The Fortitude to recover

Team Fortitude was set up with the sole aim of raising funds for Rock 2 Recovery. R2R is an amazing organization that works with servicemen/women/veterans and their families affected by PTSD/MBTI’s.

 

I was really excited  to have the founders from Team Fortitude agree to a  quick interview to highlight what is an amazing cause and one which I believe need more attention, over to you ladies

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Guys, tell us a little about you?

Sabrina: My name is Sabrina Waterhouse and I was born in Shropshire. When I’m not working I’m usually found on social media for Team Fortitude, Making plans and trying to motivate people to come and join us in making a difference! With any other time that there is left, I am getting back to fit… or trying too! I am really focused and determined to make a difference where I can, and to inspire people.  I would love to motivate people into joining us in getting out of their comfort zones and achieve something that they didn’t think was possible. The feeling that you get out of that is incredible and can spark more changes in your life.  With Team Fortitude, you get all of that good feeling but with the bonus of knowing that you have helped people that have put their lives on the line for our safety and security.  Which is not only a motivational tool but a boost too. There are so many mental health attributes for getting physical and getting outside and out of your comfort zone!

Laura (Millington) : Originally Shropshire born and bred, I was brought up in an environment where the outdoors, craft, creativity and helping others were the main focus. At 16, I moved to Ireland on a gap year after my GCSE’s and ended up staying over there for almost 19 years. During my time I was lucky enough to continue volunteering and raising funds for various charities and organisations.  Some of which I was part of the fundraising board for, along with being team leader for a few different Counties with the Make a Wish Foundation.  Raising money is something I’m passionate about, along with giving back my time to help others.   I came across Rock 2 Recovery on twitter around September of 2016, and decided I really wanted to help.  Due to the creative approach of their coaching, coupled with the fact my Dad was a Royal Marine, it seemed to be a perfect fit. Since then I’ve been blessed to get to know so many people in the team that would not have otherwise crossed my path, and to do so whilst raising funds is just a bonus!

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Outside of team Fortitude I’m currently still trying to find my feet settling back to Life in the UK, which is harder than first thought! And by the end of the year I’m hoping my fitness is greatly improved after following our PTI Tom Merrimans training plan, my Swedish is at conversational level, and the violin I got for my birthday is actually pleasant for others to listen too.

 

For those who don’t know what is Team Fortitude and how, when did it start?

Team Fortitude started on January 1st 2016 on Twitter.  The initial idea was to have 100 people join us at one specified event, and 15 minutes before the New Year Bells rang, there was a tweet by our first team member Graeme Walker, saying he was going to do a Tough Mudder.  So we cheekily just asked if he’d join us.  And the rest is history.  Within half an hour, we had 15 people interested, but all were taking part in different events at various locations across the Country, so one event was no longer viable

Team Fortitude (www.teamfortitude.co.uk) was set up with the sole aim of raising funds for Rock 2 Recovery. R2R is an amazing organization that works with servicemen/women/veterans and their families affected by PTSD/MBTI’s. They literally save and change lives everyday, and it is a privilege to support them.  For more information on the work that they do, please visit (www.rock2recovery.co.uk)

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What were the very early days like? What challenges did you face? When did you realize it might just work?

The early days were extremely hard work but very rewarding from the get go. Literally overnight it become a full time ‘job’ for each of us.  Within the space of a month we had 2 social media accounts to look after, a website to update and maintain and an email address.  There were also around 50 team members on board with us at that early stage, so keeping on top of the questions, donation links, social media enquiries, event details, sponsorship cards, personalized posters etc. on top of full time jobs, it was all consuming.  I (Laura) was lucky enough to have a job that allowed for me to spend quite a bit of time during the day to keep things ticking over until home time.  After work then, myself and Sabrina would divide and conquer the to do list, and spend a minimum of 3 hours every night, almost every night for a year making sure Team Fortitude was a success.  Weekends would then be spent building and maintaining the database, designing t-shirts, planning fundraisers, updating individual fundraising totals and donor lists and generally making sure our team mates were happy and had all the tools necessary to succeed in their fundraising efforts.  

We are extremely lucky to possess complimentary skillsets.  Sabrina is brilliant with technology, so learnt as we went along to build our website.  Where as I love being organised, making plans and keeping the spreadsheets updated.  This made it very easy to ensure all the tasks were done in a timely manner.   Alongside this, we both continued to learn social media skills as we went along!

