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August 19, 2021

Hiking Ben Nevis—The Rematch: What I learned about Boundaries, Fear & Embracing the Flow.

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Ben Nevis Part Two: The Rematch. Click here to read part one.

Happiness is like the mountain summit. It is sometimes hidden by clouds, but we know it is there.
~ Helen Keller

The rematch of me, Jacquelyn, and climbing the highest peak in Scotland only became a thing having “failed” my first attempt to Summit Ben Nevis in April 2019.

It was one of those situations where life goes on, but inside, you have kept a mental note, and even noted it on your “things-to-do” list.

The last attempt was abandoned when there was a whiteout at the time, literally minutes away from where the summit was. How did I know? The blue location dot on my map signaled where I stood when I froze and decided to turn back, mere meters away from the other significant location on the map: the summit.

I knew all I had to do was arrive in Fort William then I would go into semi autopilot. The nice thing about a rematch is that you have attempted that thing before. And it is no longer big, new, shiny, or filled with uncertainty.

I knew the route, all up until two minutes from the summit.

I felt a bundle of calm energy fill me up.

The day had arrived. It was glorious, with blue skies forecast and a balmy 21 degrees. I had turned into a detective the night before and used the location search on Instagram to view photos posted from the same day at the summit, all showing signs of deep snow. I smiled at the thought. Snow brings an extra edge to any adventure.

I was so ready for this one.

The mind is a wonderful beast. It can either keep us caged if we associate a previous experience with fear, uncertainty, and risk, or it can guide us, like a comfort blanket, while flooding us with nostalgic-type memories. It can act as a guide, a beacon of hope, reminding you that “you can do hard stuff.”

I wasn’t worried or apprehensive about hiking Ben Nevis again. I had associated positive emotions with the experience. Therefore, there was nothing to worry about. It was merely a leisurely walk on a blue sky day to the highest point in Scotland. It sounds like a dream, and it was.

At times, I would recall parts of the trek like it was only yesterday I walked the same path. It’s crazy how it had been two years ago, but I suppose there had been a pandemic in 2020 that stole all the fun away from life.

What I love about hiking are all the characters you spot and acknowledge along the way. All having their own adventures.

As I continued on, the route felt familiar once again. This brought in a level of comfort, the end goal felt within my reach. Your mind can’t invent any hurdles as you know what is around the corner.

As I reached a point in the trek, I knew I was relatively close to the last chunk. I like to chunk things up. Chunks of time, or chunks of distance, marked by a change in terrain, or chunks of when I fancied a snack break. This final chunk was signaled by a turn in the route I recognised and a slight change in the terrain. I was overtaking a new set of characters.

Soon, I came eye to eye with the snow and all the memories of that first summit came flooding back. It is really hard to explain but you feel a shift in energy, where all your hard work has been for this point.

The minute you spot the first signs of snow, you know that even though it is not literally around the corner, the summit is close. Extremely close. Energy shifts and any deary trekker suddenly finds their missing energy. I could feel it in me. I was no longer listening to podcasts but enjoying being around like-minded people.

This is the spot where I first glimpsed the new character in the Ben Nevis summit story.

On the final ascent, there is a mini hill completely covered in snow. Your legs are burning from the trek and now you are ankle-deep in snow. So I followed the footsteps made by a guy in front with his dog. I was pacing him, always one footstep behind. Until he stopped and I nearly walked straight into him. Awkwardly, he looked around and I smiled. Then, I charged on.

He shouted something and I replied by shouting, “If you stop now, you will get stuck.” I kept the snow charge on and reached the top of the mini snow hill. I could see the point I reached before, it was just over a slight ridge. I paused and I smiled.

This short delay allowed the snow footsteps guy, whom I was following, to catch up and we got to chat as we strolled to the summit. Yes, the final was a stroll. The end is always easy after all the hard work. He was a true character, trekking solo as his two mates had canceled on him. “It was complicated.” “Life is,” I explained.

We were both awarded the rewards of the solo life, not waiting for others to join us.

As we stepped over the ridge, I saw it. The summit. What a feeling. It was simply perfect and a little busy, like a busy Saturday on the main shopping high street in Glasgow.

Then, we did that social activity everyone on Ben Nevis came to do. We stood on the summit of the highest point in Scotland and took lots of photos, arms in the air—the glory shot. He took my snaps and I took his. The dog was there. He was so playful. I then got involved in a photoshoot.

I think I was squealing as he kept telling me to jump, again and again, until he got that snap. The snap you share on social media. Just to think we didn’t even know each other 10 minutes before. This is what happens when you go with the flow of life.

What a day and what a summit experience. We were both taking it all in, enjoying the playfulness nature of this sacred location in Scotland.

We briefly parted ways.

In the end, the universe had plans for us and we formed a gang. Me, him, and the dog. The sociable me was in her element.

It was the start of a beautiful Ben Nevis trek friendship. I knew that the minute the trek was over, so would be the friendship. Did it? Nope. I found out the slightly awkward way.

We chatted nonstop to the backdrop of the mountain, surrounded by blue skies. He was fun with all sorts of stories to share. To say we were bouncing off each other was an understatement. Again, I found myself squealing as he shared some life stories. The long hike down soon disappeared as we kept up an active pace, paused briefly to let others pass us by, and generally enjoyed the human connection we have all missed during the various COVID-19 lockdowns.

As we enjoyed the sunshine and fresh air, I ended up giving him some female advice on a couple of dating situations he found himself in. In the end, I explained, “You need to set boundaries and not lead people on, don’t give mixed messages, and, sometimes, be a little honest and harsh to get the message across, especially with us romance-led females who don’t always read the complex and complicated signs presented to us by males.”

Experiences can just be that. A moment, a shared experience, a playful encounter. Nothing more.

I sensed what was coming as we reached the Ben Nevis Visitor Center. When you live your life in a playful manner, there is always a risk it might be misread as more. And yes, that happened. The full-of-life character, described as snow footsteps guy in the story, turned bold, looked me in the eye, and asked that question:

“Do you want my phone number?”

“Aww no,” I thought.

I politely shook my head and replied, “No.”

I just remember the same advice I gave him, “Don’t lead people on.” And I knew by taking his number I would be leading him on. I am big on setting boundaries.

I wished him well as I scurried away to my car and set off on the drive back to Glasgow. I had mumbled something along the lines of, “The trek down has been really lovely, let’s leave it at that.”

 

Here’s what I learned from the summit’s success:

1. Chat to people, share an experience but keep your boundaries. Just because you chatted to someone doesn’t mean you are sending them the wrong signals. I have had so many fun times with complete strangers, many of whom I will never see again. Such is life.

2. Enjoy the moment, let life flow, then go with the flow.

3. Remember it is difficult to actually train for a hike. So go gentle, take your time, and use walking sticks if you need some support.

4. Check-in and seek reassurance when you need it. Sometimes, all we need is to hear is we are on track, or the summit is within reach.

5. Just because it went wrong before doesn’t mean it will go wrong again. Start afresh and be positive.

6. Do your research, even when you have hiked the same route. Don’t get complacent.

7. The return tastes sweeter as you remember the fear of the first attempt. Acknowledge your progress and celebrate your win. Not everyone makes the summit or even attempts it, especially solo.

8. Have fun and appreciate the wonder that is nature. Enjoy each step, each struggle, and pause at the top. The views will take your breath away.

 

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