Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Ben Nevis

On Thursday 20th June I set off Northwards for what would be my toughest challenge yet...Climbing the highest mountain in the United Kingdom,standing at 1344 Meters(4,409ft)...Ben Nevis. I had planned the trip sometime ago. It had bothered me that I had not reached the top of Mount Snowdon a few months ago due to the poor weather, so I decided that I would try Ben Nevis and hope for better weather. I decided to drive to Scotland but would stop in Preston overnight on the way up to break the journey. I checked in to a hotel just off the motorway and spent the night there.
The following morning I began the long drive north of the border. The farthest north I think I have previously been is the Lake District, so once I eventually passed signs to the lakes I was in new territory. Once I finally got off the motorway I enjoyed driving through stunning scenery and was constantly amazed by how beautiful the countryside was. Several times I felt I had to stop the car and take some photo's and just take everything in. I arrived into my bed and breakfast in Corpach, which is just outside Fort William in the late afternoon. I had a nice view of Loch Linhe and endless mountains.
I had booked to go with a guide up Ben Nevis on Sunday, so I had a free day to explore on the Saturday. I decided I wanted to do a little walking to just get myself ready for the next day, but at the same time I did not want to overdo things. I found a car park just outside of Glencoe with a path leading up to the mountains.
I decided I would walk no more than 90 minutes up the mountain and then turn around and go back to the car. The weather was not brilliant, it was raining, but it did not spoil my enjoyment. I had to pinch myself. Here I was,walking in the Highlands. It has always looked nice on any tv programme or film I have watched, but being there was something special.
That night, my thoughts turned to Ben Nevis. I was very excited, but self doubt began to creep in. Could I make it to the top? Had I trained hard enough for it? Was I ready? I reassured myself that I was capable of doing it, and I tried to imagine being at the top. Ultimately I knew that one way or another all the questions would be answered the next morning.
I met my guide,Peter at 8.45 at the Ben Nevis Inn. There were another 6 people in the group, After we had introduced ourselves and made final checks to our kit, we were off. We set off in single file along a trail. We could not actually see Ben Nevis from the start. We had to use a trail to bring us on to it. Our guide paced us  well and we did make rest stops. On the first part of the walk I noticed I was really hot even though it was a very overcast damp day. I had put too many layers on from the beginning,expecting it to be cold. I took off my raincoat and a t-shirt leaving me with just my baselayer shirt and felt much more comfortable. I only put all my layers back on very close to the top.
The route began to climb and I could feel that I was working hard. I stayed towards the middle of the group and felt I was doing ok. After a while I found my rhythm,and just kept moving forwards. The terrain on the lower part of the climb was all small stones and rocks and steps. They were not too difficult. However I did think to myself it might be tricky on the way back down.
After about two hours we reached the Red Burn. This is a waterfall where we could fill up our water bottles. Peter told us we were now halfway to the top. That made me feel really good. Ok so far it had not been a walk in the park, but I had managed it, and I was feeling fine. All of a sudden I had got some real self belief and I just knew I was going to reach the top. I kept telling myself that. The views of the valley below were stunning, but we could not see the top of Ben Nevis. The cloud was low and Peter believed, unless the weather changed we would not have much of a view at the top.
As we pushed on higher the terrain took on an almost lunar like appearance. It was very dark rock, the mist had come in and it was very eerie. Our path zig zagged up the mountain and we made good progress. Peter said there were 9 zig zags to do to get to the plateau then the summit would be 1 kilometre from there. I was couting everytime we changed direction, getting closer and closer to the top.
Before I knew it I heard Peter say five hundred meters to go. I was quite tired up to that point but it just gave me and the rest of the group a real boost. My lungs were filling up with air faster, my legs were lighter. I was going to make it. I felt so good. The final push took us over a little bit of snow. This did need some extra care as it was slippery under foot.
The trig point and summit marker was a great sight to see. We reached this just after 1pm After we had congratulated each other and had our photo's taken, I took a moment to myself. I found a rock to sit it turns out a freezing cold and damp one so I didn't sit for long. But I just looked up at the cloudy sky and let the accomplishment sink in. All the doubts had gone, all the questions had been answered. Yes I could reach the top of Ben Nevis, yes I had trained hard enough for it, and yes I had indeed been ready for it.
After a brief while we began the long descent. We followed the same route. I was aware that it was much faster to go down. We did have to take care in places as it really was steep and some rain had fallen to make some of the stones quite I found out. I lost my footing once, and somehow broke my fall with my rucksack and my little fingers of all things. Thankfully no broken bones but one finger got a small cut and the other ended up all bruised. Still it took my mind off my legs which had been aching.
Eventually we reached the Ben Nevis Inn again. My car was a sight for sore eyes at 4.30 pm. Having said our goodbyes I got in my car and drove back to my Bed and Breakfast. Grinning from ear to ear the whole way I think.
I enjoyed that evening in a local pub with some well deserved drinks and a nice meal. The following day I began the trip home. I had decided to drive the whole distance in one day. It took 11 hours with a couple of stops for refreshments and to stretch my legs.
It really was a great weekend and a great experience and a timely morale booster with less than 9 weeks to go before I head to Africa.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

High Altitude and the High Commision

With not long to go I (11 weeks, eek!) I had to get the paperwork done. I decided rather than apply by post for my visa to enter the United Republic of Tanzania, that I would go to the Tanzania High commission in London and apply for it in person.The plan was to apply for my visa on the Monday and pick it up the following day. I arrived into London early by train and went to the Tanzania High commision to hand my application and passport in. I decided to stay in London overnight to avoid travelling back and forth and made a day of it Monday. The hotel I booked was right across the road from the Natural History and Science museums so I went for a visit around both of them, after I had spent Monday morning and lunch in Picadilly Circus.
I had also booked an appointment at the Altitude centre in London for the Tuesday, for a consultation. After a leisurely Tuesday morning I made my way to the centre in central London. After a few  tests of my blood pressure and lung capacity, I was given a high altitude test. This involved using an oxygen mask hooked up to a special machine. I breathed normally through the mask for five minutes. The machine was set up to simulate 5,500m  above sea level. I then had to do the same thing with the machine set to 3500m above sea level.
The results seemed quite encouraging. The oxygen levels in my blood were measured and it showed that my body did cope quite well with the increased altitude, and I was also able to recover quickly when the mask was removed.
I was really pleased that I did the test. I have read up on the effects of altitude and it was a slight concern to me, the last thing anyone wants is to get unwell on a big mountain. But I feel a little bit more prepared for it now and hopefully I wont suffer too much at the high altitude.
After my visit to the altitude centre I went back to the High commission where my passport with visa were waiting for me to collect. I then travelled back home with another thing on the list ticked off.