The two biggest challenges we faced were time, and location.  There wasn’t enough time in the day to keep on top of everything, so our social circles suffered slightly, but we were both in agreement that Team fortitude was THE single most important thing, and dedicated all our free time to working on it.   Being based on the West Coast of Ireland at the time of being set up wasn’t ideal.  We couldn’t really tell anyone we were building a fundraising community for the Royal Marines, therefore it made our own personal fundraising goals harder to reach.  Location also meant that we weren’t able to get to many events, but where possible we booked time off work and flew over.  It was amazing to meet people for the first time, as it felt like they were old school friends.  A lot of team members share that same feeling, it’s definitely not like you are meeting strangers that you met via social media!

The moment we realized it may just work, was when money started to come in via the website.  I remember one specific day where 2 team members shared their donation links, and Rock 2 Recovery’s Commercial Director, Robin, rang to ask if there was an error on our website as almost £2000 came in within one day

 

How did you both get involved, was it at the same time ?- 

Myself and Laura are sisters, and Team Fortitude was created whilst spending New Years Eve together in the house.  Originally, Laura had contacted Jamie back in October about the possibility of us helping them to run one big fundraiser, however, it some became apparent that one big event was turning into many more. I think that it works well as we both know what the other is thinking and share a common goal for Team Fortitude.

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What does being involved mean to you personally?

Laura: I am personally honoured to be raising funds and awareness for Rock 2 Recovery, supporting the life saving work that they do, as my Dad was a proud Royal Marine (now a Veteran).  To be supporting R2R, means we get to provide help for our Countries bravest Men and Women.  Our Armed Forces put their lives on the line for us, and they deserve the best possible care and opportunities when they return.  Rock 2 Recovery really stood out to me as an organization as it wasn’t about prescribing medications, but about treating each client as an individual, and not giving a blanket treatment.  The coaches really take the time to find out about each individual and from that, provide coping strategies that the clients can then continue for the rest of their lives as required.  R2R will support them for as long as necessary, and not just close the door on the them.  In some cases it really is the last stop, as PTSD and Mbti are complex issues that are completely unique to the individual.  The fact that Jamie and Jason (Co-Founders) have both dealt with PTSD also means there is a natural understanding of feelings, and therefore it creates a more equal atmosphere in which the clients can feel more comfortable .

Being from a creative background aswell, I knew the benefits are some of the therapies that the clients partake in, such as music and art.

 

Sabrina:  To be supporting others that are directly responsible for changing and saving the lives of some incredible human beings and to be a small part of that is something that I don’t take lightly. Having never served myself, I feel like this is my opportunity to give back to the people that have allowed me to live my life in safety and with freedom. One of these amazing people happens to be my adopted Dad, and it is a real honour to do this to represent him.

 

Tell us about a memory that really stands out for you

One of the best memories that we both share, was having the privilege to watch #teamelite2016 at our Breakpoint event.  The participants that went to the Special Forces style day, had trained and invested so much time, money and energy into being in the best shape physically and mentally that they could to complete the event.  Getting to watch their determination and all their hard work pay off that day was an amazing experience.  The event was also life changing for many of the participants so it was lovely to be a part of that with them too.  Back at the hotel after the event, we had dinner as a group, and whilst some people couldn’t stop talking about their day, others sat quietly replaying the days events.  There was laughter and tears as old emotions, fears and barriers were broken down by the Breakpoint team.  We still receive messages almost 8 months on to let us know that another milestone in their life has been achieved thanks to the new ‘Breakpoint’ mentality.

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As for picking one member of the team that has had a journey that is memorable, it would honestly be so difficult.  Many of our members have changed and improved their lives whilst being a part of Team Fortitude.  Quite a few have gone on to study for a Personal Training qualification after seeing the difference they have made physically for themselves in such a short space of time.  There’s also the people that have become mentally stronger through realizing what they are capable of, and through the new friendships they’ve made within the team, made life decisions that they never would have dreamt of. 

 

What’s next for Team Fortitude ?

Team Fortitude is still growing and ever evolving.  With that comes new challenges and events, and a bigger community of people who are raising money and making friends along the way. We have some amazing events coming up and we always encourage people to join us and add their own event for other people to join too.

