Ben Nevis, Scotland – Journey to the Mountain of Heaven

Ben Nevis, Scotland – Journey to the Mountain of Heaven

Ben Nevis, translated from Gaelic as, “the Mountain of Heaven” or “Venomous Mountain” by others, the name itself sounded treacherous but downright exciting. I first heard of this name the day after my descent from the tallest peak in England, Scafell Pike. My climbing partner had mentioned to me that there was a taller counterpart to the mountain that we had just climbed located in the far north of Scotland, in the Highlands. A quick Google search revealed that it was about 50% taller than Scafell, the thought of climbing it sounded astonishing and at that point almost impossible. However, the idea of being physically present at the highest point in the whole of Great Britain was symbolic, it would be a journey that would involve overcoming fire, earth, water and ice, coming face-to-face with nothing but myself and the elements of raw nature.

(Photo 1: View of Edinburgh from Princess Street Gardens)

The journey to the mountain itself would be a trek in itself. The mountain was located in a small town called Fort William, which was 10 hours to reach from London by train. The first leg would take me to Edinburgh where I will board the local railway to the remote area. Further research revealed that the temperatures on top of Ben Nevis would go up to -9 degrees Celsius with strong gale winds from the Pacific and chances of snow. Somewhere along with my research, I came across articles of climbers getting lost in the mountain fog and falling into their deaths as well as some that had narrow escapes but had to deal with injury and hypothermia. For a Malaysian born and raised in the tropics, this sounded terrifying, but nevertheless every fibre in my body knew that I had to do it.

(Photo 2: On the train to Fort William)

4 weeks later, I began my solo pilgrimage only to find myself stranded in Glasgow Queen Street station, as the train from Edinburgh to Glasgow had been delayed, causing me to miss the last train to Fort William. Some bad luck and the whole trip that I had planned was falling apart. The Scottish railway company assured me that they would get me there. Thirty minutes later, I was put on a cab that drove me to a remote town called Crianlarich where I will attempt to catch the train that I had missed. It was a race against time, my whole trip hanging on a thread.

It was almost midnight, by the time I arrived at the bunkhouse located at the foot of the mountain.  

The next morning, I woke up to the face of a gargantuan entity, like a child looking up at a skyscraper, the mountain’s presence seemed so majestic with its peak covered in the clouds. I was at the foot of a god gazing up in wonder and I remember feeling at peace, it is no wonder why some often seek solace in nature. Pine trees, hills, and rivers filled my surroundings, it was serene and the day’s clear skies conveyed to me that it was time to hike. Armed with nothing but my wits and a big breakfast I began my ascent up the “stairway to heaven”.

(Photo 3: An inviting trail with the mountains as far as the eye can see)

The first two hours of my ascent was pleasant, the trail was inviting, and I was greeted by sounds of wild sheep and sights of mountain deer. However, the pleasantness of the first half of my journey had soon proved to be short-lived. The first two hours involved hiking East across the baby sibling of Ben Nevis, the 711m-tall “Meall an t-Suidhe”, followed by a short descent into a plateau between the two mountains, to which was resident to “Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe”.  A lake, like a blue sheet of glass placed seamlessly into the creaks and crevices of the mountain crags, placed there as a keyhole for pilgrims to glimpse into the heavens.

This was the half-way point. I arrived at a crossroads, where (according to my map) left meant going north into a leisurely walk across the lake and an easy descent down the north face of Ben Nevis, while going right meant hiking up a steep winding path into the large cloud that veiled the Ben. Like a spacecraft entering the event horizon of a black hole, I looked up into the void that awaited me, took a deep breath and soldiered on.

(Photo 4: The lake – Lochan Meall)

As the journey went on, the temperatures began to plummet drastically. Then rain began to fall upon the mountain, and the further I went up, the stronger the gale winds became. Soon after, the rain started to become ice, and I was forced to walk directly against the icy fury that constantly bombarded my body. My face began to feel very numb, and could I barely see the path ahead of me. The heavy fog, ice and strong winds only allowed for one thing to be certain: my next step.

(Photo 5: As the fog closed in, the mountain looked ominous)

It was mentally and physically excruciating, I peered up the path ahead and over my shoulder, desperately looking for a fellow traveller. No one. At that point, exhausted from a seemingly futile battle against the elements, I pondered if I should give up and head back. I felt the ghosts of this boreal mountain closing in on me, I knew one wrong step in the fog could lead me to join the ones that have lost their lives to this mountain. I prayed in my heart that God would either make me stronger or calm the weather.

About 15 minutes later, sun rays penetrated the path before me, it was as if a curtain had been dramatically drawn aside, and I beheld a magnificent view, mountains, hills and rivers as far as the eye can see. God had revealed the heavens and all nature laid before me; I was nothing but a humble worshipper, a minuscule instant of existence beholding the ancient skies and timeless lands. Spurred on by my newly-found rejuvenation, I kept going.

(Photo 6: When the clouds departed momentarily)

Soon after, I began to overtake fellow hikers as I neared the summit. Fog, winds, and ice had returned yet again. But, the thought of reaching the highest point in the whole of Great Britain made me forget the pain. Among the fog, the ruined 150-year-old observatory slowly began to become visible. It was at this point, I knew I had arrived at my destination- 1,345m above anything else in England, Scotland and Wales. But around the corner, was an even bigger surprise.

A man visibly shaken up by the weather as I was, went down on his knees before a woman, and his hands held a small black box with a ring in it. She said, yes.

 I was the only one to see this, and I congratulated them, it truly was an amazing event for me to witness. The cold, however, was becoming unbearable for me. With the assistance of the newly-engaged British man, I went up the mound with the Malaysian flag in hand and got my photograph taken. My hands were cold to the point of unnatural pain, fearing for my hands I headed back down immediately.

(Photo 7: Mission accomplished)

To the readers of FLYKLIA.COM, I will like to emphasise the importance of solo travelling. It doesn’t have to be somewhere far away, but at least to you it is somewhere meaningful that would take some courage for you to step forth. It was on that mountain that I told myself, that in conquering it, nothing else in the world can intimidate me. I left behind the lost souls of that shadowy mountain, but more importantly, my personal demons.

 

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Written by maximilian