Monday, 5 July 2010

Dragging something from the jaws of something else

This news just in: mountains can be a little tricky.

You may have been looking for a post with three cheery photos; here's me on three summits, looking windswept yet successful. The post would have tales of derring-do, exertion, man's struggle against the elements. A bit like Touching the Void, but with more Jaffa Cakes.

This is not going to be that kind of post.

Take a look at this picture:

This is the path going up the side of Ben Nevis. It's towards the beginning, about half an hour in. Looks quite pretty, doesn't it? But it's relentless - it goes on like this for much of the mountain's height. No problem. This is a mountain, after all. It's not as if they put summits at ground level to make them easier for larger blokes.

So I went at my pace. Most of my party were ahead of me, but I wasn't last. I was breathing a little heavily, but making solid progress. I carried on around the contour of Meall an t-Suidhe (please don't ask me to pronounce this), a 2,100-foot hill adjoining the Ben itself:

It was at this point that I would have been able to get my first glimpse of the summit, had it not been shrouded in mist. Then Richard (who does this kind of thing for fun when he's not being my boss) came up to meet me; he'd been looking after another member of the party who'd had to turn back.

"Blimey, this is tricky," I panted. "This pack is so rocky."
"Well," he dead-panned, "this is a mountain."

And so we carried on, Richard giving plenty of encouragement. For a while the path gave way to a gradual sandy incline and we made faster progress. Then back on to the rocks again. I'd been going on this staircase of mis-matched boulders for two hours now.

Richard took a picture of me as we reached the zigzag path, roughly halfway up:

To give you an idea, our starting point was further down the valley under my left arm, obscured in this picture by the bulk of Meall an t-Suidhe.

By now, things were getting a little slower. I was stopping more regularly, although Richard showed infinite patience, reminding me how well I'd done so far. We carried on for 20 minutes or so in this vein.

Then, ping! Something gave way at the top of my left leg. I tried lifting it, only to be greeted by pain. I can walk this off, I thought.

I couldn't. We were doing ten steps at a time, then having to stop. This was no way to climb a mountain. Richard didn't sugarcoat things for me. We were still some way below the summit, he told me, the mist was closing in and this was a dangerous place for people with one-and-a-half legs. He was right.

I'm not ashamed to say I had a bit of a moment.

That climb down was the longest, hardest two and a half hours I can remember. Tired, demoralised, the rain being blown at me by 50mph winds. Standing aside to let faster people pass. More than once I was overtaken by people who'd overtaken me on the way up. Some of my party found me, and reckoned I'd made it to 900 metres, about 2,700 feet. "You'd made good progress, too, for a first-timer," they said, "You were about an hour away from the summit."

I'd love to tell you all that I'd found this information useful at the time. I waved them on and plodded downwards alone.

The rain coated the rocky steps, and I must have been distracted when I lost my footing. I fell, bounced sideways, then tumbled onto my back. My left calf bashed into the edge of another rock and immediately went into spasm. It was rock-hard. Oh, the irony.

For me, my challenge was well and truly over and I finally limped in at about 10.20pm. Lots of people were there to make sympathetic noises (Richard had called them in advance) but I just wanted to be alone. I let Katie know I was safe and tried to sleep, quietly curled up in the back of the minibus as it moved on to Scafell Pike.

Yesterday morning was wet and windy, typical Lake District. Some of our number decided to give Scafell Pike a miss, me included. As the day went on, though, we decided we'd have a go at Snowdon that afternoon. My leg was moving more freely and a quick trot around the car park gave me confidence. But it didn't happen; conditions were atrocious at Scafell and by the time the climbers had returned to the minibus we were running out of daylight to get to North Wales and get up and down Snowdon safely in daylight. Home it was, then.

Folks, I'm sorry, especially if you sponsored me. Sorry that I couldn't deliver you three peaks. It seems the deities of steep places weren't smiling down on me on the day. I am awe-struck at anyone who could do one of these mountains, let alone all three, in a single trip.

Having said that, I'm the wrong side of 40 and weigh 18 stone. I started exercise only a few months ago. And despite that I got roughly two-thirds of the way up the highest mountain in Britain and got stopped only when one of my muscles said "Enough". I gave it a go.

Would I do it again? I honestly don't know. Am I glad I tried? Yes I am.

Now if you don't mind, me and Johnnie Walker have an urgent appointment.

1 comment:

John's Weight Loss Blog said...

"The wrong side of 40" - shoot, that describes me too. The time is now to get fit, isn't it?

Congrats on going for it, looks tough!


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