 

July 8th & 9thBreakpoint USF Course

August 19thSky Dive 

September 2ndBreakpoint ESF Course 

September 30thNight Swim

 

If people wanted to how would you suggest could they get involved?

People can find us on Twitter, Facebook, our website www.teamfortitude.co.uk or email us at teamfortituder2r@gmail.com.  We are always happy to answer any questions or queries, but please bear in mind that we do this voluntarily so it may take a few days to respond if we are busy!

 

If people can’t support personally is there a link to let them donate??

Teamfortitude – donate-now-support-rock2recovery

 

What’s big/coming in 2017 /18 for each of you guys personally?

Sabrina: In 2017 I have decided to make this my year to face my fears.  I have always been a huge believer in personal development and doing things that you don’t think are possible.  I would also never ask anyone to attempt anything that I wouldn’t so if we add any challenges to our calendar, they are normally only events that we would do.  This year we have added a sky dive and a night swim both of which are things that I wouldn’t like to do but I am going conquer the fear of heights and of water at night…!

Laura:  After seeing so many of our brave team mates conquer their fears in various different ways last year, I have decided it’s finally time to face one of my ultimate fears…….heights.  Along with Sabrina, and a few other participants, I will be taking part in the Sky Dive.  As I get older I become more adverse to risk, so this for me will be (and is) a big deal!  Hopefully it will an experience that leaves me wondering why I didn’t do it sooner!

 

As for 2018, we haven’t planned anything yet, but we are always open to suggestions 🙂

Laura

….of Monch, mice and men

As we broke trail we could hear and see small avalanches all around the face and surrounding gullies.. yeah we needed a new plan!

A good lesson to learn is that plans are only good until you try and implement them. Staying flexible, spotting the need to change and being able to pivot your plan quickly, effectively and without the restrictions of “but” is the nirvana of agility but harder to do in reality.

Our plan for the Jungfrau region in Switzerland alpine Bernese Oberland had been , when hatched way back in Oct 2016 for us to summit the Eiger. Me via a the Mittellegi Ridge , but for 2 of the team (Davy and Steve) to tackle a harder line towards the North face.

From the outset there was a flaw in the plan… timing..

May is neither Winter when rock is cold and icy but more solid, less likely to avalanche you or shower rocks upon your head , or Summer when a lot of the route is dry rock without the added complications snow can bring. But May had been chosen and so AirBnB was scoured, families agreements were sought for a “pass” and flights booked.

We set off Saturday May 6th, a flight from Glasgow to London, then onto Zurich before 3 trains and a total of 16hrs travelling from urbanity to Alpine splendour… only slightly blighted by rain and low cloud meaning we couldn’t actually see the mountain we aimed to climb despite having lodging basically at the foot of it in the small yet busy town of Grindelwald.

Steve Wakeford (director, filmmaker and “star” of Magnetic Mountains) had agreed to join us to make 2 teams of 2, and had travelled overland by van from Chamonix. Seeing a chance to spend some valuable down time also away from the film his family (Menna and Fi) joined  us for a few days.

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The Eiger Nordwand .. hiding. Grindlewald below. (Photo my own)

By the time we arrived Steve and I had already switched our original plan to the Monch (4107m) – based on the obvious buildup of snow remaining on the  ridge, plastered in  white right up to and beyond the Mittellegi hut. So on Sunday we headed up the Jungfraujoch railway to Eigergletcher (Eiger Glacier) station for a reconnoitre at the Nollen route, on the NW of the mountain.

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Heading for a look at the Nollen route  (Photo by Alan McIntosh)

This 1440m route offered a long day of  steep snow and ice climbing, preceded by a rock ascent up to the hut.  No easy day out and despite my increased physical preparedness over the previous weeks I was aware it would be a challenge but an exceptional route and very attractive for it. A hike in deep snow to overlook the route however made it clear we would need alternative plans. The lower sections, which we had hoped would be clear and  slabby rock were covered in loose snow. As we broke trail we could hear and see small avalanches all around the face and surrounding gullies.. yeah we needed a new plan!

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Steve overlooking the original route from Eigergletcher (photo my own)

While we planned, Davy and Steve Dunne were also checking out their proposed routes and had headed up to the lower slopes of the Eiger for a look-see. Trying to find a route on the Eiger normally would be hard, in thick mist and snow its becomes almost impossible. Battling snowy rock, spin-drift, rain, hail and low blinding cloud they decided finally to retreat – a sensible decision – but not after tucking into some grub to help the push!

