Finding My Inner Peak

From what I remember (and sometimes the epilepsy doesn’t leave much) 2015 was an eventful year for me. I overcame a long run of depression that I had been stuck with since my late teens, and after two-and-a-half years of financial recession and epilepsy-related setbacks, I finally found a job that January.

I somehow felt more socially accepted when my payslips started to arrive. This blend of highs made me feel more positive in life. I was in a better state of mind, and found I wanted to prove it to those around me. So I weighed up my options.

I had done a lot of charity work in the past, and always enjoyed volunteering when I was unemployed. Epilepsy Action is the charity I know best, so I looked for ways to raise money for them. I was soon signing up for the Ben Nevis Challenge.

Fort William by Alex Holyoake

"This blend of highs made me feel more positive in life. I was in a better state of mind, and found I wanted to prove it to those around me. So I weighed up my options"

Through friendly advertising and frequent communication with family and friends, I told plenty of people about my mountain walk for charity. Sponsoring Epilepsy Action meant I was now talking about epilepsy with people more often. Social anxiety was no longer a major negative in my life.

But in spite of my decisiveness in taking on the challenge, I still wasn’t highly confident about it. Climbing the UK’s highest mountain? I would enjoy the sights but knew fatigue wasn’t my best friend. Difficult walks leave me quite breathless when they come with plenty of ascents. I went to the gym two or three times a week to try to gather enough fitness; it was getting myself to walk down to the sports centre that I found most difficult .

Although I was soon healthy enough, I worried that I was still carrying a little weight when the walk was due. But I knew I needed to complete a tricky physical challenge and make it to the top of that mountain. On the second of October, I took the trip up north.

My trip started with a three-hour train journey from Manchester to Glasgow Central. Nineteen other participants joined me there, and we were all taken on the winding, three-hour bus journey to Fort William. On the way, the group talked, finding out why we had chosen to sponsor our charities. As usual, I wasn’t the chattiest man in the group, but knowing that we all had a heart for society kept me feeling comfortable enough. I only hoped that everybody else felt the same.

Scotland’s standard cloudy sky greeted us at Achintee, and we got an evening meal and briefing. From what I remember, we weren’t in any luxury hotel, but I was no-doubt satisfied with everything that was available: I slept very well throughout the night.

"On the winding, three-hour bus journey to Fort William, the group talked. As usual, I wasn’t the chattiest man in the group"

Fort WIlliams by alex-holyoake via unsplash

A good full-on English breakfast set me up the next morning, but I knew full-well that elevation equals exhaustion, and this was no walk in my local park. A walking pole was strapped to my backpack and a little chocolate was pocketed to boost my energy if needed. I was wrapped up warm against the autumn chill (although my determination to keep moving forward at a decent speed led to me losing one or two layers along the way).

And so we began. The walk was no race, but I can be a bit of a perfectionist; on average it takes six to seven hours to get up and down Ben Nevis, and I wanted to walk it within that time frame. We followed the main Mountain Track. Once known as the Tourist Path, it was only natural to find myself  looking up and out frequently: soaking up the sights; taking a few photos.  At that time of the year, the mountain was a still a little green, but there was starting to be a mix of shades with the brown and the grey rock. I felt nice and fresh being out there in the country.

Joe Stevenson hiking with epilepsy on Mountain Track Ben Nevis

"We followed the main Mountain Track. Once known as the Tourist Path, it was only natural to find myself soaking up the sights"

It was a rocky road all the way, but there was no rain so I was not endangered by slippery areas. But there were few flat places that allowed me to settle my breath and recover. And getting closer and closer to the peak, the more strenuous, rocky areas took over the track. I begged my body not to pull a muscle. By this point, the walking pole was truly being used with good purpose as I stretched my stamina much further than usual. I asked myself “is this it?” a thousand times when looking upwards, just begging to reach the top of the mountain…

And I got there.

The peak isn’t what you might expect: just a fair bit of flat, rocky land, and we were well within the clouds. Although temperatures were certainly below zero, an important thumbs-up photo was taken by the summit’s famous cairn . After having something to eat (the pocketed chocolate certainly made it more special) the descent had to happen. The walk down was not easy – it never is on anything strenuous going up. The walking pole continued to keep me steady and I had to place my feet carefully throughout the reverse journey.

Around half way down, a blister was born. Joined by a group of other walkers on the mountain’s flatter land I plastered the pain up as well as I could. But to be honest, I didn’t care too much about it. I knew any physical problems occurring now were playing their part in my achievement. Another obstacle for me to overcome and look back on with a smile.

"The peak isn’t what you might expect: just a fair bit of flat, rocky land, and we were well within the clouds"

Hiking with Epilepsy Action on Ben Nevis

Hopping some stepping stones with the end quite clearly in sight, a feeling of full-coated achievement pumped up my veins. Incredible sights never cease to amaze me, but a sense of pride won’t do me any harm either. After going both up and back down, the walk had taken me about six hours and there was time to celebrate my success with a well-earned pint at the Ben Nevis Inn.

As a man still yearning to go travelling and reach some peaks abroad, it is great to know that I have now met my country’s highest point – and it was done and dusted without any problems. I had attempted to earn some money for charity before this, but because of my epilepsy and depression, it hadn’t gone to plan.

This time around, I completed the journey, and I felt like I had reached a personal peak.

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