'The Day A Mountain Changed My Life' February winner: Pete GeallPublished: 17th February 2019
Discover the winning entries from our monthly writing competition capturing memorable mountain days.
You don’t often find surfers in the mountains. They prefer sea-level, for obvious reasons. Yet one beautiful September morning back in 2013, the kind where the autumnal air is as fine as a bee’s wing, I found myself halfway up the largest mountain in the UK. A foolhardy 26-year-old surfer from Cornwall butchering the most famous route up the north face of Ben Nevis.
I had spent the previous week camped out in the old farmyard that overlooks the world-class wave of Thurso East, situated in the far north of Scotland. Once high pressure descended and the swell diminished, I made the decision to break up my journey home with some conquest in the Highlands.
Looking back, I was well-equipped for disaster, possessing that dangerous cocktail of competent climbing skill mixed with the blind courage of youth.
The approach. Leaving in the sullen darkness of pre-dawn, I followed the Allt a’ Mhuillin stream to the CIC climbers’ hut at the foot of the Ben. I looked up in awe at Tower Ridge, now illuminated by the gilded shadows of morning light. With one step I was off the path and into the arms of the mountain. I spent six hours on the ridge that day. Five of which were in abject terror, after a rock in which I had entrusted all my weight was birthed from the ridge and slipped silently into the now fogged depths beneath. I had the overwhelming sense of disrespect. Not of the mountain per se, but for the gift of life my parents had given me and those who would be tasked with removing my body.
I have a photo taken that day of me on the misty summit. A middle-aged couple must have seen me clamber dramatically over the final scarp. As I stood aimlessly at the summit trig point they put their supermarket sandwiches down and asked me if I was ok and would I like a photo? My hair was soaked from both sweat and claggy mountain mist, my puffy vacant eyes locked in the present, and my smile nervy. I remember starting to feel cold, and tears running down my face that weren’t like any other tears I had felt before. A nameless blend of elation, fear and dumb-luck. That was the day I left my youth behind.