Walking down stairs is a long drawn out affair. Each step brings a slight wince. My mind goes back 48 hours to a dark, drenched mountainside in the highlands of Scotland. Cold, wet, caked in mud, but forcing a path forward to contribute to the teams efforts.
There are 130 mountains in Scotland over 1000metres, or 1km high. No-one had deliberately run these in a continuous journey. That was the idea that struck Paul Fettes, as he surveyed a map of Scotland. Would it be possible? How can we do it?
Paul works as a doctor in Dundee, and together with his colleagues dreamed up the Archies Mountain Challenge. These 130 mountains, now dubbed “The Archies” constitute a challenge for anyone really looking to test themselves and enjoy the hills of Scotland. How about we set the bar high thought Paul, and do them all as a continuous journey, running or walking each mountain, and cycling and kayaking between them. To make it more fun, he involved as many of his family, friends and work colleagues as possible. After all, it would involve as much ascent as climbing Mount Everest 10 times.
It was a great honour to be asked to get involved in the Archies Mountain Challenge www.archiesmountainchallenge.org and the 2 weekends I spent with the challenge were as incredible as they were different. The first mountain was Ben Wyvis, north west of Inverness, and whilst the runners hared up the hill, carrying the baton (a fluffy rabbit) with them, I walked up with a group walk alongside my wife Jennie, while we carried our baby Nina with us. Despite variable conditions Nina loves the great outdoors, yelling and giggling her way up the mountain before we turned round as the heavens opened.
Before I had the chance to rejoin the challenge for the final push, another 100 mountains had been climbed, some in sun, some wading through knee deep snow but always with the rabbit in tow. Of the hills we climbed on the last weekend, the most memorable for me were Schiehallion- named as “the Fairy Mountain of the Caledonias”, which saw another group event of families and friends ascending into the (predictable) cloud and a further outing involved climbing around Ben Challum from Glen Lyon and taking in some summits there including “Mountain of the great waterfall and big white horse”. With weary legs I chased Joe Symonds skyward as we both laughed at the disparity in climbing ability. Joe has been ranked as highly as 4th in the world for mountain running, and as ever I was eating his dust as dark fell. We had been scheduled to fit these mountains in in a bid to help the team complete the challenge the next day, and with anxiety we surveyed the map. We had gone too far, and missed one of the mountains. We would need to retrace our steps, and find Ben Challum. We could see the length of our arms and no further. A cairn! The summit filled us both with the relief of not letting the team down, and we descended through the boulderfield and mountain paths to some warming soup.
The following day saw the team cycle down to the appropriately named Rest and be Thankful. A new record had been set, with over 40 people contributing to setting a new target. The challenge had the aim of setting a new and achievable challenge for hill lovers in the UK. The Munros (the 282 mountains in Scotland that are over 3000 feet (914 metres) are spectacular, but can take a while, and taking on The Archies is something people can do.
Creighton Adams once asked “how do you eat an elephant?” The answer is either one bit at a time if trying yourself, or to involve people and get the job done together. Climbing each of the 130 mountains over 1000 metres could be done in bite size chunks at weekends by individuals/ groups while the Archies Mountain Challenge succeeded in a single push relay. Although I had a fairly minor part in it, I was proud to join Paul, Ben and the team in raising awareness for the Archies Foundation (please donate if you can at the link below), and setting a new challenge that we hope 100 years from now people are still taking on.
Link to donate https://www.justgiving.com/archierabbit/