It occurred to me the other day as I was lying facedown in the mud, ungracefully trying to drag myself out from the depths of a bog, which having prodded with a pole proved not to be frozen over enough to hold my bulk… That this is the part of walking that they don’t tell you about, and it’s quite a sizeable part, really.
Despite how Instagram might make it appear, the reality of walking in the mountains isn’t all blue skies, carefully positioned mugs of tea and picturesque camping spots, there all just an added bonus if you’re lucky.
In fact, I would argue that hiking is deeply, categorically, unglamorous – and that’s when you’re doing it right.
- Fog, rain, and wind. Sometimes all three in a trifecta of weather induced misery. Head bowed as the rain slams into your face, desperately trying to follow some kind of bearing so you don’t end up 10 miles away from where you wanted to be in the first place.
- Snot, and a lot of it. I call it the mountain runs, which having now written it down, I see could be taken for something else entirely… Depending on your own personal trigger, be it the moment you get to a certain altitude, or perhaps the combination of wind and a high heart rate sets you off, your nose starts streaming. No amount of tissues can withhold the tsunami of mucus trying to leave your face. It is truly disgusting, and extremely dehydrating. Next time when you get back from a particularly snotty day feeling especially tired, it’s because you lost 99.9% of your bodily fluids through your nose.
- Bog dodging (as above). Peat bogs, mossy bogs, your plain old mud bog, they’re all there lurking, waiting for the unwitting walker to fall knee-deep into their icy recesses.
- No matter how hard you try to make walking gear in some way be flattering, you can’t. It’s unavoidable, when you’re all (properly) waterproofed up, you could be a sack of potatoes.
- Wild camping, is, as the name suggests, wild. On Instagram it’s a perfectly pitched tent, perched precariously on a mountain edge – this makes NO sense unless you want to be blown off/sleep walk off the precipice. In real life, it means taking a trowel with you to bury your morning poo (it’s a human function, deal with it). Not, as one friend suggested during training, a tent-peg. Tent pegs are profoundly inefficient at digging holes and I advise everyone not to try this at home unless they don’t have anything else at hand (but really, a fork would do a better job).
- Feet, feet, feet, feet. They hurt, they blister, they blacken, they ache. That’s enough about that because feet aren’t great at the best of times.
Yet for all that, I love it.
When you’re battling against the elements, trying not to get lost or break your leg, or you’re crouching behind a rock munching on your soggy sandwich, it’s at these moments when you realise that the best days are the bad days. The days when you aren’t thinking about the fact that you’re skint, and will be until you qualify *sigh, or your spotty face, when your anxiety isn’t taking over your life and the depression seems like a distant blob in the distance, because quite simply – you’re preoccupied.
And above all you get at least 12 hours of sleep whilst camping in the middle of nowhere, because there is nothing else to do. It’s magnificent.