Exactly two months ago I embarked on a journey that was to change my life irrevocably. When I was asked if I could spare a weekend in September for something ‘exciting’ with Dwayne Fields, fellow Ordnance Survey #GetOutside Champion I was intrigued. Very intrigued. I suffer from FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) massively anyway so my interest was piqued. Little was I to know just how massive a difference this weekend was going to make…
On investigation and a quick phone call to Dwayne I started to get a feel for what the weekend was about; it was about getting a group of young adults from the inner city taken out of their comfort zone, giving them a challenge and helping them to achieve something truly amazing. This is something that is incresibly close to Dwayne's heart. He is passionate about changing lives for kids and young adults who are facing the same challenges he did at their age. As a Scout Ambassador, GetOutside Champion, Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society he is able to raise awareness of, and work hard for this cause.
The premise was to get the group to meet at Gilwell Park, spend a day getting to know each other through a range of activities and then to drive up to Scotland where we would attempt to summit Ben Nevis. Before it all kicked off I was in conversation with another fellow OS GetOutside Champion, Jason Rawles. He was to be the lead on the summit element of the weekend with me assisting. As an experienced Mountain Leader and Guide this was Jason’s natural territory, for me it was a little nerve wracking. I was just about to go for my Mountain Leader Assessment and this was a big gig for me; I have led countless groups in the Brecon Beacons, Malvern’s etc. but never been involved in something like this.
Due to work commitments I was to arrive late to the party at Gilwell Park on the Thursday night. I arrived about 8pm and was greeted in the car park by Jason, he swiftly put me at ease, enveloped me in a hug and introduced me to the group. I had spoken to Dwayne a few times, and also Kevin the Executive Producer who was filming the whole event – no pressure Bish! I then got to meet the group for the first time around the campfire. They were instantly fabulous. They were welcoming, friendly, funny and had clearly already bonded in the few short hours they had been at Gilwell. As I sat that evening, by the fire, eating peanuts I knew that this was going to be something quite unique.
The next day there were various activities planned. The wonderful Fi Darby of The Two Blondes was running a navigation workshop and then David Love was taking them through a series of Bushcraft and survival techniques which he managed to rope me in to helping with. It was great fun and the group engaged with, and relished in every single thing that was thrown at them. Including eating a range of dead and alive, yes alive, bugs….made my stomach turn!
That evening we went for a night walk up to the local Trig Point. This was to mark a turning point in the adventure for me, and for the group. I have spoken before about the fact that as soon as I open up about my mental health and my breakdown that it opens a door for others to share. It was an emotional evening for me as I listened to a couple of members of the group open up about why they were there and why they had decided to accept this challenge. I am not ashamed to say I shed more than one tear that night and needed to be propped up a bit, I also realised that I need to skill up with this mental health lark – Mental Health First Aid course is booked for 2019! We all shared that evening, not least Sonny whose Grandfather’s ashes were scattered at the trig point where we walked. He had a moment, we all had a moment. The feel for this weekend was set right there, that evening.
The journey up to Scotland was long, very long so we set about drumming up support on social media. The group had already been greeted at Gilwell Park with a video from Chief Scout Bear Grylls and we managed to get tweets from the likes of Steve Backshall, Helen Glover, Anita Rani and Tim Peake! The team were gobsmacked. We were all literally buzzing! When we arrived we were rewarded by the most spectacular views in Glencoe. The valley is known internationally for its beauty and it didn’t disappoint. However, there was a definite dampness in the air so we headed on down to the campsite. We had a beautiful spot at Red Squirrel Campsite, secluded, surrounded on three sides by the river. Having already practiced putting up their tents the group swiftly got themselves settled in which was just as well as it was then that the heavens opened. And by opened I mean the deluge began.
That evening we all met for one last kit and route check. The weather for the following day was predicting strong winds on the summit of Ben Nevis with high chances of rain and snow showers. Jason was on it with the weather (he is a bit of a geek really, just don’t tell him I said that) so he made the call to alter the departure time from 7am to 9 am. There was to be a window in the weather at around 1pm for two hours so we were aiming for that. No pressure!
So the day dawned. It was summit day and we were all a bit apprehensive. The BBC film crew were there poking there cameras in everywhere, I had woken up with conjunctivitis (I looked like a demented guinea pig) and half of my kit under water – the water table had risen significantly overnight. Luckily I had had the common sense to pack my kit the night before and stow it in my room in the tent with me so at least that was still dry!
We eventually set off up the mountain at 9.30am after lots of stuff being organised with the BBC and film crew (this was to be a theme throughout the day!). We met our Mountain Guide for the day Nathan Jon Berrie from the John Muir Trust who proved to be the most amazing mine of information about the mountain; his knowledge kept us all entranced. However, as we walked up we were being met by teams of people all adorned in their Marie Curie bling who were telling us that the ‘mountain is closed’ and ‘we are being turned back’. Games faces were one and positivity was the name of the game, along with good planning.
We stopped often on the way up, but never for too long, ensuring that everyone, including the BBC film crew were fuelled, watered and warm. The winds were fierce and we could see the clouds getting closer the higher we got. Managing the group was fine, they were chatty and supportive of one another. Managing the film crews was another matter entirely!
Walking and talking became central to the day, it was almost like the group were rotating to the back with me. As they all rotated back to me they all started to talk, to open up and I could see that it was like a huge weight was being lifted from their shoulders for just sharing some of the stuff they have to deal with on a daily basis. I became ‘Mum’ to the group that day, it is almost as if I gained 6 more children, and I gained them happily. I cannot state enough how phenomenal every one of them was, and is. That day they smashed it, despite the weather being against us, despite the constant stops for filming they battled on. The worked as a team and they reached the summit of the highest mountain in the UK. Ben Nevis was theirs for that short time.
When we reached the summit it was bitterly cold with zero visibility. But we had made it. There was a range of emotions; elation, happiness, reflection, disbelief and there were tears. I had a little cry when I watched this group on the summit posing for the BBC cameras. We were all emotionally connected with the completeness of this challenge. This wasn’t a normal ‘take ‘em up, bring ‘em down’ this was different. We all connected that weekend.
The summit euphorics didn’t last long, we were swift to get the group down, out of the winds so that they could keep warm. We also knew that getting down is often the most challenging part of the walk. It was slow, arduous, and painful. There were strops, tantrums and even sitting down on the job and that was just the Executive Producer! But before long we made it to the YHA where we all breathed a huge sigh of relief and were able to really, really stop and congratulate ourselves and each other. Seeing the group chatting to the public who were in the bar and café was a joy, they were literally glowing and their joy radiated from them and filled that place with pure glee. It was infectious.
Every one of the team, us included, battled some demons that weekend; faced truths, accepted past misdemeanours. There was a great deal of reflection that night, there were some lifelong, physical connections forged too. The next day the journey home was quiet but there was a glorious sense of calm on that bus, a sense that something quite special had occurred.
I have taken a great deal from the weekend, it has made me re-evaluate my life but essentially my reflections on the weekend are that;-
However what excites me the most about this weekend and the Street2Peak Initiative is its potential. I sincerely hope that that weekend was just the start of something, the start of something unique. Ordnance Survey created an absolute blinder here and the possibilities are massive. Here’s to seeing these amazing guys again, to more adventures with them and with the programme…..