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Steve Dunne “enjoying” the weather on the Eiger (Photo by Davy Wright)

Back at our chalet we had maps and guidebooks out on the kitchen table, 3D views of the region on Google earth to play with, and after also consulting a local guide it was decided to take the more regular SE ridge on the Monch from the Moenchsjoch hut. This was to be a less “spectacular” route than the Nollen but still me first 4000’er and still a superb mountain.

This is where the flexible bit has to come in.

It’s a balance as much as a battle. Of head over heart and head has to win.

There is no point sticking doggedly to a plan just for its own sake. The conditions clearly were unfavourable, we wouldn’t have been able to make the route  except by sheer battling hour after hour and in all likely hood it would have got dangerous. “Spectacular” is one thing. Coming back is another.

The best laid plans…..

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Planning .. planning…planning (Photo my own)

Finally a weather window!

New plan set we headed up the famous Jungfrau railway, past Kleine Schiedegg feeling the deep and heavy history of the place, memories from every Eiger tale I’d read, every documentary I’d watched (even the ones with Clint Eastwood #EigerSanction ) flowing into my mind. Then it’s up past the Stollenloch window and finally to the Jungfraujoch and the battle through the throngs of tourists out onto the glacier to set off up to the hut.

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The weather breaks and the Eiger is revealed, NF on the right. (Photo my own). Too much snow for the route we planned originally.

Arriving at the hut you settle into the business of.. well… chilling. It’s an art just sitting around; head sore, willing your body to acclimatise while trying not to get bored.  For Steve Dune though an upset stomach and growing illness was beginning to creep in.. He may be a machine when it comes to fitness and strong as the proverbial ox but he’s still human and bacteria is like Superman.. only one can be the winner.

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Steve Wakeford and the art of Hut Chilling (photo my own)

The best laid plans….

As the sun began to set it was time to eat so out came the stoves, snow being melted for water and our very kindly provided) FirePot meals slowly rehydrating to give us much-needed calories as well as it has to be said a lot of flavour for something you boil in the bag!

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Prepping dinner. (Photo by Steve Wakeford) (Provison for our climb were kindly provided by OutdoorFood)

Then it’s time to prep for a swift morning exit –  putting only the absolutely necessary  kit in your pack, everything else in a box to leave at the hut .. every 100g saved is a god send in time and effort at 4000m and the to bed.  I’d already invested in the lighest 19g biners had packed my light shell, brought only 1 technical axe and ditched almost al my rack leaving only the kit I absolutely needed . Light is right as they say!

Bed of course being a pallet in a dorm – comfortable yes, but inevitably sleep is never perfect with people coming, going (to the outside toilet requires putting clothes back on) and of course the snoring! (remember your earplugs folks).

Alarm gets you up at 4am for a 5am start. Pulling gear on, harness legs twisted, climbing gear clinking, rucksack opened, closed, opened again .. fuzzy head not helping one bit, boiling more snow and water for food (any meal at 4am is hard but you need to eat for energy) and heading out the door into the moonlight.

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Alan heading out of the hut  (Photo by Steve Wakeford)

Sadly at this point Steve Dunne made the only sensible but very difficult  call that his worsening illness from the previous 2 days meant he simply couldn’t join us so it was a team of 3 that headed out and toward the base of the route, just a hint of sun behind the jagged horizon, the moon bright and high lighting our path.

From here we started up the route , Steve Wakeford taking first lead, swinging with Davy Wright . As I was in the middle of the rope I was resigned to following and aiming mostly just to keep up and climb well. I was envious of not being able to lead but was in a luxurious position to enjoy the route.

As we reached the first good belay stance the sun lit up the East side of the face , warming us a little and certainly opening up a stunning scene for us to climb in.  The alpine light is unique. So bright it burns but clean and pure, energizing like no other. Its at times like these that you remember why you train hard, travel far and push your self so far.

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Davy Wright leading off (Photo by Steve Wakeford)

Up we went , the ridge first of all fairly wide, a few scrambling point on the rocky outcrops and bands then up and up eventually onto the narrow snow ridge that led to the summit. One or two scrambling and rock moves needed to make it fun but nothing difficult.

