This is the story of me and the tallest mountain in the U.K.
On Saturday the 29th of August 2015, I climbed Ben Nevis to raise Money for Khalsa Aid. They are a U.K. based Sikh charity who have been serving humanity since 1999. To get more info on the wonderful work they do, simply click here.
So yeah, I thought it would be a good idea to climb the mountain and raise some money for an amazing cause, here is my story...
It all started about 7 weeks ago. My friend Satnam posted on his Instagram account that the local Gurdwara was organising a charity event to raise money for Khalsa Aid and it was going to involve scaling the dizzying heights of Ben Nevis. So immediately, I decided I wanted to do this and messaged him about it. Had it not been for his post, I would never have known about it. You see, I'm a bit of a recluse these days; I have been ever since I moved back to Scotland from Canada. I can't really explain why, it's just the way I am now, only venturing out for a specific events or for trips to London to see family and close friends. I also never feel comfortable around other Sikhs or Punjabi people, don't ask me why, as I have no real answer for it. Over the years I've felt like I never fitted in and that's how it’s always been. Anyway, I had decided I wanted to do this as it combined two of my passions. I love to hike and have done so since I participated in the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme when I was a teenager and I like to help others. However, I didn't feel like doing it on my own, so had to convince my friend to come along with me and that took a bit of persuasion.
Another 2 weeks passed and I still hadn't signed myself up and my friend was still not sure but I had decided I was going to do it. Whilst I was living in Canada I had made the decision not to miss out on the things that I wanted to do for fear of doing them on my own. So, with the decision made and I contacted the organisers and put my name down. I tend to do things like this without thinking about what I'm actually getting myself into.
For roughly 4 weeks I pestered every person I knew to sponsor me with any amount that they could afford and for them to share my posts. It was all over social media, I was even bugging people I'd never met before and getting them to bug their friends and family. That's one thing, if you know me, I can be a dog with a bone when there's something I want done. I have to admit some people, even people you'd consider friends, will simply ignore you. That's one of the most frustrating things about doing something like this. You can like me or hate me, I don't really mind but it's not about me or you. It's all about how that charitable donation of money is going to change someone's life. It’s about how a child might smile at being bought a toy or about the family that will be able to eat. The things that you and I take for granted each day. These things may be the smallest things to us but are life changing for others. I wish people would see it that way; the world would be a much better place.
Let’s fast forward to the 28th of August 2015 (the day before the hike) and I am frantically running around trying to buy last minute things. Like I said I really didn't think things through, but thankfully I had most of the things I needed as I have hiked a lot in the past. One thing I did not do was train. In the lead up to the hike, I had spent most of my efforts fundraising and not really thinking about how much of a toll it would take on my body. Again this isn't the first time I've punished my body for charity. A number of years ago, I decided I'd cycle about 50 miles for charity dressed as Santa Clause. It was in December, was about -10 Degrees and was done without any prior training. (I didn't even own a bike, I had to borrow it). Yes, I know I am an idiot.
Anyway, back to Ben Nevis and the night before the climb I sat up trying to encourage people to donate and a lot of you out there took notice and we managed to get the total up to £750, which is where it is at now. I should've spent this time sleeping; instead I was on social media bugging people to donate. Eventually at 2am, I managed to fall asleep. The downside being that I had to be up and ready by 5am as the coach was leaving at 6am. As you can see, I really didn't think it through.
Come 6am we arrived at the Gurdwara and met the rest of the people who had volunteered to go on the hike, to catch the bus. One thing I hadn’t factored in was Indian people and their inability to arrive at a destination on time. So there was a lot of sitting around waiting for people to turn up and eventually at around 7am, we set off. This could've been valuable sleeping time for me and looking back I really could've used it. I have to say, poor timekeeping is a pet hate of mine and I don't understand why people think it's acceptable to turn up at any time they choose. But at least we were moving now and I was in high spirits about the hike. I still wasn’t really thinking about what I had agreed to undertake.
