Because of a fall at the end of 2012, this year got off to a slow start. My convalescent winter was spent reading about other people’s adventures, which inspired me to plan some of my own. The injury knocked my confidence, and dented confidence sometimes takes longer to recover from than broken bones.
I first ventured out into the country again on a group trip to Kirkby Stephen in February. I discovered how out of condition I was when I couldn’t complete the first 15 mile walk. It was sad to watch everyone dashing off into the distance leaving me to meander back to base, although I did manage a shorter walk the following day.
A few weeks later in March of 2013, I planned a week of some of my favourite Northumberland walks from a base in Rothbury in order to boost my fitness and my morale. Kirkby Stephen had taught me that I needed to take things at a more comfortable pace at first. Although it was still quite wintery on the hilltops, it was really good to get out again and revisit north Northumberland.
As some of you will know, my big plan for 2013 was to walk the Pennine Way to raise funds for Crisis UK, so I knew I had to get back into condition. Martin Rye was kind enough to act as a mentor as this was to be my most ambitious hike to date. With advice from him and from James Boulter on my camping kit, together with many others on Twitter, I began my attempt to transform myself from a slackpacker to a self supporting backpacker and trail walker.
I made plans to do two hikes in the spring; the 65 mile St Cuthbert’s Way during the wintery April, followed by the 75 mile Cumbria Way during May. I never stop learning when I hike, and these hikes were no exception. I was able to experiment with new kit, footwear, and different kinds of accommodation. The strange weather of the 2013 spring presented challenges on both walks, with 25cm of snow in places across the Scottish borders, and hail showers on the Cumbria Way.
When the time came for me to set off on the Pennine Way in June, I was apprehensive about my achy tendons, and about camping in my new tent. I consulted a podiatrist who gave me some exercises designed to prevent tendon injury, and sought advice from people on Twitter about camping, but I was still nervous when I arrived at Edale in June.
With hindsight, I can honestly say that all the kit and exercise preparation I did, and all the advice I sought turned out to be valuable. I saw quite a few people on the Pennine Way during the summer heatwave with problems such as sunburn, heat exhaustion, heavy packs and injury, which luckily didn’t affect me during my hike.
I completed the hike in 20 days but allowed a couple of negative comments at the end to get under my skin, which wasn’t helpful. My advice is to avoid negative people as they will drag you down.
Some of the “areas for improvement” which emerged on the Pennine Way were my wild-camping, my mountain skills and some of the mistaken assumptions I had acquired about hiking, so the remainder of 2013 has been spent trying to address these issues.
I was lucky enough to team up with 4 intrepid wild-campers on Twitter (LonewalkerUK , Hillplodder, Dean Read & PilgrimChris) for my first wild camp in the Peak District. After the Pennine Way, it was relaxing not to have a schedule to adhere to, and to have the logistics planned by somebody else.
So many people have made the point that we are generally much safer in the hills than we are in most cities, so I have no excuses left to stop me getting out there to wild camp in 2014.
I had planned to try and fit two more short trails in to the end of the year, but responsibilities at home have put these on hold. I did manage half of the Northumberland coast path which I hope to finish at some stage.
I can’t write about this year without mentioning some of the people in it, as well as the hikes. As my ambitions to do longer trails have grown, I have realised that the best people to turn to for advice are people who have done them. It was therefore a huge pleasure to meet Sarah and Alasdair Fowler, Colin Ibbotson (Tramplite) and Chris Townsend and to chat about many aspects of their experience on some of the worlds great trails.
In October I was invited to the Lake District by the National Trust to meet Tanya Oliver (@Heelwalker1) of Fix the Fells to see some of the vital path maintenance they do to tackle problems caused by erosion and poor drainage on the upland fell paths.
This fascinating day with Tanya also kickstarted my Wainwright bagging again in the Central Fells.
All these events have meant that the line which had existed in my brain between myself and mountaineers has started to become a bit blurred and meaningless. In November I therefore took myself to the Kendal Mountain Festival to test the assumption that I am somehow different from a mountaineer. Over the weekend I met some friendly people, enjoyed some good craic, and saw some great talks and films, so I look forward to returning next year.
Watching all these films about mountains in the snow finally persuaded me that I need to improve my winter skills if I am going to complete any longer global trails. Thus the year ended with me playing with my first ice axe and crampons at a Winter Skills lecture and booking myself onto a course. Without any injuries to contend with this winter, I have also taken up running in an effort to keep my fitness up for next spring.
At the end of 2013, many of the assumptions I had about hiking have disappeared and I find myself wanting to improve my mountain skills in the coming year. Thanks for reading and I hope all your plans for next year come to fruition. I look forward to reading about them. All I can say about 2013 really is who knew!