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Alan heading up the ridge (Photo by Steve Wakeford)

We reached the summit in a little over three hours, legs and lungs naging at points in the rarefied air, taking our time on the final very narrow sections, watching kicked snow spin and speed down the face back to the glacier far below, acutely aware that concentration was key, tripping could be disastrous but exhilarated at the situation.

Short video of the approach ridge (slightly distorted by GoPro)

The feeling of that exposure, in that surrounding and at that height is a rare one… it’s what attracts us back again and again, the tiredness and trepidation soon forgotten once back at the base.

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Alan on the summit approach (Photo by Steve Wakeford)

Summit!

A short steep and narrow section of what looks ;ike a cornice, precariously hanging in space and we are there.

We hug we cheer we bump fists, grins as wide as the horizon , camera’s out and GoPro’s running !

My first 4000m summit in the bag! And an amazing team of friends to do it with!

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The team at the summit (L-R Davy, Alan, Steve W) (Photo by Davy Wright)

And all too soon it’s time to get back down though – so carefully , carefully off we go.. reversing our route.. taking the steep down steps with care, the route almost as long in descent until finally we abseil a jumble of steep rock then downclimb steep snow ramp to arrive suddenly back on more expansive terra firma.

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Alan (L) and Davy (R) prepare to abseil (Photo by Steve Wakeford)

While for Davy and I it was time to grab our hut gear and march out to meet up with Steve Dunne, our other Steve (Wakeford) grabbed his ski’s and (incredibly) set off on a 52Km ski & skin odyssey back down to a neighbouring valley to meet Menna and head home. #kudos #Machine

Once reunited, for us it was down on the train, a stop at Kleine Scheidegg for coffee and LOTS of water , tales of mountains interjected with awestruck gazing at the Eiger Nordwand (North face) .. still looming indomitably above us. Enticing Steve and Davy to climb… and they will return to do so I know.

For us now after reaching the valley is was about beer and whisky! ….and a reflection on plans. All 3 of us had come out to “get something done ” and that we had.

Whether  hiking, running, reconnoitering, mapping, planning or climbing – all of it is part of the adventure and doing it together, with all the banter and beers that come with it is what mattered.

We went as friends, we climbed as friends and we came home as friends – that is goal no 1, 2 and 3 in my book!

And the lesson reinforced?

Stay loose, make a plan.. but be ready to change it!

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Photo credits mainly to Steve Wakeford, Steve enjoying his Firepot meal and Summit team credit to Davy Wright, GoPro footage , the above relaxed rucksack and photo’s around Eigergletcher by myself.

 

 

 

Around Glenshee

after a nice relaxing night, the shackles of the city well and truly shuffled off we hit the hay planning a nice civilised 9am kickoff.

A tour of 4 munros, from Glenshee as an “active rest” day ahead of the upcoming Swiss Alps climbing trip.

Munro’s “bagged” Carn an Tuirc, Cairn of Claise, Glas Maol & Creag Leacach

Total Distance 19.2Km

With 2 weeks to go until we head off to Grindlewald and alpine adventure around the Eiger and Monch range I took up the offer of a cottage rented out by a friend  just south of  Glenshee, on the edge of the Cairngorms.

A chance to get away from the city, have some us time and also get in some new hills was just too good to pass up – so after work we jumped in the car and headed north from Glasgow, to the very small village of Enochdhu about 2 hours north (unless of course.. like us, you miss a turning and end up in the Spittal of Glenshee lol and then it’s more like 3 hours..).

We arrive, just as the light starts to fade, that beautiful low lying, clean spring sun cutting through the trees now blooming along the winding roads , already feeling the release that only the mountains and wilderness can give you.

We drop our bags and bones into comfy seats and grab a glass of wine.

McLovinMountains.com regular guest mountain guide, Andy Mallinson, and his better half Liz were our very welcoming hosts and as we planned the next day we had a great nattter about anything and everything . For Andy it was a rare weekend off and a chance just to get out on the hills with friends and enjoy a walk.

The cottage itself (River Cottage) is beautiful and I highly recommend a stay if you can get a booking , a full review will be on the blog ASAP.

Anyway after a nice relaxing night, the shackles of the city well and truly shuffled off we hit the hay planning a nice civilised 9am kickoff.

