I’m now able to sit and write about my last mountain in the UK before we depart for France in two weeks time. I honestly don’t know where all the time has gone and it doesn’t seem like very long ago that the countdown timer on our website www.mtblancforms.com was at 177 days to go. It now reads 8!!
Last week saw my little brother Simon and I venture up north to Scotland to scale Britain’s (and of course Scotland’s) highest peak, Ben Nevis. This is the first time that Si has been able to join me on my climbs so far as he works abroad and is home intermittently. I’m glad he was there for this one and is, in fact, the first mountain we have ever climbed together so it was a doubly good day out. Luke couldn’t make the trip unfortunately due to work commitments but in a couple of weeks it will all come together and the Merry Boys will be conquering the biggest peak Europe has to offer.
This weeks’ trip started with an RV at Gatwick Airport for Me, Si and my mate Foxy. Now lets get this bit out of the way straight away. Yes Foxy is the guy from the TV series SAS Who Dares Wins, yes he is quite essence (I don’t see it myself but a great many ladies do), and no I’m not providing his contact details!! It was fantastic to see them both after a little while not doing so, and we greeted each other with a real sense of the impending adventure we were about to share.
After a couple of coffees and some Olympic standard dit spinning we took the obligatory selfie before boarding the plane to Inverness. Having posted the said selfie on Instagram, Foxy had had 271 ‘likes’ in 20 seconds, I on the other hand got 2 and one of those was from Foxy!! I thought I was doing ok with the whole social media aspect of getting our message out, it turns out I’m in a school team compared to the Premier League that he’s swanning around in. As if to emphasise this, he got another 10,000 while we were in the air (for just over an hour!!!!)
The Sun Was Shining
On arrival at Inverness airport we quickly sorted out a hire car and headed into the beautiful scenery of Scotland. The sun was shinning which for us was a bit confusing. In our previous lives as Royal Marines Commandos we only came up here for mountain training which involved carrying very large and ridiculously heavy bergans packed full of the military kit required to fight and survive in this hostile environment and almost always in horizontal rain and freezing temperatures. It didn’t make any sense to see the tops and the bottoms of the mountains at the same time and to have the aircon in the car switched on. We decided to celebrate this by stopping at the Commando Memorial at Spean Bridge close to Achnacarry the training ground of the original Commandos from all cap badges during the Second World War.
The statue is fantastic and really evokes the bravery and granite hardness of our forebears and has now been joined by a very poignant memorial garden to the fallen. By dint of it’s relatively new addition to this site it has many touching commemorations to those men of the Royal Marines and Army Commandos killed on recent operations. War memorials have always been part of the lives of nearly everyone in this country and the names, while sad to read, often don’t have much impact on us, as they are just that, names. To now read the names of men I knew or was at least involved in the same operations that they were killed on, has a whole different perspective. Never forgotten lads.
We arrived in Fort William at the same time as the two other climbers that were there to climb the Ben with us. Baz who has climbed Snowdon and Scafell Pike with me and Frank, our one legged former Bootneck mate. Baz is a former Mountain Leader in the Royal Marines and is a remarkable man. He was a crewmember in the TV recreation of Shackelton’s epic journey across the ice of Antarctic, the Southern Sea and Gritviken, all done in authentic clothing and equipment. If that wasn’t enough, he’s also preparing to walk solo across the Antarctic continent while pulling God knows how much weight in a pulk. Awesome.
Frank lost his leg in a freak accident while assisting another motorist on the M3 and has since thrown himself into good causes and ninja challenges. He was part of a four-man team that rowed across the Atlantic and plans to do it again next year solo. Baz and Frank had taken the time to drive all the way up from Plymouth just to support Simon and I in our training climb. We settled into our accommodation that had a tremendous view over the town, the Loch and hills that surround Fort William before heading into town for some food and a couple of beers.
Unique Sense of Humor
The next morning we headed to Morrisons supermarket for a fry up and to stock up on high energy food for the day, before heading to the car park at Glen Nevis to prepare for the day. Here we met another old friend of mine, Wee Mick. Mick is a former Paratrooper and native of Dublin and has a sense of humor to rival any stand up. Together we all set off in glorious sunshine wearing only t-shirts and began the long climb to the summit. To watch Frank make his way along the track is to put my problems into perspective. He is strong and fit but having a prosthesis to drag up the hill certainly makes things difficult for him although this does not excuse him from the abuse he received from us all.
The military has a very unique sense of humor and is one that many civilians would find offensive or difficult to fathom. Frank was roundly insulted for slowing us down and for being such a cripple, and then very comprehensively ridiculed when he needed to stop and go back. It was at about this point that the weather turned and began to rain. This was more like it. As we climbed higher this rain turned into sleet and then snow as the temperature fell very noticeably and so we felt more at home in our warm and waterproof kit.
Ben Nevis Summit
We reached the summit with no problems and surprise surprise it was clagged in with no visibility. The only difference between this and the other three peaks is that the wind wasn’t howling across the area so the experience was a pleasant one. After taking a few photos for our sponsors and a quick chat to camera, we began the long walk back down, the exact the same distance as the route up by the way!, to meet up with Frank who by this time had made his way back to our accommodation.
The total route was a little over 10 miles and took us 8 ½ hours. We took our time, stopped when I needed to and generally enjoyed the incredible views presented to us once we were below the cloud base. This day, like the others that we have spent on these climbs, was great fun. I can honestly say that I have had the greatest time on these walks and the smiles in the photographs tell that story better than words ever can hence my short description of the actual climb.
Some facts and figures for you;
Slieve Donard; 850m
Scafell Pike; 978m
Ben Nevis; 1345m
Mt Blanc; 4809m
The four British peaks together are 4258m high, some 551m short of Mt Blanc!!
The money raised now stands at a healthy £35,009.40. As usual, thank you all so much for your contributions both large and small. We can’t thank you enough.
Let’s give it a final push and raise as much as possible before we go! Spread the word and let’s all make a difference for these two wonderful charities.