Majestic Mountains

Imprinted deep into our ancestral DNA, at a core level, mountains symbolise and represent our greatest challenges, fears and failures, and yet also our greatest achievements and successes. They are all at once intimidating, humbling, strengthening, motivating and energizing and I know of no greater way to put everything into perspective than climbing hard for several hours just to gaze at the glorious view from a mountain top.

Petty fears, worries and even trauma all fall away in a moment of realisation that you finally made it to the top under your own steam. All the hustle and bustle of daily stress and struggle is silenced and softened by the sheer magnificence of a world view suddenly so much greater than our tiny, insignificant selves. Even yet in the realization of our own insignificance comes a sense of genuine pride and elation at our incredible accomplishment, as we gain a sense of everything falling into it's rightful place of importance.

Just as stepping far away from the easel is necessary to see the whole picture, and hence what is needed to fix what isn't working in a work of art - climbing mountains is a great way to see a more complete picture of our place and purpose on the planet, in the world.

I recall a tradition of long, exhausting family hikes as a child, and as soon as my own children were able to walk upright, we continued following that tradition with  regular excursions, frequently off the beaten path, exploring the wilderness, getting lost and instinctively finding our way home again. climbing treacherous slopes, and getting thoroughly filthy, sweaty and exhausted in the process. Always testing, challenging, pushing ourselves beyond our limits as far as we could go. Sometimes a little chastened with hindsight realisation of the foolish risks we'd taken, or mistakes we'd made - and yet always grateful to be alive, generally unharmed and consistently growing stronger and wiser as a result of the challenges we overcame. 

It was this sheer, indomitable, stubborn will to conquer and overcome such challenges that convinced me I could not, would not give up hope when doctors advised me I was practically a permanent invalid and should avoid "all activity involving flexion of the back". I went off the beaten track seeking ways to heal myself, and ultimately succeeding not just in leading a relatively normal existence for the past 25 years, but often employed in activities requiring substantial heavy labour and a great deal of back flexion to support myself and my family, albeit all due to the assistance of one incredible osteopath and my obsessively committed pilates instructor.

Just about a decade ago two of my siblings and respective partners and children all met up in Cranlaich, Scotland, several of us climbed two Munro summits of both Ben More and Stob Binnein and back again. We walked, climbed, descended and climbed again relentlessly for well over 12 hours, our final descent at stupid o'clock in the morning, in pitch dark other than the glow of our headlamps. Leg-muscle fatigue kicked in to the extent that they simply stopped working, so much of the final descent was navigated by shuffling down the mountain on my rear, thistles, brambles and sheep dung destroying a brand new pair of leggings in the process.

Some might have thought us crazy - arriving back filthy, beaten, battered and sore for days - and yet the general consensus was ultimately a feeling of elation and a thorough rejuvenation by the experience. Every blister, bruise