Brokeback mountains: hill walking with a spinal injury

 
This month I appeared in Trail magazine in an article about hill walking as a life changer or following a life changing event. It was a brief snippet with one of my usual terrible summit selfies to accompany it (on the summit of Barrow, with insomnia but thankfully not hungover).

As those of you that have read some of my older posts, or the ‘about me’ page on this blog, I took up hill walking in 2008, climbing my first Munro with Stuart 4 years to the day after an operation to insert 4 titanium screws and 2 plates in my lower back to stabilise my spine following a riding accident. I was extremely lucky that things hadn’t been worse – the doctors said I had been ‘a thumbnail away from a wheelchair’. As it was I needed 3 months in a back brace, physiotherapy and 6 months off work to convalesce.

Spinal injury or not, anyone who has ever had back problems – whatever the cause – will know that bad backs are tricky things. Personally I never really know how my back is going to behave on any given day. There are days when I can go for a long hill walk with plenty of ascent and cope absolutely fine – and be up for more of the same the day after. There are days when I go for a long hill walk and know coming off the hill there is no chance of same the day after. And there are days when I struggle with the walk to the bus stop and find myself moving at the pace of an arthritic tortoise. It doesn’t – thankfully – affect my day to day life but there are days when pain killers (by which I mean Paracetamol, not Malbec!) are very much required. Continue reading

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Hamlet for hill walkers: to bag or not to bag?

To paraphrase Hamlet – to bag or not to bag, that is the question…

A question that comes up from time to time on hill walking forums and related social media is the question of bagging. Specifically, whether people are or are not trying to complete a list and the rights and wrongs of whether you ‘should’ or ‘shouldn’t’ try to. It’s a question I’ve been mulling over, sparked by seeing a couple of things on social media which generated a lot of debate – and finally decided to get out of my drafts folder on a packed train back from Penrith. Continue reading

Hill walking cliches – fact or fiction?

With my recent walking exploits now committed to the page and nothing else planned for a few weeks, I thought it was time for some further musings about the politics of hill walking: namely some of the hill walking/ mountaineering clichés that get trotted out from time to time. As we all know some clichés are clichés because they are true, but not all of them!

Caveat: this is my personal view, and not intended to be a criticism of anyone else’s views, whether expressed on hill walking forums, Facebook or anywhere else.

1. ’There is no such thing as bad weather, only inadequate clothing’

This one is particularly relevant after my recent soaking in the Lake District! Continue reading

Wainwright by Hunter Davies: a sort of book review

This is a bit of a different post for me. The walking – after getting off to a great start in the Lakes in January – has been on a bit of a hiatus – combo of no planned trips and a run of conferences at work. Various journeys did however allow me to catch up on my reading – specifically Hunter Davies’ biography of Wainwright. So this is – sort of – a book review.

It was rather daft I’d not read this before. I’ve read a lot of books about climbing hills or mountains but they’ve tended to be mountaineering epics where someone doesn’t come back with a full complement of digits. I have a feeling my dad suggested I read it when I first started hillwalking but for whatever reason I didn’t and when my parents had a clear out on moving from a large house into a small flat I ended up with their entire Wainwright collection (basically the pictorial stuff from the TV series) but the biography had mysteriously vanished. I finally acquired a copy at the tail end of my New Year trip to Ambleside. Continue reading

2016: a retrospective

Writing a 2016 retrospective would be a pretty easy task if it was about stuff other than hill walking. By any accounts it’s been an eventful year what with Brexit, Trump and the sometimes untimely deaths of many celebrities. This blog isn’t really the place to go into any of this but it has seemed at times to be one thing after another, and the future – a world with President Trump and without Princess Leia – seems a more uncertain place than it has been for some time.

However this is (at least in theory) a hill walking blog so that’s what I’m going to try and focus on. Continue reading

Mountain rescue and numpties: thoughts off the record

Mountain rescue. A service that anyone who does serious hill walking hopes never to need – but one I think we are all very glad to know is there.

I was prompted to write this post by a newspaper article I’ve seen shared over Facebook. A climber got stuck on Blaven on Skye and had to be rescued. There seems no doubt about the fact he was woefully under equipped or prepared; Skye is probably the most challenging mountain terrain in Britain, and definitely not a place for the inexperienced and unwary. The terrain is rocky, and most of the routes involve a degree of scrambling, and even rock climbing. It’s not somewhere you want to muck about, and most people have to hire a guide to tackle at least some of the hills. The fact that the rock is gabbro (and therefore magnetic) also means the compass doesn’t work. Not that the bloke in the article seems to have had one, but if he had it probably wouldn’t have made much difference. The story – like another recent one of a girl who narrowly escaped hypothermia on Ben Nevis – had a happy ending; not all such stories do. But MRT give of their time, as volunteers, to provide a vital rescue service for those that go out into the hills – whether they are prepared or not.  Continue reading