Before I took the decision to earn my living from the outdoors I was just enjoying the experience of being in the outdoors. Going for walks over moorlands, through forests, over mountains.I still do enjoy it tremendously, but something has changed.
Back then, when I watched documentaries and read about people like hikers, rock climbers, mountaineers, cavers. The language instilled in me the impression of majesty, being in awe, being at peace, discovery, adventure, courage and finding yourself. I think meeting people who lived with and appreciate all things natural has taught me a lot. Growing up in inner city Bradford in a Muslim household had it huge positives. However, it meant that I never really interacted with people from other backgrounds, unless it was at school. For me, that was never really a meaningful interaction.
I find that people in the Yorkshire Dales, Lake District, Wales or Scotland are extremely friendly, will dive into a conversation with you at the drop of a hat, always try to help you. People’s morality, thought process, and outlook on life are shaped by their environment. Something I would like to elaborate on in a later blog. Particularly in mountaineering but not exclusive to it was an underlying darker theme, to conquer, to overcome, to tackle, to take on, to overcome, to subdue. Some will see this as necessary to the challenge ahead in order to get the peace that one is looking for.
I cannot find empathy with such sentiments. I take my inspiration from people who have found a way to live in harmony with the natural world and all it has to offer. People like the Sioux Nation oyate of North America, the Aborigine of Australia, the Inuit of Arctic circle, the Arabs and Bedouin tribes of the Middle East and Africa. I find their traditions and beliefs amazing. What I find truly amazing is how they viewed the natural world around them and how this influenced how they lived and interacted with this world. How it impacted on their short and long term decisions about the Earth we live on. The underlying theme that is common to all these people, and many others, is they are guardians or stewards of this world and all she has to give.
OK…so how does this impact on us as individuals wanting to climb the highest mountain, walk the coldest walk to the North or South Poles, Ice climb in Patagonia. Or, more likely, hike up Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike, walk the Yorkshire 3 Peaks. Can it? Should it?
I want to feel the landscape, the elements. But I want to be in harmony with it, not fighting against it, in order to achieve my personal goal. Whatever that may be.When I climb I learn about myself. I think that is something most climbers can relate to. Overcoming your fears, pushing yourself beyond what you thought were your limits, finding new strengths in yourself.
A really important one, for the society we live in, is learning to control your emotions. When dangling from a rock face it’s no use freaking out. You have to find a way to slow your breathing, clear your thoughts so you can literally unfreeze. This happened to me on my first outdoor climb. I froze because all I could see was nowhere to go, I could not see the next hand hold. As I started breathing faster and shorter, I started to sweat. My handholds became harder to hold onto. This made me panic more.
The climbing instructor asked me to forget how high I was and to slow my breathing down. Then open my eyes and to remember a handhold 2 feet off the ground is the same as a similar handhold 50 feet off the ground, I panicked less, calmed down and focused on the problem and consequently realized there were several handholds near me.
OK…all that sounds great but for me this was a learning experience, I realized I was learning about myself, my self control, problem solving abilities. To think in different ways, to see around or through problems.The most important lesson from climbing is keeping your heart calm. Your breathing stays calm and then it is not that easy to panic.