Mountain Rescue Magazine Winter 2021

I looked across at the summit of Everest glowing in the newly-risen sun and caught my breath. From my vantage point, 20,400 feet above sea level, high on the Mera Glacier, I was seeing the world as only gods and elite mountaineers tend to see it. I am neither god nor elite mountaineer. In fact, I am quite overweight. Now, looking over the most beautiful and spectacular mountain view I had ever seen, I realised how valuable my training in the Scottish Mountains had been.

The notion to head for the mountains first came to me in the summer of 2014 when I weighed in as heavy as I had ever been. Something had to change for sure. I have a pathological hatred of dieting, weight loss plans or ‘obsessive eating’ as I call it. Having tried every weight loss plan known to man, the only long-term loss had been my happiness. Panting at the top of the two flights of stairs that lead to my flat, I resolved to climb Everest. The plan was simple, naive and preposterous. Three UK peaks of Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Snowdon in 2014. Then head to the Alps to conquer Zugspitze and Mont Blanc in 2015. Everest Base Camp in 2016 and then the summit of Everest in 2017. Deep down, I knew I would never do most of that but hoped that maybe wanting to would bring my weight down and my fitness levels up. Before long I found myself among the mountains of Scotland contrasting a harsh reality with a naive dream and learning so much about myself. It’s not impossible to climb in the mountains when you’re overweight but it does come with its own set of physical and mental challenges. I move at a very slow pace. I tire quickly which leads to being off balance often. My knees have grown steadily weaker and I suffer from frequent episodes of lower back pain. Due to a lower level of fitness I have to be aware of my pulse rate, especially in hot weather. I also need to know my limits and be careful to avoid exhaustion in the winter. Emotionally I have to be thick-skinned, humble, with

bucket loads of determination and an ability to stay calm. I am often unconfident and sometimes downright scared. My lack of fitness became apparent during one of the biggest scares I’ve had in the mountains. Early in 2015 my brother and I headed up out of Arrochar to climb Beinn Narnain. The weather was very poor. High winds, thick mist and lots of rain. Even high up, at a landmark known as the Narnain Boulders, the mountains around us were completely hidden in the mist. The boulders themselves, mere dark shadows even when we stood among them. We carried on with our ascent and made the summit, but the real problems started on the way down. At that time, I thought all Munros were like Ben Lomond on a sunny day: clear, well- constructed paths that you see roll out for miles ahead. Frankly, that was all I was fit enough, emotionally prepared and equipped for at the time. I’d used all my available energy reaching the summit and was daft enough to think that was all I needed. My quads and my toes, crushing into the front of my boots, began to ache. This was already going to be a very long walk back and I couldn’t gauge for myself how long. We were blasted and blown almost off our feet by near hurricane winds that drove the rain at us in sheets. Completely immersed in clouds, the only thing that was visible to us was a deer fence that we’d arrived at unexpectedly, one we hadn’t encountered on the ascent. My brother yelled at me so he could be heard over the roaring wind and

confirmed what I suspected but didn’t want to believe. We were lost. Unknown to us we’d missed the path back towards Arrochar and strayed down off the bealach between the Cobbler and Beinn Ime. Fortunately, my brother knew the area well and, after an hour retracing our steps uphill, we managed to find the path. By the time we did I was completely exhausted and soaked to the skin. Lessons learnt were that my equipment was not quite robust enough for the weather and I simply didn’t have the level of fitness required to move effectively in the mountains. Planning for a slower pace became very apparent during another descent in 2016. This time my brother and I were coming down off Ben Starav. Again, my energy was completely spent after traversing the sharp rocky ridge between Ben Starav and Stob Coire Dheirg. As we descended further into the bealach between Stob Coir Dheirg and Maell Nan Tri Tighearnan I was moving at a snail’s pace and struggling with my balance on the rough terrain. Darkness was already closing in as we walked off the bealach into the corrie below. We only just managed to reach the river at the bottom of the mountain before complete darkness had descended. Otherwise we’d have had an unplanned bivvy. It wouldn’t have been safe to continue the descent from the corrie in the dark. Having started out relatively unsupported in 2014, I now wear heavy knee supports on both knees and make extensive use of walking poles. I have a daily stretching routine to try and keep my muscles supple



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