What the hell (fuck) am I doing here?
I’ve let it creep in, that nagging doubt of being in pain with a journey still to complete.
On the descent I pushed it to one side and kept putting one cramponed boot in front of the other. Now stopped, on my knees, reaching into my rucksack for my head torch I suddenly realise the pain is increasing.
How could it get worse?
It does when my climbing partner, 10 years my senior is munching on a Snickers, pissing himself laughing at my attempt to stand back up.
Well, it was my own entire fault. We were walking off the top of Ben Nevis the UK’s highest mountain. I had raced north to meet my mate and make the most of the last two days of high pressure and amazing winter climbing conditions in the highlands.
Karl and I have shared winter climbing adventures for years, Norway, France, Italy, Brecon Beacons, North Wales but our favorite venue has always been the Scottish Highlands.
The day had begun at 04:00am with a sunrise walk in to a Cold Climb Classic on the north face and then a sunset walk off. My final stumble back to the car in the pitch black, baltic west coast air broken only by the beam of my head torch, 14 hours after we set off was only made better by Karl telling me that I needed to get out more and his early morning runs on the mountain had paid off; dick head!
Within 30 minutes we were in his local sipping a smooth pint of the Cairngorm breweries Trade Winds waiting for our dinner to come out of the kitchen.
Why the hell was I there in the first place?
Some call it adventure, micro, macro, mini, small, short, long, mad. We just call it a day out doing what we love and more importantly makes us happy.
The feeling of using your own two feet (and walking poles in my case) to travel across open space, free to access and a variety of conditions is simply special. It’s available to all of us, out of the front door turn left or right.
We are blessed in South Wales to have an amazing coastline of long beaches, dramatic cliffs and secret spots that are quiet most of the year. The national parks of Pembroke and Brecon Beacons are a short ride away with hidden valleys and mountains. If I can’t get into the hills then a walk in the wind and rain across a local beach is as refreshing.
In many areas of Europe a positive approach to walking in wild areas has been established for years. Discreet signposts point us in the right direction as well as small painted marks to help us on our way.
Whilst this happens in some areas, such as the Neath Valley waterfall area our open hillsides are sign free and any material we read seems to be putting us off with danger this, risk that.
We require boots, waterproofs, map and compass and the ability to use it.
I agree, in many wild areas and certain weather conditions we certainly need to be tooled up with the correct equipment and the ability to use it. However, this shouldn’t stop us having adventures in the countryside and hills should it?
I recently stood on top of Pen Y Fan, on a Sunday afternoon with my 10 year old nephew. The weather forecast was no cloud, sunshine, light winds and I knew what time it was going to get dark, and all information gained from Derek the weather the evening before.
The path that leads to the summit is wide and distinguished and full of lycra clad gym goers, families and mates with not a map in sight and why not?
For many, this will be the last time they ever walk in the wilds but for many others this would be the start of an itch that would require scratching more and more.
Starting at a simpler level can get you out and about and build confidence in knowing your limits, what shoes to wear and what you need when the weather changes. There are many guided walks from guidebooks to sign posts, easily interpreted and fun to follow.
Stepping things up, adventuring into the hills can be done with a pragmatic approach of shorter walks in busier areas, good weather and learning the basics in navigation. This can be done through courses, online resources and friends.
We all love a good App but I would strongly recommend when venturing into the remoter hills that you carry a map, compass and the ability to use them.
Smart Phones do not work in the wet when you are trying to swipe the screen and will shut down in cold weather.
There are some great websites such as:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/education a great resource for basic map reading
What’s in your back pack (as Ross Kemp may say) …?
For a day out in the Brecon Beacons (spring / summer) I’ll carry:
- Waterproof jacket (and acts as a windbreak)
- Waterproof trousers (but only if there’s a chance of rain)
- Thin fleece or hybrid jacket
- Water (1 litre)
- Snack (I’ve usually had a good breakfast and loads of tea)
- Map / Compass
- First Aid Kit (small and set for twists, blisters, grazes)
- Depending on the weather again, I’ll take a cap or hat.
I’ll decide and loosely plan a route before I head off and I’ll try and pack light to travel quicker (not that I’m quick)
What’s next? Add some adventure with an overnight?
Again, start slowly, building up and stretching your limits and what you can carry. There’s nothing like ditching the tent and sleeping under the stars on a local beach, hillside, forest or park bench (may be not). Bothy’s are another great option but more about those again.
The department for health has now officially announced that research into being outdoors in nature is great for our health! So there’s no excuse get out there walking, running, around the woods, trails and mountains.
The bottom line, get out there!
IMPORTANT : Self reliance is a fundamental principle of mountaineering. By participating we accept this and take responsibility for the decisions we make. These blog posts and conditions reports are intended to help you make good decisions. They do not remove the need for you to make your own judgements when out in the hills.
Ben Longhurst – WSA Director of Operations
Ben’s love of all things water started as a competitive swimmer, a junior member of county squads, soon moving into surf lifesaving, competing at regional and national levels, taking part in the World Championships in 1994. He has always loved surfing and has again competed at various levels on short and long boards. In the 80’s he became hooked on paddle sport and its various disciplines including white water, open canoe and sea. Whilst coaching paddle sport Ben led several kayaking expeditions to Nepal and Siberia and made a successful crossing of the English Channel in a folding kayak.
He has been involved in professional paddle sport coaching and development for over 20 years as well as being Chairman of his local surf lifesaving club. He holds a BA (hons) in Sport and Human Movement studies and various British Canoe Union coaching awards as well as qualifications in climbing, surfing and mountaineering.
Stand Up Paddling was a natural progression for Ben joining 2 of his favourite sports. Ben is married to his long suffering and the most understanding wife in the world, having spent most of their marriage waiting for him to come out of the water! He currently works as senior assistant manager at Cardiff International White Water with a drive to develop Stand Up Paddleboarding.
He currently works as manager at Cardiff International White Water.