Julie's diary: Trying out the route

Julie McElroy writes about her trials as she prepares for the Ben Nevis Challenge.

Tuesday 13 November 2007

Julie during Nevis recce

I woke up at 0530 hours and got ready. It was dark and cold. Never mind, I was looking forward to the challenge! We gathered to discuss how to push a wheelchair with me in it safely up Ben Nevis. Ken took the mickey out of me saying the wheelchair will be heavy with me in it, when in actual fact he'd managed to give me a piggy-back climbing hills in Ecuador!!!

Off we set off on our climb. There were a few ladders and gates to be climbed so I had to get out and walk, and the people from Scope and Capability Scotland had to lift the wheelchair over. Back in the wheelchair they pushed me up all the big boulders, rocks, pebbles and paths. I was thoroughly enjoying it, killing myself with laughter because I was beginning to realize the team were struggling and I know what it's like because I did the same in Ecuador. Ken was advising them what to do only 20 minutes into the climb the teams wanted a break, but Ken said it was better to stop every hour.

Track up Ben Nevis

We made good progress. At times I had to get out of the wheelchair because it was impossible to push a wheelchair with someone in it across the bumpy terrain. We realised that it would be crucial for the participants in the Ben Nevis Challenge to have some mobility.

Further up the mountain, lots of rocks of all sizes made it tougher for the team to push. They were starting to think the task was virtually impossible, but Ken and I have enough experience of using the equipments to overcome the difficulties. We used a rope attached to the wheelchair and everyone pulling on the rope apart from two at the back of wheelchair. This way the wheelchair was going faster although it may not have felt or looked like it. When Ken sorted out the rope, he decided to come behind the wheelchair with Raemond and pushed. Just as he got behind me he lost his footing and grabbed the handlebars, pulling the wheelchair back and up - so I was lying on my back on the ground but lucky I managed to stay in the wheelchair!

Ken Hames during Nevis recce

It was getting steeper and much trickery by the moment. However I had absolute confidence in Ken and the team taking care of me. I got out of the wheelchair and walked with Ken across a stream, it was near a cliff so we were liable to slip down it! Past the stream, it was back in the wheelchair for a bumpier ride. I was enjoying it so much, but I honestly say I wouldn't like to be sitting a wheelchair up Ben Nevis because now I know how it feels! You really need to have some mobility but strong upper body strength when sitting in the wheelchair.

We stopped for lunch at just 500m away from the top of Britain's highest mountain. We had already decided that there should be a cut-off point as it would take ages to get back down again - the purpose of the Ben Nevis Challenge is for each corporate team to get to their highest point in an agreed timescale.
So after lunch we turned around and went back down without having reached the 4,406ft summit. The descent was scary at times because it felt I was going to go forward and fall out - it has to be done slowly.

We developed an problem with the wheelchair on the way down. The pin that keeps the handlebars bars locked snapped so that meant I had to steer the wheelchair. When we approached the stream again I walked with Ken and while I was walking I slipped on the wet rocks, however I picked myself continued. I now no longer get frustrated if I slip on rocks because I learned to deal it when trekking across the Andes with the Beyond Boundaries team!

Ben Nevis, November 2007

Back in the wheelchair, but more boulders and rocks meant at times the wheelchair needed to be lifted. We reached points where it was too risky to push the wheelchair down, so I got out the wheelchair and just walked the rest with Ken and Helen. My stamina and physical ability have greatly improved since the trek across the Andes.

At last we arrived back at the car park. We discussed the day's efforts and the organisers of the charities both decided that the route was do-able, a challenge that could be achieved if adequate training and guidance was given to the corporate teams taking part.

Julie and a group including ex-SAS commando Ken Hames and representatives of Capability Scotland and Scope were carrying out a risk-assessment of the route up Ben Nevis in advance of the Ben Nevis Challenge, which aims to raise funds and awareness for the above charities.

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Page first published on Thursday 28th February 2008
Page last updated on Thursday 24th July 2008

Your Views

Bill Struthers
You go Girl! I have heard mount kenya in an awsome climb you are amazing

Liz Courshee
I was given a last minute opportunity to participate in the Ben Nevis Challenge. It was without doubt (next to childbirth) the hardest challenge I have ever been involved in. Our team did not make it to the top despite 6.5hrs of grueling effort involving blood, sweat and finally tears. It was an emotional moment when it was agreed we would not reach the summit in the allocated time and still have to make it back down. Our team of 4 women and 1 guy put their heart and souls into this and we had so many words of encouragement and praise along the way. It was without doubt a "once in a lifetime event" for us and Sarah, our wheelchair user. Despite being in agony with my knees and taking 5 hrs to get back down, with more preparation I would do it again. It was an incredible day. Sorry I was too zonked to wake up and let you back in to the room Saturday night Julie and sorry I didnt get to say good bye (you were in the shower by 5am) Hope to meet during another challenge. Keep at it girl, and say hi to Ken.

carol mccarthy
I am in total awe of all you have acomplished Julie,you should be so very proud of yourself and i am so plesed to have met you. You inspired me to come back to my school and continue to help young people to live their lives 'beyond boundaries.' I am privalaged to have been a small part of 'Ken Nevis' expedition and i can assure Mr Hollington that the privalage of being part of that beautiful mountain for a day was not lost on anyone. What was achieved was a spectacular celebration of what the human spirit is capeable of if given time,confidence and comradeship from fellow human beings.A more pertinent question may be to our government and policy makers who put groups such as these in the position of having to raise funds to support their vital work.I will continue to support in whatever way i can to raise awareness and support.

David Burdus
Message for David Hollington.... I have found the teams to be sincere people, many of them born and bred mountain folk who are fundraising (shame we have to but we cant rely on the system)for much needed resources and introducing others like me to the awsome Scottish outdoors. I have to say, after this challenge, I am not likely to experience it ever again - I have paralysis so the mountain chairs and my companions are a once in a lifetime opportunity. What a shame you would wish to be so possessive about your heritage. Why dont you join us Saturday 31st - I am sure you would be most welcome even though some of us are are heathens!

Jo Blogs
Unfortunatley David Hollington seems too selfish to realise that these fund raising events are there to not only raise awareness of wheelchair users, but also raise funds to create a better quality of life. You should be ashamed of what you've said, and realise how lucky you are to enjoy the great outdoors. If you were wheelchair bound, I'm sure you'd change your veiws. Well done Julie, you're a true hero, over coming everything the Andes / Ben Nevis can throw at you!Ignore sad narrow-minded remarks such as these.

David Hollington
I am saddened to read of yet another charity fundraiser on a mountain. If, like me, you have passed numerous people trekking up Britains' mountains in aid of charity, you realise that our remote and awe-inspiring peaks are now no more than icons for money-raising schemes and publicity. What a shame that such places have been reduced to touristic marketing locales.

Shona Jackson
Well done Julie- sounds like an amazing adventure :) keep up the good work!!

Bob Kemp
Julie,This is a remarkable achievement but of course, you are one remarkable lady.

Catherine Steven
What an achievement!!!Go Julie - this girl is amazing!

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