For me, bagging Ben Nevis was most definitely ‘Type 2 Fun’. I was woefully under-prepared and discovered quite early on that, although I enjoy a hill walk or run in the woods, climbing proper is absolutely not my Jam! it’s a tough discovery to make as you begin your ascent of the UK’s highest mountain, but there we are.😂 It has, however, given me a lot of food for thought and a lot to write about! It was also another experience on the year of no fear journey, and a real pushed to the limits type challenge for me to explore my responses to, so for that I am most grateful I did it.
I even had a bit of a giggle with my friend on the way down the mountain thinking about how, now that I was an experienced conqueror of Nevis, I should write a guide for other would-be challengers. So for the majority of this post that is what I have decided to do, just for fun. It should give you a pretty good overview of how the whole experience worked out for me. So without further ado, I present to you summarised pitch for publication of:
“The Complete (idiot) Beginners Guide to Hill Climbing in Scotland”
1. Choose your practice ground carefully…
Ideally, as an inexperienced, grossly underprepared novice climber you’ll want to really push yourself out of that comfort zone. Starting with Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the whole of the UK, is a sure-fire way to identify your level of interest and ability in climbing quickly and easily. I also recommend being sponsored and very publicly announcing that you are doing the climb, as if in the event you decide 10 minutes in that you DON’T actually enjoy climbing at all, you will still feel somewhat compelled to carry on regardless.
2. Do little to no training or research…
This is key. It helps a lot because it is extremely difficult to imagine how much harder it is to climb literally the highest of the Munro’s in comparison to, say, the Pentland hills or Arthurs seat. Therefore I’d advise you simply don’t think about it too much, or you probably won’t end up doing it. Research is good in the form of watching a few YouTube videos that make it look beautiful, and skim reading a few accounts of how many people actually climb it each year- and assuming the sheer volume of them means it’s obviously definitely really achievable.
3. Prepare supplies well FOR THE CLIMB…
FOR THE CLIMB is the absolutely integral part here to be a true complete idiot beginner. Under no circumstances should you think about AFTER the climb. I found it really handy not to have a change of shoes available after I was done walking in the rain, rivers and mud for 9+ hours. Disgusting, soaked boats were a blessed relief to put on my aching feet the morning after again. If you can, make sure you DON’T have a towel with you so you absolutely can’t shower after your ordeal (not that you will be able to stand up long enough for one anyway) It’s a bonus if you’re really smug about just how well you’re prepared for the climb too. It adds a certain extra layer of shame when you reveal you’ve thought of nothing beyond actually getting to the top.
4. Dress for the weather…
It’s essential to have good, proper walking boots and a good jacket for if it’s cold wet and wild up top. Waterproof trousers are advised too- if you don’t own a pair, definitely don’t buy or borrow a pair. Probably just stick on a pair of your old work trousers instead. You can’t be too formal in your drenched, agitated misery! Remember it can be very cold even in summer at the top, but for the first part of your ascent it will likely be sunny and bright in a month like July, so take due care-a top tip is to wait until you’re about 20 minutes in BEFORE applying your sunscreen- that way you can be sure you are so sweaty it will just wipe right back off, having little to no effect.
5. Complain all the way
This makes the experience so much less harrowing for you and your friends. There’s nothing not to love about hearing constantly how sore and tired your companion is, and I’m sure my friend found it really motivating.
6. Don’t do it again. Ever.
If the weather is rubbish and your view is obscured, don’t be tempted to give in to people’s suggestions that you go back up another day to enjoy it. Just do a google search for ‘view from the top of Ben Nevis’ et voila, there you have it in all it’s glory- without even getting up off your chair.
And always reward yourself with a medal and chocolate from the visitor centre at the end for being such a sport.
I joke of course. It was extremely hard, and not something I feel inspired to repeat. Definitely once in a lifetime for me, but the appeal for those interested in climbing or a challenge isn’t lost on me. Nor am I ever unhappy to pay a visit to the peace and beauty of the Highlands.
I had some real moments of self-doubt, and fears around if I’d have to bail on the challenge and let my friend down too, but ultimately I made it. It was a struggle, but I carried on and owned the fact I was unprepared, needing to go slowly and put aside all judgements from passers-by, and not worry about the speed or the agility I was most definitely not displaying-simply focus on achieving the accomplishment itself.
I’m sure one day I’ll look at my medal and smile. When I’ve fully recovered from the shock!😂