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My first Munro and a bout of vertigo on Ben Vorlich

My first Munro and a bout of vertigo on Ben Vorlich


Postby notaheadforheights » Tue Nov 07, 2017 9:58 pm

Munros included on this walk: Ben Vorlich (Loch Earn)

Date walked: 05/11/2017

Time taken: 3.5 hours

Distance: 10 km

Ascent: 850m

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I finally climbed my first Munro at the weekend and reached the top of Ben Vorlich.

All set for the off.jpg
All set for the off.


Unfortunately, through no fault of the mountain, I can’t say I enjoyed it. The weather was glorious, my fitness was fine, I was well prepared and got up no bother but for the final 50 metres to the summit, which, as it transpires, is not a good place to discover that I can suffer from quite bad vertigo. I’ve done plenty of smaller hills before and although I’ve never been a big fan of drop offs or steep ascents I’ve managed them okay. However, on this occasion I really struggled on this final part of the climb and found it too steep for me with a bout of vertigo really kicking in. Leaving me feeling like I was going to get stuck up the mountain with visions of me having to be rescued! There was just a little snow lying that had fallen the night before but underneath that it was rocky and a bit wet and muddy…combined with the steepness of that final 50 metres I felt very insecure and at a real risk of slipping. Logically I knew that with confident steps and using my poles for support, the risk of falling was low and that if I had slipped I would most likely just have fallen on my bum and dented nothing more than my pride but in that moment, illogical or not, I felt like I really could just tumble off the mountain and felt myself getting dizzy and panicky. Doing it on my own did not help and in hindsight a bit silly for my first Munro but I’ve done lots of smaller hills before and always been fine. With my husband at home to watch the children it was me, myself and I or not at all. Having read several guides to the walk beforehand I felt that I would be okay with this ‘straightforward walk suitable for beginners’. And indeed it was very enjoyable and straightforward…most of the way.

Stunning scenery on the way up.jpg
Stunning scenery of the way up.


On the up - still happy at this point.jpg
On the up - still happy at this point.


For most the final 50 metres to the top would be a walk in the park but for me it felt like a whole other ball game. On that final ascent I kept looking up at the two climbers about 20 feet in front of me to try and follow their path, hoping that they were taking the logical route up. It just seemed so steep! I also kept looking back down, desperate to turn around and head back – but I was stuck…dizzy, panicky and way out of my comfort zone. The only way was up because I couldn’t figure out how to get down! Hoping that when I got to the top I would take a few deep breaths, calm myself, shake off the excess adrenaline and figure out how to get down. Unfortunately I felt little joy at reaching the summit and I shamefully didn’t even register the inevitably stunning views on such a clear day. All I could think about was how the hell am I going to get off this mountain. I was fully prepared to slide down on my bum if needs be.

At the top but not too happy about it..jpg
At the top but not too happy about it.


Thankfully it was my lucky day and about 2 minutes after I got to the top a well weathered man reached the summit. He was on his own, looked experienced and very capable and I recognised him immediately as my ticket down the mountain. I told him I found the final ascent a bit intimidating and was worried about getting back down that first 50 metres. Turns out he used to be in the army, had done heaps of army training on the mountains, climbed all but a handful of Munros and was very well experienced in all things ‘mountain’ – I felt like I had won the lottery. We walked along the top ridge together (the ridge thankfully is lovely and wide so no vertigo there) and took some photos – all of which is a bit of a haze as I was still so worried about getting down.

trying to shake off the nerves and enjoy the view.jpg
Trying to shake off the nerves and enjoy the view.


Time to bite the bullet and head back down.jpg
Time to bite the bullet and head back down.


Thankfully this man knew a slightly easier way down the initial part of the descent, just slightly further along from where we had come up. It was less well trodden than the route I had taken up so I felt slightly more stable underfoot. I really don’t know how I would have fared trying to go back down the way I came up if I had been on my own. My new friend (never found out his name which is a shame) was so confident that he just started going, rather fast (using his poles as extra feet that he was swinging off) and I had no choice but to follow or be left behind to do it on my own. Once he realised how slow I was actually going to be he very kindly waited on me and stayed never too far in front of me for those first few metres of the descent. After we had got down about 50 metres I could feel myself relaxing. If I was to fall now the furthest I would fall would be a few feet (not to say that I wouldn’t do myself a damage but my fear was with the steepness of the gradient and as the gradient reduced so did my sense of panic and impending doom). My new friend told me that the final few metres was steep enough to be justified in feeling a bit nervous if you are not used to it, especially when the conditions were deceptively slippy underfoot (maybe he was just saying that to be kind!). So I feel a little less silly for getting a bit panicky. However, my fear definitely peaked higher than was justified. I’m so glad I found my new friend on the mountain and didn’t embarrass myself. If I had tried to get down on my own and then panicked it could have been, at the very least, highly embarrassing and at worst, downright dangerous. My new friend and I stayed together for the remainder of the walk back down to Ardvorlich (even though I reassured him I would do my best to make it back in one piece after that initial descent was over) I really enjoyed his company and interrogated him for his top hill walking tips and bombarding him with questions to hear all about his experiences in the mountains. If he happens to read this I’m sure he will recognise himself and I would once again like to thank him for his patience and reassurance.

