Monday, 31 October 2011

Why do we do it?

100 years ago today the first of the polar parties involved in Scott's expedition to the South Pole set off; at 11am on 1st November 1911 Scott himself left Cape Evans for the last time and began his journey south.  He was very clear on why he was doing what he did, primarily his was a scientific expedition with the additional aim of his party being the first to reach the South Pole.  As we all know he narrowly failed on the second part of his mission having been beaten to the pole by Amundsen whose party arrived there a little over a month before Scott.   What's frustrating is that the outstanding successes of the first part of his mission are often overlooked; much of the data his team bought back is still being used even to this day.  If you enjoy reading travel books then they don't get any better than "The Worst Journey in the World" by Apsley Cherry-Garrard, one of the youngest members of Scott's team and also one of the party that discovered his body on 12th November 1912.

As I've mentioned before I'm a massive fan of Scott and all of the other early explorers, I admire the way they launched into the unknown armed with a compass and an overdeveloped sense of adventure, determined to lead the way up new mountains and across new continents simply, as George Mallory put it, "because it's there."  Their motivation is fairly easy to understand, but what about ours?  What is it about getting soaked to the skin, frozen to the core and blown off our feet that we find so enjoyable?

That thought has crossed my mind a number of times this past weekend.  It crossed my mind on Saturday when we spent over 4 hours sliding around Dungeon Ghyll in the torrential rain and yet still returned to the car giggling about something or other.  And it crossed my mind again several times yesterday when we tackled Red Screes on a less than ideal day.  In short our route went something like this; we parked opposite the pub at the top of Kirkstone Pass in the mist.  We climbed up Red Screes via the Kilnshaw Chimney in the mist.  We waded through bogs to Scandale Pass in the mist before finally descending out of the mist as we walked down Calston Glen.  Our temporarily mist free route then took us around the end of Middle Dodd and back up Kirkstone Pass to the car, which was still exactly where we left it, in the mist.  Whatever we were doing it for yesterday, it clearly wasn't for the views.

We weren't alone either, on both days we bumped into many other hikers out doing exactly the same things we were (quite literally, it really was very misty), so why do we all do it?  Is it for all the guilt free goodies we can scoff as we burn off a couple of thousand calories skidding around the hillsides?  Or maybe we're all hooked on the endorphin rush we apparently get when we engage in exercise?

Speaking personally I enjoy the challenge of reading a map, I've always loved maps and am fascinated by how they were put together in the early days - mapping all of those contours? Amazing!  Set aside your misogynistic ideas of women map readers because on all of our walks I am in charge of the map and poor old Steve barely gets a look in.  For me map reading in the mist is like solving a giant puzzle where you're one of the pieces, and so rewarding when you hit the exact point you were aiming for.  (Quite surprising too on occasion, but don't tell Steve that!)

And how much better does a big frothy mug of hot coffee and some freshly toasted fruit loaf taste when you're warming up after a cold wet day on the fells?  Almost as good as a long cold beer tastes after a very hot and sticky day on the fells.  Whatever the weather nice treats taste so much better when they're hard earned.

I suppose we're all different and have our different reasons for enjoying pitting ourselves against the elements.  Whichever way I looked at it as I mulled it over this weekend I couldn't find a better way to put it than Mallory did, we climb the fells because they're there, and wouldn't it be an awful waste if we didn't?