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Climbing BEN NEVIS, the highest mountain in Britain

Well, the Big Day had come for me and my son Ally to tackle Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in Britain with an elevation of 1,345 metres above sea level, on Saturday, 15th August 2020. The weather forecast was at 22 degrees Celcius for the day. That’s very warm in Scotland!

No surprise that Ben Nevis Visitor Centre was bustling, the three-section car park was full, and there were a couple of big buses with tourists who came to climb the mountain too. But after a few times going around the car park, I spotted a tiny space between two small cars, and I managed to squeeze my little car in.

Ally and I had each one rucksack to carry with our water and food supply. I also brought some extra warm clothes in case the weather turned bad when we got to the top. You never know as Scotland could have all-weather in a day!

I had my walking stick and also an umbrella doubled as my second walking stick, which proved to be useful in the end, as it was so hot at one point. And I spotted some walkers using their umbrellas too. Plus, of course, I brought my camera, camcorder, and GoPro!

So with all our gears ready, we were prepared for the ascent.

We left the Visitor Centre around 9:45 am and crossed the landmark Glen Nevis Footbridge over to the bottom of the hill. There are different routes to the Summit, but we used the Mountain Track or sometimes called the Tourist Track or Pony Track. This route is supposedly the easiest; after experiencing it, I can only imagine the toughness of the others!

The first mile proved to be a struggle for me already, as I tried to keep with the pace of many other walkers who kept passing by us. I had to use my asthma puffer a couple of times. Ally kept asking if I was OK at this point, clearly worried, and had even suggested I might not make it.

Ally climbed this mountain before in July 2017 with his university teammates for a charity, so he knew how tough it could be. I told him I would make it, and he offered to carry my bag, including his heavier one, with our water bottles.

Once we passed the first ascent, I started to relax a little and did my own pace. Bless Ally, I said to him that he could go ahead and wait for me at the next stop, but he stayed behind me and kept with my plodding pace.

We eventually got to the top of the hill that you could see from the valley. There was a beautiful loch (lake) behind it, the loch Lochan Meall, which was a few hundred metres from the main footpath. We stopped along the path for a rest and to admire it. Some people were swimming in it too!

A few hundred metres on from our stop, we reached the half-way mark to the Summit. Not far from this, was the waterfall and stream where most walkers refilled their water bottles.

I didn’t risk refilling my water bottles as people were climbing up the creek and stepping on the water. The waterfall was not as spectacular this time, as it had apparently been during Springtime. But it was nice to stop for a little wash and feel it’s coolness!

The ascent from then on got tighter and scarier. The footpath was mainly jaggy rocks, and the edge showed some severe drop! I had to concentrate and carefully choose the step I made. One very wrong step and you could fall onto sharp rocks, or worse still, it could send you rolling down the rocky hills!

Concentration, perseverance, and pure determination would be your ‘best friends’ during this climb.

We stopped more frequently at this point, every 200 to 500 metres at least. It was also a chance to soak in the spectacular views. What a beautiful place indeed!

The weather was perfect throughout the whole day, and we couldn’t ask for more.

Some parts were zigzags, and every time we came to the end of a bend, I wished that was the Summit that I could view, but alas No!

But at just after 3 pm and after a long heavy slog, we could finally see the end! All of a sudden, the adrenalin kicked in, and my steps got quicker! We were at the Summit of the highest mountain in Britain at last!

The place was bustling; I heard someone saying he could be in Sauchiehall Street in Glasgow by the looks of it! Yes, the atmosphere was incredible. People were tired but happy and excited. It almost felt like a festival with the number of climbers in the Summit at the same time. Each one or group found their little snook and had their lunches.

We found a space near the edge of the cliff and enjoyed the most beautiful panoramic views of the valleys in Fort William and beyond, plus the lochs and mountains that you could see for miles and miles. We were on top of everything, literally!

We also had a jaw-dropping chance of watching a group of hardy rock climbers tackling one of the Five Ben Nevis Ridges. I couldn’t fathom how they do it!

There was nothing much in the Summit except three structures made of rocks - Ben Nevis Summit cairn, the Ruins of the meteorological observatory and the Survival Hut, and plenty of rocks, of course! On some websites, it said that there was a restaurant at the Ben Nevis Summit, but I did not see any. If there was, it was not open when we were there!

After our lunch, we went up to the Ben Nevis Summit cairn, about 10 feet high structure, and queued for a photo opportunity. The cairn was where the ordnance survey trig point sat, this served as the critical feature to help people sail across the Summit, in case of bad weather.

We then wandered at the other end of the Summit and enjoyed more of the scenery. Most of the crowd left by the time we decided to go, and the Summit was almost empty, with only more than a dozen people. The clouds were forming in the sky too, so we started our descent at around 4:20 pm.

Going down was probably not as hard as going up for some climbers, but for me, it was just as bad. My knees were aching at some point, but we did not stop as much as we did going up. I just kept a very slow pace and plodded on.

The weather was still warm even after we passed the half-way mark. It was fascinating that there were still some people we met going up at that time.

When we were nearing the valley, and the footpath was much more comfortable, I said to Ally to go ahead and do his own pace as I could manage on my own from this point

onwards, and he did. He went ahead to the car and had a wee rest while waiting for me.

Meantime, I got chatting to a Polish girl who was on her own. She said, she struggled, and she did not expect that it was that hard today. She climbed a few mountains, including the Base Camp of Mount Everest, but she found Ben Nevis the hardest! She also planned to do the West Highland Way Walk for the rest of that week.

We both reached the bridge, and I bade her well with her continued adventure.

As I crossed the Glen Nevis Footbridge at around 8:30 pm, I was exhausted and drained and sore, especially with my blisters, but I felt a great sense of achievement that I fulfilled one of my lifelong dreams, at the age of Fifty!

And of course, I couldn’t have done it without my ever-supportive and caring son, Ally!

Till here for now. See you again next Wednesday!

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