Written by Natalie Ashman

For me, a real turning point in my life was climbing Ben Nevis, I’m not sure why and I’m not sure I really knew that it was going to be; really, it’s just climbing a mountain isn’t it? For me it was so much more.

I had worked in Scotland for the last 4 years of my life, I had four weeks left In Scotland and the ever admin Annie that I am knew it was pushing on into another harsh winter but since I am also so stubborn, I didn’t want to leave without ticking off my last goal of 2017 and the last thing I wanted to achieve in The North.

Minus 3 on the East Coast the weather looked promising for the drive through to Fort William, for anyone unlucky enough to never live or visit Scotland there was something about being up so early and the crisp snow on the floor that was just lovely.

Walking rig on, boots tied, being bold and starting cold as always… me and my pal set off on our walk-up Nevis, through the car park, through the field, and this was us starting to take her in, in all her glory. I was so lucky to have the weather, the snow was dusty and fresh, the sun was rising and the sky was that fresh winter blue.

I was only at the bottom and already I couldn’t wait to get to the top, I was thinking about that glorious view from the top, the panoramic view of the Isles and the snow-covered hills all in eyesight, to do a little jump at the top, take that all so important selfie. I already had in my head what I wanted it to look like, what I had dreamt of, and I was so excited, it will be just like how I thought…which nothing ever is.

We were quarter of the way up and it was so cold and so wet, the snow-covered the boots and was only getting deeper. My thighs were burning and the cold air made it harder to breathe than what I’d thought. In my head, all I thought is “I have to get to the top”. Yet the scenery was so beautiful I had to stop and take it in, I could see Munro’s for miles all dusted with snow, it looked like something out of a film set. The top didn’t even matter anymore. It was what I learned on my way up, about myself and my head.

4 hours later I was finally at the top, the snow was thigh deep from around half way up making it so much harder, I just kept sinking making it harder to pull myself out. it hit about minus 13 at one point and at the top it was so much colder with the wind chill and no visibility.

So, you are probably wondering why it was such a turning point for me or why I’m rambling about a simple hill and me getting to the summit.

For anyone who knows me, they will know that the last few years have been really tough for one reason or another, it’s been a struggle and it’s been anything from a massive climb, to snow in my way, getting stuck, being fatigued, burning out, feeling like you can’t breathe and people or scenarios not being what they are in your head all just became so clear on that single walk.

Half way up I realised, that the things that happen in life and the way your mind and body works, is in fact an amazing thing and everything you want to achieve, just requires you to talk to yourself, and take in all the beauty around you, because you will learn more than the end goal itself. I learned the following during The Climb:

Even when I wanted to give up I didn’t – Resilience

I’d always get to the top no matter what – Commitment

When it got hard I pushed through – Dedication

When the weather changed, I changed – Adapt

When it was hard I said, it was hard – Authentic

When I got to the top and it was minus 20 – Accomplishment

On the way back down – Reflection

Months later – Gratitude

For me, when life gets hard, reflect on some of the hardest, shittiest times of your life, and turn them into positives and how they have made you into that special person you are.

Without the last few years, I would still be following the same pattern of behaviour;  when stuff got hard, I gave up. When things didn’t suit me, I dug my heels in and walked away. When people asked me how I felt, I lied and said “I’m all good.” Whenever I had finished something, I ticked it off my list and didn’t look back on anything I could have or should learned from experiences, purely through doing things for the sake of it.

What did I learn about myself while climbing up Nevis?………That life is just a game of your mind.

Three quarters up when I was sunk thigh deep into snow and was absolutely raging because it just seemed impossible and because all I wanted to do is be at the top and finish it. Nevis didn’t care if I got to the top, only I did.

The experience of climbing it, is where it all came to one big closure for me to finally close a door in my head, I’m not sure if it’s because it was actually really hard physically, or because it was just a mental game for me knowing my mind is capable of anything, I just had to talk to it. My legs said no and my head said yes, you can’t stop half way. My head said “Nat I hate you” And I said no you don’t it’s beautiful take a look around.

You never get anywhere standing in the same place, you will never see amazing things sitting on your ass, you will never grow as a person with a negative outlook, you will never move forward if you keep living one foot in the past, and you will never learn if you do not choose to.

No one will turn off your light, but you are the only person who can turn it back on. For me, with a little help of snow, Scotland and a patient Marine, I got to the top.

I chose to keep my light on because I realised no matter how hard the climb is, no matter if you can’t see anything at the top, or you just want to throw yourself down a cliff to get to the bottom quicker. You are the only person in control.

Scotland will always have my heart….because of it……..I am still here.

Natalie Ashman is a writer for the Royal Navy and based in London supporting U.K. Operations