Published 15th September 2023, 09:10

    STANDING in the absolute grey at the summit, being blasted by the wind and soaked by the constant driven drizzle, visibility limited to a circumference of a few feet. It felt wonderful.

    I'm not saying these are my favourite conditions. Far from it. But that moment felt like a huge relief after the traumatic event a few weeks ago which had me fearing my big mountain days had come to an abrupt and unexpected end.

    Strange to think that not so long ago during a break in proceedings at a mountain festival, myself and five others of similar vintage – in bread terms, crusty but still sliceable – were discussing the inevitable, how the likelihood of each walk being the last increased with every passing day.

    Even the most perfect specimen has a limited number of heartbeats. The human average is around three billion at 80 beats per minute, while a hamster has about one billion but at a much more rapid rate of 450 per minute. Not surprisingly, it falls off the wheel long before we do, although there's no doubt it becomes harder and harder to keep our own wheel turning. It's also the likely reason why there are no hamster Munroists.

    Basically we all agreed that after a certain age all bets were off, and that every mountain outing should be enjoyed to the full, no matter the weather.

    For the past few years I have been saying farewell to each mountain after reaching the summit. I may be back, I may not, but it makes me feel better that I have said my goodbyes to these old friends.

    The march of time changes perspective on so many things. For instance, I no longer start watching any TV series that is likely to run and run; I tend to read shorter books and am prepared to go against the habit of a lifetime of persevering to the end; I reason that every bit of outdoor kit bought is likely my last purchase.

    I also find myself looking back now rather than forward, counting myself lucky every time I chalk up another birthday that a friend never reached. My dad died at 69. I have now equalled his time on this earth, but my mum is 94 and still going so trying to gauge what the future holds is the anatomical equivalent of spread betting.

    And so to the trauma. I had been on big day out with former colleagues in Ayrshire, a blast from the past with pints aplenty. Later that evening, completely out of the blue, I developed a major waterworks problem, far worse than the time I couldn't raise the £150 needed during a game of Monopoly.

    Emergency medical attention was required. In the aftermath, there were many scenarios on the horizon and many considerations, but one thought that kept going through my head was that this could spell the end of my days in the mountains.

    Three weeks later and I was back on the hills, a much relieved man in every sense. (Actually, I was back out after two weeks, but despite being told I could 'exercise' I don't think there's much I can recommend about hillwalking with a catheter bag strapped to the leg.)

    The biggest shock had been the realisation of how quickly things can go south. Like most people, I have had injuries and illness but never before have I experienced the prospect of total closure. There had been no hint or sign of a problem, no great build-up or early warning. It was instant. Soon after, I had what could best be described as – with apologies to Archimedes and Count Arthur Strong, in that order – my Urethra moment.

    Maybe the almost Victorian pipeworks were no longer able to handle large quantities of liquids, primarily alcohol, after being so out of practice. Maybe it was time to listen to the wisdom of Dirty Harry Callahan: “A man's got to know his limitations.” It's a small price to pay for the ability to keep doing what you love doing. 

    I'm no stranger to sacrifice. One of my guilty pleasures was a pot of tarka daal from a major High Street shop. The only problem was the love wasn't reciprocal. In fact, the lentil-based dish positively hated me.

    For this indulgence, I had to be prepared to spend the following 24 hours doubled over in excruciating pain but for one day a year, I felt it was worth it. The last time I 'enjoyed' one, however, the pain-o-meter had ramped up to two days. The ecstasy was no longer worth the agony – it was time to say farewell forever to tarka daal.

    So the lifestyle has to take another tweak, another pleasure lost to try to ensure a greater pleasure. That's why I was so happy to endure the wind and the drizzle to take in the view that wasn't a view.

    It was a timely reminder that every day on the hill should be precious – make sure you enjoy them while you can.