The gauntlet of climbing the highest mountain the UK was laid down and a team of seven signed up; myself, Ashley Bowers, Phil Cartmell, Sam Thrower, Owen Bouwer Claire Nicholson and Kathryn Shackleton.
Arriving on Friday 29th September we soon realised the extent of what we had let ourselves in for. I would describe the Nevis Range as the lake district on stilts.
After a very cold night camping at Glen Nevis campsite we got our gear ready and set off at 8:30. We quickly realised that map reading skills were not needed as plenty of other climbers were tackling The Ben
The first section nicknamed the Elevator took is toll quickly, this section was two hours of relentless stone steps. The teams spirits were kept high by my constant lying that the half way point had been passed and it flattened out just after the next section. Everyone struggled at times on this first section but we helped each other out as and when we could.
When we did actually reach the half way point we all regrouped and had a well deserved rest looking over at the views of a Loch. When we set off Owen decided to test his Sherpa skills by carrying everyone’s rucksacks, he didn’t make it far but the stunned looks of other walkers as Owen ran past them carrying seven large rucksacks was priceless.
The next section took us around the face of Ben Nevis up to the start of the next hard ascent. The views from 3000ft were outstanding, this was when everyone’s spirits were lifted. We all started believing we could make it to the summit. The tranquillity at this height is unreal, it turns into a personal battle with yourself to get to the summit.
The path soon turned into rocks and boulders as we started our climb into the clouds using the zigzag route up to the summit. The temperature dropped and within half an hour we were actually walking within the clouds. Visibility was reduced to about 20 metres and the going started to get really tough. Fellow walkers coming down from the summit encouraged us on and we realised we were starting to get really close to the top.
Once on the high plateau it gets pretty dangerous, one wrong turn and you can quite easily fall down a gully. We all reached the summit in 4hr 20mins. A few celebration photos were took and we all tucked into some lunch.
The summit was really cold, I explored the ruins of the old weather station and the survival hut. There are some really massive drops down gullies off the summit, if you fell down one if these you are not going to live to tell the tale. There was also a memorial to the fallen men of the second world war. It’s a weird place Ben Nevis when you walk up into the clouds, it’s a but like a scene from Lord of the Rings crossed with the moon.
An iron man event was taking place and while we were on the summit the lead runners made the summit. They had already swam in the lock and cycled for 3 hours before running up the mountain. These guys are hardcore hats off to anyone who can put themselves through that.
On the way down it all seemed easy but everyone’s feet were getting battered by stones and my knee’s were taking a real pounding. We were passed every so often by the iron men and we were soon back at Youth Hostel to complete our walk.
Myself Phil and Ashley stayed over at a local youth hostel for £13, we found a real Scottish pub and cabined up in there for the night. The Steak and Ale pie was the best pie I have ever tasted, hats off to the chefs at the Grog and Gruel. After watching the world go bye in the pub we headed off back to the hostel. We swapped stories in front of the open fire with some students who had been to Skye Island and then headed off to bed.
Looking back at the climb it opened my eyes to just how much of the UK I have not explored. I found myself as I entered the clouds and realised how much I enjoy the outdoors.
The physical side was demanding but achievable, and you certainly have to push yourself hard to reach the summit. It took 7hrs up and down. We raised £500 for Cancer Research which made the trip even more satisfying.
I hope to return to Ben Nevis when Thomas is old enough and let him stand on top of the UK. See you in 5 years time Ben.