Wife Teri, in planning our recent trip to Scotland, tried to find things that I would specifically like to do. With me on the ship much of the time that she was planning this she would email me her ideas of sightseeing possibilities. I would hem and haw--deferring to her heritage while saying things like, "You're Scottish--just find some cool things to see!" But my interest did perk up when she mentioned the possibility of climbing the highest point in the British Isles – Ben Nevis. At 4,409 feet high I thought to myself, "How hard could it be?" What I didn't know is that it starts at less than 100 feet above sea level. That's 4,300 vertical feet stretched out over 5 miles one way. But to help keep me motivated, Dave (the man hired to be our guide in Scotland), volunteered to do the climb with me. Although 58 years old, he walks 4-6 miles a day and is in shape. Me? I sit behind a desk on the ship with my cup of coffee and donuts from the galley. As the time got closer to actually do this I started wondering what I had gotten myself into...
The climb itself? Started out OK--even had a decent spring in my step. For awhile. As I started getting tired and slowed down I comforted myself with the fact that others did too. One were the seniors--up to their mid 70's. That was to be expected. The other group I amusedly noticed were young men and their dates. By virtue of their youth we were passed by multiple 20 year olds. However…after awhile we plodded past THEM as we saw them resting--especially the young ladies. Observing their faces, young men had the look of, "C'mon, let's GO!" The ladies? More of, "What have I allowed you to talk me INTO?!" As we passed one resting young couple I grinned and said to her, "Letting him rest, huh?" She looked at me with incredulous look, then burst out laughing! Him?
He wisely didn't say a word...
On the lower slopes the surroundings were green and the trail a bit commercial--a rock foundation had been placed on the trail for ease of walking and to protect the trail surface. At higher altitudes that changed. The upper trail turned into a more difficult surface called 'scree' (loose flat stones)--kind of like landslide rocks. At times my feet felt like they were slipping as I walked. Add to that 60 mph winds and our accent speed slowed. It was funny though -- going one direction one had to push thru the wind, but as the zig-zag trail cut back the wind would now pushed you along. It was at this 3/4 up point that I observed with concern some of the people who looked like they couldn't take another step. Some had blank stares in their eyes--especially some of the older ones.
Near the top it leveled off some and people got a spring in their step again. (Some 'climbers' lost all their spring and refused to take another step. Many a small dog was being carried by their owners by this time!) As for me, I slowed down and took in my surroundings. Looked cool. Blowing mist set in that made certain stacked-up rock piles (called cairns) look eerie. At first I thought these were memorial sites for people who had died on the mountain due to hypothermia after being fogged/rained in (and that sometimes happened), but no--they were done just for fun. Some have died up there—four in 1999, due to exposure, with many others having to be rescued from getting to cold, or twisting their ankle.
Then we were at the top. I made it – I was on top of Scotland!
Ruins were at the peak--remnants of an old weather observatory. People wearily gathered near the ruined walls for protection from the wind but I could see pride in their faces. Some who came in groups gathered at the very top and unfurled a banner representing something important to them--a charity perhaps. Me? I gathered two rocks--one for my collection and one for my Captain of the ship I work on. (Besides Teri, he was my biggest fan in accomplishing this climb!)
After resting and having a bit to eat out of our packs, I approached the north slope which dropped off super steep nearly straight down to the valley below. With the wind blowing from behind, standing near that drop off made it dangerous. Still, I wanted to ‘see over the edge’. Others? None would approach the edge that close and, after a gust propelled me a couple few steps closer to the edge, I understood why.
On the way down Dave and I (now full of ourselves) encouraged others nearing the top that "you can make it!" But then I was what Teri called evil. A group of huffing and puffing women stopped and breathlessly asked us 'how much farther?' We encouraged them that they were near the top. But to also feel encouraged that they could rest more in the coffee shop up there. "COFFEE shop!" one asked? We said, "Of course!" while slyly looking at each other out of the corner of our eyes. "And" we added, "there is a shuttle bus to take you down the other side if you don’t want to walk." Man, with that new info this group of women took off with some excited chatter.
Me? I paid for that by the time I returned to my B&B. Teri says I opened the door, stepped in with hat in hand, and just dropped it to the floor. Seems it was too much effort to even set it on the desk. I was that tired.
But a good tired.
What Ben Nevis looks like from near the city of Port William.
At the base—green and placid.
Starting up. These are the rocks that had been set into place to protect the trail.
Looking down at the trail starting to zig-zag up.
About 3,000 up with zig-zag trail and lake behind me.
Trail getting steeper, and turning to ‘scree’.
Guide Dave and I at first ‘cairn’.
Plodding past more cairns.
Nearing the top with its steep drop-offs.
Clearer perspective with people in background.
The edge that I almost got blown oven a couple of seconds later… The stream on the right side of the screen is approx 2,500 feet lower.
At the top – people resting in the protection of the ruins. The weather ‘observatory’ that was used from 1883-1904.
Observatory closer up.
A charity group posting their banner!
Me showing off two rocks I stole from the top. Won’t be missed...
Guide Dave and I at the very top.
Dog whose owners said refused to climb anymore.
Too big to carry -- an unhappy camper…
…giving her owners ‘The Look’ that they will pay for this later!
The long trail down. We are higher than the base of the clouds in the distance.
Many cairns mark the trail. These are useful for winter climbs to mark the trail.
Another edge I almost got blown off of. That one was close…
Crazy ‘extreme sport’ bicyclists pushing or carrying their bicycles up the mountain in an attempt to ride back down. This would basically be impossible…
…as one of them likely found out later. We passed half a dozen strong and serious-faced men and woman carrying portions of litters from this van up the mountain, to be assembled once an injured person reached.
Me? At the bottom exhausted…but happy.