365 days, 52 weeks, 8,760 hours, 525,600 minutes, or 31,536,000 seconds of the mountains. That sounds like a whole lot of adventuring and story-making. And it is. But, throughout that year, everything is changing constantly: the terrain underfoot, the weather, the flora and fauna. Here’s a glimpse into my year amongst the mountains…
I am Kathryn, a Welsh outdoor enthusiast and instructor living on the edge of Eryri (Snowdonia, North Wales). The mountains ground me as a person and play a huge role in my day-to-day life. They form a massive part of my personality too. I am fortunate to live a simple lifestyle that involves a pocket full of memories, all collect - ed through different forms of journeying in the mountains. Each of these disciplines presents a different perspective of this landscape. They are special moments that I am forever grateful for. They give me adventure without restrictions, and the void within is filled by the simplicity, rawness, and 100 per cent living in the moment that only the mountains can provide.
The arrival of lambs in the mountains, yellows turning green, and warmer days fill me with inspiration and a desire to get out into the hills. It’s not that I don’t like winter – I love the winter mountains – but the shorter days and ferocious weather often ruin my motivation. I often have to force myself to step out the door, especially when the rain is relentless. A long run or bike ride, or a swim in the lake, brings me back to life. It allows me to process my thoughts and calm my mind from a busy and stressful work life.
In the lake, warmer waters are also welcome after months where the blurred line between a hurried, freezing dip and a real swim is often too close to call. Spring feels like a new start – and the plans and ambitions that build up in my busy mind get a chance to blossom into tangible days out or bigger trips. Ideas are constantly roaming around in my head, and spring gives me hope that some of these ideas will come to fruition.
In summer all the local mountain villages come to life, and you can feel the good vibes around. Coffee shops are full of stories to be heard and memories about to be made. Hot days in the hills where a scramble links in with a run, as well as fast-and-light raids into the mountains – both are more realistic now, with fewer layers and gloves in a smaller rucksack. The lakes become busy; the mountain tops are loud. But the quiet and lesser-known areas remain places of solitude for those seeking some solace after work.
My work as a mountain leader can get hectic at times – and summer is certainly hectic when it hits its peak – but I ride on the energy of my clients. I love seeing people standing on summits for the first time. I love seeing that light-bulb moment when they finally figure out how to use a map or swim across their first lake. The satisfaction of mountain life is not always about my own experiences; the happiness it brings others motivates me to keep going when the mountains are less kind in the colder months
On summer evenings, we run for the sunsets. The swims start getting longer when the water feels more like the Mediterranean than a remote mountain lake. I spend a lot of time below the surface during the summer months, feeling like a tiny fish in a big pond, scanning below for any real fish or freshwater plants. Summer is also my favourite time to get out climbing. My partner Matt and I head to the crags to make the most of our free time. We’ll spend a chilled day cragging – with the dog watching on, warm on my skin, the smell of sun cream in my nostrils – as we familiarise ourselves again with rock.
I always look forward to autumn. As the summer ends, the leaves begin to fall – and yellows return to the hills where green and blues once were. I’ll be honest, I don’t always enjoy the wilder weather of autumn. Wearing two waterproof coats to work shows how wet it can get in the hills. But the ferocious weather often brings a new kind of adventure; an easy low-level peak becomes an epic run with uncertain outcomes, and when the cold starts to bite the need to dig deep asserts itself once again. Autumn always seems to arrive in an instant, but it’s the best time of year if you like less crowded mountains. And the water’s still warm for those late-in-the-day dips in the lake.
The sunsets in autumn are magical too, and the abundance of water flowing in the streams helps me lighten the pack a little because I don’t need to carry as much water with me. I also get excited about coming down from the hill and walking straight into my local pub wearing my head torch; my flushed, cold skin tingles as soon as it senses the heat from indoors
Winter brings challenges. It brings the horrendous days of running in the rain, wind, and cold that shape you and make you more capable in the outdoors. Winter gives you resilience when the only person you can rely on is yourself.
For me, the start of winter is about reacquainting myself with the snowy mountain tops – an environment where walking and running become a completely different challenge. My pack becomes heavier too, even when just considering the sheer number of gloves I go through to try and maintain some warmth in my fingers.
But who doesn’t like a snowy mountain top or ridgeline, especially on those rare days when it becomes Alpine with blue sky and a blazing sun? Have you ever broken the ice on a winter lake and then had to control your breathing and relax into the freezing water? Pardon the pun, but it is breathtaking. And when I am surrounded by views of snow-capped mountains, there is nowhere I would rather be.
My mileage during this time of the year is a lot lower. This is when I focus on the mindful side of swimming. We live for those moments when hardship gives way to amazing experiences. Anything achieved in the winter feels like it has been harder won, and with this comes greater satisfaction.
As the seasons change, my mindset adapts to the individual challenges each season throws at me. There are days when we can spend an hour in the heat looking for a water source, or an hour in the pouring rain looking for the best way to cross a river in spate. Some days I return regretting that I hadn’t been bothered to reapply suncream. On others I’ve come home wetter than an otter’s pocket, only to spend the next week turning the house into a drying room. There are days when I have spent hours picking out gorse spines from my legs and checking for ticks, and days when frostbite on my toes from a previous winter’s run had made a reappearance with the unbearable hot aches.
There’s the endless kit faff as well: how many pairs of gloves will I need? Have I packed those spare batteries for the head torch? My alter ego makes an appearance during the challenging weather. Have you ever been alone on a mountain in low cloud and had to rely on your skills, only to hear that voice in your head, questioning if you are going the right way and having to trust that you have got this?
The seasons change, my activities change, and the stories keep coming. Every activity brings its own magical experience, each forging a forever-growing connection with the mountains. I love the mountains and I love living amongst them.
Kat's story was taken from our special Montane x Sidetracked Magazine, developed to mark 30 years of Montane. Keep your eyes peeled for more information coming soon, including how you can get your own copy.