Climbing This Mountain Changed My Life

Nothing worth doing was ever easy

Pathless Pilgrim

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Photo by Migle Siauciulyte on Unsplash

When I was twenty years old, I went backpacking in the Scottish Highlands for the first time and climbed my first mountain. It changed my life.

I’d been inspired to make the trip by a work colleague, who’d regaled me with tales of hiking through the highlands and staying each night in isolated stone bothies, surrounded by nothing but the awesome, deafening silence of the mountains.

That would have been the summer of ’91 and it was already shaping up to be a hot, dry one. Not hot and dry in the sense we talk about these days, where entire countries catch fire and burn, but hot and dry in the sense of glorious.

At the first opportunity, I booked two weeks off work and started shopping for camping gear — backpack, stove, pots and pans, hiking boots and Ordnance Survey maps.

There was no internet in those days, at least not in the way we know it today. No-one had mobile phones, and maps were huge tablecloth-sized sheets of paper. Research for my trip consisted of spending hours poring minutely over the details of these Ordnance Survey maps, buying hiking and camping magazines and plotting routes.

I didn’t ask anyone to go with me — I don’t remember the thought even crossing my mind. This was an adventure I was embarking on alone and I was more than happy about that.

The train journey up to Fort William was hot. Temperatures had rocketed and at one point the train had to stop at a tiny station in the middle of nowhere to let the engine cool down.

Scores of backpackers piled out of the oven-like carriages and sprawled on the platform in the hot sun, drinking and eating sandwiches, laughing, chatting, reading or simply enjoying the scenery. There was a sense of excitement, but also a sense of relaxed enjoyment, the camaraderie of strangers whose workaday worries are starting to melt away.

I sat off to one side, cross-legged, content to simply be there.

On my way out of Fort William, I stopped to gaze out over Loch Linnhe, and was so intent on admiring the distant views that I almost missed the otter right under my nose, repeatedly diving for mussels just a few feet from the shore…

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Pathless Pilgrim

Many things to many people... A complete enigma to myself.