Highlights of 2021
At the start of a new year, I like to look back at what I’ve achieved in the previous 12 months.
I’m not very good at this. It’s all too easy to compare myself to other seemingly high achievers and play down my own accomplishments.
But when I force myself to do this exercise, I start to realise just how far I’ve come in what has been an unusually turbulent year for most.
So, in today’s post, I’ve picked out one thing from each month in 2021 that I’m particularly proud of. By sharing my list, I hope it’ll inspire you to look at your own achievements in a new light, so you can measure them against the only person that matters – you!
I bought a camper van! Well, kind of… It’s more a camper car, based on a van platform, with a foldy-box thing in the boot. It’s like a transformer: an all-in-one vehicle serving many different purposes. But crucially, it’s opened up a bunch of possibilities when it comes to adventures.
Now I can break up longer journeys with a stealthy overnight stop. When I’m out with the family, we have a base where we can play board games and have a brew. It’s small enough to park at the supermarket and big enough for two to sleep in comfortably.
It’s something I’ve wanted to do for years and I love it!
I’m very much an enthusiastic amateur when it comes to photography. I rarely go out with the sole intention of immortalising a stunning scene on film, and I stopped taking my ageing D-SLR with me a long time ago, opting instead for a less unwieldy travel camera.
So while that means I’m seldom properly equipped to capture the perfect picture, it does mean I always have my camera with me for when conditions are on my side in the mountains.
After crossing Striding Edge in spectacular conditions, I took a photo from the summit of Helvellyn. I had the place to myself and snapped this image of Catstycam, just as the clouds rolled in to shut me off from the world below. I entered the photo in an Ordnance Survey competition and didn’t think any more about it. A few weeks later, I was lucky enough to be chosen as a runner up!
I’ll always compare my photos to what the pros are doing. But it just goes to show that fancy equipment isn’t always the answer when it comes to taking an appealing image.
With lockdowns lingering, I took the opportunity to invest in my formal outdoor education at home. I read voraciously, attended webinars and swotted up on a diverse range of topics: geeking out over geology; finding fun facts about flora and fauna; and learning how to be a better leader.
This mental preparation paid dividends when I was finally able to venture further into the hills, piquing my curiosity in a number of new fields and undoubtedly enhancing my experience of our amazing uplands.
As restrictions started to ease, I enjoyed my first solo wild camp. I’ve been wild camping for years but always with a companion.
As the sun started to set in the northern fells of the Lake District, I had to fight that diurnal urge to retreat to the perceived comfort of my parked car. But snuggled in my sleeping bag, listening to the sounds of the sleeping mountains, I soon realised what fine company I was in.
Not a lot happened in May but it’s good to celebrate the little wins too. Like many people, I suffered from the indirect effects of COVID-19 and needed to rebuild my confidence after all the uncertainties of lockdown.
As ever, the mountains came to the rescue. And with each regular trip, I felt my soul recharge. Which led me nicely into June…
This month, I decided to put on my big boy pants and set myself the goal of climbing Sharp Edge by the end of the month.
I’d revered this short, razor-sharp ridge high on Blencathra since I was in short trousers. The brutality of the naked rock, accessible not just to roped-up climbing gods but also to confident (and experienced) hillwalkers, was instantly appealing and is probably what sparked my initial interest in climbing mountains.
Showing respect for Sharp Edge is important and I patiently worked through my apprenticeship on easier terrain before capitalising on a perfect weather window to make the most of this iconic crossing. Emerging safely on the other side, I’m happy to admit I only half enjoyed it. It neither overwhelmed nor underwhelmed me, occupying a strange set of emotions in between. Instead of being a thrilling knife-edge ridge walk, it felt more like an exercise in mental endurance, as I fought to keep any perfectly rational thoughts of falling in check.
Am I proud to have done it? Absolutely. Would I do it again? Yes. But there are many, many other mountain days I’d choose before returning to Sharp Edge.
A real highlight of the year was my mountain leader training course in the Lake District. Held during a period of swelteringly hot weather, I enjoyed six days of learning in what has to be the best classroom in the world.
Graham Uney and his team were fantastic and inspired me to continue pursuing a life inspiring others in the mountains.
My go to mountain playground has always been the Lake District. But in August I spent most of my hill time in Wales.
Getting acquainted with Goggled Eryri made me realise what I’ve missed by defaulting to Cumbria.
I’ve walked along the spine of the Glyderau in near gale force winds. I’ve camped in the shadow of Tryfan and honed my navigation skills in the wild beauty of the Carneddau. And off the hill, I’ve discovered a fascination for the Welsh language. Diolch Cymru!
In my long running quest to find more fulfilling work that’s true to my values, I began volunteering at the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust.
Spending time with the team is a genuine treat. It feels good to be supporting an organisation which does so much to protect, restore and create wild places across Yorkshire.
I love acquiring knowledge and learning new skills. Although it’s a requirement of the mountain leader award, attending a mountain first aid course with Beyond The Edge in the Peak District felt like so much more than a tick in the box.
Over the two days, we learnt how to look after casualties with minimal equipment when help could be some time away. The course was highly practical and the scenarios felt very realistic thanks to the amateur dramatics of fellow course participants!
It’s something anyone who walks in the mountains should do. Hopefully you’ll never need to rely on these skills. But isn’t it best to have them in case you do?
I wrote a blog about mushrooms! This might not seem like such a big deal, but I used to be terrified of fungi (yes really). Turns out I’ve been misinformed and have missed out on the delights of this fascinating kingdom.
I was fortunate to spend the day with Kat, YWT’s mushroom queen, learning how to start identifying our fungi friends. It’s kickstarted a new hobby and strengthened my appreciation of the natural world.
With just a few days left before Christmas, I stood on the summit of Arenig Fawr in southern Snowdonia and looked out in awe at the ocean of cloud beneath me. The beauty of it reduced me to tears and reaffirmed why I’ll continue to climb mountains.
But it wasn’t just the spectacle of it all. The walk symbolised how far I’ve come this past year. It felt like all my skills were put to the test: my hill fitness; choice of equipment; being able to navigate confidently in poor visibility; and trusting my abilities to head off the beaten track in an unfamiliar area.
Whenever I think I haven’t achieved anything, I think back to that day and realise I wouldn’t have been standing there were it not for the efforts made over the previous 12 months. And that renews my focus to keep on with my adventures in 2022 and beyond.