Recently I visited the remote Knoydart Peninsula for the first time – an area of breathtaking wilderness on the time-worn west coast of Scotland accessible only by boat, or a demanding 2-3 day hike in. Unlike many of the adventure tourists who go there, I didn’t visit with the sole intention of ‘Munro-bagging’ (which always struck me as a form of bucket-list, or a way of turning nature into a some kind of macho endurance test), but to spend three days savouring the solitude, the stunning vistas, and the stillness.
Yet inevitably the eye is drawn to the peaks.
The first full day, heedful of the way the weather can turn in the Highlands very dramatically (any dry day is a blessing not to be squandered), I caved in to a traverse along a ridge between summits (off my map and so unknown), improvising a route, which involved a serious slog up a steep bracken-covered and deeply-rutted slope (I ended up following a pipeline, using the concrete brackets as staging posts, until I stumbled upon a rope dangling down from the heights, which I used to pull myself up the near vertical ascent). Sweaty work! The second day I felt languid, and lollocked around the campsite, enjoying the sunny morning and my book — but the day was so beautiful, and the cloudless summits looked so enticing, that suddenly felt compelled to climb a mountain (as I was leaving the following morning I really had to ‘seize the day’). So I quickly packed a daysac and set off. Ladhar Bheinn is the highest Munro on the Knoydart – a spectacular ‘saddle’ summit, which connects to some hair-raising ridges. It took an hour to walk in and another couple to reach the summit, and it was surprisingly hard work (I’ve climbed higher – Ben Nevis, Britain’s highest peak (4413 ft); Mount Kinabalu, the highest peak in South East Asia (13435 ft)). Maybe I was done in from the previous day’s hike, and the long ride up. Or just dragged down by my own mortality. Feeling the burn, the breath, and the beat, I had to dig deep.
And that led me to this idea of your ‘mountain self’.
When climbing a mountain you really meet yourself. There is nowhere to hide. You are confronted by all your frailties. Have you got the chops to make it to the top, or are you going to give up? This is similar to running a half/marathon. You have to draw upon inner reserves of stamina, of tenacity. The struggle is as much psychological as physical. So, to your mountain self. How resilient are you when faced with adversity? How much ‘true grit’ do you actually have? Could you slog over a bleak moor in a howling gale? Would you survive a night in a small tent in a storm? When you are cold and wet and miles from home would you lose hope? It’s not about machismo or masochism, but about having some bedrock, some backbone. Stamina and belief. Real character. Show me who you are in your moments of weakness – when you are soaked through and lost. Do you have a centre? An internal compass with its own True North?
The idea of the mountain self points both inwards and outwards – to our inner core, and to a community-minded consciousness. How many of your ‘facebook friends’ would help you if you were stuck on a mountain? Or a bed for the night if you broke down near their home? The former may be asking too much – and I wouldn’t want to put someone else act risk due to my own ineptitude; but the latter for me is a benchmark of true friendship. That open invitation to drop by if you’re in the area – for a cuppa, maybe a meal, even a sofa or bed. If you can do that for a complete stranger in need, then you’re a true hero/ine.
Show me your Kindness Index – the only metric that matters.
So, what is your authentic self?
Let us lead real lives! And live this one precious life deeply and truthfully. Let us shed the inessential, the trivial. I want to know who you are when stripped of pretence, when the chips are down — your true mountain self. I don’t mean this literally – not everyone can physically climb a mountain of course, although everyone has their own mountain to climb. For some, getting to the corner shop is the challenge. For others, it is finishing that essay, or learning that new skill. Facing that bully. Or the daily Everest of feeding a family on a low income. There are Edmund Hillarys and Tenzing Norgays all around us and we do not realise it. No one acclaims their achievements, but they soldier on, against the odds. They are channelling their true mountain selves and I salute them.
But whatever your mountain, will you still be able to smile when you reach the summit?
Copyright (c) Kevan Manwaring, 2020