During the drive the weather started to deteriorate, there was a lot of rain and the roads were flooded. I have to admit at the time I didn't really think about the impact that this would have on me hiking. I thought it was nice because it meant that the waterfalls would be fast flowing. Once we arrived at Ben Nevis, it was around 9.45am. The organisers handed out Khalsa Aid t-shirts for everyone to wear and have a group photo taken. I sat in the bus putting on my waterproof layers in preparation for the rain but it wasn't too bad once I stepped out. We had our picture taken and then everyone dispersed. I would have thought that there would've been a little more organisation beforehand, with people in staggered groups based on ability, to start the hike but this didn't happen. Instead everyone stood around for 15 minutes chatting before deciding to make a move. I remember checking my watch, so I could record the time we set off as I wanted to pace myself and give myself enough time to reach the summit and come back down. We were told two things before we set off. First was that the winds were around 35-40mph so we were to be careful and secondly, that no matter where we were, as soon as it was 1.30pm, we were to turn around and head back down. This was to ensure we were able to descend at a reasonable time and set off home as the bus had only being booked for a certain period. That all made sense to me and it would mean no one would be stuck on the mountain blindly trying to reach the summit after dark.
Finally, at 10am we set off in high spirits and I started off at a brisk pace. Soon I found myself on my own at the front of the group. Shortly afterwards I was joined by a Singh from Halifax. As we ambled up the path together we started talking, we shared our stories and views on life. I think in those 40 mins that we walked together we shared a lot. He was a lovely man with such a humble outlook on life. I really admired that; he was an inspiration if you will, to continue being a better person. It was still raining but I still felt good, if a little out of breath. I do remember mentioning to Mr Singh that just the previous day I had gotten out of breath walking up the high street whilst carrying bags and talking on the phone. This clearly was an indication of things to come. I then started to develop cotton mouth. My mouth felt so dry but I carried on ignoring my bodies need for water as my new friend didn't want to slow the pace. Eventually however, I told him that I was stopping for water. He offered to grab it from my bag and he pulled out a bottle of Lucozade. On a side note, I haven't actually told you the contents of my bag. I feel this is needed for you to understand the amount of crap I decided to lug around with me. I'll break it down into a list:
3 x Lucozade Sport Bottles
1 x Bottle of Water 2l
6 x Protein Bars
3 x Bananas
2 x Tubs of Home-made Pasta
1 x Pack of Revels (Family Bag)
Various packs of sweets
Nikon D5000 Camera (I thought I'd take lots of pics)
Anker Phone Charger
A pair of gloves and a scarf
Anyway, I shall continue...
I was now starting to wish I had just stuck to water. The Lucozade actually made me feel worse and my mouth felt even dryer. It was soon after this that my pace started to slow. Another Singh, who is in the Royal Navy, soon passed us both. Now every 10-15 minutes or so I felt myself needing to stop for water and to catch my breath. At that point I was left on my own and even an old Aunty told me not to stop as it would just make it harder. Thing is I couldn't help myself; my body just didn't want to continue. I wasn't even half way up, not even close!
I started to wonder how high the mountain actually was. So I looked to my left because this was the summit of the mountain that I was on and thought to myself, 'Okay, I can kinda see the top of this, it shouldn't be too bad, I'll keep pushing myself'. I then looked to my right and saw another mountain which was a lot higher. Yes! A lot higher. I could see little specks of colour moving in the distance. At first I thought I was seeing things but then as I strained my eyes in the rain and wind, I realised it was actually people! People! Yes it was people climbing the ridge and they were disappearing off into the clouds. I started to realise that I was a misguided fool. I had not trained at all for this hike; in fact I hadn't even partaken in any physical activity since the previous summer. I was seriously starting to question my own judgement in all of this and why I hated my body so much. By this time, I had lost count of how many times I had stopped to catch my breath and to have some water. Thankfully I had put away the Lucozade and gone for the water which had helped with my dry throat. There was a mother and daughter who were also on the hike and by now they had caught up with me. The mother seemed to be coping well with the conditions but the daughter seemed to be in the same position as me and was having to stop every so often to regain her strength. We passed each other a number of times before I eventually lost them.
Before you embark onto the ridge to get to the actual mountain you pass a body of water on this plateau. To me it looked like a mini lake, so I'm going to call it that. Even in the bleak weather conditions it was hard not stand and marvel at how beautiful nature can be. I think I stood there for about 10 minutes. I became oblivious to the wind and rain beating against my face and body; I was lost in the beauty of it all. I took another sip of water and then pressed on. At this moment in time I couldn't even begin to tell you what was on my mind. I was probably crying inside.
