It is difficult to write about a singular time at which the mountains have saved my life. In truth, there have been far too many to count, and there are even more for which I do not even have the words to explain how, or why. Sometimes there are specific stories: stories of sadness, stories of happiness. Sometimes it’s whilst climbing the mountain, and sometimes it’s whilst admiring it from afar. Stories of meeting friends and of finding meanings and values to some of the more difficult philosophical questions that we battle with. And other times there is no real story; just an inexplicable sense of feeling. A sense of humility and empathy; a sense of belonging. A sense of finally coming home – that this was where I was always meant to be, and what I was always meant to be doing.
For as long as I can remember I have loved the outdoors. With a South African father, I spent some of my childhood holidays in the stunning location of the Drakensburg mountains. Sometimes on horseback, sometimes on foot, we would cross streams and admire cave paintings and stare at old rock carvings. Whilst back in the UK, the stunning beaches and huge cliff faces took up much of my spare time. In 2010 I scaled Pen-Y-Fan carrying an ironing board, raising money in order to volunteer at a poverty support centre near Cape Town. At the top, a huge sense of accomplishment and achievement and an anxiousness of what was to come washed over me. But as it turns out, that was just the start of my love affair with the world.
Extreme Ironing on Pen-y-Fan
For many, the memories of the year 2012 are good ones. For me, 2012 was the year that I finished my A Levels. It was the year that I was sponsored to compete in my first Adventure Race, and the year that I attended county trials for hockey and athletics. It was the year that I so proudly volunteered at the London 2012 Olympics, and it was the year that I started some of the best years of my life at University in the beautiful city of Swansea. But, it would also turn out to be the year that I watched my mother die. On my 19th birthday, she was admitted into hospital after battling her own demons for several years. She never returned home.
My brother and family friend (right), and my Mother and I (left)
Since then, a lot has happened.
At the beginning of 2014 I was diagnosed with high-functioning bipolar disorder. In 2015 I watched my brother marry the love of his life, in 2016 I graduated from university and in 2017 I bought my first home. All milestones for which a mother should have been there for. But instead, each time, I found my solace laid in the mountains.
I gave up the more traditional sports of hockey and athletics as I found I simply wasn’t enjoying them. Something was…. Missing. Instead, I replaced the sporting hole in my life with mountaineering. I took up rock climbing and quickly found that spending a beautiful, long summer’s day doing an 11-pitch route to the summit of Tryfan in Snowdonia was exactly how I wanted to spend my spare time. That, or a week’s winter holiday, skiing and ice climbing in the stunning fjords of Norway. But not only was I enjoying these incredible experiences, I was grateful, too. I had inadvertently discovered that spending time in the mountains doing these things was having a positive effect on both the mental and physical aspects of my condition. Not only did these landscapes help in clearing brain fog and easing my depression, but in turn that soothed my aching joints, reduced my fatigue, and helped to increase my strength. My search for that landscape, for those feelings and healing qualities have taken me all over the world, and most recently, to the spectacular Wadi Rum in Jordan.
Wadi Rum, Jordan
Over that time I have been lucky enough to have surrounded myself with the mountain community. For me, that, has been the single most thing that has saved my life. The stories of courage, of determination, of camaraderie are inspiring and warming to even the most hardy of souls. The sharing of knowledge, of experiences and of emotions can literally be life-saving. It is a community which doesn’t care where you’re from, where you’re going, or what level you are at. All they care about is that you’re here, now, with this common understanding, respect, and, at the end of the day, mind-set. These people – their encouragement, their faith in me, their belief that when things got tough I could deal with it – that, is what has saved my life
GetOutside Champions launch, New Forest, England
There are good days, and there are bad days. There will most likely even be worse days. But, over the years, the mountains – and the sea – have managed to be the one constant in my life. Or in many people’s lives, for that matter. Over thousands of years these landscapes have always been there, and they will continue to be there. I have, and will continue to walk in the footsteps of millions of others before me. Of Nobel laureates and of factory workers, of farmers and of soldiers, of members of parliament and of priests. For on the mountains, or out at sea, everybody is the same. Everybody is equal up here. It’s something worth living for.