I remember the first time I climbed the highest mountain in South Wales, I got to the top, refused to move and had a bit of a cry as I didn’t want to carry on to the next hill as it looked ‘too scary’ fast forward 6 years and I was winter climbing the north face of that same mountain!
I started going outdoors from a young age, enjoying hill walking with my parents and walking with the Guides. As I got older I became obsessed by music and going outdoors took a bit of a back seat. When my daughter was born I was isolated and alone. I was a young parent with poor social skills, I found being with other parents unbearable and was probably what I now recognise as quite depressed at times. As she got a little older and started to spend her weekends with her Dad I found myself with time on my hands, I began to organise walks for a small group of friends, somehow walking was socially easier, conversation about what was around us came more naturally, there was no great focus on me- I didn’t need to look people in the eye and there was no pressure to talk. We followed a walking guide book initially and I got everyone quite lost at times! I soon started to purchase maps and plan my own walks, although I am still not great at navigation I am a lot better than I used to be.
I am an anxious hill walker. I worry about getting lost, about my daughter falling, about being far from help, I’ve always been terrified of exposure. There have been some walks in the mountains where the levels of anxiety has been too much and I’ve had to turn around, but where I have been able to battle through I’ve felt so much better for it. The hills are my quiet space, my safe place, a place to discover and learn. We’ve seen some incredible things in the hills from historic ruins, to rare wildlife and things created by weather such as ice formations.
I’ve lost count of how many bogs I’ve fallen into, how many times we’ve been beaten back by the weather, times where we have under estimated our route and marched for hours in the dark (with our head torches), time spent wandering round in Scottish forestry wondering why it doesn’t match what’s on the map. We’ve had a few scary experiences, once where I had to abort a walk due to the beginnings of hypothermia – we dropped down off the mountain into the wrong valley on purpose to get out of strong winds and had a really long walk back to the car, once I’d warmed up enough in a ruined building to continue. Other occasions the weather has turned on us, which can feel pretty frightening in the winter. The bad times build memories though, they strengthen me mentally, they keep me fighting another day. We’ve helped others when we’ve been hiking, on two occasions returning lost children to their parents, giving lost people directions, returning lost items to their owners and even rescuing a chicken and a dog – my daughter loves to recount the stories of those particular adventures!
I enjoy the spontaneity of being able to read a map and to walk off path to go and explore something which looks interesting- I’ve had many outdoor swims in the mountains and have also camped there too. One of my favorite ‘dips’ was on Snowdon- we walked up it on a really hot day, starting quite late in the day to go up the Watkin Path, we came down the South Ridge and went back over another smaller mountain (Yr Aran) to pick up the Watkin Path again to take us back down. The Watkin path has a river running beside it and although we’d forgotten our swimming stuff the temptation on a boiling hot evening was too great. On the busiest mountain in Wales we stripped off and jumped into the icy pools, that memory of pure exhilaration will always stay with me. That’s what mountains are about, surprises, adventure and building memories for those bad times when the dark thoughts get the better of you.
I’ll end this blog with a photo from my my best days walking – the snow was crisp, it was bitterly cold (-10, back when we had actual winters) The sky was blue all day long and we felt so lucky to be out in the hills.