Like a lot of things, climbing a mountain doesn’t make much sense if it is analysed too closely. It had been three hours and we were finally standing on the top of Bowfell. More than 900 metres above the Irish Sea which could be seen clearly to the west.
I could have been watching the telly, or having a cup of tea, but no! Here I was, with ‘she who must be obeyed’, atop a craggy protuberance in England’s magnificent Lake District. Why did we do it? Why does anyone do it? We had seen a few others that morning already, similarly toiling, panting, sweating and stumbling over stony, scree-sliding slopes.
The weather had been simply glorious. The air was clean, cool, with a slight bite to the wind, enough to encourage a dig into the rucksack to find a fleece as we approached the summit. But the view was beyond words. If you have never stood on the top of a mountain on a clear day and seen the panorama of other fells around you, and if you have never been reduced to silence by the magnificence of it, then you must do it – go and climb a mountain. As soon as possible.
We had enjoyed a climb the previous day as well, but in less clement conditions. We were married by the side of a tarn in Langdale and were returning on a significant anniversary with a group of chums to celebrate. Sadly, the weather was not kind, but we struggled on, blinded more by rain and wind than by sweat. The reward was a glimpse of Lake Windermere through breaks in the cloud and mist and a quick swig of bubbles which we had carried with us, from a squashed and damp paper cup.
England’s Lake District is truly a marvel. The weather, of course, is not guaranteed, but it is spectacular nevertheless. On our day out which took us up to Bowfell, we enjoyed six hours of ever-changing views and that quiet solitude which is both healing and uplifting to one’s soul. A gentle amble up Mickleden, a solid, hour’s toil up to brooding Angle Tarn, followed by a thigh-burning scramble up the summit. That glorious moment when the world seems to be at your feet and even the roaring jet-fighters pass by beneath you. The curiously demanding descent down The Band, and the arrival back in Langdale, legs quivering with the effort of controlling the uneven steps across ever-changing surfaces, all so much part of the experience.
An experience which is then relived around a laden table, rich with hearty fare and strong drink: all the better for the feeling of having earned it by toil, endurance, effort. Others swap tales and share the evening. Bed beckons in a way it never can if the day has been spent in idle repose.
And I suppose that’s why we do it. That feeling which cannot be purchased. The satisfaction of knowing that you can still do it, even at your age, of having gone always a little further, beyond that last blue mountain. It is a chance to re-boot your spirit.