Friday, 8 July 2011

My Ben Nevis journey

It is all about the journey, right?

Who cares in the end if we have achieved all our goals but didn't have fun along the way; if we didn't learn something or grow as a person; or if we never made a positive difference in another life.

I was nervous leading up to the weekend we were due to climb the mountain. We being a group of around twenty family and friends who had rallied round to celebrate my father-in-law's Sixtieth birthday. When I heard him announce at Christmas last year that he was thinking of climbing Ben Nevis to celebrate his birthday I quickly told him I was in. That was one of my goals that was.

But knowing I had set this as a goal and actually wanting to do it turned out to be two different things...

Standing on top of Ben Nevis was goal 96. It was an after thought, a scrabbling to think of anything that I could write down that I could justify as a goal. You want to know how tired I was of writing down all those goals just look at the next one - "To finish writing these goals! Tonight!" I was desperate.

But, at some point over the next year it turned from an after thought into a determination. Until this year - 2011 - I had never climbed a mountain. Can you imagine that? Some of you reading this will scoff. Others will empathise because you are there, or have been yourselves.

Now I have climbed two and my ten year old son has accompanied me on both climbs. He is 29 years ahead of my curve - you do the math...

Beinn Bhuidhe, which we climbed in June, was tough. Two steep sections that we almost had to scramble up and a ridge that we had to walk carefully along at the end. During the climb down my knees were in agony. I took advice and took a walking pole with me up Ben Nevis. The difference was amazing. I could feel my upper body getting a real work out and my knees hardly suffered at all.

I was nervous about Ben Nevis for a lot of reasons. We were taking our whole family up the initial slope to the loch. As a group, we had three children under the age of seven. Would they make it, would it be too much and we would have to carry them down and so I would miss out on reaching the summit? Would the weather hold? I had been praying for sun - but not too much...;) Had I done enough preparation? Did I have the right equipment...

The day before we were due to climb I finally allowed myself to wonder if I really wanted to climb Ben Nevis. It was never a burning ambition as a child. Mountain climbing was something I read about but associated with ice axes and ropes. I even protested when my parents dragged me away from the television to go out for a walk.

As an adult I began to realise that I quite enjoyed being outdoors. I even enjoyed walking but I've always been drawn to reading and computers and neither are all that compatible with hikes.

I chose standing on Ben Nevis as a goal because of its symbolism. The highest mountain in the UK. Never having climbed a mountain or been remotely interested in any of them apart from enjoying looking at them - it seemed logical, at the time.

I forced myself up Beinn Bhuidhe and in a perverse way enjoyed it. Enjoyed it despite the pain, despite the nagging question - "why am I doing this?" It may seem blatantly obvious to anyone reading this blog but occasionally I am surprised to find that I enjoy challenges. I enjoy setting them, enjoy working towards them and, perversely again, enjoy - slightly less - achieving them. I find achievement can be bittersweet. It is over. Now what am I going to do...

Get a grip though! Don't put a downer on the whole thing.

Did I really want to climb Ben Nevis? I still don't really know. But I did decide I was going to and that was enough to motivate me and help me try and motivate every one I walked next to on the four hour slog upwards. Perhaps a better question is - am I glad I did it? And to that I can easily answer - YES! It was unbelievably magnificent. A cliche, absolutely, but so true. The views of the surrounding mountains as we went up and came down were amazing. I do feel I achieved something worthwhile, even though several hundred people passed us in both directions as we were going up and several hundred different people kept passing us on the way down. Thousands of people. A party at the top. Some of them even planked... Not me. There are some things I will not yet do.

Yet another question that might be worth asking is - will I do it again? Again the answer is yes. I would love to climb Ben Nevis again and am thinking there are a few other mountains I've become aware of that I'm growing curious about. Maybe some day I will even try the route the tiny people in the picture below have taken. I'm hopeful that goal 96 is only the beginning of this particular journey, however uncertain I was at the start.


  1. Loved this blog! When HE said he wanted to climb Ben Nevis for his birthday I said I'd make him a cup of tea when he got down. He thought should go with him - AAARRGGGHHHH! I've never climbed any mountains either and was not about to start but how could I disappoint my man. I started training - up Tor Mor in the snow. Phew. But how does that compare to Ben Nevis. When I worked it out - 10 times up Tor Mor is Ben Nevis - I can do that (I think) Bought some proper boots - that's me committed then! Once the bad weather set in I didn't get in much training. Did a few leg exercises to strengthen my knees and a wee bit of walking. Then I got the flu and was ill for a month. No training - feeling weak. Must start training in earnest. Up and down Tor Mor everyday, round Steps walk a few times. Then S and L took me up the Cobbler. Ahhhh! beautiful. Was ready to give up after two and a half hours but determined to keep going to the top otherwise Ben Nevis would be too much of a worry. Got to the top of the Cobbler - what fantastic views and what good company! Ben Nevis held no more worries.
    The week before the Ben Nevis experience we had a wee holiday and attmpted two Munros - Ben Lawyers in the pouring rain, no visibility - did not get to the top and got soaked to the skin. Trip to Tiso's ensued for proper wet weather gear. Next trip up Glen Lednock almost got to the top - he made it while I sauntered back down. Wet weather gear great! Next thing I know I'm at the top of Ben Nevis - unbelievable. Lots of good company, brilliant views and fantastic weather. This weekend I'm gardening but thinking - "which hill can I do next?" I have discovered I like walking - after 50 odd years of disliking! I have decided that hill walking may be a bit too much but I'm going to try rambling. I need to have good company for a walk and good weather (at least good weather to start off with) so going to the local rambling club might be a plan. Anyway is a GOAL!!!

  2. Loved this comment!

    Good company is so important. The few times I've achieved something or been somewhere special but had no-one to share it with, it felt empty.

    Hopefully we can join you on a few rambles...