It was coming up for about 12pm and I had been walking for nearly 2 hours. I came across a waterfall and it looked beautiful as it carved its way down the mountainside. The only thing was that it crossed the path I needed to walk along in order to continue my hike. I paused because I knew that this would be a test of my boots. At certain points it looked really deep, way above my ankles and if I'd have stepped there I would've been soaked. So I plotted a course and skipped my way over, submerging my feet as little as possible and thankfully my feet remained dry. The path on the way up the mountain was very slippery, especially with the amount of rain there had been that day. It was really uneven and was a mix of smooth and sharp rocks. This type of terrain really takes a toll on your ankles and at certain points I felt a tug and strain on my muscles and tendons. I just prayed I wouldn't injure myself. It was not long after this that I started thinking about that BBC programme '999' and, if it was still going, how embarrassing would it be to end up on it if I needed to be rescued. I have to say, I usually think random stuff, but that day really took the biscuit. My feet felt so heavy as if someone had added weights to them, as did my arms. I had my hood up for most of the time to try and keep my Dastar and head dry but even this was weighing me down. As my bag grew heavier with the absorbed rain, it pulled my jacket down and in turn tugged at my hood. This put a lot of strain on my neck and caused me a lot of pain. I was pretty much in pain all over and I was still not even half way up the bloody mountain.
I'm not ashamed to admit it; I really wanted it to end. I wanted to give up! I was soaked through four layers of clothing, I ached and I was frozen. I even contemplated taking a picture and pretending like I had reached the summit, but I couldn't be that person. I'm not a liar and all I kept thinking was 'What will I say when people ask how I got on?' I couldn't lie, that's not me. Waheguru knows the truth and what kind of Sikh would that make me?! Yes I was getting delirious. So I composed myself and kept going. I told myself that I'd treat myself to a banana at the top, so that was my incentive to keep going. I pressed on and passed a group of young Singh's that had passed me earlier and who had now stopped and were sitting. I asked if they were okay and they nodded. They had decided that they did not want to continue any longer, as a passer-by had advised it would take another 90 minutes to reach the summit. I checked my watch to work out what time I'd reach it and time had barely passed. It had only gone 12pm, but this was good as it meant I would be on schedule for what the organisers had said. I urged them to continue but they were adamant they weren't moving. As there were four of them together I kept going. I had found new motivation in knowing I was making good time. I'd love to say it lasted and helped me reach the summit but it didn’t really. I kept overhearing people talk to each other about how long there was to go and they all gave different answers. This really started to affect my energy.
A little further on I bumped into an Uncle Ji. He was sat resting and I can only presume it was with his wife. This was the Aunty that had told me earlier not to keep stopping as it would only make it harder to continue. At the point of meeting them I was so happy, they were a kind of familiar face and I thought they'd reached the summit and had begun their decent. Only later did I find out that they didn't make it to the summit. It was now around 1pm so I was sure I wasn't too far away now. I asked Uncle Ji how long it would take to reach the summit from this point. He told me it would be another 45 minutes and that's for someone ‘fit and able’. I just wanted to cry! I felt I was so close but the finish line just kept moving away from me, teasing me every time. Once more I felt like stopping and turning around but then I was reminded of all the people I'd be letting down. These people had donated their hard earned money because I said I was going to climb Ben Nevis, 'the highest mountain in the U.K.', how could I lie?! How could I stop and let them down?! What about all the people I wanted to help, I'd be such a failure. I had to keep going.
I remembered thinking to myself that I’d treat myself to a banana at the summit but I decided I couldn't wait that long. I stopped, fumbled about in my bag and broke out the banana. I remembered a conversation I had with my brother James about how they release energy slowly and were good for you. I wished I'd had one sooner. Anyway, I ate the banana and carried on. I also discovered a few Skittles in my bag so I kept munching away at them to boost my sugar levels. They were gone within minutes. It really was the little things that kept me going...
