The ARCHIE Foundation's Mountain Challenge
A record breaking human power relay over every Scottish mountain over 1KM high!
Prior to joining the challenge I, like many others, had been following the progress of Rabbie via the live GPS tracker. Until this point, progress had been slow owing to adverse weather conditions and so it was difficult to envisage which hills were on my itinerary for the 4 days that I had committed to the challenge. On day one of duty, I woke at four in the morning, sun already high in the sky and headed in my car in a NW direction in the hope that further instruction would follow. Halfway up the A9, Paul’s text directed me to Glen Nevis at which point I started to get excited albeit a bit nervous at the mention of the need for ice axes.
Working on the false impression that the team were waiting for me, the drive went quickly. I grabbed a quick breakfast in Fort William prior to entering the Glen, followed by a hurried change into my running kit before meeting my fellow runners and then…we waited. Rabbie was apparently half way round the ring of Steall and wasn’t due back for a couple of hours. I had a coffee and sat in the sun.
My wait was rewarded as I was chosen, alongside Paul, to take Rabbie to the highest point in the UK. It’s estimated that over 100,000 people climb the Ben every year. To my shame, that figure did not include me prior to this challenge (although I’ve got vague memories of an aborted attempt as a moaning child on a long hot day with my increasingly frustrated parents). The chosen route was to summit via Carn Mor Dearg (CMD) and the arête that joins this to Ben Nevis’ east side.
Paul is an experienced hill runner and so I was somewhat surprised at the sedate pace at which we set out. It became clear fairly early on that this was the pace that was to be maintained regardless of gradient and it wasn’t long before I was at my threshold. The traverse to the CIC mountain rescue hut provided some respite before a straight ascent of CMD. The ultimate humiliation was soon to follow as Paul offered to take my rucksack in order to speed things up. This was followed soon after by some tentative enquiries regarding my ability to traverse ridges and my confidence in descending. I was feeling dizzy. Paul was getting worried.
In our family, “CMD” is an acronym for “chronic mild disappointment”, a phrase coined by close friends experiencing a fairly tough few years of bringing up 3 young children. My childhood experience of trying to walk up the Ben would be a good example of this form of CMD meted out to over ambitious parents. It’s fair to say the views from atop the CMD were the antithesis of the Conway family CMD. The Ben loomed into view to the west, it’s NE gullies still snow filled, as was the shoulder that was to take us to the summit. The distant climbers on the snowfield provided some much needed perspective. Fort William was well below us to the NW, whilst the rest of our panorama was taken up by mountain after mountain after mountain.
After a quick photo stop and a bite to eat, I was back in the room. The schist of the arête was a joy to scramble across and we were soon on the shoulder. The warm sun had softened the snow, making easy climbing to the summit. Summer prevailed as we continued in shorts and t-shirts with ice axes remaining on our backs - the coruscating light dazzling in its intensity. We passed a few bemused climbers before experiencing the odd sensation of suddenly finding ourselves within a large crowd in the middle of nowhere as we reached the top.
The spring snow enabled a rapid descent down the western slopes, at the expense of all feeling below the knee and a few untimely plunges into unseen burns. We continued past droves of walkers under the watchful eye of the Archie team waiting in the Glen below. Soon after, Rabbie was successfully handed over to Tom Fardon and Amy Manning [NC1] waiting on bikes to transport him to Glencoe. After a quick cool down in the River Nevis I sat down in the shade to rehydrate, left with a strange feeling of pride to have been able to contribute; privilege to have been allowed to do so in such an iconic setting; and awe at what was becoming clear to me was such a huge logistical undertaking. I waited for my next assignment.