What can we Learn from Mountains?

Mountains are big old lumps of rock, what on earth can they teach us? Well, quite a few life lessons as it turn’s out. This is my real life look at how I learned respect, preparation, resilience, about the right gear and a damn good cure for a hangover! Mountains are old, and they are wise. Treat them carefully and they will set you on the right path. Here are my top 3.

  1. A hike is an excellent hangover cure.

If you’re feeling a bit dusty, there’s nothing better than a good dose of fresh air to fix you right up. Choose a hike that’s maybe an hour or 2. No more because, well, you were on the sauce last night and you’ll probably do yourself more harm than good! Make sure it’s got a good incline, but nothing that needs ropes or a compass! A hill, not a mountain on this occasion people. Take a hiking buddy with you, at least 1. And two water bottles. My choice is always somewhere with a good view, and maybe a source of water.

Here’s the science bit according to me:

  • Physical exertion makes you sweat, and sweat gets rid of the residue of last night’s tipple.
  • You’ll drink more water during a hike than lounging on the couch. This helps with the recycling of body fluids. Yuk, but necessary.
  • You’re oxygen intake will increase due to heavy breathing (mind out of the gutter people). And we’re back to the recycling – out with the old, in with the new.
  • At the top of the hill you’ll probably have a satisfying view and a sense of accomplishment. Good for your wellbeing. Either that, or you’ll be chucking up behind a rock. Either way – you’re getting rid of the bad sauce from last night!
  • Where’s the water. I need water. Yep, you’ve probably drunk way more water than you thought. You forgot the second water bottle didn’t you? Well, who remembers that when you’re hung-over. This is where your fresh water source comes in handy; if it is a clean, fast-flowing mountain stream, you can probably drink from it. Do check first! Or if it’s a hot day, dunk you’re feet in it and splash it on your face.

When you’re finished – you’ll be hydrated, have a clear head and a sense of satisfaction. You’ve also had a good hour to talk through the ‘what was I doing?’ situation, and have solved it or have an action plan. Or you may be dry retching and shaking. Well, that’s the 3rd shot of tequila that you thought was a good idea at 3am and you now need sleep.

  1. You gain a healthy respect for Mother Nature.

I grew up in Scotland. I learned to ski in Scotland. And, you get some good weather in Scotland. And yes, you can ski there. On mountains. With real snow. And ice. So on to the life lesson. I learned a very health respect for Mother Nature and her repertoire of elements.

Any skier or snowboarder knows; you get up before the sun does to get ready. You’ve generally got a good hour to drive to get to the mountains, so you check if the snow gates are open and the weather before you go. In the time before the Internet, you phoned the snow report line and listened to the weather report on the radio. No live webcams, no Apple Weather, no synoptics available on Google.

The decision was either:

  • Gates are open, there’s a light snowfall in the morning, blah, blah, blah…... You go.
  • Gates are closed, and the ploughs can’t get through. You stay home.

Now weather changes quickly, but forecasting is only as quick as the technology and communication available at the time. Basically, the love and need to ski outweighed anything else.

Common Scottish skiing conditions:

  • Hail – just put your goggles on and cover your face as much as possible. You can pretty much still see where you’re going. If it hurts, seek shelter.
  • Freezing Fog – again, goggles on and you can pretty much see where you’re going. You can’t tell the difference between snow and ice though.
  • Rain – yep, this happened. Keep moving because you are drenched. Watch out for the wet patches of heather, it’s inevitable you’ll hit them.
  • High Wind – see hail and freezing fog. Add to this moving and drifting snow as you get to it. Proceed carefully, and make sure you can breathe.
  • Snow – every sort. The soft, vertical snow is pretty to watch and lovely to ski in. This is what you’re here for. The horizontal, swirling stuff that’s part hail or rain – not so much. Dig deep, rug up and get through it.
  • Whiteout – sometimes. And once, the piste sirens sounded. That day I learned you have 10 minutes to get off the mountain. That means you are in your car heading home, not packing your skis away. If you don’t make it in time, you’re staying on the mountain until the ploughs can get through. On this occasion, I recall a group of people were up there for 3 days. Thank goodness for the warm café.
  • Sunshine – occasionally. Enjoy it while it lasts, and hopefully you’ve remembered your sunnies. Take your hat off and feel the wind in your hair. Breathe in the clean air. Enjoy the view and be truly alive.

Being Scotland, the day was generally made up by some or all of the above. You quickly become very aware of your surroundings, and know to stop and look around every few minutes. You stay in a group, and chat to the lifties about the conditions. It’s a default setting for all Brits to talk about the weather. On the ski slopes, the conversation is a matter of self-preservation. Extremes of weather teaches you about self-awareness & resilience; what you will go through for enjoyment, and when it’s time to give up and have a hot chocolate! 

  1. There is no such thing as the wrong weather, just the wrong clothes.

This is a close relative to learning #2. As a child skiing during the 80’s & 90’s I wore ski gear from C&A.

C&A is a European family retailer, where you could shop for affordable fashion, and more importantly skiwear, on the high street. Think a cross between Aldi and H&M. I loved to visit this store because of the fun colours, and different styles. Now, there were a few things that I loved from an early age. Fitting in, but having my own unique style and co-ordinating my colours. C&A met my needs with a selection of colourful synthetic, insulated skiwear and my mum’s needs of affordability. 

What it didn’t offer was waterproof, breathable skiwear that we know today. But that didn’t bother me. This skiwear kept me warm (ish) and dry (ish) for a few weeks until my gear had been washed. I learned to layer up, keep moving and put up. Either go and do something I enjoy with a little discomfort, or don’t. It was also a multi-purpose jacket, so got way more use than intended. Now for a parent, your job is to protect your child but you also can’t spend what equates to a month’s grocery money on a new ski outfit every year as they grow.

When I was older, I learned to keep my good ski jacket for just that. Skiing. That meant it lasted longer to do the job it was made for – keeping me warm and dry when I really needed it. I had another jacket for when it rained and I could carry an umbrella. But when it snowed near home, I always knew I could dig out my secret jacket that’s purpose made to handle the situation.

Now I have multiple jackets to suit the elements:

  • A waterproof shell for hiking or when it’s raining.
  • A puffer jacket for when it’s cold and dry, and now I have two ski jackets.
  • An insulated one for when it’s bitterly cold, or I don’t want to layer up.
  • A fully waterproof and windproof technical shell. 

This is just my list of outdoor jackets. I have this selection to ensure my body temperature is just right. I hate being too hot, or too cold. Layering helps, but only one jacket seems to utilitarian. I have a choice of shoes, so why not jackets too! The urban selection includes a leather jacket, denim jacket, lightweight summer jacket and a poncho or two for anything in between! But I am missing one. An outdoor/urban hybrid. A technical, long length parka jacket to keep me dry as my walk to work during the Melbourne winter.

Add to this list of technical attributes is a specific colour pallet that is suitable for each jacket. I generally gravitate towards a colour that’s trending for the season, or something that’s reflective of nature. However, double standards do apply. The exception is my favourite of all time. A bright yellow with hot pink & purple colour block Nevica pullover ski jacket. It was the 90’s, it was awesome. That is all.

What can we learn from the mountains? Well, my top 3 learning’s are a cure for a hangover, a healthy respect for nature’s full force and wearing the right clothing is the key to maximising enjoyment in harsh elements.