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That morning we headed into Glenshee, dropped Andy;s car off, drive mine a couple of miles further and started to head up the hill. Our plan was the 4 munro’s of Carn an Tuirc, Cairn of Claise, Glas Maol & Creag Leacach all linked with a fairly easy undulating plateau taking the full round back to Andy’s car to 12 miles/19km.

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I’ll let the pictures do the talking but its a beautiful walk, amazing views and frankly a pretty easy way to bag 4 Munros’ (it felt like cheating). Although relatively long its not steep at any point and with the 3 of us cheating away and setting a fair pace we were done and back to the car in a little over 6 and half hours, including stops for a bite to eat out the biting arctic wind in the shelter cairns on 2 of the summits.

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It was a great way to get out, see the hills , get great exercise but still somehow felt rested and recovered after a week of work and heavy gym training.

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Arriving back at the car we had a sneak look at the newly under development interpretation area being installed including  a beautifully designed arching wooden bench that seems to mimic the line of the mountains, contour lined designed walkway and plinths ready to take viewing information. Looking down Glenshee it will be stunning once finished.

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From there it was  as top at the local community shop for coffee and cake , and to pick up a nice whisky and local gin for that evening spent in the company of Liz and her other guest Ben, a walker from Germany who was doing the Cateran trail.

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Thanks again to Andy and Liz and as I sit here with 1 week to go to the alps I thank you , dear reader for staying with me on the journey and I look forward to sharing our Alpine Exploits to come!

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In the life zone

This land unchanged for millennia, carved over eons of ice, rain and wind. The deer and birds running and flying paths led by their ancestors for time untold.

For high altitude (and armchair) mountaineers its common to hear about the death zone, that area above 8000m where due to a number of complex physiological reasons you are effectively dying. Your body degrading every minute, at the tissue level.

The drive to go higher, push harder, suffer more, be more gnarly and generally prove your one tough mother is common in mountaineers and adventurers.

In recent times I’ve been a fully paid up subscriber to this “suffer” club (not the over 8000m club yet! ). Loving coming back after a tough day, where we went higher or pushed harder, hiked longer  or climber something more tricky. Even if I actually found it really tough , afterwards that was a badge of honour.

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My preparation, training , diet and psychology of “being ready” can  also be completely unforgiving. Beating myself up for missing a hill day, doing something “mundane” meaning I didn’t get a full on gym session in, being “weak” and letting my diet slip… all of it an excuse to use a mental baseball bat on myself – beating myself until I’m (metaphorically) bruised and bleeding  .. and of course that blood gets on others .

Those around you are dragged into the fugue, the stress and the frustrated sniping. Totally unfair but at the time, you just cant see past your own “failures” and its only right to be cantankerous. Their patience amazes me, especially my long suffering and awesome wife Sam. Allowing me the freedom to head off on adventures with friends, climbing with me when she can, always keen to try new things ,  but also making sure we have a beautiful home and a life that is comfortable and fun, beyond the summits I continually seek.

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For those able to stand outside it or in those rare moments of personal clarity this of course is also recognised as a path to a death zone of sorts. Ok… so you’re not about to actually die from cold, altitude, hypoxia, HAPE, HACE, hunger, fatigue or any other number of high altitude afflictions but certainly its unhealthy.. and continue it for long enough and your health is going south – physical and mental (as well as I believe, spiritual).

So it’s with 4 weeks out from a big alpine adventure coming up that I was crashing headlong, ice axe in hand, eyes wild and heart racing  into this emotional death zone. The house move of which I talk about a lot has become crushingly time consuming (for the right reasons I know…), business travel has killed my training and diet and I’m feeling way off track in all my prep. Fear of difficulty or failure is rising, with it anger and frustration and opportunities self flagellation increase.

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Then, listening to the calming voice of some very bright souls around me , reading about alpine heroics with the honesty and vulnerability of those who have done much more incredible things than me , I grab a hold of myself, get the gym back in check, start running, lock the diet in and all of a sudden I’m descending back to a safe haven .

But there is more to adventure than gym life so of course I get an overdue hill day in with Sam. We head out , taking advantage of what looks like a great little weekend weather window, and arrive in Glencoe ready to head up Buachaille Etive Beag. Out the car, on the path and heading up, breeze keeping us cool a move quick and start to ascend. we chat as we always do and as we pass others, stop to shoot the shit, a common collective of outdoor loving folks – knowing we are the luckiest people in the world to have all of this available, any time we want it.

