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A couple of Ben’s, the good and bad

Ben Lomond and Ben Narnain: January 2017

So, I’ve been trying to do as much training as I can, well, quite a lot actually, I mean nearly daily. Nightly, high intensity interval training after work with the acception of the occasional ‘life admin/social face showing’ and trying to fit in a long hike/walk on a weekend. 10-30 km/4-6 hours of walking. Doing this might seem too much but I can’t expect to hike up to 6100m on a mountain without putting in the effort to be as fit as I can be, especially after my accident and injuries that have come from it. Although, most are invisible to the untrained eye, except my right arm from the nerve damage, I continue to deal with issues, physically and mentally but I am becoming better at.

That said, The only way to really train for hiking up a mountain to certain elevation, is by going up mountains. So, with the downloaded meetup app I had been using for hikes around the outskirts of London, I thought, there must be some groups going further afield and actually hiking up mountains in the UK without having to go abroad. Then I found City Mountaineering.

All past and future meetups were hosted by the same person and the description was just what you needed. Where you had to meet and what time, what you were going to be doing, the level of fitness needed, accommodation and food sorted, when you were going to be back in London and the price, which was reasonable. My eyes stopped onto one weekend meetup. Winter ascent of Ben Lomond. Reading it made travelling to Scotland, summiting 2 mountains all in the space of a weekend without taking time off work so easy. I was in. My first time going to Scotland was arranged.

Clear, precise, instructions were emailed through. Kit list was detailed which luckily I had from Gran Paradiso and any other information that was needed was there. We were to meet a guy in Euston train station, by The Body Shop, who had a green rain cover over his rucksack.

Me being me, of course, got there 45 minutes early. I Luckily found a seat which I was able to see the entrance of The Body Shop from. For those of you that live in London or visit regularly, know what a Friday evening is like in a train station in the center of London. One word, intense. The meeting time was nearing. I could see a guy putting a green rain cover on his rucksack. I made the assumption that it was him. I headed over and introduced myself hoping that he knew what I was talking about. He did, luckily. Over the next 15 minutes the other 6 turned up and off we went. London Euston to Glasgow.

4.5 hours passed and we arrived. Stuart (the mountain leader) met us at the station, packed our luggage into the mini bus, introductions were made and a swift exit to the hostel was underway.

An early departure was planned to drive to the Trossachs National Park, so a brief explanation was given and off to bed we all went. Dressed, prepared for hiking, we all made sure we had everything ready, the hiking rucksack packed with the lunch and snacks made for us by Stuart and hydration bladders full. It was a hour drive to the national park.

Tuition was given about the crampons and ice axe which made me feel more at ease and even more ready to use them again. Hiking began.

I remember feeling so happy that I decided to join City Mountaineering to come to Scotland and hike. The whole way up, I was completely blown away by the beauty that surrounded me. Gorgeous blue skies, beautiful sunshine, clear, turquoise lakes in the distance and snow covered terrain. I was experiencing my version of heaven on Earth. At times, it was actually quite emotional. I felt so lucky to be alive and here.

Stuart, was such a good mountain leader. When the snow was waist deep, he would create a path so it was much easier to walk though. Going up quite steep elevation, he would kick steps into the ice which would make it much less of a physical and mental challenge, also, he knew, traversing up in a zig zag with my right side facing the mountain was hard for me, physically, because of having the axe in my left arm, he would make sure I was ok without singling me out.

The summit was reached! I could have stayed there forever. It was absolutely glorious. The task of getting up there melted away. I could of flown up. I forgot the difficulties I had, how at times, the physicality that was needed, it didn’t matter. It was, incredible!

As we were coming down the sun was setting. Everyone had this glorious glow about them. You could tell how happy everyone was. We got back to the hut, showered, ate and rested our hiking legs.

Ready to hike again. This time, Ben Narnain. In our hiking attire, bags packed into the minibus and off we went. An hours drive to this mountain. Snow was in the air.

Stewart mentioned that the first part of this hike was much like a public path until we got through the tree line. After yesterday, we were all quite glad of the easier start. Crampons were put on much earlier as the path was quite icy because of the amount of snow that they have has recently. Stuart had warned us that that a snowy front could happen while on the mountain. It did.

Again, waist deep snow which Stuart was clearing as much as he could for us out in front. Sideways, 35 mph snow that was like having your face exfoliated. We all had the same agenda in mind. Reaching the summit.

It was getting heavier. A complete white out where you couldn’t see much ahead of you apart from Stuart’s feet and the path he was making. Everything was white. The sky was the same colour as the the ground. I remember on days like this, in the Alps, not skiing and staying inside but no going back now.

Head down, single file, we made it to the summit.

Quick picture of our achievement and back down we went. Because of the amount of snow that had fallen so quickly, Stuart was slightly ahead making sure that the path he was taking was suitable. There were times where as Stuart was walking, you could see the start of an avalanche forming above him. It was then that the importance of walking single file, following Stuart’s exact path was highlighted.

As we we were coming down, because of the height of snow that was forming and having to lift your leg high over it, I was starting to get pain in my right hip to the point where I was in tears. Now I’m not a crier but this pain from the repetitive movement was becoming excruciating. I knew that the only time that this pain was going to subside was when we were back on the path. So I accepted it and carried on.

It was becoming clearer and the path could be seen in the distance. A warm internal hug wrapped round my heart. I was so happy. My pace became quicker and I walked ahead of the group.

As I was walking down the path, near the end, in front was a reindeer. Such a beautiful, peaceful animal. I was as quiet as I could be and watched him for ages. Gone was the pain from my hip. I took his being there as congratulating our success.

Back to the van and off to the train station. Into the train we all got with enough time to get out of our hiking gear. A well deserved 4 hour journey, sat in the warm, back into London.

Who knew that a trip to Scotland and completion of 2 mountains of completely varied weather could be done in a weekend. Thanks to Stuart and City Mountaineering it’s very possible. Being away, feeling completely supported and meeting like minded people was the best way to start 2018. I will definitely be going away with City Mountaineering again.

This weekend allowed me to see that my training was paying off. Minimising socialising and life ‘normalities’, even though, at times, really test my mentality, I just need to keep believing it is all worth it. Again, I would have not recovered after my accident like I have if I hadn’t put everything into my fitness and recovery.

If you want something bad enough, go in whole heartedly with the belief that things will get better and work your hardest for it.

Here are the hike details of the 2 mountains:

There are more photos of this trip on my instagram @sam_baynes


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