The finale of 2014 was, for me a difficult time. I was exhausted, both physically and mentally to a level where I felt truly lost. I had recently been reported missing in the avalanches of Annapurna, but as with most major disasters, I coped well enough. It was the pace of my day-to-day life which had ground me down. 2015 had to be better…
I began the year with the usual trips to climb in Scotland and Ski in both Austria and Italy, thoroughly enjoying the fresh air, sunshine and company. My heart pounded with excitement and the barometer of my life was reading high. Numerous opportunities for travel came my way, but I let many of them pass me by, much preferring some precious time to myself. I enjoyed a wonderful trip to Norway’s Lyngen Alps during May, but there my travel overseas for the year ended. I did have further plans, but international events were to dash them. The shootings at Port El Kantaoui on 26th June sent shock waves across the world and caused the cancellation of a climbing trip to Morocco.
My large expedition spending of 2014 caught up with me and wouldn’t let go. Supporting trips to Greenland and Nepal had been a huge strain on my finances and something had to change. I’ve always worked to support my life and travels, but this was becoming an issue due to the level of personal stress it caused. Good friends helped me through, but I was suffering a severe issue in my life – me. I work hard and play hard, and my overseas expeditions have been a huge release in my life. They have allowed me to blow off steam and leave the workplace behind. Mountaineering concentrates the mind, particularly when you’re traversing a massively exposed ridge or faced with weather powerful enough to take your life. In 2015 I was missing the soaking sponge that for so many years expedition life has offered.
I decided to make a return to long distance walking in the UK. Before losing my toes I had completed the Coast to Coast and regularly walked over 30 miles a day. My injuries have caused nothing but pain since 1999 and though I manage them with care and attention, I’ve always shied away from long distances on foot. I needn’t have worried, as my feet coped well with full wild camping gear for the 85 miles of the Cumbria Way. I’m thankful the Podiatrists that regularly treat them understood my desire to wander the hills and I’ve been extremely lucky with my treatment Yes, I have to be careful and I do have days when I can hardly walk, but I’m not stopping for anyone.
My affiliation with the Mountain Heritage Trust came to fruition towards the end of my Lakeland journey, and It didn’t take long for me to be involved in the trust and indeed, become an Ambassador. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed working with and promoting their work, with many projects already planned for 2016. Here I found an interest which others found intriguing, and at times a little odd – Historical Re-enactment. On one occasion I was asked if the tweed suit I was wearing was from a fancy dress shop. When I replied that it was mine, some thought me quite mad. Who in 21st century Britain owns a tweed suit..? I do..! I’ve always acted and lived far above my age (more on that later), something that was noticed during my schooldays. I don’t mind what people think, I just enjoy being who I am. History has been an enormous influence in my life and now I’m fortunate enough to be living it.
A few people have recently asked if I’ve given up Mountaineering. Just because my face isn’t in the papers all the time, doesn’t mean that I’ve given it up. I heard the phrase ‘Media Hoare’ a few years ago, and though I find it a little distasteful, it does sum up how some people choose to work. I’ve never been one for blowing my own trumpet, but rest assured my adventures for 2016 will be coming in with a bang. Unlike 2014/15 I feel ready for what is to come. Months of preparation has gone into, what I pray will be an exciting and successful 2016.
Speaking has been very up and down, but it took an unusual turn in September when I was asked to speak in the Cruise Industry. I have no idea where this new venture will take me, but like so much more in my life, every new turn brings with it a new path. I’ve also been working with Cathy O’Dowd on the Blab website, speaking about how ‘Thinking Like an Explorer‘ can affect us all. It’s been an interesting journey so far, and we are planning to hold live chats on Expedition Planning into 2016 using the hashtag #exped2016
One thing i have truly enjoyed is returning to writing. My first two books where wonderful fun to work on, but the third has never felt right. I have re-written it more times than I can imagine, but I never felt happy with the words. Its parked for now and may rear its head at some point, but to write I need a clear and restful mind. I have returned to writing letters, something I’m promoting through MHT and I’m thoroughly enjoy putting ink to paper. There is something simple, human and everlasting in a letter. We speak with more than words when our hand holds a pen.
I still consistently find the day to grind of life hard to bear. In the latter part of 2015, I lost my direction. My mind has been as driftwood – wandering the ocean, though occasionally finding the shore, only to be set to sea again. Give me a crisis and I’m as ‘happy as a pig in mud’ as my grandfather used to say. Though we need the stability of repetition at times, I’d rather have plans changing, things breaking, even avalanches falling all around me, for this is the land in which I revel. It scares me senseless, but I feel alive. However, the awful floods across the UK have put much of my (and many other people’s lives) into a very real context. Awful images of people being lifted from their bedrooms via inflatable boat, brought home to a nation that nature is always in charge of the earth. The constant media assault criticising defences should, in my view end, as no matter how high you build the wall, nature will always find a way around it. Believe me, I’ve felt what nature can do and we’re purely pawns in her very large game of chess. ‘Charity should begin at home’ and ‘God helps those who help themselves’ have been messages which were instilled into me as a child, and something I feel we should all work to today.
I never realised the effect I’ve had on people over the years. I don’t feel comfortable speaking about what I’ve achieved in any kind of boastful way as the ‘Look at Me’ culture frankly offends me. Perhaps I’ve been too conservative in my views, but during the latter part of 2015 I’ve had some of the kindest comments ever given to me about my work and myself. I’ve shed a few private tears, but those moments are for me, and me alone. I’m not going to name names here, but you know who you are. Thank you for all you have done for me, for my heart, and for my soul. Your friendship, humanity, conversations, letters and laughter have meant more to me that all the tea in china. As the Roman Playwright Terrence once said – I am human, and nothing of that which is human is alien to me.
I’m often asked what my favourite peak or adventure of the year was, and for once, it was a simple choice. Goalsevarri in Norway may not be the most remote or technical climb, but its sheer beauty and surrounding views filled my eyes with tears. I’ve haven’t experienced such colour, clarity and peace in a long time. To parry that wonderful thought, on Christmas Eve I was accused of being 60 years of age. I know I act older than I am, but good grief..!
May I wish you all the most wondrous, peaceful and prosperous 2016…