At Peace In The Mountains #MentalhealthAwarenessWeek

The mountains are a place where I have always been able to escape from all the stresses and strains of everyday life. It is like going through the wardrobe into Narnia, crossing into a magical otherworldly place. A place that has wonders, risks and challenges. A place that has the potential to overcome, to achieve, to conquer, to reflect and to grow.

From an early age I was fascinated by the heights of the distant Sperrin Mountains that I could see from my home. At times they would have a covering of brilliant white snow, when all around had a dull and drab winter sheen. I wanted to climb those mountains and know what it was like to walk on that snow. In years to come I would get to know that feeling on many a day spent on the Sperrins. Some days were beautifully calm with blue skies and some were brutally cold with biting winds and falling snow – though all of them were special.

I have climbed mountains the length and breadth of Ireland – there is nothing like getting up at 3am and driving 5 hours to those wild and remote places in the far west of Ireland. I have climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa, marvelling at the sight of glaciers on the equator. I have trekked for a month through the beautiful lands of Nepal, taking in some of the most awesome scenery imaginable and meeting some of the most beautiful people imaginable.

Time spent in the mountains has a value that cannot be measured in monetary terms though it can be readily measured in terms of health and wellbeing. A good day hiking in the mountains does wonders for both my physical and mental health. In recent years I have also begun to wild camp in the mountains. Spending a night in these wild places has added a whole new dimension to my connection with the outdoors.

Wild Camping at Glenlough in the Far West of Donegal

Most of my wild camps are solo and I value the solitude, space and stillness that comes with them. I have to say though, one of my most memorable wild camps was spent with my brother along the wild coast of Donegal at Glenlough. We walked for hours to reach our wild camp spot, far from other people, with only nature around us. We had the waves of the vast Atlantic Ocean crashing below as we collected water from the Glenlough River to cook and make tea. Mountains rose all around and a fox watched us from high above. Midges attacked relentlessly, a warm sun touched our faces, a gentle breeze cooled as sausages sizzled on the frying pan.

The next day we visited Malinbeg beach, climbing down the many steps to one of the most beautiful beaches anywhere in the world. The sand was scorching hot and the water was warm, though each new wave brought cooler water, engaging all the senses. Further out in the bay dolphins spectacularly jumped out of the water. It felt amazing and I had a constant smile on my face.

Spending a night alone in the mountains is one of the most amazing things that you can do (In my opinion). After a day's walking, cooking food and making tea using water collected from a mountain stream brings a feeling of contentment. Lying in a bivy bag looking up at a sky crammed with stars and seeing satellites whizzing across in different directions is beyond cool - far from all the light pollution we are used to. Feeling all cosy as the temperature drops below freezing, which you can feel on your face, though the rest of you is toasty in the sleeping bag. Hearing the constant soothing sound of flowing water aids a good sleep. Getting out of the sleeping bag in the morning if it is below freezing isn't easy, though it has to be done.

One of my most memorable experiences was waking up in the middle of the night to find my backpack missing. I starting to panic thinking someone had stolen it - yet logic told me 'no one else is out here!' I got up and saw my backpack in the light of the headtorch some 15 feet away. The top of the backpack, which contained food, had been torn. As the beam of my headtorch swept around a pair of eyes shone back at me as the culprit watched and waited - a fox. It came back several more times and I even covered the backpack with stones right beside my head, As I lay trying to get back to sleep I could hear the fox. literally 2 feet away, trying to get my backpack again. I was up at 2am, shouting at the fox at the top of my voice in the middle of the Mourne Mountains.

Walking in the Derryveagh Mountains, Donegal

When I am in the mountains I am (mostly) present in the moment. The mountains form a shield that keeps out all those thoughts that compete for attention in my head - you should have, you need to, you didn't.... Instead I am listening to my increased heart rate, feeling my deepened breathing, the burn in my legs, the weight of my backpack. I am taking in the feel of the wind, the sun, the ground beneath my feet, the beautiful views all around.

The mountains bring life, they super charge my body and mind. The effects of time spent here stay with me for days afterwards, slowly fading as all the other chatter comes back into my head. I then look forward to my next trip to reset the balance,

Getting outdoors and spending time in nature can be as simple as a walk in the local park, along the local river or in a local forest. If you want to visit the mountains or even wild camp that is brilliant - though they all do the same thing, They connect us with nature and pause those stressors that love to occupy space in our heads.

#MentalHealthAwarenessWeek #ConnectWithNature

Gerry McVeigh, Assistant Manager, Youth Engagement Service.

To view videos of Gerry's time in the mountains please click here for his YouTube channel.