To the seasoned climber, Ben Ledi (879 m) may seem a little tame.
Nevertheless, it is an impressive giant of a rock, a very popular hill-walk, and its position on the edge of the Scottish Highlands makes it an excellent viewpoint from which to take in some spectacular and diverse scenery.
It also happened to be our Day One destination during this summer’s Walking Coach weekend retreat, Release & ReSource.
It’s fair to say that, on this day, as we contemplated what lay ahead, aspirations within our group were rather mixed, and a certain amount of trepidation filled the air. Concerns over weather, fitness, aptitude, stamina, inexperience, safety and a rather real intolerance to insect bites, seemed to hang over us, almost as dark and foreboding as the rain-filled clouds.
It looked unlikely, therefore, that we’d take on the summit today. The easier, circular route around the hill’s lower reaches seemed like a wise choice - and to be honest, just as satisfactory for most.
Nature's Soothing Balm
So we set off, walking alongside Loch Lubnaig, chatting lightly and feeling our way into our collective rhythm. After a while, we began the gradual climb through the forest. With its apothecary of colours, smells, sounds and sensations, the woodland’s work soon took effect, opening all our sense receptors and infusing us with its pleasing, sultry presence.
Then, emerging above the treeline, we were suddenly met by a massive amphitheatre of green covered mountainside, facing outwards and behind us to the flatlands of distant urban life. Like a kindly grandfather, it seemed to welcome us into its heart whilst we, small humans, stood diminutive and dwarfed by the sheer beauty and magnitude surrounding us.
Miraculously, the skies had begun to clear. It was turning into the most gorgeous day, and we decided to eat lunch. As spectators both to the wilderness and to ourselves, an incredible sense of well-being, joy, peace and aliveness had truly arrived.
Onwards to the top? Or circle back?
By now, we had reached an important choice point in our journey: to press on to the top, or circle back?
To my amazement - and delight - there was no hesitation.
We were going for it! Unanimous.
With euphoric gusto, the walkers turned into adventurers.
Walking in nature: the mind-shifter extraordinaire.
We continued the ascent. As clouds swirled around the peak above, they seemed to be teasing us, playing mind games with perceptions of height, distance, challenge, possibility and ….. Self.
And let’s face it, there was a good slog of a climb still ahead of us.
Not for the faint-hearted.
Yet, on a typical weekend on this popular mountain, it is not unusual to meet young children, pensioners, babies on piggy-back, three-legged dogs, - and yes, even sedentary office workers - challenging themselves to scale its slopes!
Eventually we summited Ben Ledi. For once, the wind was in no hurry to chase us off the top. So we hung around, recovering our energies and basking in exhilaration.
There’s no denying the sense of accomplishment and the sheer elation felt by taking on such a feat - and succeeding. And let's not forget the close camaraderie found through shared ‘suffering’ and bonding with a supportive bunch of peers.
But, to see this simply as a test of personal endurance or some ‘conquer the mountain’ kind of challenge, would be missing the point.
HIGHER SOURCE OF UNDERSTANDING
Mountains have always captured the imagination of humans, and as we stood silently, in awe of the panorama spread out before us, it was easy to see why.
The experience was nothing short of humbling.
If we ever thought that we humans were in charge of this planet, then the perspective that’s offered from the top of a peak, forcing us to see beyond our immediate vicinity, must surely bring a much-needed re-set for our ego’s.
But rather than diminish us, this reminder that we are mere specks on the landscape of life, can also be liberating, inspiring and empowering.
Throughout history, many a person has climbed to the top of a mountain in order to connect with a higher source of understanding. And many have come back down feeling stronger and wiser.
So whenever you feel trapped, stuck or limited in your vision, a trip to your nearest mountain may be just what you need.