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