Thursday 5th May - The Journey
After a couple of technical hitches we manage to start our long journey to Scotland. We had to go to Northfleet to pick up the minibus that we hire for the weekend. Then we set off on the 11 hour trip to Fort William.
On the bus apart from myself was Pat Anderson who runs Special Sport and Jane Sansom and Mick Pawley who help Pat. We met John Diplock and Kath Blackie who used to help with Special Sport, at Glen Nevis campsite where we were staying.
We stopped every 3 or so hours so that Pat and Mick could change places in the driving seat. We crossed the border soon after 4pm but we still had another 4 hours or so to go.
We finally arrived at 8.45pm that evening. Mick got his tent out to find it had rotted, luckily John had a spare one. John and Kath were already there, they came the night before so they were able to save us a site. We had a late dinner of Spaggeti bolognes and discussed plans for the weekend. Ben Nevis was in front of us but couldn't see the summit because it was in mist. . . .
Realistically, there was a slim chance that we would make it to the summit because there was still a lot of ice and snow on the top. However, nothing was to stop us from going for it and thats what we did, but we would have to leave very early and made the snowline our aim. We would wait until morning to see what the weather was like and make a definite. decision whether to go Friday or Saturday.
Friday 6th May - The Training
The next morning I was woken with a cup of tea at 7.30am. It had been raining the night before and was still raining. Instead of making the the attempt on Ben Nevis, we decided to go on a 'training' five mile walk in Glencoe. So we drove both vams, Kaths little Ford transit and the hire bus to Glencoe leaving Kath's van in the village and all of us driving a few miles into the country. Once at our destination, we got out and got ready and then set off on a five mile walk over the hills to Kath's van as this is a one way route.
I started getting into a rythm of the ascent, not too fast, not too slow. The weather was changeable, it kept hailing and raining at intervals. I needed to stop at times for breathers especially at quite steep parts when my heart was beating nineteen to the dozen and Pat kept rushing on and coming back (the Jack Russell syndrome as someone called it).
At 1500 feet we were at the top of the hills. We had come through Devil's steps. By this time I was stiff in the back. We left the path and started.to decend.We made our way to where there was a snowy slope and a some fun but not before John got me to. walk upwards in the snow. It was a bit tricky at first because of not being used to climbing in thick snow that was a few feet deep, but soon got the knack. Once at the top we all had a go sliding down the slope on our backs. I was a bit wary at first but liked the idea. We then settled down to lunch and John demonstrated on how to use an emergency shelter, a tent without poles that goes over our heads and is kept down by sitting on the edge of the material. It also keeps you warm. This is used only if you're stuck out in the mountains or exposed areas.
We soon started of again making our way back to the path to go down. It would be another couple of hours or so before we got to Kath's van.
I was now having problems with my right foot. Because the boots and socks were wet, my foot was slipping to one side of the boot which was making me walk on it twisted.
We stopped and adjusted my boots which made it more comftable.
By 6pm we finally arrived at Kath's van. I got in the front with Kath and Pat, John, Jane and Mick squashed themselves in the back but Pat and I soon swapped places as she felt sick. John was in the back cutting cheese with his ice pick and using it to spread peanut butter on his bread.
That night Mick, Pat and Jane played crib, and oh! what a shame Mick lost again. Saturday 7th May - The Climb
Up at 6.30 am and had breakfast of peanut butter sandwich (or at least half of it).
We started of at the campsite at 8.10am. We had to walk down the road for a bit then cross the river and started to ascend.
The path was steep and very stony which made me unbalanced at times. Luckily I had people around me (I think I made people rather panicy that day!!). I took a slow steady pace as I wanted to save energy for later when I would most need it, but I still needed to stop at times for breathers.
The weather was very changeable and would change quickly. It rained, hailed and snowed. It was also very windy with the only advantage that it assisted us going up.
We had lunch at 1700 feet by the lake and the mist was also coming in. At this point I accepted the fact that because of the severe weather conditions we would not be able to make it to the summit but could and would get to the snowline at 2,100 feet and it would have been another 4 hours from the snowline to the summit and it was already lunchtime. The mist started to clear a bit now so we started off again as we had another 400 feet to go and an hour or so before we got there.
I was now starting to get tire and my right foot was aching. I was told if I wanted to we could turn round and go back and no one would be disappointed because we made a good attempt, but we were that near to the snowline and we got this far that I wasn't going to give in, plus I would have been more disappointed for the others than myself.
Despite the weather conditions and uneven pathways, we finally got to snowline at 2,100 feet in 4 hours and 45 minutes. I was quite pleased to get this far and relieved to get there. The gully was all snow and there was a snow cave underneath it but we were able to climb up onto the snow and sit there and have photos taken. We were not the only climbers not able to get to the top. There were many experienced climbers, marines and Venturers from Raleigh International all who were not able to get to the top.
We had a short rest then I started to throw snowballs at Pat which started everyone else off and Kath was throwing them at other people who were not with us. After that bit of fun we started our way back down the same way we came. The view around Ben Nevis and Fort william was magnificent.
When we got to the place where we had lunch, I needed to stop to have my boots tightened so John got the emergency shelter out as it was blowing a gale at that time and we had a short break. Pat decided to go to sleep so one by one the rest of us tried to sneak out and leave her there but she soon woke. We still had another 1700 feet to go but the next quater mile or so was grassland so I was able to walk on there which made it easier for me.
There have been humourous moments throughout the day like every time Mick took his waterproofs off, it either started raining, hailing or snowing. I gave Pat heart failure (on purpose!!) by doing silly things like pretending to lose my balance and fall over the side. At one point, half way down while everyone was snoozing, I thought I would try and scare them by going to the side of the mountain and prentend to fall over the side and screamed ahh!, but it didn't work, they all had one eye on me so they didn't bother coming to my rescue.
Eventually we arrived at the bottom of Ben Nevis after about 3 hours, but went further along the river this time to cross.
On this trip I had a walking stick with me which proved to to be an asset to me as when I get tired I seem to lean to one side because of my back being curved it kept me propped up. Also it helped balance me when we crossed springs, streams and rocks.
By 6pm we arrived back at the campsite tired, worn out and hungry. My right foot wasn't aching so much now that we had been walking on flat ground. After a relaxing shower we decided to go to Fort William and buy a take away dinner and booze and bring it back.
That evening we drank and played cards. John and Kath packed up their equipment as they were planning to leave early, which meant Mick and I had to get up because we had their tent then they went to bed and Mick, Jane, Pat and I carried on Playing cards. (Mick didn't win one game on this trip).
Sunday 8th May - The Journey Home
Up early again. John and Kath were soon ready to. go. They were going to climb a high ridge in Glencoe that day then travel back to Devon that night.
After the goodbyes and their departure, Jane and Pat went to the showers while Mick and I sorted the bus out. We were ready to leave by 8am BUT! a technical hitch, the bus wouldn't start. The engine was damp, so we tried to kick start it, but it didn't work then a very nice man (not the AA) said he would use his car to jump start the engine afterwe manage to aquire jump leads from the reception.
We were soon on our way back to kent. The trip was uneventful really apart from a few stops for petrol, and swapping drivers, and loud music to Jane's delight. We stopped at Northfleet to change buses and in half an hour I was home after a few days of excitement, wit, fun and experience.
I felt that had the weather been better I would have got to the top, however I wasn't
disappointed at not reaching the summit and the main thing was I made a good attempt and also I didn't feel it was disability that stopped me because no one else got there