Bereft in The Slig – The Personality Defects of a Bagger

23 08 2015

Many people ask me why I’m a mountain ‘list bagger’, especially when they learn of my fears in the hills and how many hills I go out and tackle but which scare me stupid. I spend quite a bit of time musing on that myself. But it is only when I ‘compleat’ a list, or am close to ‘compleating’, that I find answers.

I spent a very depressed night in The Sligachan Inn on Skye at the end of our last trip and was prompted to muse some more… here are the answers I’ve come up with so far.

Everyone is driven by different things but I think most fall into general sets or groups. Saying you can’t ‘pigeonhole’ people is wrong in my book – while everyone definitely isn’t the same, people generally fall into groups for each subject or area. I’m definitely a person driven by challenge and also a ‘list ticker’.

On the Friday tea-time of our Skye trip, the night before we went back home, we decided to finally get out of the holiday cottage – we’d stayed in all day while I wrote up reports and it threw it down with incessant heavy rain. It certainly wasn’t the weather to go anywhere and I was tired out from my two days in the Cuillin – Richard was happy to stay put too (luckily for him as he doesn’t drive). We’d drive up to ‘The Slig’ one last time we said.

On arrival, due to it being a horribly wet and miserable day, no-one had been in The Cuillin hills and so there were no hill-walkers, no guides, no mountain rescue people propping up the bar. The only people in there were tourists, plain and simple. I immediately felt disconnected, out of place and very let down (although I’m sure I expected it to be exactly like that due to the foul weather).

My mood was made worse when I realised that, in future, now I’ve completed all the scary stuff I had to do in The Cuillin, I will actually also be ‘just a tourist’ on Skye. I would no longer be part of ‘the elite’ – those brave and resilient people who frequent the fierce crags and knife-edge ridges. I would no longer be arriving at the bar with my guide having done some brave and daring feats in the mountains. No-one would be at the bar asking us ‘what we’d done’ that day. I would no longer be a member of ‘the club’…

I’d spent the first half of the week, before my two days of fierce Cuillin scrambling, almost dreading my two challenging days on the ridge and fearful of whether I could do the most difficult sections or whether I’d bottle out. As it turned out, and you can read in the two posts from those days, I acquitted myself pretty well and actually thoroughly enjoyed the first, shorter day. I even enjoyed parts of the second but just found it a bit too strenuous and long. But beforehand, I’d woken up at night worrying and gone very quiet, thoughtful and uncommunicative during the daytime at points when I got time to think about it. Richard, luckily, is completely used to this behaviour.

More than one person in the Sconser Lodge bar and elsewhere, hearing what I was about to do and seeing me stressing about it, asked me why on earth I was doing it. It’s certainly hard to explain.

The only thing I can say to those people is that I seem to be totally challenge-driven. If something isn’t a challenge but would be an effort, I can’t be bothered to do it and would probably laze around instead. There are some areas where I will walk for pleasure, e.g. The Lakes and The Cairngorms, but generally there has to be an element of something to overcome within myself or I won’t bother.

I have many days where, either due to the weather, or a particularly nasty route and being alone, I really don’t enjoy my day on the hill. Yet I’ll do the same soon afterwards. Towards the end of my Munro-bagging, having a particularly nasty year weatherwise and being constantly alone in the hills, my motto became “It’s serious business Munro Bagging” and that was the attitude I adopted before each walk.

But when I’ve actually done the route and overcome the problems, I’m very elated and proud of what I’ve done. It gives me a real buzz which lasts much longer than my day on the hill did. This was one of the reasons I started a blog – I read my posts more than anyone as I love to go back and see the brave, scary or silly stuff I’ve gone and done… But then I worry I may never be so brave again…

Alistair Borthwick, in my favourite book “Always A Little Further”, describing a particularly tough epic on a winter climb, makes a wonderfully true statement;

“… the reasoning powers of man are obscured by an inability to distinguish between things he enjoys doing, and things he enjoys having done…”

He further says, amusingly:

“… Of course, on the mountain he had not eaten for ten hours, had not felt his feet for three, had been soaked to the skin and then frozen solid, and for half the day had wished heartily that he were dead. But he does not think of these things – he is warm again…”

As I sat in the pub I realised that, since I took up Munro-bagging just over ten years ago, I’d completely defined myself by that. If someone had asked, I wouldn’t have said I was a ‘computer operator’, a ‘Yorkshirewoman’, or any other such accurate description – I’d have simply said I was a ‘Munro-bagger’ (and probably had to explain what that was to the uninitiated).

Before that I was always a hillwalker. Now, I see being a hillwalker as a rank below that of a Munroist. No doubt it was sitting in the local pub one night and thinking along those lines which prompted me to take on the task of finishing another list – that of the Munro ‘Tops’ (to disbelief and groans from my parents and Richard).

