A Grand Day Out 29: My Last Day on the Ben

by Dan Arkle Mar/2009
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My Last Day on the Ben
© Dan Arkle, Apr 2008

I'd been up Ben Nevis before.

The first time was with Alisdair. A passionate Scot, he knew the mountain like the back of his hand. So when we scrambled off Tower Ridge onto the plateau in a roaring storm I just trusted him. No mapwork, no lost time, heads down and we ploughed on through the weather. Ice and snow sandblasted across our faces. Eyes just open, tiny slits so as to not lose each other in the whiteout. How do I keep this savage coldness out of my head? Can eyeballs freeze? Can you still see if they do?

The second time was with Vince. It was much colder. At least twelve degrees of frost. Two Step Corner was in perfect nick, superb. It was much windier. Vince pulled over the cornice easily and then frontpointed along the flat plateau so he wouldn't be blown back down. Laughing at the absurdity of it all I followed. We stayed roped up most of the way down. Five or six times we were swept away by gusts. There was a choice of how to battle the power of the wind. You could run with it for a moment to try and remain upright, or you could accept the fall and immediately go for an ice axe arrest. On the flat. Neither really worked.

This time everything was different.

As I belayed Smooth Rob up Zero gully, it was quiet. No tearing wind, no brutal cold, no mist.
Sun bathed the Highlands with golden light for as far as the eye could see. Soon we were above the shadow of the mountain. Our fatigued bodies quenched their thirst for comfort in the sunshine. Warmth. Rest. Peace.

There was food for the Soul too. A view I had never seen. The other times on the mountain, I knew it was there behind the mist, but surviving and getting down had dominated my consciousness completely. The only thoughts my brain had allowed. This time, the Western Isles stretched out to the horizon. The Cairngorm mass dominated the East. Glencoe lay to the South, and nameless ranges continued North forever.

Rob began to descend. I couldn't leave. I'd never expected this. I'd never see it like this again.
I fumbled for the camera. I knew any picture could be nothing but an aid to my memory of this. I still had to try. Standing on the edge of the cornice, I tried to capture the scene. Not a perfect composition. I stepped back again. It was one step too far. I'm falling. Oh my God! I'M FALLING!


At least I got the shot.


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