Making any sort of plans at the moment seems futile. Lockdowns, new variants and ever-changing rules and regulations beat back our objectives with the stick of disappointment. Many of us are resigned to taking each day as it comes, while living our lives takes a back seat.
It’s why I’ve held off posting my aspirations for 2021. But despite the potential for knock backs, it’s still important to make plans. Having a focus for when this miserable period finally passes can help to get us through this lockdown. Sharing goals with others also helps to ensure they stick!
Episodes like this also provide a rare opportunity to reflect and reassess what’s important in our lives. However grim the COVID-19 era has been, it’s forced us to question whether we want all elements of the old-normality to return. Whether that’s our connection with the natural world, how we prioritise our health, our work-life balance, the food we eat or that rut we’ve been meaning to get out of.
I’ve been exploring all of these things since leaving legal practice in 2017. But it’s taken a global pandemic to get me seriously thinking how I can reshape my life in my own vision. I naturally returned to where I feel most comfortable – the mountains. The feelings of joy and wonder I’ve rekindled are intoxicating. Getting back outdoors has shifted my perspective on what it means to be successful and allowed me to be true to myself.
But it’s more than that, I’ve developed a deep desire to share this sense of awe with others. The idea of helping people to enjoy our wild places safely and experience even an ounce of the emotion I feel is a strong incentive. It’s one reason why I’ve decided to pursue a mountain leader qualification.
Quality Mountain Days
There are many aspects to becoming a mountain leader. Apart from the formal training and assessment, a key component involves logging Quality Mountain Days (QMDs). Start looking into this and you realise there’s a little more to it than simply spending time in the hills.
The Mountain Training Website defines a QMD as follows:
‘In terms of experience, the quality of a mountain day lies in such things as the conditions experienced both overhead and underfoot, the exploration of new areas, the terrain covered and the physical and mental challenge. Such days make a positive contribution towards a person’s development and maturity as an all round mountaineer.
Usually some or all of these criteria would be fulfilled:
- the individual takes part in the planning and leadership
- navigation skills are required away from marked paths
- experience must be in terrain and weather comparable to that found in UK and Irish hills
- knowledge is increased and skills practised
- attention is paid to safety
- five hours or more journey time
- adverse conditions may be encountered
- ascent of a substantial peak would normally be included in the day
These criteria mean that days as a course member under instruction (for example on a training course or military exercise), assisting a qualified leader, as a member of a group practising skills, or days spent repeating familiar routes are very unlikely to meet the requirements of a Quality Mountain Day.’
But whether you are actively accumulating QMDs or not, these criteria look like the makings of the perfect mountain day in anyone’s book. So why not use these to focus your own mountain walking goals for 2021? Pick the number of walks you’d like to tackle over the year, spread out a map and start planning. If you want to add another layer of authenticity, aim to visit at least three different mountainous areas in the UK and Ireland and include some overnight camping.
I’m hoping to record another 20 QMDs this year, casting my net wider than just the Lake District by taking in Snowdonia, the Galloway Hills, and, if time and lockdown restrictions allow, the Brecon Beacons and the Cairngorms.
Plas y Brenin National Outdoor Centre in Wales describes the pursuit of QMDs perfectly. It’s ‘a quest to recreate the joy and wonder of your early days in the mountains’. That sense of awe when you first stood above the clouds. When you scrambled on to an exposed summit, grinning like a Cheshire cat. Or emerged from your tent to a kaleidoscopic sky in the early hours. Every hill walker knows that feeling and I can’t wait to recreate it time and time again.
It’s about having a load of bloomin’ good days in the mountains. What better objective for this year’s challenge and life in general?