The GH Challenge 2016: Ascent of Ben Nevis

Over Bank Holiday weekend (August 27-29) a very intrepid group of supporters of The Haemochromatosis Society took on The GH Challenge 2016. For the first of what will be annual GH challenges, participants took on the mighty Ben Nevis, climbing from just a few meters above sea level to the highest point in the UK at 1,345 metres (4,410 feet).

Group at summit of Ben Nevis

(Click for full size image)

As well as preparing and getting fit enough to complete the hike, participants also had to raise funds for the charity as part of the challenge.

The weekend in numbers …

900 – miles travelled by the minibus from The Midlands to Fort William and back
22 – hours travelling
6000 – expected ££ profit for the charity (money is still coming in)
752 – Premier Inn sausages eaten on the morning of the climb*
11 – hours on the mountain
1345 – metres climbed to the summit
4410 – feet to the summit
17 – number of summiteers
16 – kilometres covered on the flat map

*exaggerated for effect, but the rest is true.

The ascent

The group set off from the car park at the foot of the mountain at 8am, an early start being essential to avoid pressure later if there were any delays. The climb of Ben Nevis was broken down into four distinct sections by our guide and local expert Peter Long so that we knew when to expect breaks and to give us a feel for how much progress we were making.

After a short start on the level along made paths, the first two sections took us up steep, rocky and erratic boulder strewn paths to what’s called Halfway Lochan, a small loch located not far off half way up the mountain (but a little short of this really). Like most hikers, the group rested here for a while and took in some amazing views, as we were blessed with probably the clearest weather we could have hoped for for the hike.

Halfway lochan

However the clear weather came with a price, the heat took it’s toll on many of the group and we were also plagued somewhat by the infamous Scottish “midgies” which seemed to get everywhere. Plenty of sun cream and insect repellent and lots of water set us up well enough though for the next stage of the climb.

The third section was the longest, zigzagging up the “Tourist Trail” to about 1,200 meters. Another rest in increasing anticipation as we knew we had broken the back of the climb and everyone was confident now that they would be able to summit.

By this time the temperature had dropped considerably so everyone threw on another layer of two of clothing before we took on the last 150 metres or so and the final kilometer. Stunning views and the very hazardous nature of the north side of the mountain unfolded as we approached the summit.

Approaching summit

After a further 40 minutes or so a very happy and proud group were at the summit, and were briefly the highest people in the UK as we all climbed up to the trig point.

The descent

In many ways the descent was harder than the ascent. Everyone was tired and the rough, sometimes slippery terrain mean we all had to concentrate hard and support each other on some of the more difficult stretches.

As it became warmer we again became aware of the dangers of dehydration and were again invaded by the midgies.

Finally at about 7pm the group arrived back at the start point. 11 hours on the mountain had taken its toll on muscles, joints, minds, and our stamina … but nothing stood in the way of a well earned celebration meal and certificate giving later on that evening.

Our group had proven that genetic haemochromatosis (GH) doesn’t mean someone cannot achieve some amazing things. Several of the group were “sufferers” (though trying telling them that that word is appropriate!) of the typical severe joint problems and pains caused by iron overload – including one participant with two replacement hips – but that hadn’t stopped us completing one of the UKs toughest non-technical climbs. Well done to everyone involved.