On Thursday last, we flew up to Scotland to surprise Stacey for her birthday. As it turns out, she had already worked out that we were coming, though at least – for once – it was almost entirely not my fault. I think she got her biggest clue when John and Tiff (other friends of hers that she knew were driving up) asked her, “what time are you picking up your friends from the airport?”. Yes folks, not too many ways of explaining yourself out of that one.
Anyway – for her birthday, Racey decided that she wanted to climb Ben Nevis, the tallest mountain in the British Isles. So, that’s what we did – and it was an amazing experience!
Our team of seven (us, Racey and Wes, John and Tiff, and Tiff’s sister Gemma) started our ascent at about 10:30 AM, and we made pretty good progress all the way. The first part of the mountain was very green and lush.
Conditions were quite hot – so much so that the lady at the information desk told us it was the hottest she had seen in the six years that she had worked there. Consequently, we were all fairly stocked up with water, and we took frequent breaks to drink it.
There’s a lake at about the half-way point, which provided a good opportunity to look back on the path that we had walked, as it snaked its way up the mountain. (The lake is just out of shot to the right, in the second photo below.)
Now that we were at the half-way point, the trail became significantly more rocky, and steeper too. With each section we climbed, the temperature dropped, and the wind picked up. A rescue helicopter circled over our heads for a while, then eventually hovered and did a medivac, which reminded us that people really do get hurt doing this climb!
The closer we got to the top, the more we noticed that the greenery had given way to a much more barren, rocky landscape. Some of the sections were immensely steep – we had to be very careful not to mis-step and fall.
The last half-hour or so of the ascent was completely in a cloud. It was really starting to get cold (there was a large patch of snow on the ground in one point), but moving kept us warm.
Finally, with smiles all around, we made it to the summit! The base of Ben Nevis is 22 metres above sea level; the summit is 1,344 – so we had climed 1,322 metres in about three and a half hours!
We found a spot as sheltered from the wind as possible, and stopped for about 20 minutes while we ate our lunch. It wasn’t long before we were on the move again though, as we didn’t want to get too cold and cramp up.
At first, it was nice to be walking down, as you employ completely different muscles to do so. Of course, it wasn’t long before those muscles got tired too, and coupled with fatigue, it became a very arduous journey. Towards the bottom, I definitely stumbled and slipped a few times, but thankfully, we all made it down incident free.
We had taken bets as to what time we would be back at the starting point, and Stacey was freakishly only three minutes off with with her guess of 5:41 PM (we got back at 5:44 PM). We had been walking for seven hours!
I’d have to say that this was probably the hardest thing that I have ever done, though there wasn’t any point where I thought I wouldn’t make it. All that climbing certainly takes its toll though – our legs are still sore four days later!