Last October, at almost exactly the same time as this year’s challenge, I undertook my first ever hike up a mountain. Whether out of ignorance, showmanship or blind optimism Ben Nevis was chosen as my first peak. There was no particular reason to this choice although a number of factors did combine to make it a definite favourite - I’d never been to Scotland before, I wanted an excuse to drive a fast car up the motorway and probably the major contributing factor was that my stepdad had asked me if I wanted to fill a space which had come available. A slight sense of dé ja vu here…
We booked ourselves into a bunkhouse nestled at the foot of ‘the Ben’ and set off from Kent at 5am. After a rather exhausting ten hour drive, we stepped out of the lashing wind and rain and into an impromptu céilidh with hot toddies thrust into our hands and hot food in our mouths. To this day I haven’t found anything that beats Scottish hospitality. After some more whiskey and some incredibly awful attempts at taking part in ‘The Dance Of The Gay Gordons’ my stepdad and I found our bunks and attempted to get a good nights rest before tackling the peak the next day.
As I mentioned before, I’d never attempted something like this. I consider myself a fairly fit and sporty person, enjoying the likes of football, squash and cycling on a regular basis. I knew it would be an uphill struggle (apologies for the poor pun) but I still naively didn’t factor in that it was actually a mountain – a real, grown up mountain. In my head it would be just a continuous, fairly steep slope for several hours. This proved to be…inaccurate as we started our ascent just after first light.
We had heard weather reports the previous day of severe gales and showers due in the afternoon, and after a [drunken] conversation with another rambler during the night we’d decided it best to get up and down as soon as we could before the weather closed in. Not knowing what to expect, the first hour of ascent was gruelling. The track initially starts with an incline over fields but this is soon overtaken by large, uneven rocky ‘steps’ which hug the hillside and curve up towards a loch. Finding my rhythm was the most important thing and after an hour I seemed to find it, making me able to appreciate the amazing scenery which was in front of me.
The loch rests at the point where you can decide whether to tackle the arête or take the pony track to the summit. From here you look down over a valley with a distant waterfall and river just visible flowing down from a lesser, but no less impressive, peak. We hoped that with the good weather we could attempt the arête but this was soon put on the back burner as we found the bad weather had found us sooner than planned. In what we later found out were steady 40mph winds gusting up to 90mph, we made our way up to the top.
I would go into in-depth analysis and detail of the remaining hour and half but walking up a steep slope offers surprisingly little entertainment save the amazing views and the occasional chuckle at someone slipping over (mainly myself). Three and half hours after we set off, we finished traversing all 1,344m of the rocky beast in a foot of snow and howling winds. We celebrated with a pork pie and half a malt loaf.
It may seem from what I’ve written that my walk up Ben Nevis was at times gruelling and miserable and far harder than anything I’ve done before. All this is true. It is also the most incredible thing I think I’ve done in my life, truly. The sense of achievement upon reaching the peak is incomparable, it defies words. I can only imagine and can’t wait to find out how it feels to do that three times in twenty four hours. (Chris - Rambler)