Climbing Ben MacDui and rediscovering myself after ending a long time relationship

After ending an 11-year relationship, I find myself struggling sometimes. Not because of the end of the relationship per se, but mostly because I forgot how to think only for myself.

When going through any major changes in life, you need to figure out if the thoughts in your mind are your own, or still tainted by what you used to think or who you used to be. Even simple things as deciding where to stay when travelling. Should it be a hostel in the center, outside the center, AirBnB, couchsurfing etc? There are tons of options out there and it’s not easy to know what the single me enjoys now. This is one the example of the small but constant challenges I’ve been facing in the last month.

stony pathway and snowy mountain
Before reaching the plateau

Another example of when I had to decide for myself, was when I took the bus from Aviemore to the Cairngorm Mountain Railway. I had planned to walk up Cairngorm, but I had also found information about a path to climb Ben MacDui, the second highest mountain in Britain. I opted for this one as there were already people ahead of me on the trail, and I always love a physical challenge.

Beginning of the trail, looking back on the valley
Beginning of the trail, looking back on the valley

According to the map and directions I had found online, approaching it from Speyside involves crossing the exposed Cairngorms plateau, a rolling arctic wilderness. It is a popular route but it requires excellent navigation skills. It all turned out to be true.

As I started my ascent, I was following a path made of rocks. The trail was well marked, easy to follow especially because there were still a few people ahead of me. There were some patches of snow but they were still manageable.

After a while, I arrived at the plateau and the weather changed drastically: it was raining and it quickly turned to hail. The visibility was greatly reduced, and as there was a couple in front of me, I was following their footsteps. Little did I know they were not actually following the right trail, but thanks to my GPS system on my phone, I could see I was slightly off, so I corrected my trajectory and found the trail again. There was more and more snow on the ground.

Mountain party covered in snow, with a path no longer visible
”There’s got to be a path in there somewhere…”

The thoughts of turning back down came to me, and I had to make a decision. Did I think it was worth going up there even if the weather was difficult? Being by myself, I had to make my own decision and live with it. I decided to keep going, knowing that I could always turn around later if needed.

The stormy weather quickly passed, and I kept following the path. There was more and more fresh snow on the ground, and I was not sure I could even do this. (I tend to fall into thinking that I can’t do something, and wanting to quit as soon as it gets somewhat difficult.) I remembered the SEALFIT Hell Week challenge I did a while back during which I truly did not believe I would be able to make it to the end, but obviously managed to in the end. Looking back at that time, I decided to push through, go for it and enjoy every minute and every misstep while I was there.

Footprint in the snow leading to the top of the mountain
Not always easy to find my way.

By then I had passed the couple and was just following the steps I could see in the snow, which now felt like walking on a beach. Minus the warm weather of course! Eventually, there was some cairns, which made it a lot easier to see where I was going.

Last stretch before the very top!
Last stretch before the very top!

I kept going up and finally arrived at the top. I was awarded with a great view and the skies clearing up. I was quite proud of myself, and I finally allowed myself to go ‘crazy’ or at least not worry about what people would think for once, and do exactly what I felt like doing in this precise moment. I started running from one end to the other of the small plateau, laughing like a kid, and enjoying every second of it. I even sang out loud, something I would never dare to do when there are people around. And you know what? It was liberating. And because I was able to push through the first challenges, I finally enjoyed exactly what I wanted to do and appreciated every feeling at that very moment.

Lovely view from Ben MacDui. 1309m
Lovely view from Ben MacDui. 1309m

I enjoyed the view for a while longer, but as the wind was picking up I was getting cold, so I started to make my way back, running in the snow and having child-like fun. Every single time my feet would go down to my knees in the snow I would smile and laugh my way out.

I met another couple on the way down, chatted with them for a few minutes before each resuming our walks. Going down was quite easy, even though it was getting very slippery. The snow had already started melting, and puddles started to form on the path. I got back to the confusing part, once again slightly off, but knowing where I was trying to head out I could easily find my way back. I arrived back in the parking lot at 4:30 pm after a great day!

The plateau on my way back. I didn't think of taking a picture in the stormy weather.
The plateau on my way back. I didn’t think of taking a picture in the stormy weather.

I’m not saying that it’s a done deal now and that I am never scared of making a decision on my own but I do know now that I can do it! I can push through the discomfort. I can make mistakes as I go and maybe make decisions that turn out not to be the best, but as least they are my own.

Being with somebody is great, and being able to share everything when we experience it is even better. But the ability to be able to be comfortable with your own company is a great skill to develop. Not an easy one, but worth all the efforts.

Made it to the top!
Made it to the top!

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