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If you’ve been following my journey from the lowest point in the UK to the highest, I’m finally able to say that I reached the summit of Ben Nevis this August 2014.
The journey to get there was been far from straightforward. My first dreams and plans came in hospital in Liverpool in November 2012 as I was having an external fixator fitted to my leg. I needed to regrow 45mm of bone after a climbing accident in March 2011. I’d hoped to make the climb up Ben Nevis a year ago, and I’d cycled the length of the UK from the lowest point in the UK on a two person recumbent, with my leg in an external fixator or Ilizarov frame. On our arrival at the end of the 600 miles I realised there was no way I would make it up a wet, slippery mountain with my leg in the frame, heavily reliant on crutches without the risk of doing myself further damage. I’ve always been aware of the level of risk in what I do, so my journey from lowest to highest took an unexpected break.
Even this year, I’d hoped to attempt Ben Nevis in June, but the weather was against us, with significant snow still on the ground. My tension built through the summer: we’d put this off for so long it was hard to stay in touch with my original reasons for doing the journey, but standing at the bottom of Ben Nevis everything was much clearer.
We’d camped in Fort William the night before, and I want mention the generosity of Glen Nevis campsite in, yet again, accommodating our vans. As we arrived at the official start car park for 8 am, it wasn’t raining but it felt gloomy, perhaps just a manifestation of my mind given what I was about to do. I felt a degree of trepidation as I stood in the car park at the foot of Ben Nevis, and I decided not to look up at the path ahead, an ascent of 1344m. I struggle to walk any distance because of state of my ankle. I have little to no cartilage within the ankle joint which causes me pain with every step.
We then set off on what I decided to call ‘the longest dog walk. Thinking about it as a walk in the mountains accompanied by friends and my dog Bodhi removed some concerns about what I was setting out to do. The path was rough and even months after the frame was removed I’m still somewhat wobbly on my feet (note to self: must work on core strength).
I was shocked to find that I was enjoying the journey, and the whole reason for this part of Lowest to Highest came back to me. Sure, it was a physical test, something to aim for, to train for, but also I was in the mountains once more. It was close to four years since I had this feeling. It’s true that you only remember how much you missed something when you have it back again.
Near the base of the thick clouds that had loomed over us all morning, the path started to become a lot more broken up with bigger rocks to negotiate. I was finding walking harder, each step reminding me that despite 9 months in the frame, my ankle was still a long way from sorted.
Deep in the clouds, I could hear an excited Bodhi barking somewhere up ahead of me. She was overjoyed to find the last remaining patch of snow left on the path. If there’s one thing Bodhi loves its snow! She goes insane for the stuff! Dom and Hel had brought their little mountain dog Kit, and I arrived to see the two of them running round in circles in the snow. This really lifted my spirits.
We reached the summit at 12:15, after just over 4 hours of solid walking. That was the longest walk I’d done since the accident, and I could feel the effects of the pounding, bone on bone, in every step. Deep within the fog I spied the summit cairn. Some of the others were a few metres ahead of me, already ascending it, so when I reached the base they were looking down, encouraging me to climb the final 2 metres, with stairs leading to the trig point.
Standing on the top of the UK, I hugged and thanked each one of them. Every person there had helped in their own way to get me to this point I had dreamed of back in hospital. The gap in the bones is gone, my leg isn’t perfect, but, hell, I’d just walked up the tallest mountain in the UK. The struggle and trauma to get here melted away, leaving the sheer elation of what I had achieved. Last year whilst still 'In The Frame' I certainly wasn't anywhere near a physical or psychological high, I can see that now. The 9 hour slog up and down the Ben wasn't something I could do again. But for a short while I was the highest guy on this island, and it felt awesome. The journey to get there that day and these last 3 years has been the toughest times of my life. Giving myself challenges helps me to find focus and enjoyment during this time, so “What next?” is still the question on my mind.
Bodhi sums up how I feel. I took my dog on the longest walk we've ever had! As I lay in bed contemplating moving, every joint and muscle aches. One day it was Ben Nevis, the next is getting to the loo...
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