18 May 2017 by Simon Barnett
The word ‘challenge’ is defined as ‘a task or situation that tests someone's abilities’.
For me, my own definition is ‘a task or situation that enables someone to conquer their Everest, whatever that may be’.
Is 15 days to walk all 214 Wainwrights the right challenge for me? Is it my Everest? I’ve pondered these questions long and hard as I’m sure many of you have when thinking of your own adventures.
For my challenge, the answer is yes - or at least, I hope so!
I could have set a schedule to walk non-stop for 16 hours a day, and aimed to finish in something like 10 days. But this is also a holiday; both for me and my long-suffering family, who will be supporting me logistically and no doubt sharing the highs and the lows with me (although not only literally).
I’m not physically capable to break Steve Birkinshaw's record, and I intend to take some enjoyment from this adventure. I'm particularly looking forward to the third day: a 10 miler, not much ascent and in all likelihood a pub lunch! To try and speed up the challenge would increase the chances of not finishing and potentially inflict long term damage to my body - the Pennine Way is still on my to-do list after experiencing very sore shins after just three days and having to stop as a 20 year old. So I really would like to get these Wainwrights ticked off at this first attempt and then move on to something else.
I feel my challenge, and having just over a fortnight to do it in, offers a fair balance between pain and pleasure. At the end (providing I make it!), I’ll ache a lot. But from the blisters and the mental and physical fatigue, I’ll feel an incredible sense of achievement at having completed all 214 fells at such a pace. There will also be an even deeper sense of pride: one that stems from having savoured the views, the weather, the company and all the splendour of the Lake District.
As they say, life is not always a race, and when pursuing a personal Everest you should make time to enjoy the journey, just as much as you endure it.
This goal, to climb 214 Wainwrights, has been a great motivation over the last 6 months or so, helping me to increase and maintain my activity levels. Wainwright couldn’t have imagined the impact his books were going to have by way of inspiring countless people to be more active.
With current levels of inactivity so high (a recent Sport England survey found that 25% of people do fewer than 30 minutes of activity a week), there's clearly an opportunity to help more people find their own Everest; whether that is literally climbing Everest, or taking a short walk around the local park.
Every day in every community across Britain, Ramblers’ volunteers provide these opportunities - helping people to achieve things they would never have thought possible.
As part of my job at the Ramblers, I look after a small staff team who support Walking for Health volunteers. These volunteers lead short free walks as part of the Walking for Health programme, close to where people live, to help them become and stay more active. For many participants, these regular short walks are their Everest: occasions to look forward to, that make the difference between leading a completely sedentary lifestyle and being active, not to mention providing the motivation to leave home and spend time with other people.
There may be several unique definitions of a personal Everest, but underpinning them all is a sense of challenge. And let’s not forget, the challenge can be as much mental as it is physical. As we find our personal challenges, and watch them approach, they can fill us with worry, excitement and deep reservations. A deeply contradictory set of emotions to deal with.
I’m experiencing this myriad of mixed emotions now as I head towards my Borrowdale base camp ready for my attempt. On the eve of the challenge, I’m thinking about the moment I set off and while I’m looking forward to breathing in lungful’s of fresh air, my back worries me. I can’t wait to enjoy 214 summit views, but will 15 days be enough? My consciousness is rife with contrasting feelings.
As I sign off on this last blog before I get going, these conflicting emotions are still bubbling away. I wonder if I’ll get any sleep tonight? These are the butterflies that come with any challenge. Ultimately, once you get going, the weight is lifted from your shoulders and excitement wins out.
With my challenge, and with your own, the greatest hurdle is getting to the start line. It just takes a little courage and sometimes a helping hand.
So wish me luck on my personal Everest – or more accurately, all 4 of them*.
*my route of the 214 Wainwrights adds up to about 35,000 metres: that’s 3.95 times the height of Everest.