Ben Nevis Rocks IV

It’s never easy, hearing the Alarm go off at 3.15am, in preparation for Ben Nevis Rocks…

As I peeped outside, I was delighted to see no sign of the forecasted rain, said a silent prayer and gathered my rucksack and poles and headed to the Glen Nevis Visitor Centre for the fourth annual climb to the summit of Ben Nevis for the Highest Gig In Britain.

It’s a quiet and ethereal moment as all the trekkers close in silently towards our meeting point, with the Scottish Highlands surrounding us, It feels like we are assembled at Church as the full implication of where we are heading, looms, literally, above us…

Our fearless Love Hope Strength leader, Mikey Boy Peters gives us an opening address to inspire everyone for the rigours of the day that lie ahead and we snake our way apprehensively to the start of the path. It’s an inspiring moment to be surrounded by the Love Hope Strength trekkers, from all walks of life and all with different stories as to why they have joined the Love Hope Strength Family, on this journey…

We enjoy exchanging stories upon our ascent and the trekkers entertain me with their Alarm memories (and distract me from the pain of the slog!) as we slowly make our ascent to the half way point where the waterfall dissects the trail. There are familiar faces who have joined Mike and I for all 4 Ben Nevis treks and also many new faces whom I approach and ask for their stories…

One guy, Mark had only been introduced to The Alarm and MP just over a year ago, after hearing a work colleague in Leeds, blaring out Alarm tunes at work… Mark was so inspired that the next morning he drove from Leeds to Wales and joined us last year for Snowdon Rocks and this year for Ben Nevis! Another girl from N Wales had recently been introduced to The Alarm by a friend and after climbing Snowdon with us a few years ago, felt inspired enough to join us for the Mighty Ben’ (as we are allowed to refer to Ben Nevis once conquered!). I was delighted to see Gareth Hayward (an Alarm fan from the Bristol area) who joined us for Ben Nevis a couple of years ago… and this year Gareth was accompanied by a gang of his friends and family and they are all joining us for Snowdon on Saturday, June 20th! Diolch Gareth!

It was especially lovely to be joined by two friends from N Wales, Mikey Garnett and Paul Newall who certainly helped brighten the ascent with their big smiles, huge enthusiasm and chats about friends and family back in North Wales. Then there was the infamous Mickey Collins from Lockerbie. Mickey and I met via email over 2 years ago, whilst I was on tour in Germany with BIg Country. Mickey’s brother, Stevie (a massive Big Country/Alarm fan) had sadly lost his battle with cancer and Mickey was in search of LHS wristbands for Stevie’s funeral. With the help of the MPO Godfather o.k.a. my Dad, Peter Foley Jones, (please note, all you lovely Irish Alarm people) we were able to send out the LHS wristbands over night and in time to give Stevie a fitting passage… together with a specially recorded dedication from Mike to Stevie… It was the start of a beautiful LHS friendship and to date, Mickey has raised approximately £10,000 for LHS and has embarked on his 3 peak Bike Hike challenge so spare a thought for Mickey, cycling on to Scafell Pike and then joining us for Snowdon on Sat June 20th!

It’s quite incredible, taking one step at a time and witnessing all these positive people, celebrating life and making a difference. I’ve been fortunate to climb Ben Nevis 4 times in the company of David & Nicola Johnston, a remarkable couple, whom we were fortunate to make an acquaintance with, during Mike’s time singing for Big Country. David & Nicola adopted Love Hope Strength close to their hearts and this year they have taken on an 8 day challenge to climb 8 Peaks in 8 days, finishing their challenge on top of Snowdon with us next Sat, June 20th!

At the waterfall, Mike sang ‘High On The Hill’ and strummed his new Love Hope Strength guitar (that had been especially made by Auden Guitars – Thank you Doug & Rob!), and we all raised our voices together to remember loved ones and those battling with cancer who couldn’t be with us. It’s a high life-affirming moment to be looking out upon the spectacular Scottish peaks, singing our hearts out and soon we were crossing the stepping stones that bridged the water, cascading down the mountain-side, and leading us up higher into the misty zig zag section of the climb.