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Up we go feeling fitter than in ages, to the bealach then head for the summit, wind picking up now , along the summit ridge to the summit cairn. Fast and comfortable, often tired  legs carrying me better than in ages. I make myself stop to just drink it in.

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The view as always are breathtaking, remembering you are 1km up and on a rocky mountain ridge miles from the nearest town, the world spread out below you, people in towns driving, shopping, eating, stressing, commuting, arguing, hustling, bustling and everyone of them oblivious to the “life zone”.

 

This sacred space where it’s just us, the mountain, the valley below, the sky above. This land unchanged for millennia, carved over eons of ice, rain and wind. The deer and birds running and flying paths led by their ancestors for time untold.

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You see, when you are stressing about this weeks gym session or that meal you shouldn’t have eaten or if one more run is needed the life zone doesn’t even blink an eye, or furrow a brow. It carries on, inviting you to a different way of “being” but at the same time oblivious to your troubles, to your struggles and striving.  It continues to sail its voyage through time,  and will do for eons to come. You are insignificant in this enormity, but also welcome anytime. A beautiful paradox.

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Yes, I need to train and prepare, get fit for the mountain, skilled in climbing, healthy and fit and ready but I need to remember that’s not the goal of the endeavor, its only part of the journey.

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Life is in our homes and in the mountains, with people we love. In terms of the mountains I need to be prepared to get there – yes but I have to remember beating myself up along the way takes you further from that which we are actually seeking – The life Zone.

 

A mountain journey like no other.

Yet, I regards myself as a very lucky person, I have studied my demons, I’ve kept these ‘mental’ enemies close

A post from guest blogger Vicky Bikkerstaffe.

Thinking back, I don’t actually recognise the person that made the decision to get back out on the hill.  She was riddled with anxiety, lacked any personal confidence and lived an isolated life due to her mental health demons.  I’m still shocked she actually did anything about her wish to be more skilled in the outdoors.  She was badly equipped both practically and mentally.  However, what she did have where her memories of reaching mountain tops, taking in the views, the sense of achievement and the taste of a cheese butty at 1000m.

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My personal demons are Clinical Depression and Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) (info about these and many other MH issues are available on www.mind.org.uk).  These conditions suck the very life out of me every single day.  These demons are my constant companions, one has their infected claws deep inside me, the other spits their endless stream of venom into my mind.  The management of such conditions is a full time affair, ‘staying well’ requires an unbroken stream of time and energy to perform the tasks of daily life.  Yet, I regard myself as a very lucky person, I have studied my demons, I’ve kept these ‘mental’ enemies close, I’ve developed some useful strategies that allow me some respite from the endless chatter.

Doing this has stretched me as a person, I’m far more insightful and compassionate.  I’ve developed a determination and strength that Thor would be proud of.  I have a love of the great outdoors, simply being out in the hills and glens helps me to sustain the burden of my demons but I felt a need to explore this area of self-care.  So I decided I wanted to be more capable in this environment so I could take full advantage of this beautiful landscape we have in Scotland.

So it was time to take a leap of faith and find someone to help me.

I contacted Andy Mallinson (Mountain Summits, www.mountainsummits.co.uk) After explaining my needs and difficulties we arranged to meet for a day on the hill.  To put it bluntly, I was crapping myself.  Every ‘comfort zone’ was pushed and stretched.  The first day was spent rekindling the essential navigation skills but more importantly it was spent talking, relaxing, thinking and daydreaming.  A spark of confidence in my long forgotten abilities came out of nowhere, by the end of the day I felt calmer.  I enjoyed myself and had fun, a real novelty.
Now, if there is anyone who ‘lives’ the mountains, then its Andy.  He has an encyclopaedic mind, the teaching he presents is natural and straightforward and his enthusiasm for his ‘subject’ is deeply infectious.  Best of all, he’s a fellow Yorkshire ‘man’ (sorry, Yorkshire ‘person’ just doesn’t sound right)

I felt I could express what I aspired too.  I explained that I felt at peace within mother nature’s arms.  However, I wanted to acquire the skills needed to feel confident and competent in her arms when she’s unforgiving, mischievous and angry.

As a result of our discussions Andy created the Mountain Summits Mountain Development Program (MDP).

A 15-day plan covering: –

Mountain Skills navigation, maps, reading the environment, weather and camping skills.

