"Why Ben Nevis?" - Andy Costigan reflects on the climb

Tuesday, 17th May 2005

This past Friday, Manchester Phoenix's very own Andy Costigan was one of three intrepid climbers to tackle Ben Nevis for charity.  Accompanied by his daughter Hollie and friend Anthony Beer, Andy made the ascent to raise funds for Leukaemia Research.  Here he looks back on the climb and the reasons behind the attempt.

It was at Christmas and early into the New Year that the idea of scaling Ben Nevis came to mind when two cases of people we knew contracting, and sadly dying of, Leukemia hit the mark as to how lucky we are to enjoy reasonably good health. A 'phone call and the throw away "fancy doing Ben Nevis?" question and equally throwaway "Yeah, why not?" reply saw a very loose commitment. A week or so later and a more serious 'phone call to say, "were you serious about Nevis the other day?" and the "I will if you will..." reply saw us agree firmly to do it.

Anthony having run several 10k runs and a couple of marathons enjoys a reasonable level of fitness, but for myself and a lesser degree Hollie, it meant putting together a proper training and preparation regimen. Luckily, having joined a gym a couple of years ago to lose weight, the prospect of switching from weightlifting to a treadmill wasn't too daunting and so it began. After a week of level treadmill walking, the gradient was quickly jacked up to the steepest available and a brick pace set for an hour a time, for anything between 5 and 7 times a week. On top of that, I rode the exercise bike at an increased resistance level to increase the stamina in the old legs and that became my staple exercise 'diet' right through from the second week of January until the Sunday before we headed North.

Having done a lot of hiking as a youngster, I knew though that there is no substitute for actually getting out on the hills and so March and April saw the gym regimen added to every Sunday with trips out to the Peak District to re-visit old walks. The likes of Lose Hill, Shutlingsoe, Mam Tor and Kinder Scout were walked in good times... as well as a lovely walk around the hills above Bakewell.

The biggest test ahead of Nevis was a Bank Holiday Sunday trip to Cadair Idris in North Wales. Cadair stands 2885ft and the starting point is from around 200ft above sea level. Anthony drove up from Cardiff to show me the way (cos, he's done it before) and off we romped... and I mean romped. Having not actually seen one another for a few months, we chatted away like two old fishwives and in no time at all, we'd reached the level of the lake with the two peaks of Cadair towering above us. On we romped and the first we scaled quickly with a quick eyeful of the panaromic views before down the saddle and up t'other side to the actual summit. We reached that just
as the cloud came down and blotted out the view.

A ten minute food and drink rest saw us begin the descent down the rocky slopes in the mist to the first peak and then on down to the lake where the lower level of the cloud allowed us a nice view of the lake again. Back down through the woods, we found ourselves back at the car park after a total of just 4 hours ! We were so pleased, we decided that we owed our feet some refreshment and to the amusement of several other walkers and climbers, we gleefully paddled in the freezing cold stream before wending our respective ways home.


And so to the real thing. A late departure on May 11th saw us arrive in Fort William just after 11pm, ready for a good nights kip before a lazy day on the Thursday. Glorious sunshine greeted us and we spent the day wandering around the gift shops and outdoor pursuit shops adding last-minute pieces of equipment... even though the weather forecast was good, you can't take enough Kendal Mint Cake and Jelly Babies on a trek like Nevis. An early evening sojourn to Glencoe saw the steep-sided glen bathed in a stunning sunlit evening light and the adrenalin for the Friday began to course through the veins.

An early breakfast on another gloriously sunny morning saw the three of us ready for the off at just past 9am. Beginning from the Youth Hostel in Glen Nevis, the immediate uphill slog begins and barely 5 minutes had gone when the perspiration was flowing. It was a beautiful morning, very warm and sunny with just a hint of a breeze. The low-flying RAF fighter scared the pants off us as he screamed through the upper reaches of the glen barely a couple of hundred feet above our heads but, by that time, we had reached the first marker on the route and we were gaining not only our second physical wind, but, more importantly, a second mental wind. Onward and upward winds the "Tourist Path" and we reached the lake in good time and then on to Red Burn - the halfway point - in a little under two hours. Once again, the RAF paid a visit only this time we were way, way, way higher than him and it seemed strange to be looking down on a fighter at full speed. The first snow was encountered around 3200ft as we continued to zig-zag our way up the Ben until eventually, you get the first view of the summit... and boy, does the adrenalin rush again !!

A couple more zigs and zags and then across a snowfield and we were almost there. The first view of the sheer North Face is mesmerising and the amount snow on the summit was quite amazing - anything between 18 inches and 3ft in some points with plenty cornicing around the cliff tops. We knew to steer clear of the cornices as the snow make look solid but, it is very unstable and disaster is but one step too many away. Reaching the summit plateau, we were greeted by upwards of 30 other climbers/walkers spread around having their pic-nic lunches... a veritable crossroads for those summitting from different ascent routes and something akin to the League of Nations as accents from Germany, Italy, Holland and Ireland were heard amongst the neighbours.

Photos taken, lunch eaten and a change of clothes for the descent and we were on our way for what we knew would be the hardest part - the descent. No matter how much training you do on treadmills, step machines, exercise bikes or whatever, there is nothing that prepares you adequately for a downhill hike. Knees and calf muscles soon began to make themselves felt but, whatever discomfort they tried to inflict was nought compared to the pleasure and indeed elation at having 'done' Ben Nevis.

All tolled and allowing for drink stops along the way, the ascent took 3hrs 45 mins and the descent just a shade over 3 hours and we enjoyed a full hour on the summit soaking in the magnificence of the views from the highest point in these islands... as well as the reflective heat off the snow of the bright sunshine.

If you've never done it, then I heartily recommend it, but do prepare beforehand.

As for the fund-raising and the cause for which we did it, what started out as a throwaway remark has resulted in three people achieving something they all wanted to do and with the support and best wishes of so many sponsors, will see a final total way in excess of our initial target.

Ben Nevis is an awe-inspiring mountain and in the weather we enjoyed, a fantastic place to visit.  Would I do it again - easy question to answer - Definitely !!!!

Andy Costigan.

Further information on the Ben Nevis Challenge and on how to make a donation can be found at http://www.justgiving.com/bennevchallenge

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