Ingredients for an Amazing Mountain Day

In the run up to my Mountain Leader assessment, everything was about QMDs (Quality Mountain Days) for which there was a defined list of ingredients such as “navigation away from marked paths” or “ascent of a major summit” that an outing must tick. This list, and the requirement to log 40 such days, had me deliberately going up hills in horrible weather so I could get the compass out, changing routes to be sure they would take more than 5 hours and camping overnight in places where I could easily walk back home. In a post-assessment return to the hills it got me thinking about why I usually go out and what am I looking for from a hill day? In short what are my requirements for an AMD (Amazing Mountain Day)?

A Challenge

I love a scramble, or a long day, or an element of difficult navigation. A day I can look back at and feel I have pushed myself to make the absolute most of. A feeling that I have earned the view. Solitude is part of this, when you have the hills all to yourselves they feel wilder. You are further from civilisation, there’s no-one around to help should you get lost or hurt. You have to pay more attention, to look after yourselves. The weather is another aspect. When asked “what makes an awesome mountain day” my first instinctive answer was “sunshine”, but actually (rare as they are) sunny days without a cloud in the sky can be a bit dull. The stakes are lower, the view is taken for granted and therefore appreciated less. Possibly my favourite weather is an unexpected cloud inversion. When you’re toiling up and up through dense fog, focusing hard on your map and then suddenly you pop out into sunshine and find yourselves on top of the world.

An Insight

This section initially read “wildlife”, because some of my most memorable moments in the hills have been encounters with wild animals. But they’re only special because I know what they are. Three small birds flew over our heads on the Cairngorm plateau this winter. I hardly paid them any attention but my friend reckoned they might be snow buntings, and I managed to sneak close enough when they landed to catch a photo and confirm it. That bit of knowledge turned that moment into a highlight of the day. Similarly, I’ve recently been learning some mountain plants, and found that once I’ve started to recognise even just a few species I’ve become aware of a whole new layer of perception. I’m not just walking up a “grassy” slope anymore, there’s matt grass, deer grass, clumps of heath bedstraw and alpine lady's mantle. Nosing around in the vegetation is also a perfect excuse for a breather that makes an uphill slog more enjoyable!

A Companion

When I talk about solitude I’m being selfish. I don’t actually mean being alone. I mean being alone with someone I know well. On a day where all the other walkers magically decided to go somewhere else. I find that days I have shared stand out better in my memory, and can be re-lived when we are together again. That another person’s knowledge and insights mean you may learn new things or appreciate hills you have climbed before from a totally new point of view. You might also strengthen your friendship too.

A View

Oh for a view from the top. That far open vista on a clear day when you can see further than you believe is possible, the moment the clouds part or you crest a ridge to see what lies on the other side. I once decided that, should I ever “collect” hills, they shouldn’t count as “bagged” until I had seen the view from the summit. There is a childhood rhyme where the bear climbs over the mountain to see what he can see. And when he gets down the other side, all that he can see is the other side of the mountain. And because it is a fairly simple repeating rhyme with only two lines he then has to climb it again. And again. I think that is why I keep coming back. Because no matter how many photos or memories, there is nothing quite like the view from the top.

Written February 2022