The wee Ben

It’s taken awhile, but I’ve finally figured out why I love mountain climbing so much. It isn’t 
the challenge, although that’s part of it. And, it isn’t the sense of accomplishment, althoughIMG_0374
that’s huge. For me, it’s the profound 
physical, mental and spiritual experience of the event itself.

This past week, Chris RepMan, Jr., and this blogger climbed Scotland’s Ben Nevis, the highest point in the U.K. While it isn’t much when stacked up against Kilimanjaro, Mt. Shasta or some of the Rockies we’ve attacked, the ‘wee Ben’ is one tough slog.

We hired a local guide, Peter Khambatta, to take us to the top. I asked Peter at the base what we could expect. He replied by saying the wee Ben was “…a good workout in the summer, but a right beast in the winter.” He was IMG_0361
spot on.

The climb began in gorgeous, rolling hills that quickly escalated to steep, hilly inclines. These, in turn, gave way to even steeper, icy sections. Near the top, we were slowed down by two to three-foot deep snowdrifts, brutally high winds and total whiteout conditions. Without Peter, we would have been totally lost. I told Chris I felt more like a member of the Ernest Shackleton expedition than a mountain climber in Scotland. The conditions were so bleak that Peter stopped every 50 feet or so to get his bearings on a compass. Afterwards, he told us the wee Ben claims a few lives every winter when unsuspecting, snow blind climbers walk right off the edge.

Happily, that didn’t happen to us. We reached the summit in four hours and spent a few minutes in the howling wind enjoying the conquest. The climb down was no picnic either, but it provided a sensory overload of amazing panoramic views in every direction. We saw ice blue lochs, green and purple valleys and, in the distance, the fabled Isle of Skye.

Through it all, the sense of peace, silence and serenity was truly overwhelming.

The beautiful thing about climbing is the single-minded focus it demands. I was laser-focused on each and every step for seven-plus hours, knowing that a misstep could cause a broken ankle or worse. When we finally reached the base, the relief was palpable. And, the endorphin rush was more intense than after any half-marathon I’ve ever finished.

My body ached, but my mind felt totally refreshed. In fact, even though I’d probably just expended some 2,500 calories or more, I felt like I’d taken a long, restful nap. It was that profound.

I don’t recommend climbing for everyone. But, I do recommend some hobby or avocation that takes one’s mind off the credit  crunch, the credit crunch, finding a job or dealing with the client who’s put your account up for review, but says not to worry because the incumbent always has the advantage.

We can’t control a runaway recession or a disloyal client, but we can dictate how we live our lives. For me, climbing mountains is living life to the max.

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