Ben Nevis: How Not To Do It

Ever tried to win the heart of your One True Love by luring them into the Scottish Highlands to climb the UK’s highest mountain? No? Well good, because it probably won’t end the way you want it to.

I was in my first year at Glasgow Uni, and had been pursuing fraught amorous relations with the disinterested Simon*. It was my idea that we go on a camping trip to climb Ben Nevis. If I could get him away from civilisation and all its – ahem – distractions (I.E sexual attention from people who weren’t me), then maybe, out in the rugged Highland landscape, he would finally return my love.

A mere matter of days before exam season started we set off our adventure. I was equipped with a rucksack full of provisions and heavy-duty camping equipment, while Simon, preferring to travel light, carried only a pop-up tent and a ukulele. How could anything go wrong?

Things began to turn sour as we bickered over the correct way to assemble the tent. My attempts at cooking dinner weren’t much more successful – I discovered to my horror that I’d forgotten to bring the gas burner for the camping stove. Terrified that I would actually start crying at my own incompetence, I gushed out apologies that clearly made Simon uncomfortable, but help was at hand in the form of two hairy German men who agreed to lend us their stove so we could cook a load of pasta that instantly went cold and slimy. We ate in strained silence as the sun went down.  

Scotland in April is still unbelievably cold. We cowered in the tent, and my fantasies of passionate adult cuddling were dashed as soon I realized we’d need to wear every layer of clothing we owned and huddle in our separate sleeping bags to avoid getting frostbite. During the night I was woken by the chattering of my own teeth, and receiving no sympathy from Simon, I went to the toilet block for shelter and did star jumps for warmth until the sun came up. When it was finally time to pack up and set off up the mountain I was less than enthusiastic.

I’ve never been one of those people who do the whole sport thing, but even so nothing could have prepared me for the extent of physical deterioration my body had gone through after 8 months of not exercising and eating my own weight in pizza. Half an hour into the hike I was puffing and gasping and wondering how the hell I was going to make it. We stopped for an emergency joint, which made Simon spring up the mountain like a gazelle, but made me feel even more like a slug.  

As we climbed higher the winds got stronger and the ground got rougher. We left the views behind us as the clouds came down, and stumbled blindly through pummelling rain and hail. The official guidelines for climbing the mountain insist upon proper navigation with a compass – if only we’d listened. Towards the summit the path peters out completely, leaving hikers to fend for themselves in the snowy wastes. Barely able to see a metre in front of us, we put our faith in following other people’s footprints, and I tried desperately not to think about the 200 metre drop that was lurking somewhere in the mist.  

To give ourselves comfort in the face of doom we left a trail of bright green wasabi peas in the snow to help us find our way down again, but, much like Samwise Gamgee, I was beginning to severely doubt that there would be a journey home. Simon decided I needed encouragement in the form of a ukulele recital, but, just like our relationship, it proved to be ill-timed and ill-fated. The howling wind snatched the notes away and left us with nothing but the endless white emptiness and the prospect of imminent death. I realized fully for the first time that we were going to break up.  

It’s funny how going to a beautiful wild place at the edge of civilisation can change your perspective.  By the time we finally made it off the mountain after a gruelling ten hours I was nursing aching muscles and a broken heart, and I’d been forced to confront some uncomfortable truths, such as the dire physical consequences of an unhealthy lifestyle, the stupidity of smoking weed in a blizzard (don’t try it), and the wrongfulness of expecting a relationship to complete you. Was it worth it? Absolutely.  

Definitely make the most of your time in Scotland to explore as far and wide as possible. There’s a whole wilderness out there waiting to be discovered. It’ll provide the perfect backdrop for heartbreak and self-discovery, and give you plenty of memorable stories to treasure for the rest of your life, even if you don’t end up with a bae.

[Cat Acheson – @cat_acheson]

* Names have been changed (duh)


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