What nobody tells you about climbing Ben Nevis

Earlier this year we decided as a team that we wanted to do something challenging to raise money for the group's chosen charity, the British Heart Foundation.

Fast forward to a rainy day in May at a Premier Inn in Fort William in Northern Scotland and our team are about to climb Ben Nevis! The team is made up of Darryl Jones, Chris Worth (of driving to Barcelona fame), Jon Sadler, Gary Lancaster and me.

The other member of the team who was ready to go was Michael Armstrong but unfortunately he had to pull out at the last minute due to being poorly.


Chris Worth, Darryl Jones, Paul Bentley, Jon Sadler and Gary Lancaster trek up Ben Nevis


We'd been warned that the mountain was a challenge but I don't think any of us really knew just how big a challenge we were letting ourselves in for…

After a very early breakfast we headed off to the mountain to meet our professional guide David from the Highland Mountain Company. Dressed like we knew what we were doing, we started our climb...

So the first thing nobody told us about Ben Nevis was… the path isn't really a path… it's more like a convenient rock slide! We quickly realised that our challenge wasn't to “just" climb up to over 4,000 feet, it was to do it without shattering bones or egos… unfortunately the latter wasn't achieved!!!

Full of confidence and exuberance it only took us an hour and eight minutes to climb the first two miles which took us to 1,068 feet (325 metres). Spirits were high and there was still even some laughter to be heard. Mind you that was probably at the sight of Jon removing his thermals just in time for another group of walkers to come around the corner!

We stopped for our first short break to have a drink and get the energy levels up. 

I had a sandwich and quickly realised that tuna mayonnaise wasn't a great choice of sandwich filling when you're standing in the wind and rain unwrapping a squashed ball of bread and fishy mush; even though it was only a couple of hours earlier Tesco had created a neat triangular shape sandwich that had looked quite appetising.

David our guide was keen to keep us moving and wanted to keep the breaks to just a couple of minutes at a time because if you lose momentum it can get very difficult later in the climb.

The second thing nobody told us about climbing Ben Nevis… May isn't a great time of year to do it!

The views during the trek were sensational and between these and the walking you couldn't help but be left breathless.

We knew that the higher we climbed the worse the weather would get but I don't think any one of us was expecting to be bombarded by hailstones! Thousands of little icey ball-bearings hitting you in the face as you try to carefully step from rock to rock.

This just added to the fun. Nether-the-less we carried on-wards and upwards and amazingly we managed to increase our pace and completed the second two miles in one hour and three minutes, which now had us at over 2,800 feet (858m).

After another very short stop with just enough time to rush down an energy bar, or in the case of Chris, a Tunnocks Caramel bar (we'd all become very fond of these over the four days, as we had a stack of them to get through which the kind folk at Lomond Glasgow Audi had generously and maybe unknowingly donated to us... well donated to Jon!) we were off once again.

By this point into the climb the wind and bad weather were really starting to tell and it took us nearly an hour to do the next mile.

This took us through the 1,000 metre (approximately 3,280 feet) and this is when we hit the so called 'snow line', only it wasn't just snow, it was packed ice and this made it very difficult to even make slow progress.


The Ben Nevis trek


David, our guide was now strongly advising us to call it a day as many other guides he had met on the way up had already decided to turn around at this point, but we pushed on, genuinely being driven to make the top because none of us wanted to fail and not repay all the people that had put their confidence in us to do by sponsoring our challenge.

The last mile had been gruelling and we had experienced our biggest elevation gain as we had climbed 1,234 feet.

We'd broken through the 1200m mark and our pace was getting much slower due to the severity of the conditions along with the icy gradient getting worse. This brought the additional and dangerous challenge of keeping our body heat up as the temperature with the chill factor was now at -10 and as if all this wasn't bad enough, our visibility was virtually zero.

It was at this point, when, as the old man of the group and with a very heavy heart, I made the call that we should call this our peak and turn back as I felt (as did our guide) that it would be just too dangerous to keep pushing on. We also had to take into account the three hours or so it would take to make our way back down the mountain.

The climb up had been extremely punishing and, I can only speak for myself, I was running on reserves even at this point. So at 4,042 (1.23M) we paused for a picture to capture the moment for posterity, whilst all the time being told by David that we really need to move on as he was now very concerned about our body temperature...

The last thing nobody told us about climbing Ben Nevis was… that it's even harder coming down!!!

It had been a difficult and slippery task going up and it was quickly dawning on us all that if you add downward momentum to ice, snow and rocks it adds a different dimension to the next 3 hours or so! At this point we felt it was probably a good time to stop and truly celebrate our achievement and so we had a glass (well plastic!) of champagne that we had ingeniously decanted into flasks.

