Saturday 2nd of September was the final peak of the ‘3 Peaks, 1 leg challenge’ Ben Nevis.
I had reservations about it being the tallest of the three, but I also thought to myself it couldn’t be any harder than Scafell Pike as that was a constant uphill climb with lots of steps, and when I researched the route for Ben Nevis, to me it looked a steady path all the way up, no rock climbing as such and just a little bit further than Snowdon, so how bad could it be?
The weather forecast for the day was ‘just the right walking weather’ with no rain, so not slippery as this is tough for an amputee at the best of times and not too warm as again, socket problems in the heat would slow me down.
I was buzzing the morning of the climb, first one up, packed lunches made and drove us all to the car park, dogs in tow. I felt like I had the energy, the strength and the determination to get me up there before lunch. We set off walking at 7:30am at a steady pace (not too slow for Adam and the boys) but wow! it soon got tough. After about an hour and a half of rocky paths, I had to stop to take off my prosthetic to ‘de sweat’ this is something I would never have wanted to do previously for fear of people staring, but I did not care. I knew that if I was to carry on and not cause problems for my residual limb it’s just what I had to do. To take it off and air it felt great. Quick drink and back on the paths, some did seem to level out so not walking as much bent over, but for most of it I was constantly looking at the ground, at my feet making sure I was placing them on the safest parts giving me good balance. Three hours in and still nowhere near the top the pain became intense, in my back, in my left thigh, my ankle and my hands from holding my walking sticks so hard. The tears started to come and the feeling of when will this be over. We took a quick break, a handful of Finlay’s Haribo and a glug of water I thought would see me through, but no, I started to feel nauseous, just pure exhaustion was coming over me in waves. I started to question myself, have I set the bar too high? Am I less fit than I was last year? Is this too much for an amputee? Am I just stupid thinking I can do this?
Another hour in and I was ready to give up, I felt like I was stopping every 10 minutes to give my ‘good leg’ a break and it would work for a small amount of time, but the burning pains soon came back. At this point, I said to my husband, “If this was just a day out, just a family walk, I’d have given up ages ago, I can’t do this, but I can’t give up, it’s for charity, people have sponsored us, I have to get to the top”. Another rest, another socket change, another mouthful of Haribo.
As we were reaching what seemed to be the top walkers that passed kept telling us we haven’t got much further to go maybe another hour or so (this felt like forever and at the time I wasn’t thankful for their time comments) Another downer for me was seeing people who I had seen on the way up, but they were now an hour already back down. I had to keep telling myself ‘They have two legs, it’s easier for them’ but I put so much pressure on myself to get up and down in good time.
The mountain rescue helicopter came out three times whilst we were making our way to the top which again gave me another indication of how still so far away it felt. Only when we had to put our coats back on did I know it was getting close due to how cold it was getting. Seeing the helicopter did make me start thinking to myself ‘How can I purposely injure my left leg, so I am unable to walk back down?’ that helicopter had my name on it! Some of those paths I had taken to get up, were already frightening me at the thought of how I get back down. In previous climbs I knew that the descent for me is always tougher than going up.
Eventually, we reached the top, 5 hours and 20 minutes later, I cried (again) this time of pure delight that I got to have a little break. The scenery wasn’t the best at the top due to the mist, but you definitely got the feel of how high we were. My husband and boys (and dogs) were amazing, they got me there, willing me on, Alfie giving me the odd little push-up and just generally being so supportive, I know how tough it was for them to go so slow with me at times, but I couldn’t have done it without them.
The boys decided they would go down and meet us at the bottom, they took the dogs with them, so Adam could concentrate on helping me back down. I knew this was going to be tricky, there were some parts that were gravel, some slate, and some quite large rocks to take a big step down, I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. We made our way down probably an hour and a half until we were back in the sun to sit have a rest and have something decent to eat. I felt like I’d gone past hunger, but I also knew I needed something to keep me going. We had around 15 minutes, and even for sitting that short amount of time the pains started coming, like I really shouldn’t have sat down. My body felt like there was nothing left, I cried again at the thought of it. What I forgot to mention is that at the top we learnt that the ‘Ben Nevis Race’ was taking place the same day, so there were runners, RUNNING up and RUNNING back down past us all our way. I mean hats off to them they were machines. The support I received from them and their supporters, plus the first aid and officials was second to none, I had rounds of applause, amazing comments, and people walking with me to tell me how amazing I was doing, what an inspiration I was and even a paparazzi moment for one walker. (I don’t think that photo will be me looking my best!) The descent felt like it was never going to end and was so steep in some places and there were a few near misses where Adam had to grab me by my backpack, it was so very scary that it brought the tears again, I think I basically cried my way down.
Four and a half hours later we finally made it back to the car, more rounds of applause, and a huge sigh of relief, more tears but I think this time in relief to see my crocs!!
What a day, emotionally and physically drained! – nearly 10 hours walking, nearly 40,000 steps, and nearly 4,000 calories burnt – I felt like Ben Nevis broke me in many ways, but what it didn’t take was my determination, I didn’t let it beat me, I was close, but I didn’t give up! And I can categorically say he will NEVER see me again!
The views I believe are amazing, I saw mostly the terrain, but my husband captured the views and every highs and lows of our walk.