Monday, 2 November 2015

Mountain Men

It’s funny the people you meet on top of mountains, apart from the odd ones (like the 45-year-old runners who arrive at the top, wait 20 seconds and then turn to run back down, or the 5 blokes carrying massive bags, which turn out to be paragliders, who jump off the steepest bit they can find). Others, though, I find can be remarkably like myself, or how I imagine I might be when I reach their age.

Today I climbed Blencathra for the first time, in glorious sunshine (I think I may have turned my clock back to September last weekend). It’s a tricky little mountain, being deceptively steep and with a plethora of sheep paths to deceive you (the Ordnance Survey map shows one main path going in an arrow straight line – they lie). After the lower section you suddenly emerge at the top, or close to it, and the ground almost disappears. Out of nowhere ravines and crevices appear to the south and the Solway firth lies away to the north (although I couldn’t see it because it was bathed in cloud, along with the rest of the UK apparently).
On my way to the top I met a retired vicar and we sat to chat for a good twenty minutes, he telling me about his trip to Bagdad and charity cycle rides (both in the 11 years since he’d retired) and I telling him about the joys of pushing kids out of their comfort zone, but mostly I just listened to him. This was his first mountain climb since retiring (retired vicars are often in demand for a whole range of roles apparently) and he was making the most of it.

Later, at the top, I sat to eat my lunch in the quiet – that stillness that only exists at the top of mountains – and watch the sunlight on Thirlmere and Derwent Water. Also enjoying this moment was another man. After a while we got chatting and on asking if he’d climbed Blencathra before he revealed that today was his birthday and he was revisiting a moment from 30 years before when he climbed this mountain with his parents on his 18th. We gazed and marvelled at the view and the incredible weather, and shortly after parted to begin our descents, equally happy in our solitary expeditions.
I don’t know where my life will lead, but I could see myself climbing Blencathra again in 30 or 50 years’ time, still in my element.

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