While I was doing each list I told everyone that, once I’d completed that, I was going back to normal and having a quiet life. Yet each time I get to that stage, I feel let down, bereft, empty and directionless again. I’ve lost my meaning of life and my status again.

I can’t be the only person who feels like this judging by the amount of people who, after doing the Munros, then take on the Corbetts. And then they take on another list. This is despite them more or less saying they were finishing after their current ‘list’.

I’m pretty sure the reason I’ve started climbing outdoors is to ‘collect lists’ of something else which is challenging. I’m definitely a very late starter being 56 years old before I started – many people have given it up by that age.

One person who I think totally saw all this in me, and probably fully understood it, was the Skye Guide Jonah. On the trip where I used him for Am Basteir and the In Pinn, when we sat in the Slig at the end of our trip to celebrate the end of my Cuillin Munros, he did the following. He shook hands with Richard and said,

“Nice to meet you mate”

He then turned to me and said,

“I won’t say goodbye to you as I know I’ll be seeing you again”

Of course he was right. I suppose my main problem is that my aspirations are always far too high and I don’t seem to be able to go back to being ‘just a normal person’. I seem to always want to be a hero – or perhaps die trying! Sad innit?

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23 responses

7 09 2015
McEff

Hi Carol. No, I don’t think it’s sad at all. I think sitting on a couch all day watching Jeremy Kyle and having no ambitions whatsoever is sad. People like us climb mountains for different reasons, but we all enjoy it – especially in the pub afterwards when our feet are warm and that feeling of accomplishment glows inside us and kindles our next expedition.
I’m not a list man. The Munros is the only list I’ve followed, and I climbed all the Wainwrights before I realised a list existed. But it’s good to hear other people’s reasons for climbing mountains. And it’s good to know that other people sit down and give this subject serious thought. It’s something I dwell on a great deal.
All the best, Alen

Liked by 1 person

7 09 2015
mountaincoward

Like you say, it doesn’t really matter WHY we climb mountains etc. – just so long as something motivates us to do it! πŸ™‚

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28 08 2015
fedup

Nice to read that you are not hanging up your boots πŸ™‚ Collecting all wainwrights routes from his guide – its actually amazing how many routes there are and how many variations of each route AW gave – its a big list when you come to put them down on paper!! On a few hills its surprising how he (and the mass of tourists following in his footsteps) missed some obvious routes or maybe its just me taking shortcuts πŸ˜‰ Good luck with the outliers are you faithfully following AWs instructions or approaching them like a true hill bagger and concocting your own routes? About shooting yourself when you can no longer reach the hills – I wander how AW felt when his eyesight had deteriorated so badly? I think one of the Cicerone guidebooks (possibly the Torridon one?) the authour has a small paragraph where due to illness he found it difficult to look at them from his cottage knowing he was unable to climb them, so decided to move away 😦

Cheers Simon

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7 09 2015
mountaincoward

I’d find it hard having to look at my favourite hills and no longer being able to climb them and think I’d have to move too if that were the case. Also seems to be the reason I’m not too fussed about going somewhere where the mountains would be pretty much impossible for me, one way or the other – like visiting Everest Base Camp but not being up to doing the peak – that would frustrate me too!

I’ll be doing a combination of looking at AW’s route suggestions for the Outlying Fells but then studying the map for how I want to do them. I did that for quite a few of the Munros and Tops too… Quite often the ‘standard’ route doesn’t suit me for one reason or another…
Carol.

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27 08 2015
smackedpentax

Beautiful piece of writing Carol I know exactly what you mean. I used to do that with caving – always trying to do the longest abseil, or most dangerous or flood prone cave. It is part of the adventure – the Push!

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27 08 2015
mountaincoward

I suppose it’s just motivation – we’d be poor specimens of humans if we didn’t have that – so many don’t and look at the lives some of them lead. Petty crime, couch potatoism (new word form πŸ˜‰ ) etc.

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26 08 2015
underswansea

Don’t worry about running out of challenges – they will always be there.

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26 08 2015
mountaincoward

I suppose that’s true – it’s just finding ones I like (or will like after I’ve done them) πŸ˜‰

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25 08 2015
bob

Interesting thoughts on your mentality Carol. As long as you have fun and enjoy it afterwards that’s the main thing. I never bothered much about the difference between Munro baggers, hill-walkers, Corbett baggers, rock climbers, skiers, tourists, or otherwise although I’ve noticed they do tend to bracket themselves. When I joined a cross country ski group they considered themselves far superior to downhill skiers. Turned out they had all started out as downhill skiers before leaving the ski lifts behind. Motivation and a sense of purpose and fulfillment in life is the important thing. Often work doesn’t really provide that in the same way.
Of course, I look at current Munro baggers now with the superiority of having done them all decades ago when the paths were still grassy, the hills empty and the roads free of traffic during bank holidays.
You’re all just sheep to me jumping on the bandwagon of the most popular outdoor craze :o)
I’m bagging kettle lochs, drumlins and eskers in the central belt at the moment.and I’m almost finished bagging Scotland’s most notorious housing schemes. How many are doing that… or even know what they are :o)
It’s the new frontier!.