There were times it felt like time wasn't passing at all, as if the hands of time had stopped just to torment me a little more. I was on a conveyor of rock which didn't end but also went nowhere. Time would pass in fractured chunks but I'd seemingly not cover any distance. That mountain truly wanted to break me and it was winning. It really took so much energy from me and although I kept walking, it was at an ever decreasing pace. A few steps and I would stop; I was beyond tired and barely had the energy to stay standing up. It took all of my will power to not sit down. I knew if I sat down, I'd not get up. I was seriously broken.
It was now 1.30pm and the rain had finally stopped. I should've been at the summit already, tucking into my pasta, having a banana and sipping on water but here I was still walking. I knew with each step I was taking that it would be another step I would have to retrace to get back down. It didn't feel like I was getting any closer to my goal, but further away from it and it was such a heavy thought to bear. I just kept hoping to see one of the Singh's that disappeared up the mountain ahead of me. At least then I'd know how much further I had to go. But it didn't happen and I remained alone. So at this point I was really just falling forward, I wasn't walking. Each step was simply to keep me from falling over. I think people around me could see it too, I was a mess. My beard was covered in water droplets, it was soaked and I remember wondering if my chin was wrinkly from being so wet. My Dastar was soaked all the way through and I looked like I'd been dragged from a river after almost drowning.
Another 15 minutes passed and I saw Mr ‘Halifax’ Singh! He was wrapped up well against the elements but his beard was also covered in water droplets. I was so happy to see him; it gave me so much hope. I remember thinking, I must be close now. We both stopped, it must've been the first time I smiled since embarking on this arduous trek. He warned me that they were telling people to head down as it was after the cut off time set by our party lead. He gave me words of encouragement, telling me there were only around 15 minutes of steep walking and 5 minutes of flat to go. It felt so good to hear that. I swear my body woke up at the news. He also warned me to put my gloves on as it was very cold at the summit. I said that I had some in my bag; I did notice earlier on that they had gotten wet but he insisted I put them on. I told him I would do so and with that he wished me luck and he was gone into the mist. I turned and started walking forward once more. It was very foggy but visibility wasn't too bad. As I drew close to the summit I noticed little stone pillars built to mark out the path. The ground is very rough and there are a lot of large and small stones in your way. These make the climb very difficult and as my friend had said, the climb was very steep before it became flat. At some points I was nearly on all fours trying to keep moving on.
Then, the end was in sight! I passed another Aunty (the one that organised the event) and the Singh from the Royal Navy. They didn't see me and I didn't have the energy to call out. I barely had enough energy to keep moving. In the distance, through the fog I could see these structures, I couldn't make out what they were but I was confident I was nearing the summit. The first structure I passed was a war memorial to the fallen. I had no idea they had such a thing and then another was to mark the summit. There were other structures too, but I was too exhausted to explore them. I was just so happy to have reached the summit. I checked my watch and found that it was 2.10pm, so I was later than I wanted to be, but I had made it. I made it! So, conscious of the time, except for a few Revels, I didn't even eat anything and decided to head back down. But first I had to take some pictures to prove I had made it. The thing was my hands by this point had turned blue! They actually went blue and I started to worry because I couldn't feel my fingers. I barely managed to get some pictures; I took a 'selfie' and a video. Then I thought I'd put my gloves on. Big mistake not putting them on earlier. I was worried I'd lose a finger. My gloves had zips on them and I couldn't get them on. I ended up giving up and putting the gloves in my pocket. I put my hands in my pockets and started to walk down the path.
The walk down wasn’t any easier, my hands were frozen and as I hadn’t been able to get my gloves on, I kept them in my pockets. I kept them there for about half an hour hoping to get some heat in them. It was at this moment I started to think about when I worked at Costco in Canada. I worked in Wet Receiving where the temperature was only a couple of degrees above freezing. Essentially it was a big fridge, but they used to provide you with gloves and little hot pockets. Little heat packs to put inside your gloves or pockets, I could've done with them at that very moment. It's strange the things that your mind can recall and at what moments that it does. With each step I kept thinking ‘I'll be off this mountain soon enough’ and that kept me going.