So that’s it, my first Munro – done. Potentially my first and last Munro – certainly the last one I’ll do on my own. I didn’t go in to this walk under prepared. I am physically fit, I researched the route beforehand, checked that it was suitable for a first timer and took the proper equipment. But I did underestimate how challenging a ‘beginner’ Munro would still be, certainly underestimated how even just a small covering of snow could make navigating a path up much more difficult and didn’t even consider beforehand the chances of experiencing vertigo. Like I said earlier, I’ve done high walks before but for whatever reason, on this occasion, maybe the feeling of being unstable underfoot or because I was on my own, the final ascent just felt too steep. I like to believe that I would have fared much better if I could have replaced the snow for a companion. Now that I am back down to ground level of course, I feel a bit silly about how panicked and trapped I felt and it’s something I feel scared about experiencing again. I am going to have to try and gain a better head for heights if I want to continue on my Munro adventures!
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Re: My first Munro and a bout of vertigo on Ben Vorlich

Postby Coop » Thu Nov 09, 2017 7:01 pm

Well done :clap:

You're not the only one on here who has thought
" how am I going to get back down "

Don't know if it'll be any help to you; but over the east - cairngorms, Drumochter , cairnwells etc are not so pointy and quite a few are big plateaus.

Take care and safe walking.
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Re: My first Munro and a bout of vertigo on Ben Vorlich

Postby Dunblane Bagger » Thu Nov 09, 2017 7:29 pm

Wow ! What a fantastic tale, so thank you for sharing your experiences. :clap:

Vorlich is the most local Munro to me so I have climbed it many many times and in all weathers too, so know the final ascent you described. it is amazing how such a small covering of snow and ice can make a simple path in the summer turn into a treacherous slippery nightmare. It is actually safer when the snow cover becomes more substantial.

Best piece of advise I can give you at this time is to get back out there, but maybe go with a partner until you feel more confident in yourself again.

Try not to let this one off incident put you off or you will miss out on an amazing, and such a rewarding, pastime.

Good luck and get back out there. :D
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Re: My first Munro and a bout of vertigo on Ben Vorlich

Postby katyhills » Thu Nov 09, 2017 8:53 pm

Well done for 'keepin' the heid' and getting there. The more often you can get out, the easier it will become.
No shame in feeling a bit wary when there's a bit of snow and ice too, and it is ofetn a bit easier when there's a better covering of snow, as already said. Have a look at some of the 'less pointy' Munros, as suggested. There are quite a few, and that might be all you need to get your confidence levels up. Some of the Drumochter, Glenshee or Lochnagar ones for instance. Perhaps keep the trickier, narrower ones for the spring and summer :)

Is there anyone who could go with you a couple of times just to make it a bit easier for you? Always helps just to have another person there as you discovered.
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Re: My first Munro and a bout of vertigo on Ben Vorlich

Postby notaheadforheights » Thu Nov 09, 2017 10:48 pm

Thanks all - I am definitely up for trying a less pointy Munro next! I'm guessing I have missed my window for another one now until after the winter given how much of a novice I am but any recommendations for a good Munro to try next would be very welcome. Like a couple of you have suggested already - one with a nice big plateau would be good - no pointy bits :lol: .

My hat goes off to everyone on here and some of the climbs people do - I keep reading all these other walk reports and just get dizzy at the thought of some of them :crazy: . The night after my Ben Vorlich adventure I kept waking up thinking I was falling off the mountain :roll:
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Re: My first Munro and a bout of vertigo on Ben Vorlich

Postby notaheadforheights » Thu Nov 09, 2017 10:52 pm

katyhills wrote: Is there anyone who could go with you a couple of times just to make it a bit easier for you? Always helps just to have another person there as you discovered.


Unfortunately the only people I would enjoy spending the day walking with would probably be even more incompetent at it that I am!
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Re: My first Munro and a bout of vertigo on Ben Vorlich

Postby Chris Mac » Fri Nov 10, 2017 1:51 am

Congratulations!! :clap: Not only for climbing your first Munro, solo, but for battling through your vertigo to still go ahead and reach the summit, then making it down safely thanks to your new friend! Top stuff and an enjoyable read, thanks, well done on managing to take some photos as well, they are all good!

