I think one of the most important things in life is to challenge yourself – set a goal and work to achieve it.
Climbing Ben Nevis was something my boyfriend and I had always wanted to do last year – but we had sadly just run out of time before we left. So during his visit this year we had to do it. Surely.
After a rather merry Saturday night, our first challenge was to drive to Fort William. The after effects of the previous night’s festivities had meant a slight delay to our journey, but we eventually set off (albeit 90mins behind schedule). The combination of navigating unfamiliar country roads and an ever encroaching headache wasn’t the way I’d planned to start the day but the amazing Scottish scenery meant I could make the best of an increasingly bad situation.
After taking multiple rest stops while driving through what should be described as “postcard Scotland” we eventually arrived in Fort William. While we got there later than planned, there was still time for food and beers in our schedule. The added time on our journey meant my stomach was actually almost ready for an alcoholic beverage. Homemade shepherds pie and an after dinner pub field trip was a good end to a long day, but the struggle up the stairs on the way home from the pub left me dubious of my ability to climb the UK’s highest mountain the following day.
That 7am alarm went off and it was finally time to make things happen. The forecast hadn’t been great but it looked like we’d at least have a dry morning, but in Scotland the weather changes quickly so I thought I’d take both a cap and a raincoat – a decision that would later pay off.
Although I was probably the fittest I’d been in years, I really wasn’t sure how I would fair on the Ben. Like with anything that you don’t have complete control over, it can be easy to psych yourself out. It’s just like those moments before your first match at BJJ competition where you can’t decide if you’re nervous or excited but once you step on the mats, you forget about everything else and just become focused on the goal.
The hike was surprisingly gentle to start with but I assumed it would continue to get harder as the path went on. Also, while the sun was out when we started, we all knew it wouldn’t stay. I suppose in my head, I was ready for the day to get progressively tougher but to my surprise it never really did.
I’m not saying the climb was easy, but sometimes we can make things much more daunting than they actually are. The climb was a constant challenge but in my head I had expected it to be much more difficult than it was. Maybe the moral of the story is that the physical challenges we face are much easier to overcome when we acknowledge and tackle the corresponding mental challenges first.
While Snapchat has many useless filters, its altitude feature was particularly useful for monitoring our progress and creating a timeline of the changing weather conditions we faced. We were spoilt with sunshine and views of Fort William for most of our climb but we spent the last 150m literally walking through clouds. Similar to the green tunnel syndrome that comes with walking through forests, the 360° view of white sky at the top of the Ben was a little disorientating. The last part of the hike was more of a trudge than a sprint but we did it.
After about three and a half hours, we made it to the top.
We were at the top of the world (okay, so it was just the top of the UK), and that feeling of accomplishment was one of the best there is. But, arguably, overcoming the challenges of the day and sharing that achievement with someone you love makes it all the more meaningful.
As a reward, the Scottish weather decided to hold off until after we ate our sandwiches before the heavens finally opened. As soon as we started our descent, the rain followed us which presented the new challenge of slippery paths. The whole way down I calmed my fear of falling and consoled myself with the phrase “at least we made it to the top”.
Getting back to the car was a good cue to relax – or at least it was for a second – until I remembered that it meant it was time for a nice four hour drive back to Aberdeen. Ouch.
I guess it was time for that phrase again – “at least we made it to the top”.