Encountering a mountain whiteout at the summit – and why it doesn’t matter

I must have climbed hundreds of mountains, only to be greeted with a total whiteout on the summit. No views whatsoever. It’s kind of annoying. Obviously I prefer those uplifting, intoxicating moments when you’re on top of a mountain on a clear day with uninterrupted panoramas all around (a bit like this). But you can’t always be so lucky – and, actually, it doesn’t matter.

That’s my new ethos anyway. I meditated on the subject while standing atop Grasmoor in the Lake District last week. I’d just climbed 852-metres to the summit via the Lad Hows ridge – and arrived with the peak shrouded in cloud. All I could see was white to the north, east, south and west. Visibility was only about 10-metres. I didn’t even get a glimpse of the dramatic surrounding north-western fells or down to the majestic Buttermere and Crummockwater. However, as I crouched down in the wind shelter, I realised that I didn’t really care. I don’t climb mountains solely for the views and, in fact, it’s more about the journey than the end.

So why do I climb mountains, if not for the views? Well, I could probably write an essay on this (I won’t here, you’ll be pleased to hear!), but hopefully I can outline my answer concisely in one sentence. I climb mountains for the fresh air, the freedom, the escapism, the physical and mental challenge, the simplicity of it all, the tranquility and some innate, caveman-esque desire I have to be close to nature and the landscapes in wild places. Ok, so it was a long sentence, but I managed it.

As an aside, the rest of my Lake District hike was plagued by poor visibility. My navigation skills were put to the test as I headed east from Grasmoor to the summits of Crag Hill and Sail, before u-turning back towards Wandope and the stunning Whiteless Pike ridge descent. Then suddenly the cloud lifted and the north-western fells were unveiled, like a gift from the mountain Gods. It was a special moment – and one that was made all the sweeter because I’d battled through the whiteouts earlier in the day.

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