National Geographic : 2003 Jul
PHOTOGRAPHER'S NOTES This isn't me, but it could be. Actually, this guy injured him self while running down Scafell Pike. Entire teams run down the first two mountains during the Three Peaks Challenge. They're trying to win gold medals-as our team did-for finishing the race in less than 20 hours. In Nebraska we give out gold medals too. For pie eating. Roughly two and a half hours from the start, Kelvin and I pulled our way up a long, slippery patch of slushy snow. Suddenly, the steep trail flat tened into a granite summit: the rooftop of Great Britain! Partly out of a reporter's sense of duty, but mainly looking for an excuse to rest, I sat down on a rock to record the objects I found there, most of them totems carried up by earlier climbers: a stone from Coventry Cathedral; another from the 1953 Everest expedition; a squat stone pillar labeled "Britain's Highest War Memorial." I was writing busily when Kelvin interrupted me, sounding worried: "It's 21 degrees below zero up here," he said, which would make it about minus 6°E "The sweat on your clothes is a sheet of ice. I've got to get you down." As we approached that turquoise lochan on our descent, we ran into the rest of Team Perkins, chugging rapidly upward toward the summit. Suddenly I was jet-propelled, or maybe joy-propelled, driven by the knowledge that I wouldn't have to climb any more stinking mountains. 96 NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC * JULY 2003 h~ forecast a dreich day, a guttural Scottish word that connotes dark, wet, windy, and generally miserable. Nonetheless, the base of Ben Nevis was swarming with fire brigade teams (including an all female squad in running shorts who told me they planned to jog the whole way) when Kelvin and I started climb ing late in the afternoon. We crossed the footbridge over a lovely stream with a lovely name, Water of Nevis, and started uphill. Seriously uphill. Relentlessly uphill. After the first exhausting half hour at Kelvin's swift pace, I swore that I would never again sneer at a measly little 4,408 foot summit. The path up Ben Nevis winds past a turquoise mountain pond (what the Scots call a lochan) and fords a roaring stream that cascades for a thousand feet down the mountainside. In mid-June it's lined with stands of deep purple foxglove and bright yellow gorse, and offers spectacular views of the Highlands, with tiny villages scattered amid dra matic flint outcroppings. Not that a Three Peaker gets to appreciate any of these natural wonders, though-with that 24-hour clock ticking away, you can't stop to look. It felt like riding a race car through the Louvre, catching a stray glimpse of a masterpiece over your shoulder now and then as you rushed onward.