Blasted by a blizzard and with pain shooting through every limb, Natalie Ho felt “overwhelmed” when she finally reached the top of Ben Nevis.
Natalie, sister Kimberley and brother Steve were part of a small group who scaled the UK’s highest peak on what turned out to be a Saturday of “horrific” weather conditions.
Natalie says it was the biggest challenge of her life – both mentally and physically.
But it was all worth it when they reached the summit and unfurled a flag showing the smiling face of her twin sister Sammy, who died in July aged 24.
When the siblings and their supporters were making their way down the rocky path, the gloom lifted and the “biggest, brightest rainbow they’d ever seen” arched across a newly blue sky.
With tears welling in their eyes, they agreed it was a sign from the much-missed Sammy.
Sammy Ho Ben Nevis plan formed as family grieved
Sammy contended with various serious health problems since birth, but rarely let her troubles get her down.
Her infectious personality won her many friends in Aberdeen, where she became a well-known part of the community.
She defied medical expectations through radical surgeries, life-threatening infections and more.
Sammy even overcame Covid before losing her fight for life in July.
After her death, Natalie began making plans to do something to honour her twin – and to raise money for the Charlie House charity which did so much to help her.
And at the start of the month, she led an expedition up Ben Nevis in Sammy’s memory.
‘I thought I couldn’t go on…’
Natalie told us about how the challenge pushed her to the breaking point as she dealt with aching legs and plummeting temperatures.
She said: “I knew it was going to be tough, but I still underestimated it.
“It was not just physical, it was so mentally challenging.
“Emotionally, it was overwhelming. I had so many breakdowns where I thought I couldn’t go on. I physically couldn’t lift my legs at times.
“But thinking of Sammy, and everything she went through when she was in pain, I knew I needed to do it for her.
“So I kept pushing on.”
‘A full-on blizzard’
As the weather took a turn for the worse in the days before the climb, dozens of pals messaged Natalie to check if it was still going ahead.
But as the group set off from Fort William at 8.30am, conditions were surprisingly clear.
It was only when they neared the top of Ben Nevis that things became a bit fraught.
Natalie said: “All of a sudden, it was a full-on blizzard.
“With this snowstorm, there was really zero visibility, and it was a struggle to see before us.”
Watch the video Natalie filmed as the group neared the summit –
But they persevered, and after four long hours the crew finally made it to the summit.
Natalie added: “It’s hard to describe how it felt when we got to the top… It was really emotional.
“It was just so cold, and I had cramp in my legs. Everything hurt.
“But when it sunk in that we were at the highest point in the UK, and we got the flag open, I did feel closer to Sammy.
“It was a good feeling, and I felt proud.”
‘Everyone was close to tears’
“We didn’t stay at the top for very long as it was so cold, and the visibility was so poor”, Natalie continued.
“We were walking down for two hours, and all feeling pretty weary and overwhelmed, when the clouds parted.
“Suddenly the biggest, most clear rainbow came out. We had never seen one so colourful before.
“Everyone was close to tears, we all thought it was a sign from Sammy.”
How to donate to Sammy Ho Ben Nevis fundraiser
People can still donate to the fundraiser here.
Natalie has raised more than £5,000 for Charlie House but others have their own tallies and the combined total amassed thus far is just over £6,000.
The nursing student plans to stage events in Sammy’s honour to collect more charity cash.
And Natalie is even contemplating climbing the highest mountains in England and Wales to complete the Three Peaks Challenge.
“I feel like, after doing Ben Nevis, I can do anything, ” she said.