Again, hurried on by our guide, we began to make our way down. I personally became very aware that I was focusing hard on each footstep and that for well over an hour I probably didn't even lift my head, mind you that did help with the hailstones we were experiencing for the second time!

When I did finally lift my head I could again see that the fantastic views, looking down towards Fort William, Inverlochy and the beautiful Loch Eil. I thought I could start to relax, even find time to take a 'selfie' and check in on Facebook… how wrong was I!


The route the team took, moving East up towards the summit and then moving back West to the finish line


By this point we were still at 2,600 feet and whilst I can only speak for myself I was finding the going very tough. It was mentally draining concentrating on every footstep and with each step my old legs which are in their 50th year, were finding it harder and harder.

This meant that I was taking really small steps and this finally took its toll when I misplaced my foot and slipped very unceremoniously to the ground landing on the rocky path (convenient landslide as we know it). Fortunately my faithful rucksack spared my bones and only my ego was damaged.

To be fair, I wasn't the only one to fall and we even managed to capture Darryl's “moment" on film… which gave for many bouts of uncontrollable laughter from all but one of us on the bus journey back to Edinburgh. Darryl has since said that if we can raise a further £100, he will 'happily' share it with you on Engage. Don't worry no permanent damage as he falls in the snow and it is VERY funny!

We were able to pick the pace for the next mile as it wasn't as steep and we only dropped 135 feet but we covered the mile in 35 minutes. A much more difficult next hour followed but we were now at just over 600 feet and the end was nearly in sight.

We decided it would be wise to stop to have something to eat to recharge the batteries as the last mile had taken nearly an hour and we were all feeling the effects of this.

On for the final couple of miles to the finishing line and we are now taking it in turns to keep each other motivated and focused on the task of getting to the end. You can see from the pictures that spirits were still OK but the challenge was really taking its toll.

It wasn't an easy descent and every time we reached a corner we'd hope to see the car park and the Lomond bus waiting for us… unfortunately there were many of these false dawns but we kept on until we did eventually turn that last corner... and what a great feeling it was!

It was a fantastic experience to attempt Ben Nevis, and whilst we didn't quite make the peak we are all very satisfied that we gave it our very best effort. We pushed through the psychological “wall" a couple of times and kept going by reminding each other of why we were doing it and what it meant to our supporters and the BHF.

To come so close could be viewed as failure but I have to say that I am extremely proud of the whole team for all our efforts and I believe it has been a huge success. To take a full weekend out to travel to the outer reaches of Scotland in an attempt to raise much needed money for a very worthwhile cause was nothing short of spectacular.

I hope all the generous people who have sponsored us and helped us raise over £11,000 can see that we really did give it a go and that we went further than many others did on the day, even though our guide was suggesting we quit.

In summary we climbed 4,042 feet in a little under seven hours. During this time we walked 10.32 miles, making 22,197 steps and burned well over 3000 calories.

Finally I would like to take this opportunity to say a few thank-you's...

Firstly to my team, who not only sacrificed a lot of their personal time training in the run up to the event but also for making the experience such fun and so personally satisfying in the face of some real physical and mental challenges.

I would also like to thank the families of the team, as no doubt they have probably walked every mile with us in one way or another. Chris's Mum and Dad even took a break from their holiday in Scotland to come and cheer us at the finish line.

I would also like to thank the following:

Steve Dean and his fantastic team at Lomond. Not only did they supply a car for Chris to drive to and from Barcelona for the BHF, they also supplied the minibus that we used to get to and from Fort William. Special mentions should go to Aileen, Kevin and Felix, whose organisational skills are first class.

Steve even stepped in at very short notice and asked his personal dentist to leave her wedding dress fitting to go to her surgery to do an emergency repair to a tooth that I broke the night before travelling to Scotland… now that's really above and beyond!

Rebecca Sansome for help arranging the event and making sure it went off without a hitch, despite some late challenges.

Michael Armstrong, who spent months training for the challenge, only to be unfit to complete it when the time came. Great effort Michael and we look forward to having you back soon.

Alan Carson from Northridge Finance who kindly committed to fund our challenge to the tune of £2,000 for hotel accommodation, travel and expenses, which meant every single penny we raised went to the charity.

And lastly all the people who have supported us and sponsored us. Without these people we wouldn't have raised the £11,000 for BHF, we wouldn't have got to experience Ben Nevis and all its “ups and downs" and we definitely wouldn't have kept going when the going got really tough… Thank you!

I hope you have enjoyed reading about our experience and if you feel that you want to give a contribution, no matter how small then it's not too late and you can do so by just hitting this link.

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