I have to admit though, I thought coming down would be easier but the ground was very slippery and a few times I slipped and almost fell. I was just excited about getting down and the only thing keeping me going was the adrenaline in me. I had very little energy and at some points, I felt like I wasn't walking down but simply just trying to stop myself from falling over. I wasn't concentrating at all when suddenly my foot gave way and my ankle twisted. I felt a snap and a rush of pain, I felt like I had hurt myself but there was no one there to help me. I paused, tried to move my ankle a little and it seemed okay, there was a slight pain but I had no choice, I had to keep moving. From then I slowed my pace and started to take my time on the rest of the decent.
The time was now nearing 3pm, it felt like I had been walking forever and the end was still not in sight. I'd finally managed to get my gloves on and I was slowly starting to feel my hands again. In my head I kept trying to calculate how long it would take until I reached the bottom. If it had taken around 4 hours to reach the summit, surely it should take half that time to get to the base. Clearly I was delirious but it kept my mind occupied and off the pain I was feeling at the time. I also kept seeing people come towards me and I wondered why there were people still hiking up the mountain. Why was there no one stopping them as the time it would take them to climb up and back down again would mean it would be dark. I kept thinking they were mad.
As I continued down I kept looking for markers, things I'd seen on the way up that would help me work out how far I had to go. There was one marker that I was very keen on reaching because I knew it would give me a little boost and spur me on. It was the waterfall that came down the side of the mountain and across the path that I had to walk. It had been on my mind for a little while and I could not see it in the distance so I knew I would be so excited and relieved when I finally saw it. I know it may sound strange to people, but it was beautiful and I couldn't wait to navigate my way through the flow of water. It would be a visual milestone and I would feel like I was nearly at base. As I continued to get closer, I saw some of the kids that had come on this hike. There was a group of 7 of them and they were more interested in taking pictures of themselves and the scenery than completing the hike. This disappointed me as this was for charity not for them. I stopped and spoke to them for a few minutes, asked if they were okay before leaving them. I didn't want to waste too much time there and if I stopped walking I would be losing vital heat. I decided that as they were in a group, they would be fine and I continued to my waterfall. I got there and saw people taking pictures, I really wanted one also so I asked one of the walkers to take a picture of me standing there. That in itself felt like an achievement, I was actually happy for a brief moment.
I struck up a conversation with the people around me, purely because one of the guys standing next to me was wearing denim shorts. Yes, he was wearing denim shorts and trainers. I had to ask if he was a little crazy. Turns out he was from Finland and I guess they must be used to the cold out there. I then chatted to the rest of his party and for the first time I had company on the mountain. I actually had proper human contact and we then began to walk down together. It was such a relief to have someone walk with me and talk to me, it distracted me from everything going on around me and for that I was grateful. We continued down, covering many topics and it was just nice. Close to the base I caught up with a few members of my party, I said goodbye to the denim-clad Fin and joined my group. The leader of the trip was there, the Aunty and her knees were sore by this point so I ensured she made it down safely.
All in all I think it took me just under 7 hours to hike Ben Nevis. I could've completed the descent quicker but I met people and shared life experience and thoughts, to me that was more important than time. Once I reached the bottom I was happy, I had set myself a goal which I had achieved but most of all, all those people that had sponsored me and all those people that needed the money, hadn’t been let down.
That night I got home at about 10.30pm. I stripped out of my wet clothes and lay in a hot bath. I needed to get some warmth into my body to relieve the aches and pains. I ate and then climbed into bed. Only at that moment did I properly think about what I had achieved and wondered just how sore I would be the next day. I actually ended up shivering in bed and needed an electric blanket to get some heat into me.
As I sit here now and recall those events, I do still wonder why I get myself into these situations. At the time all I think about is the people that can be helped by the money I raise but during the event and afterwards I end up regretting it, because I put myself through these things without thinking about how they will impact me. But, I guess that’s what seva is about, selfless service without any expectation of reward.
Now I can laugh it off and be happy that it was all done for a good cause. Overall we have managed to raise £775 for Khalsa Aid; way above the target I set myself and a lot higher than the individual targets the organisers had set. I want to take this moment to thank each and every one of you that donated and supported me. Without your kindness and generosity, I'd not have been able to do it. So from the bottom of my heart, thank you!
All the best and God bless.
Poetic Singh xx
If you'd like to donate still you can direct to Khalsa Aid by visiting their website, please follow the link below.