Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Mither Tap at Bennachie: My 2nd 'Almost' Summit

Summer has finally arrived in Scotland, and we’ve been enjoying consistent 60 degree, sun-shiny days for about 2 weeks now. Of course, there are foggy and dreary days thrown in every once in a while, but I’ll take what I can get.
On Saturday, conditions were perfect for a hike, so we loaded up the car, picked up Luke and Debbie, and headed out to climb Bennachie, one of Aberdeenshire’s most cherished ‘hills’. Scots call it a hill, I call it a gigantic, insurmountable mountain. To-may-to, To-mah-to.
At the Bennachie visitor center there is loads of parking, toilets, and several maps navigating the different trails. We took the green Mither Tap Timeline trail up, and planned to hit the black Gordon Way on the backside of the hill.
I really appreciate when these hikes have clearly marked paths, especially since Jonathan and I are apparently navigationally challenged. We still managed to get turned around even with the helpful guidelines, but more on that later…
The first half of the ascent was gently sloping woodland dotted with stone ruins.
After about a mile and a half, the trees cleared away and we were left with stunning views of Scotland…
and terrifying views of the path to the summit.

I’ve mentioned before that heights is one of my phobias. Not a fear. A phobia. Do you know the difference? Fear is an uneasy and unnerving feeling that you can usually keep at bay with positive and rational thinking. A Phobia is a terror that paralyzes you and makes you crouch in the fetal position halfway up a summit just trying to breathe. Yes, with about 10 yards to go, I launched into a full blown panic attack.
Usually Jonathan tries to coax me through these moments of anxiety, but even as he glanced up at the final rocky ascent, he advised me just to take a seat while the rest of the group continued to the summit. So for the next 10 minutes I stared at a mound of grass and tried desperately to pretend that I was in a meadow on the ground instead of so high above sea level that I had a view of Aberdeen from 30 miles away.
Several times I tried to gain my composure and climb the final steps, but with each glance to the top, my fear overcame me once again.  The weird thing is, I am the one who chose this hike. I don’t know what goes through my mind to make me think I’m brave enough to hike that high, but for some reason it’s like I completely forget how scared of heights I am until I’m actually up there.

 I guess it’s more like vertigo, once I reach a certain height I start to feel off balance and dizzy which instantly makes me feel like I will surely topple off the mountain, which understandably sends me into a panic attack. So while I hunkered down 30 feet below, Debbie and Luke were able to snap this photo of Jonathan on the summit.
I feel a little twinge of guilt over the fact that I’m not in the picture, but here is one that we snapped on the initial descent, standing in a fort built in the Dark Ages.
Right after the fort, our instructions told us to curve right around the hill, take a steep descent and meet up with the Gordon Way Trail down to the visitor’s center. Of course, with Jonathan and I in the lead, we missed our turn and ended up just retracing our steps to the Visitor’s center.
Honestly, signs like this are all over the mountain, and we still managed to lose our way. Is there a ‘Hiking for Dummies’ book that I can buy? Fortunately, we didn’t get lost, we were just stuck with the same old views we saw on the way up the mountain…which were pretty spectacular so it wasn’t all that bad.
I’d love to do Bennachie again, and find our way down the other side of the hill, though I’m not sure when we’ll have as good of conditions to ‘almost’ make the ascent again.
And even though I was being surpassed by 4 year old children, I’m still proud of myself for almost making it to the summit. If you think about it, due to my intense fear, I was probably one of the most courageous people on the mountain that day. Because it’s not brave, if you’re not scared. (Oh yea, I’m totally quoting Ben Affleck from the movie Bounce.)

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