Hill walking is an odd game. It has a name issue for starters: hill walking doesn’t encompass mountains; mountain walking just sounds horrible; hiking makes you think of old duffers struggling over bogs and moorlands; rambling is a total no-go for those under the age of 70. However, one thing I hadn’t realised about hill walking (that’s the name this particular activity is taking from now on) is that it is very difficult to judge how ‘good’ you are at it.
I recently filled in a questionnaire that asked me to put myself (or at least a tick representing me) into one of three little boxes, indicative of my ability as a hill walker. These boxes were labelled ‘Novice’, ‘Intermediate’, and ‘Advanced’. I think of myself as relatively good at walking: I rarely fall over; I can lead with either left or right leg; and I am fazed neither by pavements nor by other minor obstacles. However, hill walking is all a bit different. Is speed the key? An ability to navigate? Technical competence? Spend per annum on big brand goods? Ability to down ale, return safely to your tent, and not ruin a good down sleeping bag with urine? Clearly there are a lot of important attributes that make a hill walker. However, there is no competitive nature to much of this: few hill-walkers sit in a pub of an evening and boasts the number of hills they have done that day. If they did the first very skinny man to listen in would doubtless beat their tally, for very skinny men are invariably fell runners. No one recounts how hard their ascent of a ‘tourist track’ was, or else the nearest climber in earshot will abandon their fingerboard and show you their fist jams (careful). So, perhaps hill walking is not competitive at all?
Because everyone loves a good diagram, and to show-off my Microsoft office expertise, I have put the four major skills that hill walkers require on the diagram below. Around them are activities that might be regarded as requiring advanced levels of these skills.
So, according to the diagram, improving your technique will eventually make you into a mountaineer. It should be noted that ‘technique’ does not merely encompass the specifics of ambulation, but all the aspects of getting up a mountain. This leaves us with a problem though, as it seems to show hill-walkers to be incompetent bumblies with non-expert levels of skill in each of these categories, which is a little unfair. In some case very unfair, as I know a lot of hill-walkers with extremely impressive beer-drinking portfolios. Maybe hill-walking is more than the sum of its parts and is an activity better defined by feeling than numbers. More art than science? No, that’s just blasphemy – but give me a box and I’ll fill it.