Walking With Myself - and Taking Selfies with Rocks
ME AND MY SHADOWTaking selfies with inconveniently located rocks is one way that Chris 'my shadow's the only one that walks beside me' Tomlinson is filling his 365 days of holidays before the start of the next ski season...
Once again, I find myself holidaying alone in the Lakes. I do have friends and some of them are even prepared to go on holiday with me, but most have limited annual leave - or so they tell me. Take my wife for instance (I’m including her as a friend). She has a mere 28 days holiday per year. Being self-employed, I recently increased my own allowance to 365 days. I know technically, that makes me 'unemployed' – but that’s not how I like to describe it .
Then there is another incompatibility - the types of holiday we like to go on. My wife isn’t so keen on skiing or taking selfies with inconveniently located rocks. I don’t so much go on holidays, she tells me, but on “missions to summit mountains”. Her ideal holiday would include more rest and relaxation. She likes horizontal holidays - I prefer vertical ones.
Given my explanation for being alone, I hope you’ll accept that I’m by no means a loner, an outcast or in any way anti-social. In fact, having run a ski chalet for many seasons, I’d say I had good people skills. Although If you stayed with me towards the end of my tenure, I’ll admit that I might have come over as a bit of a curmudgeon – chalet hosting can do that to you. Now, in general, I mostly like being with people and would prefer not to holiday alone. However, having been forced into doing it, I find myself relishing it, especially when up in high places.
INTO THE MIST
This holiday my mission is to visit every Wainwright summit north of Keswick. Despite the town being horribly rammed, few people seem to venture onto the Northern Fells and when aloft I rarely encounter anyone.
There are few traces of humanity up top, save the odd decaying stone wall built by those long since dead and it can be intensely lonely. If I walk into mist, the fell becomes a primeval place where I feel like one of the first cavemen to roam the earth – apart from the fact that I have a GPS and I’m wearing trousers.
When the sun comes out, as it occasionally does in the Lakes, I forget I’m alone and immerse myself in the epic panorama. I convene with nature and my own thoughts - most of which only I would find interesting. Worryingly, I sometimes catch myself articulating these thoughts to the omnipresent bystanders - the sheep. I’ve discovered that to truly convene with nature you need to be alone, but you don’t necessarily have to talk to it.
A BACKCOUNTRY BUDDY
A backcountry skier will know the majesty of high places but is never alone. You always need at least one wing man when skiing off-piste. If you get taken by an avalanche you’ll want a being more sentient than a sheep to notice – and preferably one who carries a shovel.
When skiing you can’t really convene with nature mainly because most of it is under the snow. You're usually travelling too fast to be intimate with your surroundings as well - unless you fall over, of course! You’re not really convening with nature when skiing – you’re usually just trying to survive it.
Unlike fell-walking, skiing has its own purpose. The act of skiing is itself enjoyable, whereas the act of walking isn’t that exhilarating. You’d never spend an afternoon walking up and down an artificial grass slope inside a large building in Tamworth for instance. When walking you need a geographical objective, usually a summit cairn. Remove that objective and walking is perfunctory. Fell-walking is all about reaching a destination, skiing is more about returning from it safely.
If I do encounter other cavemen on the fell, they usually seem happy to stop and talk to me – especially If I block the path in front of them. The conversation usually starts with an exchange of navigational information or a bit of what I call ‘fell-banter’ usually about the weather – but you can sometimes end up with a life story.
The most notable encounters so far this trip have been an impressive 16-year-old girl doing the Wainwrights on her own, an old man with his even older Jack Russell and a couple from Liverpool. The latter kindly shared their flask of coffee with me on one summit!
It seems that a shared endeavour has created a fellowship of the fells and we all feel a kinship when upon them. Ironically, it turns out that the part of a solo fell-walk I enjoy the most is talking to random strangers.
Main Image: Mellbreak overlooking Loweswater
If you enjoyed this blog, sample chapters from Chris’s books, the Skiing With Demons series, can be read online here