This is the story of when Mother Nature almost took a fancy to the girl who wanted to get ‘just the perfect shot’ of the tallest mountain in the British Isles. (If anyone is wondering, it was a damn good picture, although perhaps not entirely worth the risk.)
The month was September, the day drizzly with outbursts of rain. It was by no means comfortable walking conditions, but then, Scottish weather has never been known as accommodating. Suited, booted, and strapped into our rucksacks, we headed to the official starting place for the mountain ascent, feeling ready despite the dreariness.
Sunshine had been promised later in the day, but was by no means anticipated. The ascent began, and armed with energy bars and a flask of hot chocolate we started to climb. As with most climbs, the higher you go, the more incredible the scenery becomes, and Ben Nevis was no exception. Down in the valley a stream sliced the land in half like a neat blue ribbon, rippling along far more merrily than us mountain walkers. After a few hours of trudging, we found ourselves passing people on their way down. ‘The cloud is too heavy’, they said, ‘there’s no point continuing if you’re not even halfway yet’. As we stood deliberating whether it was feasible and, more importantly, sensible to commence our upward trudge, something else began to happen. The air turned lighter, brighter, warmer… A flicker of hope spread through the walkers and, without a word, the decision was made. On we trudged, until we surely must have entered that ominous, hanging cloud by now. Except we hadn’t. The cloud had vanished completely.
We came across a waterfall next – quite literally stumbled into it as we turned a corner. (Thank goodness for Gore-Tex!) We saw lakes which cascaded off the ends of other peaks, and finally, finally, we neared the mountaintop.
I was eternally grateful that the cloud cover did not return during the remainder of the ascent, not until we had reached the final climb, or ‘scramble’ as was more apt. Then came the sudden realisation that I could hardly see more than twenty or thirty metres ahead, and the further shock that I could actually see more with no glasses… Spoilers – the only time my vision has been better WITHOUT glasses was when I accidentally ended up inside a big ass raincloud. This has happened twice in my life; neither were pleasant, and both made me hate being short-sighted. So, as this newfound realisation came crashing down at about the same speed that this cloud had apparently engulfed us, we decided the best option was to get a pretty swift wriggle on. I won’t lie, the path was difficult, and my legs were screaming at me to stop, for the love of god, stop, by this point. But I continued with reassurance and encouragement from my partner (if you ever read this Richard, you’re pretty much the only reason I got up all those goddamn mountains), and eventually made it to the summit.
There it was, the trig point of all trig points, looming up out of the gloom. The highest trig point in the British Isles. I gathered together my strength for a final push, started forward, glanced to my left, and stopped. Several yards away was a giant yawning hole, filled with grey, swirling mist. A gash in the mountainside. What an image, I thought. It’s exactly like a movie effect, except it’s real. Keeping the sudden drop at the very forefront of my mind, I crept toward the gap. Camera at the ready, I paused a moment to fiddle with the settings, my feet still tracing the ground in tiny steps. Finger on the button, I raised my right foot to take one more step, and tripped.
I stumbled, grabbed hold of the rock and yanked myself backwards, the camera swinging around my neck, bouncing off my coat seemingly in it’s own attempt to get to safety. I breathed deeply and glared at the offending rock, before skirting around to a different angle and taking some snaps.
The trig point was somewhat anti-climactic after that. It was a proud moment to reach the top of the highest peak in the UK, but it felt even better to crouch behind a stony wall and have a mini-feast of the food we had brought. It was a bizarre experience, the top of Ben Nevis. Apart from us, the summit was virtually empty, with the exception of an Irishman and Scotsman who we found also hunkered down in the shelter. (This sounds like the beginning of a joke, particularly as I was with a Welshman and am English, so we had the set, but I promise it all to be true). The Irishman seemed to have lost his wife somewhere on the way up (“Should’a pushed her off earlier”), but didn’t seem remotely worried. She appeared sometime later, and regaled us with tales of a far more adventurous ascent than us, having come up via a different trail. They were very interested in hearing about my Irish heritage, and it made for quite the cheerful party in a sodden, rocks-sticking-in-butt, half-blind-from-fog kinda way.
There’s not much to say about the descent. Long story short, the clouds had returned with gusto, and also brought their buddies to join the party. The wind howled, the hail battered our faces, tears mixed with rain and fog until the world was one grey, treacherous blur, and all we could do was put one foot in front of the other. One foot in front of the other. One foot in front of the other.
Ben Nevis was actually the final of the ‘big three’ mountains I climbed in the UK, the others being Snowdon, Wales, and Scafell Pike, England. Crazily though, despite being 1345m of sublime monstrosity, it wasn’t the most difficult. Keep an eye out for parts two and three of this not-so-little trilogy, you won’t be disappointed.