In First Person: Conquering Ben Nevis

By Mariya Dimova
Out of the boredom of everyday life, on a summery London was born the idea of taking a trip combined with a bit of adventure. Charles and I decided that we need to challenge ourselves on a whole new level, meaning not only exercise the grey matter which we honed at the LSE, but also test our physical endurance. We were in for a treat when we decided to hike up Ben Nevis, the highest peak in the UK.

On a not-so-sunny day and too early in the morning for my liking we took a flight to Glasgow, which would be our first stop, before catching a train to Fort William, the town at the bottom of the great mountain. After a much needed drink at the nearest pub, we boarded the train at noon. The carriage was packed with a mix of people from all over the country, like us, equipped with backpacks and outdoor equipment. The journey through the Scottish country side was filled with lochs, mountains and green pastures that stretched far into the horizon.

Ben Nevis is not only home to the 1,344 m high peak but is also home to the Nevis Dew Whisky distillery. There was no way Charles and I would miss this. As soon as we checked in to the hotel, we were picked up by very nice gentleman from the distillery visitor centre, who spent his life in the city and worked for ten distilleries. We enjoyed a few nice stories about the origin of the fairy liquid as well as some inside information on the future of the business. Safe to say whisky was in his blood.  We walked back to the hotel through a scenic town, that had much to offer , from old ruins to good cuisine. By the time went to bed I was still unsure how next day will go and if I will make a total fool of myself at bottom of the mountain!

After a hearty breakfast, we took our backpacks full of provisions and headed on our mission! The sky was bright and sunny and the temperature at 10am promised hot weather. We started hiking, and the first few hundred meters were easy enough to calm my nerves! Of course I soon realised how wrong I was. The path turned into a steep mountain trail, eroded by rain and countless feet of adventurers. We were walking up vigourously and taking solace of the fact that there were a lot of normal, read untrained, people that were here for the same purpose. We were not discouraged by hikers who were already going back after setting out while we were still fast asleep. This is determination! We heard various reports on the amount of time that it will take us to go all the way up but soon we realized since we all had an individual tempo there is no way of telling. It took us approximately two hours to get to the first pluton which we wrongly thought was halfway! By that time we had managed to make some friends and in retrospect have a very enjoyable walk with a lot of even more enjoyable pit stops.

Finally reaching what actually was halfway, a pocket of flat land on the side of the mountain with a small pond. Deciding it was a good place for lunch, we got ourselves in a bit of a pickle by stepping into the mud. Luckily I had a second pair of shoes and socks. 45 minutes later, we started again towards the top of the mountain, and again we were tricked by an easy first few hundred meters. The top did look achievable but with every step we climbed it became more and more difficult. Despite the pain in my legs I was having a great time.  As the taxi driver warned us, once we got to the top “it will be bit like Piccadilly Circus” , with so many people going up and down the narrow path! However, I had the feeling though these were some of the friendliest people I have met in my life. A father was taking his daughter for the climb for the first time, which he himself had done at least five times. A brother and sister were running constantly up and down and cheerfully teasing and encouraging each other, that made everyone laugh. We also saw a guy who is making steadily his way up in pink crocs as well as a few people with weird hats or other paraphernalia to entertain the crowd. Never a boring moment!

It seemed endless, and I was getting tired. Charles was a trooper and I was doing my best not to dampen the mood but we were both at ends of our strength and motivation. Finally the path started straightening up, and we could feel that we were not climbing up any more but walking at a regular pace…..and at one of the bends, the view finally captured us!  We could see the Scottish countryside spreading in front of us with all its glory, and it would only get better!  High green peaks, never ending stretches of grass and sun rays playing hyde and seek around the edges of the stone and earth. At this point the exhaustion and the prospect for even more pain in the muscles was worth it! We reached the top of Ben Nevis!

We had the most delicious lunch I ever had in my life,or  at least sandwiches from Tesco never tasted so good! After 30min laying down on the rocks and taking it all in, a significant number of photos from all angles were taken, as we donned our “LISA Ben Nevis Climb 2013” t-shirts.

The way down was quicker, but trickier,as it always is. There were less people now but more room to admire the beauty of Scotland. We more had a longer breath to spare as we chatted merrily away and patting each other on the shoulder for our little achievement.  We met a group of people who were doing the three peak challenge and while we met them on their way up, we also didn’t manage to make it completely down before they passed us. Our excuse was they have been training! The cutest thing however was the father with a 3 month old baby who was walking up and down the mountain like it was his usual afternoon stroll in the park!  We were still very proud we made it as well.

After a couple more whiskys in the city centre, we crawled back to the hotel for a well deserved rest, before we headed back to London, with a stack of pictures, some whisky and a great feeling of achievement.




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