Similar happened to my Mum on Goatfell years back and she crawled the last part to the summit so you're not alone. Maybe go for Ben Chonzie next?? It's a big round lump, no danger of exposure or vertigo on it and it's a good path almost the whole way, with fence posts to follow if visibility is poor. :D
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Re: My first Munro and a bout of vertigo on Ben Vorlich

Postby katyhills » Fri Nov 10, 2017 6:00 pm

Apologies if you've said where you live and I've missed it, but An Socach up at the 'north end' of Glenshee is very straightforward, and has a lovely big open plateau with a couple of tops. A very pleasant high level walk, and nothing awkward to negotiate. :)
My local Munro - Ben Lomond - isn't tricky either, but gives a nice experience and views. Mount Keen is also very straightforward. Beinn Dorain at Bridge of Orchy has a little ridge stretch to the summit which is nice and wide, so no exposure, but gives great views, and a path all the way. Ben Wyvis is the same - steep initially, but on a newly constructed path up to the first summit, then abig, broad plateau to the true summit. :)

Some of the lower hills can give a good experience of narrower ridges, or more awkward sections without being too high or feeling too exposed. My local Corbetts at The Rest and be Thankful are great for getting used to all that.
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Re: My first Munro and a bout of vertigo on Ben Vorlich

Postby andreww18 » Sat Nov 11, 2017 9:29 pm

Thanks for your report; Vorlich was my 3rd Munro after starting out in March. I'd done two in Arrochar (Narnain, my first, up the spearhead route) and Ime (a long tough slog) and Vorlich was meant to be an easy third... nearly broke me heading up there, hadn't got enough sleep night before, was a very warm day in May and I made those last 50 metres literally step by step swearing at the path.
Don't give up though. I've done 16 in total now since March of all different kinds - four up at Glensee (big round lumps with some lovely plateau walks between them), four of the South Glenshield Ridge, two up at Glen Clova (Mayar and Dreish, which give a lovely walk in via Corrie Fee before climing high up onto the summits) and Buchaille Etive Mor up the Curved Ridge for a brilliant scrambling experience.
I've only done one solo - over in N Ireland - and it was a really different experience.
Good luck for your next climb - i hope to read the report of it.
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Re: My first Munro and a bout of vertigo on Ben Vorlich

Postby Mal Grey » Sat Nov 11, 2017 10:31 pm

Nice to read such an honest report.

That last stretch before the summit is actually quite steep and exposed, so absolutely no shame in finding it challenging when covered in even a dusting of the white slippery stuff.

There are many hills which have no such steep sections, so don't worry if you're feeling that Munros are difficult for you, there are plenty of easy ones to visit before you challenge yourself again. Ben Chonzie might be one such; https://www.walkhighlands.co.uk/perthshire/ben-chonzie.shtml
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Re: My first Munro and a bout of vertigo on Ben Vorlich

Postby Louise2204 » Sat Nov 11, 2017 11:33 pm

Well done :clap:

i felt the exact same doing Ben Vorlich. But pushed myself to the top. Have never expierenced vertigo until then.

Ben Chonzie is a good one to do, or my favourites so far are Mayar and Dreiser :D
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Re: My first Munro and a bout of vertigo on Ben Vorlich

Postby goth_angel » Sun Nov 12, 2017 10:12 pm

Vorlich is one of those allegedly easy Munros that aren't. The route from Ardvorlich is north facing and gets very icy in winter. Was my 70-something Munro and I still took a slightly different route off (also in November)

Lots of good suggestions for non pointy options. Chonzie is a good one - we did it in cold clear weather one Boxing Day and it was great.
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Re: My first Munro and a bout of vertigo on Ben Vorlich

Postby notaheadforheights » Mon Nov 13, 2017 2:27 pm

Thanks everyone for all your replies. It's reassuring to know that I'm not the only one that found that final section intimidating. I've made a note of the suggested walks for my next outing and I'll be sure to post my report on here when it happens. Ben Chonzie is about 2 hours away from me (West Lothian) so a do-able distance to make it there and back in a day. Thanks again :D
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Re: My first Munro and a bout of vertigo on Ben Vorlich

Postby jmarkb » Mon Nov 13, 2017 5:06 pm

Although what you experienced is often called vertigo, it's actually a relatively mild form of acrophobia, sometimes called visual height intolerance. There are some interesting online articles about this: some research suggests it is not a true phobia (like fear of snakes or spiders), but is actually caused by faulty perception of heights and distances, though can be aggravated by anxiety. It is also very common, affecting one third of adults at some point in their life. Unfortunately there is no reliable cure, though it may improve with repeated exposure (no pun intended!), and it may help to focus on nearby objects (i.e. try not to look down or up!), and to use trekking poles.

Some links that might be useful/interesting:
http://www.berkeleywellness.com/healthy-mind/mind-body/article/coping-fear-heights
http://watchingtheworldwakeup.blogspot.co.uk/2010/11/all-about-heights.html
https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn16658-fear-of-heights-linked-to-vertical-perception/

I really hope that you are able to persevere and not let this experience put you off. Please be aware that most guidebooks (including the walk descriptions on this site) only grade walks for summer conditions, and that even small amounts of snow/ice can make things much harder. Steep ground on high, north-facing aspects, such as on Ben Vorlich, is something to be especially wary of.
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Re: My first Munro and a bout of vertigo on Ben Vorlich

Postby notaheadforheights » Mon Nov 13, 2017 5:26 pm

Thanks for the links jmarkb a mild form of what you described does sound like what happened to me. And I found my poles a huge help..although I dont think I would have even attempted to get to the top without them so maybe safer if I hadn't had them with me and just turned around earlier :wink: That day was a 'steep' learning curve :lol: no pun intended but I'm already planning my future walks and who I can drag along with me for the ride so it hasn't put me off too much and I've enjoyed telling everyone about it!
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