drinking a lot more water since I’ve started eating fruit, too, which generally improves my wellbeing.

I don’t think I am never going to be a full-time long term fruitarian, because I feel that other foods also have value, but I do enjoy a good fruit fest and think that if you’re having the same problems that I was, the addition of fruit and nuts to your balanced diet could be your answer.