In this blog we hear from James Forest who got in touch regarding his charity ‘mission’ in raising money and awareness for the British Mountaineering Council’s Mend Our Mountains campaign. Over to you James.
Are you insane? What is wrong with you? Have you completely lost the plot this time? These are some of the responses I’ve received from my “normal”, non-outdoorsy friends when I tell them about my grand plans for this year. Perhaps I am being foolish?
My self-appointed mission is to climb every mountain in England and Wales in just six months – the fastest ever time (as far as I know) to complete the peak-bagging feat.
I’ll walk more than 1,000 miles, wild camp for 100 nights and ascend five times the height of Everest in my bid to summit all 446 peaks over 2,000ft in the two countries. Oh, and I’ll be doing it while also holding down my three-days-a-week job with the Lake District National Park and moving house in May. It’s going to be a busy few months.
But I’m incredibly excited too about Challenge446, as I’ve nicknamed it. I love the freedom and sense of adventure of heading out into the hills, sleeping under the stars and exploring our glorious mountainous regions – so I can’t wait.
I walked all 214 Wainwrights a few years ago and I thrived on having a structured goal to aim for – it pushed me to explore new places and inspired me to keep going. This challenge will hopefully do the same. I’ve never done anything on this scale before and I know the going will get tough. However I’m confident I’ll get through it and I’m looking forward to the adventure of a lifetime.
Where does the 446 figure come from, I hear you ask?
Well, for any of you mountain geeks out there, I’m basing my definition of a mountain on The Mountains of England & Wales by John and Anne Nuttall, which defines a qualifying peak as 2,000ft (610m) high with a relative height of at least 15m. There are 256 tops in England and 190 in Wales (add them together and…).
I’ve already ticked off 65 of these summits. Some say all good adventures start in the rain – and that’s certainly how it happened for me.
Challenge446 began on March 16 in the North Pennines with five gnarly days of incessant heavy rain, howling gales, hale storms and general nastiness. But the Berghaus kit I’ve been using did its job. The Extrem 7000 Pro Shell rain jacket kept me dry, my Reversa jacket kept me warm and my red Pravitale 2.0 hooded fleece had me looking more stylish than I ever have in the mountains – not that it mattered because I didn’t see a soul for days. In fact, all I saw on that first outing was white mist in front of me and a boggy, muddy swamp engulfing my feet below me. I imagine the Pennines are lovely, but I wouldn’t know because I didn’t even glimpse them.
Thankfully my fortunes changed over the following weeks. In the Cheviots, Northumberland, I indulged in the lonely, desolate charm of this far corner of England, wild camping beside a stream with only the birdsong and rushing water to break the silence.
In the Lake District I climbed Great Gable and Kirk Fell on a day so crisp, clear and sunny that it made me laugh aloud at the sheer awesomeness of where I was and what I was doing.
And back in the Pennines I awoke on the 710m summit of Dead Stones to a sky swirling a thousand colours as the sun slowly rose on the horizon – a moment that made the fatigue and exhaustion simply dissipate.
There have been a few calamitous mishaps too.
I burnt my boots on the wood-burning stove at Greg’s Hut bothy on Cross Fell in the Pennines; I drove to Honister Pass without my rucksack and spent the day hiking the Lakeland fells without any food and with old socks as glove replacements (not to be advised); in Uswayford, Northumberland, I was unceremoniously chased out of a farmyard by a gaggle of psychotic geese; and my car broke down at 9pm in the dark on the Whinlatter Pass, meaning I had to hitchhike into the valley just to get phone reception to call the RAC.
But there was no real harm done – and I’m looking forward to even more mini adventures and tall tales as I continue on my quest to climb every mountain in England and Wales. Bring it on.
I’m also using my challenge to raising money and awareness for the British Mountaineering Council’s Mend Our Mountains campaign, which funds upland path repairs on mountains across the UK. I’ve set a target of £4,460 – that’s £10 for each peak summitted – and you can donate online at www.justgiving.com/challenge446. You can also follow my adventures at www.jamesmforrest.com or on the social media channels below.