The path of inspiration: From novice hiker to a mountain a month.
Hi, my name’s Grace and I consider myself quite a keen adventurer, albeit a late bloomer compared to many in the hiking community.
My first introduction to the mountains was in December 2018, when in the midst of winter I climbed Snowdon via the Pyg Track. Having zero experience or fitness to my name at that point, it was the hardest thing I had ever done. But despite the tears, pain and panic, I was in awe of the views, the sense of peace and freedom that a mountain brings, and the feeling of achievement and elation once I’d finished, that I immediately wanted to do it all over again.
I focused 2019 on running and building up my fitness, as well as getting a few more mountains under my belt, but 2020 was my real year of achievements when I set myself a challenge to climb a Mountain a Month.
My first one was Cadair Idris in January, and that was to be my first solo mountain climb. I’ve always had an interest in photography, and so I took my camera along (a Sony a5100 at the time) and decided I’d document some of the day via photos and video, mainly for my own benefit and to possibly create a montage at the end of the year of my 12 mountains. I wasn’t intending to start vlogging by any means. Being completely inexperienced at navigation, I got lost in the foggy weather conditions and ended up 10 miles from my car with an hour of daylight left, getting a lift back from two friendly mountain bikers who had spotted my mild distress earlier on and came back to find me.
Once I got home and recovered from the ordeal, I downloaded my footage and realised I had a great story to tell, so I gave editing a go. I had MacBook Pro for work so I taught myself the basics on iMovie and created my first mountain vlog. The footage was terribly shaky and my editing skills were questionable/non-existent but I was proud and enjoyed having a mini video of my day to look back on and share with my friends and family.
It went down really well so I decided to invest in better equipment, create a YouTube channel and document all future hikes and mountain climbs. I bought a DJI Osmo Action Camera, choosing this over the Go Pro due to it having a front screen which helped me see what I was capturing when I was narrating to the camera. I also got a tripod, some other attachments and a subscription to MusicBed, and my videos have got better and better ever since.
I still have a long way to go but it’s a passion project that gives me a lot of enjoyment and sense of purpose and focus. I’ve even been asked if my footage from a recent climb of Helvellyn can be used in an upcoming adventure-themed TV series, which is incredibly exciting! I’m currently at 700 subscribers so my next goal is to reach 1000 and also to upskill into some better editing software so I can bring my visions and ideas to life better in future projects.
I wasn’t brought up in an outdoorsy family – we were more into beach holidays than camping/hiking or ski trips – and prior to January 2020 I only had a handful of friends who were into the outdoors, meaning I did a lot of things solo and felt a sense of loneliness at not being able to share my passion with any close friends.
Living in the midlands (arguably one of the flattest parts of the UK) meant I was hours away from any mountainous regions and the closest walks to me were the modest hills of the Cotswolds.
However, I spotted an Instagram post advertising a group hike in the Peak District in December 2019, somewhere I’d never been - hosted by Yugen Explore, and (nervous as I was) I went along.
It was an incredible turn-out. 62 people hiking an eight-mile loop of Mam Tor, having conversations about the benefits of the outdoors, listening to people’s experiences, getting tips on apps to download or inspirational accounts to follow and being invited on future adventures by total strangers.
It opened my eyes to the possibilities and before I knew it I had so many plans with so many new hiking buddies that I was booked up for about six weeks straight.
I completed challenges, such as the Yorkshire Three Peaks - finishing in 7hrs57, the Edale Skyline – a 25 mile walk through the Peak District, and a 35mile walk of the Heart of England Way taking 13 hours (that hurt) as well as many other mountains and hikes. I find myself continually wanting to push myself, live outside of my comfort zone and find new limits that I can break, as well as ticking off every hill/peak/mountain/summit that I can find.
That group hike was the start of a new chapter for me, it’s something I look back on so fondly and although COVID has thwarted any plans for meet-ups in 2020, I can’t wait to attend more in 2021 and it’s the first thing I recommend to people who are just getting into hiking.
One thing I never anticipated when getting into hiking and vlogging was the opportunities it would bring through Instagram. I’ve always been an over-sharer, I love sharing my photos and experiences and I’ve always had confidence in front of a camera. But since sharing more of my adventures, my Instagram following has grown rapidly and not only have I met so many amazing, adventurous, inspiring and talented people through it, it has also resulted in me being sent various kit; everything from hiking boots, trail shoes, hiking kit, jackets, hats, gloves, camping equipment and even accommodation. Not only is it exciting to have opportunities like that, but it’s also meant I’m much more equipped for my adventures than I would have been – as I, like many, can’t always afford new hiking kit as the seasons change.
Another thing I wouldn’t have expected is such a kind and supportive community that Instagram offers. I love receiving messages from people who just starting out on their journey into hiking or mountain climbing, asking ME for advice. As it doesn’t feel long since I was in that position myself, so being able to offer advice or share routes or make suggestions to other people, and then see them experiencing great adventures themselves, brings me a lot of joy.
Despite feeling much more experienced now, two years on from my first mountain, I’m very aware that I still have a lot to learn in terms of safety and navigation. Even last month, on a solo hike of the Glyders, I dropped my phone down into a rock crevice and faced the realisation that if I didn’t get that back, I would be route-less with no back-up map or compass.
Thankfully I did, but this experience made me realise I need to brush up on map reading skills, and so I have a course booked in with Nav Trek to learn Navigation and Mountain Safety skills, and a Hill Skills course coming up with Summit Fit. I’m keen to become as skilled as I can so that I can enjoy solo hikes safely, but also confidently navigate when going on group hikes with friends.
Having completed my Mountain a Month challenge throughout 2020, I’m looking ahead into the new year and seeing what challenges and adventures that may bring.
Turning 30 in January, I’m considering a ’30 for 30’ challenge: ticking off 30 peaks throughout the year. I’m also planning more trips abroad to experience some hikes and mountains around Europe and beyond, and I want to incorporate more wild swimming and trail running too once the weather gets a little warmer, as well as some long-distance hikes and wild camps.
I have so many video ideas to tie in with those plans, and I’m looking forward to finally hitting 1000 subscribers on YouTube. It’s amazing to look back and see how much my confidence and happiness has grown since getting into the outdoors; I truly believe that nature is the best medicine and I encourage as many people as I can to experience it. I’m proud that my videos and photos have given people inspiration for places to visit, or the nudge they’ve needed to go out and do that hike or climb that mountain.