Knowing Your Limits

This morning because we have a nice ongoing covering of snow, it looks like we are not going anywhere today. The lanes do not get swept or gritted, so we are here. I am mindful of two examples of when I sensed my limits. When I was younger I used to hike in the mountains solo. I never used to tell anyone where I was going, and this is against “advice”. It was also in the days before mobile ‘phones. But I enjoy the solitude and going at my own pace, there is a freedom to it.

One day, a bit like today, I set off up the Old Man of Coniston. It was snowing and there was a mild fog. The path was not easy to discern. I was by now in heightened awareness. I was about a third of the way from the summit. I was joined by some crows. They stood on the path about fifty metres from me, spaced out along the path. As I reached the first crow it flew off and landed further up the path. The same for the second crow and the third. This pattern repeated a number of times. It was as if they were egging me on and showing me the way up the mountain. Aside from the crows the mountain was deserted. There were no tracks in the snow, save mine. It was eerie, silent and utterly fascinating. As we, the crows and I, went higher, the fog started to thicken. I was very alert now and although the crows seemed to be showing me the way, I had long since stopped looking at the map. There was a pull between wanting to go further up and have this crow experience or go back down. I reached my limit and retraced my steps back down the mountain, before the snow could cover them. It was a close call as my tracks were starting to fill. Something in me, and it wasn’t my mind, sent me back. As I descended the “hackles” on the back of my neck gradually subsided. It was an intense and thoroughly enjoyable experience. I knew it was risky but it was tremendous fun. I can still feel the “hackles” from it, this morning as I write. I was getting into something which I may never have gotten out of.

I had a related experience with Scafell Pike. It was February and it had snowed. The day was full of sunshine and the visibility spectacular. So, I parked my car in a small car park at Wastwater and set off. I was travelling light with a day bag. I was wearing a very heavy jumper, T-shirt and jeans but I had a change of T-shirt and waterproofs in my day sack. At the top the surface was pretty slippery and most of the climbers there were kitted out with crampons and snow picks. It was a beautiful day and one could see the sea far to the south, stunning. The moment I got to the top I whipped off my jumper and T-shirt and dried myself with the T-shirt. Quickly I put the other one on. It is a very popular hiking spot and the top was busy. I sat there smoking a hand rolled cigarette as a man older than I and similarly dressed, did exactly the same thing I had done. He winked at me and sat next. We looked a little under dressed for the location. It turned out he was from the area and had decided to catch the view before lunch. I descended and rather than going on my gut instinct, I misread the map and ended up in the other valley. My car was a three-hour hike back over the mountain. At the time I was suffering from anxiety so for me to talk to someone was more scary than the mountain. I made a judgement call not to go back over and asked some people to give me a lift to the bus station. I got the bus home. Inadvertently I may have caused problems because there was an unclaimed car in the car park overnight. Anyway, the next day my B&B host drove me within ten miles of my car and I got another straight-line hike in the snow to pick it up. Here my mind as opposed to instinct had gotten me into trouble, but instead of trying to wing it back over the mountain, I saw some sense. I was close to my limit, tired and a little hungry so to test myself in adverse conditions could have proved fatal.

It is possible that from time to time we get ourselves into situations that go beyond our limits and if we get into something and don’t turn back before it is too late, we can get ourselves into big trouble. The more bravado and know-it-all we have, the more likely it is that we get out of our depth. People can be very stubborn and because of this they pursue something for too long, they go past their limits and after that there is no extraction, no way out. This applies to life situations and not just physical tests. We can get into relationships that are toxic, experiment with drugs or gang related activity. If we miss the warning signs we can end up in the shit.

Having cued this up:

Have I ever gotten out of my depth due to bravado and my know-it-all orientation?

Did I ignore the warning signs?

Do I know what my limits are?