‘The Day A Mountain Changed My Life’
As a child my family used to make a yearly escape to the Lakes, each year walking up a slightly bigger mountain. I couldn’t wait to be old enough for my dad to sit down and plan a route which would see the two of us tackling one of the Lake District’s ‘big three’.
It finally happened when I was 14, and it was Helvellyn. I remember that day vividly – waking up so full of anticipation, the burning of the first 40 minutes, the tarns and the views. However, just as we were approaching the final slog heavy clouds descended. Unfortunately, we were in the worst possible position, with sheer drops either side. We sat in a sheep shelter, shovelled down cheese rolls and a mouthful of tea, with my anxiety-fuelled questions of helicopters and mountain rescue before dad decided he could navigate us down even with the dense cloud coverage. Cue us nearly falling off the edge and down the side. Luckily, my sense of direction (or more likely, eyesight) was slightly better. Working together we eventually found our way down the mountain. We didn’t make it to the peak, yet I felt so much achievement that day.
Fast-forward eight years, I am sweating in uniform, sat in a war-torn desert having lost friends that I cared about greatly. During these deployments, my happy place was this memory – my happy place was planning adventures in the Lake District, feeling the freedom and peace of the hills. When I was finally able to put these plans in place, I wasn’t in a mental position to really appreciate the time spent in what used to be my favourite place in the world, and my love of hills became forgotten.
Another few years in time and I’m working in a different uniform for the public sector, meeting people on their worst days, having been violently assaulted on more than one occasion. I realised my anxieties were leaving me feeling desperately suffocated. I am lucky enough to have an understanding and patient partner who also loves the hills – when I start to feel like I can’t breathe, we head to the hilly outdoors, where the peace, quiet and freedom calms my busy brain, opens up my lungs and helps me push on. We’re off to Helvellyn next month.