I decided that on Saturday, I would attempt Ben Lomond. Neither Sheaghna or Janie was able to make this one, so I was going to be walking solo.
I have to admit, the thought of walking it solo was not a particularly pleasant one for me. I find that when I’m doing a walk solo, particularly in the hills, I have some serious issues with motivation. It’s easier to go back down the hill than it is to climb up it, and without someone else motivating me, or me motivating someone else, I find that I have a tendency to take the easy option and go back down the hill.
So, it was with a little trepidation that I got up on Saturday morning, at 7am, left the house at 7:30am and arrived at Rowardennen just before 9am. Once geared up, off I went into the drizzle!
The start of the walk was pretty straightforward, through the woods, with plenty of wildlife to hold my interest. Lots of singing birds about, and I managed to see a brilliant little Goldcrest in the car park itself!
It didn’t take too long until the path got a little steeper, and the battle really began! At first it wasn’t too bad, but the more I had to work, the harder it got for me to do so. Every time I had to stop to catch my breath, the urge was there to turn around and go back down the hill. The fact that the initial weather was so poor didn’t help, either.
Not being able to see my destination because of low cloud wasn’t helping, either, it has to be said.
It didn’t take long until I was overtaken by two people running up the hill. Nothing makes you feel more inadequate when you’re struggling than a trail runner!
There are a few sections where the path levels out a little and the walk is reasonably easy going. I had no problems at all with these sections. It’s on the slightly steeper inclines that I struggle.
Don’t get me wrong, the walk isn’t particularly steep or challenging. It’s no worse than Ben Ledi, for example, which I did with no problems at all, just 2 weeks before. The problem was purely psychological, and all because I was walking solo.
It was after a particularly hard section, as I was stopping to take a breather. I was admiring the view (the clouds were beginning to clear a little lower down – shown below) and debating going back down the hill, when everything suddenly clicked into place. I could do this. I knew I could do this. I’ve done harder hills than this, so why was I stressing about it?! All of a sudden, the inner debate disappeared. I knew I was going to reach the summit of the hill.
The last uphill section was quite steep in places. Steeper than anything I’d done earlier in the walk, but although I had to stop to catch my breath a few times, I never once considered the possibility of going back. About 2 minutes before the summit, I was overtaken by another solo walker. Although I was a little disappointed to be overtaken by a walker (as opposed to a runner), I consider 1 person overtaking me, and only at the very end, to be a reasonable achievement – after all, I make no claims of being super fit!
When I got to the top, he was waiting for me (His name is Daniel, and he’s training for a marathon, so I definitely didn’t feel bad being overtaken by someone who was clearly in better shape than me!), and he was happy to oblige with the obligatory summit photo.
We decided to make the return trip down the Ptarmigan ridge together, as opposed to returning the way we’d come in. I knew from reading the walk description on Walk Highlands that this route was tougher than the way we came up, but I was feeling buoyed, and I’ve never really had a problem with downhills.
It definitely is tougher, though, with several particularly steep sections. The steepness of the slope isn’t the real challenge on the return trip, though. There are numerous places where you’re having to drop down steps that are a foot or more high, and after a while this takes its toll on the knees and thighs.
About 20 minutes before we reached the bottom, my hip felt like it was about to give out again. I didn’t want to slow down Daniel, though, so I basically just dealt with the pain until we got to level ground. The hip issue actually sorted itself out after a couple of minutes. My knees and thighs were definitely feeling it, though! In fact, it’s been almost 48 hours since I finished the walk, and my thighs are still a little tender!
Don’t get me wrong, though. Given the choice, I’d choose that route down the hill every time. It’s more interesting, more scenic and more fun! It’s also much quieter, with only 5 other people met on the way down. The original route looked as though it had a pretty constant stream of people going up it!
In the end, I got back to my car more or less bang on 1:30pm. A total walking time of 4hrs 30 mins. Considering that’s the lower end of the time range given in Walk Highlands, I’m pretty chuffed with that!
I’m doing Ben Nevis with both Sheaghna and Janie this Saturday, and I suspect I’ll start making use of my walking poles – at least for the downhill sections, to try and save my knees and thighs. I’m not entirely sure when my next solo hiking trip will be – it could be the week after. I just don’t know, really. When it does come around, I’ll be interested to see whether the mental barrier reappears, or once broken, it remains broken. I guess only time will tell for that one.