Mountaineering

Nature’s your main company on the mountain. And yourself. Whether it’s a relatively straightforward multi-day trek like Kilimanjaro or something more technical like Aconcagua, South America’s biggest beast, tackling a peak is the surest way I know of really testing myself. And there’s no better feeling than when you pass that test – not just at the summit, but when you’re off the mountain again. You need the weather. All the preparation and planning in the world can be succinctly scuppered by a nasty front moving your way. Frustrating, but knowing when to go and when to stick is the single most important judgement any climber makes. And a trip postponed is as much a part of a mountain experience as a trip that goes ahead – mountaineering is, after all, about discarding the complexities of normal life for something more fundamental, just your character and the elements, whatever that may bring. But that’s enough mountain-zen philosophy, what about the views! I can flop on the beach with the best of them, but mountains are addictive to look at and to be amongst. Looking up towards Aconcagua’s shoulder, the clouds zipping overhead, glaciers winking in the pure morning light, or taking in the grand panorama from atop one of Nepal’s peaks – the army of other snow-clad summits that surround you, the turquoise lakes below – these are moments that remain crystal-clear in my memory, images that I can remember in minute detail with instant recall. Years after I come down from a mountaineering trip, even the tiny details stay with me. And one of those details is definitely the camaraderie of the climb. Amidst sub-zero temperatures and howling winds I’ve had some of the best nights of my life, the excitement among the group palpable and the humour infectious – maybe it’s the oxygen deprivation! And the simple pleasures – a snug sleeping bag, a good hat – take on new importance. Tea never tastes better, despite the low boiling point, a nd a good pair of woollen socks can suddenly seem like the greatest invention ever. The views and the self-test, your climbing buddies and the locals you meet along the way – mountaineering’s got the lot. Less a pastime, more an addiction!

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