When I first started to look into organising this task, I got quite elated at how many different avenues I could go down. I could walk the Great Wall of China, cycle through Egypt or even climb Kilimanjaro. Unfortunately, elation soon turned to despondency, when I found out that each of these required a minimum of a couple of thousand pounds in sponsorship and raising that sort of money, would be a whole new task in itself. So, I was in the local library one day, when I came across a leaflet to climb Ben Nevis. Mmmm, looks challenging I thought, but again the charity concerned wanted a couple of hundred pounds in minimum sponsorship. About this time, my cousin developed cancer and it seemed quite fitting that I do something for a cancer charity. So, after googling Ben Nevis, I came across 'The Ben Nevis Mountain Challenge' for Marie Curie and it seemed to fit just right. Not only would I be raising money for a charity that would go to something that had affected my family, it also only required a minimum of £100 sponsorship.
So sponsors were gained, kit was purchased, I got fit (ish!) and managed to lose a stone in weight and all too soon the climb was here and I was in Scotland.
Husband accompanied me and my sister to the Ben Nevis Inn at the foot of the mountain for registration and then cheerfully waved us off, as we began our epic journey. Although a fairly warm day at 9am, the heat never bothered me, neither did my back pack that weighed a ton and made me resemble a pack horse, as I had my waterproof jacket and walking sticks protruding from the back of it. What did bother me was the sheer scale of what was in front of me.
We followed the traditional 'Ben path' - a mountain track from lower Glen Nevis to the summit. The hill distance is approx. 5 miles and reaches the summit area by huge zig-zags up the western face of the mountain. Yes, they tell you all that before you start climbing the mountain, but what they don't tell you is how steep these huge zig-zags are and how the traditional 'Ben path', is nothing more than a pile of rubble in most parts, that you have to watch every step you take over it, for fear of losing your footing and falling off the side. It was horrendous. I wanted to curl up into a ball and cry, I seriously don't know how I got through the first two hours. Every corner I seemed to turn, had another steep, rubble incline that seemed to go on for ever.
I don't know if it was the thought of a previous trek the day before, that had reached the top in wheelchairs, or the fact that I was doing this for my cousin, that had passed away, but for some reason, I got through the pain barrier and I began to almost enjoy it. I'd given up trying to keep up with the very fit and fast, front runners of our group and I was quite happy to plod along at my own pace, especially when I got to a very nice stretch of smooth path, that felt like I was walking on carpet, compared to the rougher terrain, I had just experienced.
The amount of energy I was using to gain any sort of distance was unreal. I was also eating at almost every stop, as my body was crying out to restore any energy levels it could, to carry me through all this.
As we approached the summit, the path seemed to get even steeper and never ending, with the added bonus of snow, covering an incline, which made any sort of determined effort to reach the top quickly, almost impossible. Through another rubble incline and round another path of snow and then, there it was - I'd reached the summit. There stood the ruins of the old observatory and the war memorial. I took the obligatory 'I've reached the top of Ben Nevis' picture and ate the rest of my lunch and all too soon we were on our way again (if you rest too long, your muscles will seize up) and at quite a determined pace as well.
This will be easier going down, I told myself and in some ways it was. You weren't having to clamber up steep uneven paths, just unfortunately having to descend down them. It wasn't until we were going down the mountain, that I realised just how steep the paths were, or what we had achieved that morning. Unfortunately because of this, it had taken every ounce of my strength and I had very little to give. As more and more people passed us going down (very impatient some of them as well, almost stepping on your heels, before you had the chance to move out of the way) we took our time. To climb over every stone, seemed to take for ever, but we finally arrived back at base at 6:15pm, bruised, battered, in alot of pain and shell shocked!
Now a couple of days after the event, the pain is subsiding. I can actually, nearly walk properly today (the pain in my legs meant I had to hobble around previously) and it's starting to sink in, what I have actually achieved. This, was certainly the most challenging task I've completed so far and perhaps, will be one of the hardest ones that I will have to do. But do you know what, I've done it now, I climbed Ben Nevis, all 4,406ft of it and raised £600 for Marie Curie cancer care in the process.