To begin with… a very happy new year to you. 2015 is another exciting year for opportunity and change. Instead of watching the London Eye erupt into a pretty shower of explosive noisy stuff and announcing our ‘new year, new me’ approach, we should start by working on our current strengths.
I spent most of the festive period working in a restaurant- draining the batteries before I could recharge them. But obstacles are to be climbed over, or under, and so now I’ve left. Long gone are the days of getting up at ungodly hours so I could squeeze a rushed bike or hike session in, without adequate warming up or stretching and hence risking injury, before getting home to run out the door for another 10 hours on blistered feet carrying three meals worth of brown rice, to return knackered and fragranced like chip oil… Does that mean I can call myself a full time mountaineer now?
Well, instead of work, right now I’m up in the Cairngorms, dosed up on Beechams Flu Capsules, staying at the lovely SYHA Aviemore for the first of my pre planned mountain training trips. This hostel is tucked into the heart of the Cairngorms, perfectly situated and equipped for the climbers of the world with a modern charm to it.
Self admittedly I have now built a huge amount of cardiovascular fitness, mental endurance, become a bit of a beast on the bike and cracked many of my soft spots but my biggest weakness is my mountain skills and efficiency. The importance of this is amplified on Everest, where a simple clumsy mistake can result in a high altitude pickle… potentially even a life or death scenario.
So practice makes perfect and that’s why I’m here. I started day I climbed a couple of mixed ice and snow routes in Coire an’t-Sneachda with Everest summiteer Matthew Dieumegard-Thornton in hammering snow and wind piercing my cheeks, and freezing my congested sinuses. And this is day 6 in the mountains still battling a bad virus- 2 forced rest days in the hostels haven’t beaten it. Considering how rough I’ll feel on the high camps of Everest, having the self inflicted weak legs, nausea and pounding headache from my lergy whilst here creates an intimidating image of what is fast approaching. Perfect training for Everest, albeit not the most self-preserving. There is no other environment in the UK that builds the required mental resilience quite like the unstable and angry Scottish Winter. Except perhaps the London Underground…
I first arrived last Thursday with my friend Adam, feeling violently ill and nearly getting snowed in on Rannoch Moor- even arriving by 10:30pm the staff at Glen Nevis Youth Hostel were able to accommodate us. It’s a homely, traditional little hostel plonked perfectly at the foot of the Ben Nevis footpath- albeit it did bring a sense of deja vu of my EPIC7 3 Peaks Cycle challenge in November when I was last here. Especially when we were booked into the exact room! The next day was a swift exit with quick Porridge in the self catering kitchen. Facilities like that are massively helpful for hill folk to stay and climb on a low budget, like me. So much on the doorstep too.
We had a windy and spindrifty stomp up Sgurr a Mhaim, a 1099m high munro with surprisingly good visibility over to the Ben. High avalanche risk left us with little options so we retreated the same slope. A rewarding day out.
Huge thanks to Adam for his transport up and route planning for the day.
The next day I caught up on sleep to try and recover a little in Fort William- and that night walked down the Glen Nevis valley with my new tent and camping gear. It was a relief to get it pitched in the snow and into a warm sleeping bag with the stove on- uncomfortable wasn’t the word. The next day I left early to plod down the valley through the Steall Gorge. Passed the beautiful Steall Falls and soon found myself feeling pretty ill, sleep deprived and wading through deep snow.
There wasn’t much alternative. My target for the day, the munro Binnean Beag, seemed out of reach. Crossing the river to get to it’s Western slopes failed as the water was too high. And I’m not Bear Grylls. By this point, it was too late in the day to summit anyway so I headed back. Perfect opportunity to try all my new Marmot shell gear and a beautiful 13 mile/7 hour strenuous walk nevertheless.
I retreated to the comfort of Glen Nevis Youth Hostel that night and the next day set off before 7am up the Ben Nevis tourist track. Moving efficiently but with a bad head, it was satisfying to see the next party of walkers still miles behind me as their headtorches left the hostel. I had a pearly mellow sunrise over the Mamores to myself.
Once I’d got through the snowdrifts I had a scoured icy path and pure silence only broken by my raspy breath and wheezing cough. An impeccable Winter day. For the first time ever I could see the entire Ben Nevis summit in full glory without the usual floury clag, cairn by cairn, an icy blue. In 3.5 hours I had the summit of the UK’s highest mountain all to myself. Not a whisper of wind and as a result, absolutely flipping freezing. Wowzers.
Down just in time to catch a bus to Aviemore for the Jonathan Conville Memorial Trust winter skills course. A superb opportunity for young mountaineers to get 2 days accommodation and guiding at a very reasonable £75 to refresh current skills and learn more. We had a great couple of days in Coire an-t’Sneachda and Coire na Ciste practicing all sorts to help stay safe in the mountains. A really friendly bunch.
But before I get too far ahead- I’ve got lots to update you on.
Spent the first week in Jan with a trip down memory lane to Keswick in the Lake District with a few days hillwalking on Blencathra and the more arduous Coledale Round. A lovely stay at the Keswick YHA with a friendly welcome as usual, HUGE breakfast buffet and even free coffee once they heard about my Everest plans! Met up for a chat with my expedition leader Tim Mosedale then by chance bumped into another member of our Everest team walking down the street. Keswick probably has more Everest summiteers than any town in the UK- it also holds a very special place in my heart, as it was on a hillwalking holiday there nearly 5 years ago that my Everest dream began.
And it’s less than 3 months await before I fly from Manchester BACK to Nepal on the 28th March with Qatar Airways for Everest attempt number 2. Don’t you just love that holiday feeling when you’ve booked your flights? Better get my beach towel ready…
Great to meet the team at Ideal365 Workwear in Bolton with Steve Fives on Monday, who as well as kindly sponsoring the expedition are currently printing on lots of my clothing.
Also Simon Gerrard, CEO at Cheshire FA who’ve been a massive support with secondary networking.
And on that note, ShortList Recruitment in Chester, specialists in IT recruitment, have also joined the team by kindly contributing generously to the expedition costs. Full house!
Being here in Scotland has also inspired and formed my next EPIC7 ultra challenge. I had to choose something simple with minimal injury risk to jeapordise my holy grail. On the 13-15 Feb I will be walking the Great Glen Way solo, 79 miles, in 3 consecutive days. Almost longer than it took me to decide the challenge! That’s 3 marathons back to back from Fort William to Inverness in Winter weather. As you do.
I’ve also been working with Chester-based Veracity Digital on an exciting film around my journey and Everest 15 expedition. Really enjoyed being filmed in the locality with their team, pretending to look in pain on my bike and keep a straight face when interviewing my mum. Very excited to release the teaser for “Picture the Moment”. This is only the early beginning but we currently need a film sponsor to take this even bigger and better- so please have a watch, be inspired and get in touch.
Another big announcement about my chosen charity coming very soon… but even my wonderful followers can’t have their cake and eat it yet.
Thanks as ever for your support.