Rock Skills ropes, belay, protection, climbing skills, single and multi-pitch climbs, seconding and leading climbs.

Winter Skills winter equipment, winter navigation, snow and avalanche awareness, winter and ice climbing

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Each of my 15 days ticked all the right boxes:-

Informative

Fun

Memorable

Inspiring

Supportive

Enlightening

Educational

Exhilarating

Overwhelming

Absorbing

Happy

Challenging

Powerful

Perplexing
During my 15 days I’ve been over hills, crags, Munro’s, and Corbetts. Through corries, glens highlands and lowlands.  I’ve been up and across ridges, buttresses, beinns, cairns, carns, stobs, arétes and drumlins.

I’ve climbed, scrambled, jumped, walked, shuffled, yomped crawled and I have loved every nanosecond of it!

Each day I completed created more enthusiasm and motivation for the next.  My personal confidence and sense of ‘self’ began to developed both on and off the hill and my general attitude to life started to relax and soften.

I have discovered that rock climbing to be the ultimate demon deterrent.  The concentration required for organising the ropes, the protection and completing each move of the climb reduces the demons’ venom to a drip.  I don’t think they have a defence for this total focus, enjoyment and peace. Don’t tell the demons I said this but I think they might actually be learning to enjoy the respite…shush!!

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I have learnt masses of essential awareness and knowledge.  Being organised for the outdoors is the number one.  Wild camping is faff free, mountains days are sorted the day before, the rucksack is always full of the necessities and all of this is second nature now.  I find navigation and map skills genuinely fascinating and I find expanding my knowledge of this endless subject a real pleasure.  I’m reading and learning about the mountain environment, weather and ecology and then utilising this knowledge to make the many decisions when immersed in the mountain ‘world’ I love so much.

Who knows where this will take me in the future?
Now that I’m in possession of this enhanced skill set I’ve found I am more relax on the hill.  My mind finds a calmer ‘plane’ to function on.  I feel ‘lighter’ and more balanced (ha maybe not!!)  I’m learning to use this steadier state to filter out some of the damaging thoughts I have allowing me to think clearer.

The bitter truth is that my demons will NEVER leave me, my bad days will always be soul destroying.  The venom in my mind and the infected claws will forever cause me pain that is truly unexplainable in strength.

Yet, NOW I stand taller on my good days.  The feeling of comfort and security while oot and aboot is fuelling my strength and determination and I have an increased sense of empowerment for the ‘fight’ and for my life in general.

Robert Bryne said “the purpose of life is a life of purpose”.  My purpose on this earth has eluded me for countless years but now, having gone through the MPD, I have a spark in my tummy that feels ‘bright’ with potential that’s motivating me to continue my ‘mountain’ life.

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I feel completely at home in the wild-ness of Scotland.

The overwhelming power of mother nature is a true life force to me and fuels me in many ways and I have no doubt that without this I would have to sacrifice myself to my demons.
And so… 11 months after starting the MDP I am a confident, competent and skilled mountaineer.  I completed day 15 of the program on Saturday 4th March in epic style.  I lead the first assent of a multi-pitch grade 2 winter/ice climb on Creag a Choire Dhirich with Andy Mallinson.  We agreed on the name ‘Mocking Grouse’.
My life long appreciation has, obviously, got to go to Andy Mallinson.  I have much to thank him for.  The mountain development program is Andy’s creation. Andy presents himself in a way that is professional, friendly and welcoming.  At first glance the content of the MDP could be said to be universal but it’s the way Andy presents the content that makes the program unique.  His ‘teaching’ ability is adaptive, flexible yet completely natural.  I rarely find learning easy yet I feel that Andy conveyed all the required knowledge in some sort of cognitive osmosis which has certainly worked for me. Anyone can be a mountain guide, not many can be a mountain professor!  Now that I know him a wee bit better I believe that Andy’s enthusiasm and love for the mountains is truly at his core and I would hazard a guess that without the hills he would soon falter.

Andy, aka Coach M, Obi Wan, you have been and continue to be a true inspiration to me, your Young Padawan.

 

Vicky Bickerstaffe lives in Perthshire, in Scotland and has done for the past 8 years or so since moving from her native Yorkshire.

With a background  in fitness and health Vicky is now working part time and studying Degree in Psychology and Mental Health and currently developing green therapy projects.

Vicky has been  living with mental health issues for 25 years.