Monday, 6 July 2009

Ben Nevis ... completing the 3 peaks in the sunshine!

**Long Post Alert **
Saturday, July 4th, Independence Day in the US, maybe, but for me and a committed bunch of friends, supporters and other 365ers, it now marks the date that we completed our very own 3 Peaks Challenge for the 365challenge (oh .... and Danielle's birthday!). View the photos here first, if you're not ready to read this epic blog yet ...

Ben Nevis
Well, it was quite a day, and I suspect that we're all still feeling it a bit (well, maybe not Garry and Lee - not the climb part, anyway!), but I can honestly say that it was well and truly worth all the effort that has gone into making this part of the 365challenge a success. But let's not leave it at that ... I think the Ben Nevis story needs a little more detail ...

On Friday, Dave (who had driven up to us in Chester on Thursday from Reading) and I set off for Fort William, our base for this walk, 350 miles away. The latter half of the journey was spent driving through torrential downpours and flooded A-roads at a snail's pace, as all the traffic seemed to want to go the same way and the conditions just did not allow for any heroics. Seven hours later, after driving through the Western Highlands (but only knowing we had done so because the map said we had, we certainly didn't see it in the horrible rain), we arrived at our destination, Ashburn House B&B, in Fort William, run by the wonderfully helpful and very welcoming Christine.

To tell you the truth, after the weather we'd had for the Snowdon and Scafell Pike walks, the prospect of facing Ben Nevis in that horrendous rain did not appeal too much, but
Christine informed us that it had only just begun raining in Fort William before we got there, after it having been a lovery day up to that point, so we felt a twinge more hopeful for the next day's walk. In fact, the evening cleared very nicely, so we wandered into Fort Wiliam for some food and a few pints of Brewhouse Special at the Grog and Gruel Pub on the High Street, making for a very pleasant end to a long day.

We woke on Saturday morning to blue skies and sunshine, completely the opposite of all the forecasts, but we weren't complaining. After breakfast, we grabbed our gear and headed off for the meeting point at Achintee House Car Park to find ... no-one waiting for us. Not a soul. At which point, my phone went: it was Karen asking where we were, as she and Alan were at the car park? Then came the next message, and the next ... all essentially saying the same thing, but clearly something wasn't quite right here! It turned out that they were all (and I mean ALL of them) down the hill from us, at the Glen Nevis Information Centre car park. I told them to wait there and Dave and I booted up and walked down to them ... now, here's the philosphical question this creates for me ... if you're the only one who makes it to the right car park, while four other car-loads of people arrive at the wrong car park, does that mean you are in the wrong? Four car-loads of people seemed to think it did, but hey, I can take it, because I KNOW I was right!

Once we'd all collected together it was time for the introductions, as we had some new bodies along for this final leg of our 365challenge 3 Peaks walk. "Old hands" (and completing their 3rd Peak) Karen, Fred, Oli, Dave and I were joined by Al, Lewis, Danielle, Mitch, Paul, and, making up the numbers (;-D), the 300miles guys, Lee and Garry, who had driven over from Edinburgh that morning, setting off at 5 am. Also there was Paul's wife, Audrey, who is another of the 365ers, and their two boys, Gareth and Elliott - Audrey and the boys joined us for the first bit of the walk, but were then going off to find other exciting things to do. So off we went, and in no time at all, the growing heat of the day was making itself felt, with everyone doing variations on the theme of impressions of Andy Roddick after 5 sets against Federer (all right then ... if I have to, I'll explain: sweating so much it was dripping off us - nice!).

The main path up Ben Nevis is well marked and laid out, but it's a steady slog, and very busy. The group split occa
sionally, with Lee taking the lead like an excitable puppy (he's far too fit for his own good), having to be hauled back occasionally by Garry, or, more creatively, by Lewis, who craftily engineered it so that he let his rucksack tumble down a steep slope at one point just so that Lee could have something new to occupy himself with while the rest of us caught up!

Al was feeling a little under the weather, which was a little worrying, but he was determined to keep going, and paced himself carefully all the way up and down. Fred was also soon suffering, with her hips once again causing her a great deal of pain, but I've met few people as determined as she is, and however long it was going to take, she was going to bag "The Ben" (which we can now offically call it, having climbed it, I believe).

I think we were all helped along the way immensely by the wonderful views that opened up to us across every ridge, especially as we had seen so little of Scafell Pike or Snowdon, and over the next 3.5 hours, we all made it to the summit of this great mountain, all 4409 ft/1344 m of it. The summit was quite busy, but that didn't take away from the spectacular 360 degree views that greeted us. It's only when you get the chance to see the cliffs along the north of the summit that you can appreciate just how dangerous this mountain must be in poor conditions, so we felt incredibly lucky to be able to take all of this in safely as we sat having lunch and grabbing what photos we could.

Then it was the long slog down, with the afternoon sun making itself well and truly felt as we plodded down the rocky south-westerly-facing path. Interestingly, towards the bottom, I noticed no-one was complaining too loudly when we reached the Achintee Car Park (the correct car park) and I directed them into the Ben Nevis Inn that was conveniently waiting for us, to slake our thirsts and catch up with Audrey and the boys. When Audrey then produced a bottle of champagne and cups to celebrate the completion of the 365challenge 3 Peaks adventure, it marked the occasion perfectly.

Afterwards, it was off to our various accommodations to rest and clean up before meeting again at the Grog and Gruel for a pint, followed by dinner together at a local Indian restaurant, whose name I've forgotten, but where much chat was to be had, ending with a surprise candle-festooned (okay, single-candle-decorated) dessert for Danielle to celebrate her 27th birthday.

From there, it was across the road to another
Ben Nevis bar (hey, that makes 3 Ben Nevis' in one day, is that a record? Probably not up in Fort William!), where we spent the rest of the evening, enjoying the company and watching Mitch and some eastern european guy take turns to claim ownership of the pool table. Quote of the night may belong to this mystery man who, when Mitch asked him where he got his jeans, replied simply "In a shop!"

Our numbers gradually faded away over the course of the night, with me finally taking my leave of Lee and Garry at around 12.15, after a final drop of malt to toast the day. Garry later posted on facebook that he and Lee closed the town down at around 2 am, so I guess us 365ers haven't quite got the stamina of those young 300milers, eh!
Next morning saw me feeling incredibly well, if a little tired.

Following another lovely breakfast from Christine, Dave and I packed the car and headed south, and discovered that there ARE actually mountains in the Highlands, as the drive through this time was beautifully clear. Despite the lack of torrential rain (apart from a real beauty of a downpour somewhere on the M6, where it was almost impossible to see the road markings), it still took almost 7 hours to get back to Chester, where we were able to take in the epic 5th set from the Wimbledon Final.

Dave headed off then to face another 3 hour drive back to Reading.
Monday dawned, and I woke feeling as tired and achey as Roddick must have felt, but more than content to know that I have completed another milestone along the way to finishing my 365challenge year. The problem is that I've finished all that I'd originally set out to do (and more!), with still 2 months of my 365challenge year left, so now I have to fill the remaining time with a final challenge. I've decided to cover the width of the country at Hadrian's Wall, some 84 miles/135 Km in distance ... and then I will be done ... or will I?

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