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Couch To Ben Nevis: How To Develop Your Mountaineering Skills

Whenever a new year starts, many people set themselves a huge challenge or task to try and make before the end of the year, and one of the most popular in recent years has been the couch to 5k challenge.

The Couch to 5k, a plan originally created by Josh Clark, is an exercise meant to help motivate new runners by giving them a plan to slowly build up their endurance and body until they can run five kilometres without stopping in nine weeks.

If you are after a different kind of challenge to that, which mixes fitness with winter mountaineering skills, a clear goal and a beautiful view at the end, what about taking the Couch To Ben Nevis challenge?

The goal is simple; build up the level of physical fitness, skill and preparation needed to scale the tallest mountain in Great Britain by the end of the year.

It’s a great challenge to set for self-improvement or charity, and the difficulty of it can be adjusted depending on your skills and physical ability.

Here is how to get started.

Choose Your Route And Commit Yourself

Unlike Couch to 5k, which is a discrete distance, Couch to Ben Nevis can vary greatly in difficulty, from the challenging but achievable likes of the Pony Track to the much steeper Ledge Route, North Face or the Carn Mor Dearg Arete.

Each of these routes requires different levels of fitness and in some cases climbing experience, so know what you are getting into before you commit to a particular route, as it may affect your equipment and your training.

Once you decide, however, try to commit to a rough date as well. Ben Nevis famously has quite variable weather conditions all year long, but the best time to go is in the summer months, with other hikers on the trail and a greater chance of both more amenable conditions and a great view at the end.

For absolute beginners, taking the mountain path in summer is the best route, as whilst it is a tough climb, it will take between 7-9 hours to get up and down the mountain and does not require too many extra mountaineering skills, although the more you know the better.

If you do not live nearby, book a hotel for around a week to factor in the potential for bad weather that might scupper an attempt.

Buy The Right Clothes

Ben Nevis is 1300m above sea level, which means that it will feel significantly colder even on hot days. Make sure to buy appropriate, breathable layered clothing, a waterproof coat, a backpack with food, water and supplies to get you through the day and a strong, comfortable pair of hiking shoes.

Try to find shoes that provide a mix of support, comfort and stability on the climb, and break them in.

Start Walking And Hillclimbing

The key to the success of a Couch to 5k is that you start off by just regularly exercising and building that exercise up to strengthen your body and build cardio, and Couch to Ben Nevis works on the same principle.

Start with regular walks and build up the endurance to walk the seven hours without stopping, as well as walking up any hills in your area.

Bear in mind that the hardest part of the walk for the uninitiated is the descent, as the zig-zags of the Mountain Path can put a lot of pressure on the knees.

However, once the day draws near, make sure to slow down the intensity of the workouts to give yourself a chance to be at your best for the hike.

Travel At A Comfortable Pace For You

Do not feel the pressure to maintain a particularly brisk pace, and if you are with a group, it should travel at the speed of the slowest member to make sure everyone is accounted for.

There are plenty of beautiful sights whichever route you take, so take a deep breath and enjoy the glens and lochs surrounding the mountain, before continuing on mentally and physically refreshed.

The most important step is to keep going.

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