I took the overnight sleeper train to Fort William on Friday and was at the start of the “tourist path” at 11.30 Saturday morning. They call it the tourist path because it is well-defined the whole way up and no specialist climbing equipment is required. But it is absolutely not for your average tourist! It’s a tough climb – big rocky steps on many sections that work your legs hard. The path zig zags up steep stony slopes and, as you approach the top, several false summits appear – it seems like you’re about to reach the peak but as you continue you see a still higher summit ahead.
It was an exhilarating climb, though, and the views were absolutely fantastic until I reached the top third of the mountain, when mist obscured everything beyond 20 metres or so.
There were a fair number of climbers raising money for charities – I was wearing my green NSPCC Team Go T-shirt and passed a woman wearing the same and we high-fived each other! I also saw a fundraiser with a plastic kangaroo on his back (see picture below) and an extreme ironer.
Ben Nevis, or the ‘The Ben’ as locals call it, seems to be the mountain of choice for dogs; I saw tens of them lead their owners up and down – several with dog boots on to help them cope with the terrain.
I didn’t have a music player with me, so I sang every song I could think of with the word “mountain” in it (getting pretty carried away with the song Wild Mountain Thyme). I noticed once again the “mountain effect”: my thoughts were very positive and I felt free of worries and hang ups.
It was a shame that there was quite a bit of rain and that the mist obscured the view towards the top. But I didn’t mind much and still felt elated at the summit – for a short while I was the highest person in Britain!
Coming down was tough. The ground was slippery in the rain and my by now tired legs struggled with the steep steps. I saw one man fall over the edge of a path, which was upsetting. He slid rather than rolled and so he was able to stop and climb back up, which was such a relief. My legs have been stiff and only now feeling back to normal – I obviously need to get fitter and stronger if I’m to climb higher mountains. It’s coming down after a big climb, I find, that tests your stamina more than the going up!
“Why does a man climb mountains?” asked Wainwright. Different reasons for different people, no doubt, but surely for everyone the sense of succeeding in a challenge is always rewarding and uplifting. And, combined with amazing views, the contrast to everyday tasks and surroundings, the interaction with friendly people and the natural high that comes from exercising, it is a very life affirming experience. If you’ve never tried it and are able to, I recommend you do!