Last year I climbed every 2,000ft mountain in England and Wales in just six months – the fastest known time. It was the adventure of a lifetime, an epic 1,000-mile journey that catapulted me into the national media spotlight and secured me the status of record-breaking mountaineer. And I did it all while holding down a three-day-a week office job, working as a freelance writer, and moving house.
This was the opposite approach to my last “grand” adventure.
In 2016 my wife and I sold our house and quit our jobs to go backpacking around the world. It was an incredible experience (obviously), but nine months later we ended up back home with some amazing memories, a big chasm in our bank account, and the unwelcome prospect of re-entering the working world.
The extreme strategy we’d taken seemed like boom and boost; a shed load of wahey followed by a return to boohoo – an approach that is difficult to sustain financially.
But back in the UK I promised myself that I wouldn’t return to the 9 to 5 monotony of the rat race, and instead that I’d figure out a way to integrate an epic, crazy adventure into my everyday life. The concept of my 446 mountain challenge developed.
It was a bloody hectic six months, that’s for sure. And I felt like I needed to sleep for a month when I finally reached that 446th summit. But actually, it wasn’t ridiculously difficult to make it work.
That’s right: I didn’t quit my job or sell my house to do this expedition; it didn’t cost shed loads of money (in fact it was incredibly cheap).
A journalist recently asked me “how did you manage to complete such a major challenge in your downtime and integrate it around work?”, adding “our readers would love to know” I mulled over the question.
1. Go wild camping
There is something absolutely magical about sleeping on a mountain – the freedom, the escapism, the fresh air, the views – and it is brilliant for adventuring on a shoestring.
It is free, it is super-flexible (no planning or booking in advance required) and you wake up in the middle of the hills, ready to bag that next peak. Wild camping helped save me money and time – and was one of the best aspects of my adventure.
2. Commit to the challenge
I set myself a goal and it became an obsession. I had put it out there – told my family, friends and the whole world via social media what I was trying to achieve.
That was a powerful step. It gave me the motivation to keep going when things got tough, when I was exhausted, drenched and fed up of trudging up yet another rainy, misty mountain. I didn’t want to let myself or others down. I was dedicated to reach the finish line and complete the mission.
3. Create your own multi-day routes
I often combined several day walks in the Nuttalls guidebook into my own bespoke multi-day routes.
I loved this approach. It cut out those long, dull walks back to the car and transformed my trips into awesome, self-contained little expeditions with over-nights in bothies or wild camping under the stars. Where a circular route was impractical, I just walked in one direction and then at the end hitchhiked back to my car. I met so many charming and entertaining locals in this way and even managed to get a ride in a £100,000 Porsche GT4 near Keswick.
4. Go with the flow
I didn’t plan anything in advance.
The night before my days off I would check the weather forecasts, see where looked sunny (usually nowhere!), and decide to head there. I’d download maps using the OS app and print off back-ups, throw my kit into my bag, and grab food supplies from my kitchen. Simple – job done.
This last-minute approach did feel chaotic. But it meant I could chase the good weather and wasn’t burdened by excessive planning – and the unpredictability of going with the flow was all part of the adventure.
5. Be efficient
Despite my pragmatic and flexible approach, I was organised and structured in other ways. I had good systems in place regarding clothes, camping gear and food.
I cleaned, washed and re-packed all my camping kit after every trip, leaving it ready for the next mini expedition; and I had a set menu of camping meals in my mind and a stash of supplies in my kitchen. I also had to be super efficient with my time at home. I cut out watching TV, never woke up late, and was always on the go. I spent every waking minute of that six months either working or climbing mountains. It was a strange double life, but a brilliant experience.
6. You can do it
For the whole six months I felt disorganised and ill-prepared. I kept on thinking “what am I doing?” and “have I bitten off more than I can chew here?” But at the end of the day it really didn’t matter that my navigational skills were a bit sketchy, or that my backpack had a hole in it, or that I was walking in a pair of my wife’s old hiking boots, or that I had never done anything like this before.
You could plan, prepare, research and shell out on expensive kit until you were blue in the face. But, at the basic level, completing my challenge was incredibly simple – all I needed to do was keep putting one foot in front of the other. That glorious simplicity is true for almost every adventure, so you can do it.
7. Structure your life around adventure
Over the past few years I’ve made several changes to make my life as epic and adventurous as possible. I escaped the rat race of a city-based job, moved to the Lake District, downsized my house, got a part-time job, and reduced my monthly outgoings.
This helped give me the flexibility, freedom and finances to seek out adventure. But, even so, it was still a hectic prospect to take on such a big expedition alongside my work. I knew, however, that I wanted to do it.
I was passionate about my challenge and excited about every trip. When your heart is in it, it’s easy to find the time and energy to focus on your adventure goals.
All the best,
Climbed every mountain in the UK in 6 months