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25 08 2015
mountaincoward

I am mental πŸ˜‰ baaaa!

I think cross-country skiiers are superior to downhill ones – I’d class them as mountaineers whereas, there’s no way I’d class downhill ones as that. A lot of the folks you see heading for the ski-tows know nothing about mountains, especially the one they’re on, which is why I think many of them come to grief in Scotland when the clag comes down.

I’m seriously considering bagging Lakeland lakes and tarns with my little boat – that is one ‘list’ I have in mind. Love the idea of bagging housing schemes πŸ˜‰

I definitely agree that work doesn’t generally provide much in the way of fulfilment.
Carol.

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25 08 2015
bob

Being serious that is something I thought you might enjoy as there are loads of islands to explore in the Lake District and it can be good fun getting out to them…. with a life jacket on just in case. It’s something I was thinking of myself for a day trip with the kayaks down to Keswick and even in mist or light drizzle but no wind it’s still enjoyable.

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25 08 2015
mountaincoward

I wouldn’t dream of going out without my life jacket. Although, in the ‘bad old days’ we always used to go rowing in the Lakes without life jackets – no-one bothered back then

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24 08 2015
tessapark1969

An interesting and thought provoking post.

Like you I am challenge motivated – which extends to my job as well as walking. I can also relate to enjoying having done something more than actually doing it. I get that more with the Munros than other walks and find walking in the Lakes more relaxing.

So what’s the next challenge once you have done the Tops? Will you be doing the Corbetts?

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25 08 2015
mountaincoward

I’m definitely not going for Corbetts. I’ve only got 26 so far so it would take too long and I’m rapidly wearing out for the tougher stuff. I find each year harder and harder fitness-wise unfortunately and have noticeably slowed down.

I definitely find my hillwalking in the Lakes a form of relaxation. Due to that, another set of ‘lists’ I’m planning are doing all Wainwrights routes in his guide book – Richard is quite keen on that idea too. I’m also going to be tackling the Outlying Wainwrights (in fact, I’ve already started that) when I’ve taken Richard up his final few Wainwrights.

When my legs totally give out though, I’m gonna shoot myself!

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24 08 2015
thecaptainnemo

Good to face ones fears, Keep on trekking

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25 08 2015
mountaincoward

Thanks – I will but my hills are going to get smaller and easier after this ‘list’ !

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24 08 2015
Rowena

Great post, and food for thought. For me the Munro bagging is not just the challenge but it acts as a point of reference of where I should go next. I love exploring and I want to not only compleat the Munros but the Corbetts and Grahams too. After that I’m looking forward to going up all the hills I couldn’t see anything on the first time round, going up better / different / more challenging routes and maybe…doing them all over again πŸ™‚

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24 08 2015
mountaincoward

I’m pretty sure I’m going to be doing that in the future with Richard – but on the Wainwrights, not in Scotland. We thought we might do all the routes Wainwright put in his books.

Munro/top bagging has certainly got me to places I wouldn’t have seen though and I’ve loved that about it. That was definitely the best thing about it all…

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24 08 2015
jackie sowrey

Brilliant!. What’s the next challenge Carol?

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24 08 2015
mountaincoward

Pretty much the outdoor climbing – I’m busy working my way around the local limestone crags…

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24 08 2015
underswansea

We get gnawed down. We get told what we should want to be. We get told what should make us happy. Some people succumb to the pressure and go with it. It’s a grind after all. We all don’t have the same chances. That’s the way it is. But if you find something that makes your heart thump faster and make you realize the reason for breathing, then you’ve found the light. It ain’t easy and nobody can show you, nor is there a class or church to show the way. It’s pure and you only know it when you see it. It is something you’d ride a broken bicycle both ways to find (and I know you’ve done that). Those mountains are special. I can tell by the way you talk about them. Keep walking the rock, it doesn’t matter how high they are, it matters that nothing stops you from doing it. Take care. Bob PS Sorry this is a little long – I’m half pissed on Scotch whiskey, no less.

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24 08 2015
mountaincoward

Can’t beat a nice bit of ‘Scotch’ – my parents have at least one tot every night! πŸ˜‰

I suppose one of my great fears is that I’ll run out of challenging lists of things to do or become unable to meet those challenges any more… I seem to think I’ll cease to exist then.
Carol.

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26 08 2015
underswansea

Don’t worry about challenges they will always be there.

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