Special thanks to LHS diehard trekkers Jayne & Paul O’ Connor who religiously hike Ben Nevis and Snowdon Rocks every year on behalf of LHS… No mean feat! Ashley Gray and Kristine Smith were amazing, descending in record time and already registering for Ben Nevis 5! A poignant moment for us with Gary Macdonald who was carrying a flag to remember his Mum. Special mention to all the new and old faces who made Ben Nevis 4 that extra bit special… Derren Jones from my home village of Dyserth and who will be joining us for Snowdon Rocks, Mandy Selvester, Iain Mclean, Peter Styan, Sean Sherris, Mark Clough, Derry Barton, Steve Weller, David Shee, Matt Logan, Ian Evison, Martyn Morris, Janet Cole, Sarah Kay, Stuart Crowther, Sean Whittle, Martin Bayliss, John Beard, Gareth Barnett, Ricky Chandler, Edward Morris, Ian Smith, Owen “great backing vocals” Lindsay, Peter Bucknell & Iain…

“How much longer?” “Are we nearly there, yet”.. Before we knew it, we were above the lower and darker clouds that threatened rain upon the masses of climbers far below us who would be starting out on their own journeys and following in our tired footsteps. High into the white mist, we climbed, and as we turned the corner, ahead of us, like magic…fields of white snow beckoned… We were transported into a whole other world as we stepped onto the frozen wonderland. This is why we do it… these memories live with you forever. As I watched Mike plod on ahead, each step more difficult as the snow lay thick beneath us, I am always reminded of the metaphor of climbing the mountain and our own personal journey with cancer… the hard slog of treatment, staying strong and keeping the faith in times of despair and the utter joy of sumitting and good blood results. It’s all there, in the ascent of mountains and we’ve plodded up our fair share…

On the summit, it was not as cold as previous years (when I’ve been unable to speak or feel my toes and fingers) and it was strangely calm as the wind that normally greets us (and has sometimes blown us off our feet!) at this high altitude was completely still. It was eerie, and if you stopped to rest, all you could see ahead were shapes of other climbers fading into the white. There was no horizon to aim for, so all you could do was follow the footsteps and the cairns that led the way to the summit plateau. At the summit it was beautiful and serene, like being on another planet. Total whiteout. As I met up with MP and our fellow trekkers, I hugged him closely and gave my own personal thanks for slogging though the dark times and standing high on the hill in happier days. Long may they continue!!

It was a great feeling to see so many of the LHS team together at the summit taking the time for photographs and group shots. Mike soon had the guitar out again and was able to play without the usual chill factor hampering his fingertips. In typical MP style, it was decided to record a Christmas video, with everyone gathered around the trig point at 4409 feet elevation. The trig point was buried deep in the snow and consequently had us all standing a good two meters higher above the ground than we normally stand on! On top of the world, indeed!

The descent was long and hard but the promise of refreshment at the Ben Nevis Inn was strong and we all made it back with stories to tell and excitement to share. The Love Hope Strength guitar was brought out once again (Thank you, Auden Guitars!) and for an hour we sang along to our favourite songs as Mike encouraged requests from each and every trekker. It’s always magical being part of a Love Hope Strength trek and Ben Nevis 4 was no exception. The Inn was crackling with atmosphere and it was a perfect way to round off a very special day.

To date, we have been able to donate £40,000 to cancer care in Scotland (Beatson and Maggies Cancer Centre in Scotland). Thanks to all our friends and family who enable us to head out into the mountains in the name of Love Hope Strength.

Special thanks to Head LHS Volunteer, Lydia Franklin who always “goes with the crazy” (watch our for Lydia’s New Zealand forthcoming cycle ride benefitting LHS) and our intrepid Photographer and Webmaster, Andy Labrow, who is always there to capture every LHS moment. Both Lydia and Andy go beyond the call of LHS duty and for that we are forever grateful…

Last but not least, we missed our flag bearer Dave Spragg, who always leads us on our treks. As many of you know, Spraggy is battling liver/bowel cancer and we look forward to welcoming him to lead us on our way for Snowdon Rocks, June 20th 2015….

Here’s to Ben Nevis Rocks 2016!

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