ALTHOUGH I’m usually far too busy for the activity now, climbing (or more accurately mountaineering) used to be my obsession.
It is true to say I was more of an ‘arm-chair mountaineer’, revelling in the written accomplishments of Reinhold Messner, Doug Scott and Edmund Hillary among others.
However my dad and I made successful and occasionally technical ascents in the Cairngorms, Alps and later on Kilimanjaro, a shade under 20,000 feet.
When I was given the opportunity to visit Iceland on a geography field-trip in those formative years, I leapt at the chance.
As anyone knows, Iceland is a climber’s and a geographer’s dream. There are glaciers, coastal landforms, active volcanoes, spectacular rivers and gargantuan waterfalls.
Iceland has very good mountaineering, but of course, I could not expect to climb any peaks on this trip …or could I?
As we arrived at our accommodation for the week, I was thrilled to see it lay at the base of a huge pillar of volcanic rock.
Snow and ice covered the top, although the sides seemed relatively free of the stuff.
I noticed several interesting gullies which looked climbable although there were no paths creeping up towards them.
My geography teacher, Mr Sturgeon, was an athletic guy, keen on skiing and interested in the same adventurous exploits I read about. However he rightly had a duty of care and wasn’t going to let me get everyone into trouble by vanishing up a mountain.
But I suffer from a vertical affliction. When a mountain looms ahead of you, suddenly there is a great purpose and goal to one’s wanderings – the summit and the satisfying accomplishment of the attainment of that point. I had to climb this Icelandic peak.
With two equally irresponsible friends, we dressed warmly, packed our head torches and left around 11pm. The northern lights shimmered above us. A full moon lit up the surrounding landscape.
Plotting my course upwards, we made good time, crossing the fields and hills below at a jog then beginning the steeper approach.
Up we travelled, scrambling across boulders and traversing scree slopes until we reached the foot of a gully. At this point the weather seemed to turn slightly – the wind picked up and the others became uneasy.
They opted to try and find a less-steep way to the top, whilst I pushed on. By now it was 2am, cold and blowing a gale.
As I reached the top of the gully, the full force of the wind hit me and I struggled to cross the plateau before reaching the highest point and retreating to find the others.
There were two things I remembered about the climb. Firstly, that the only creature I saw was a redwing, my favourite member of the thrush family and, being September, soon to fly south to Britain for a milder winter.
And secondly, how we failed to avoid the wrath of Mr Sturgeon, not by being found out, but by constantly falling asleep during the next day’s activities!
Ben is a wildlife artist. Join him at Wildlife Xpo, Alexandra Palace, London, on October 14-15.