In 2017, and struggling to find his place in the world through his day job, James Forrest left his office-based career to become a full-time explorer. Wanting to do something completely different and challenge himself in this new outdoor pursuit, he started climbing every hill, mountain and munro in the UK. After managing to climb all 446 mountains in the UK in just 6 months, James was dubbed the “Mountain Man”. Since then, James has written a book about the experience and begun a new career all centred around the outdoors. We managed to ask James a few questions about his experience and what advice he’s give to others wanting to get outside more.
What first inspired you to get away from the office and aim to climb all the mountains in the UK?
I was bored living in a city and working in an office. I was down and depressed. I lived that life for a decade and I always felt like something was missing. I wanted to spend more time outdoors and to live a more adventurous existence. So in 2016 I did something drastic – I sold my house, quit my job and travelled around the world on a gap year in my 30s. With an empty wallet, I came back to England from the backpacking trip and promised myself that I’d figure out a way to make my everyday life as adventurous and epic as my gap year. The idea that I came up with was peak-bagging around Britain. I started in 2017 by climbing all 446 mountains over 2,000ft in England and Wales – the so-called ‘Nuttalls’ – in just six months, the fastest ever time. I followed this in 2018 by bagging all 273 600m mountains in Ireland and Northern Ireland, known as the ‘Vandeleur-Lynams’, in just eight weeks, another record. And, finally, completed my 1,001-mountain challenge by bagging all 282 ‘Munros’, mountains over 3000ft in Scotland, on Saturday, October 19 this year.
How did you prepare for an adventure like this both physically and mentally? (was it a team effort in regards to planning or completely solo?)
I don’t really like to over-plan adventures. I enjoy the unpredictability of adventures and sometimes the most memorable moments come when plans go awry. For my recent Munro challenge, I didn’t really do anything specific to prepare physically and mentally. I keep myself fit and active on a daily basis, so that comes naturally. In terms of preparing mentally, it’s difficult to replicate the mental challenges you will face out on a big adventure. There’s going to be a lot of suffering on a big adventure – everything from torrential rain and tick bites to physical exhaustion and wet tents. It’s absolutely vital, therefore, to stay positive during the tough times. How do you do this? Well, there’s no magic wand. I stay positive by always reminding myself that I could be stuck behind a desk. Oh, and by packing lots of tasty treats in my bag.
What piece of equipment has been most useful when on your mountain adventures?
Probably my Leki Black Series MVC hiking poles. For years I never used hiking poles – perhaps in my youth I had the fitness, strength and the ability to bounce back that I didn’t need them. But now, aged 35, I swear by them. Why do I love them so much? Well, firstly, they help look after my vulnerable joints.Without poles I often get pains and aching in my knees, which end up feeling tender and sore during descents. But, when using my Leki poles, I find the anchor points provide more stability and balance during descents and seem to cushion each step enough to reduce (if not eradicate) all of the knee pains and aches. There are many other benefits too: less falls and trips due to improved balance; more secure footing during river crossings or on rough, uneven terrain; and increased speed when ascending, as the poles enable me to dig in and power uphill more efficiently and rhythmically. My Leki poles are also super-lightweight and they fold down quickly and easy, so they are easy to transport wherever I’m adventuring.
If you were to pick one of the 446 mountains, which one is most memorable for you and why?
It’s so difficult to pick out one. Can I choose several? I’ll go for Blencathra in England, Tryfan in Wales, Beinn Alligin in Scotland, Slieve Bearnagh in Northern Ireland, and Knocknapeasta in Ireland.
What is the plan for your next adventure? Do you want to try and break another record?
I’ll be spending the winter enjoying the fells near my home in the Lake District, but I’m already planning a few bigger adventures for the summer. I’d love to complete the 600km Slovenia Mountain Trail, as well as attempt at an unsupported, single-round of the Wainwrights. Watch this space.
If other adventurers would like to try something like this out, what advice would you give to them?
I’d say don’t do it, it’s too painful! Only joking – I’d say go for it. It’s an empowering thought that the average UK worker has over 130 days off a year. Even if you set aside only a small proportion of those days for adventure, you could still achieve something special. Why not start by pencilling in one weekend a month in your diary for ‘adventure’ and booking one week of annual leave for ‘adventure travel’? That is almost certainly feasible for most people. If not, can you squeeze in a microadventure from 5pm to 9am on a weekday? If you crave a bigger adventure, there are options. Can you go part-time at work? Will your employer offer you an unpaid career-break with your role secured on your return? Or are you between jobs, with the opportunity to take a gap year? It might feel like you are trapped, but you aren’t. And why not give peak-bagging a try – pick a list such as the Munros or Wainwrights and start ticking them off. You’re at the start of a memory-forging, happiness-inducing journey. Peak-bagging has changed my life – maybe it’ll change yours too?
Featured image by Edward-Fitzpatrick @eddiefitz7