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Moving Mountains In The Scottish Wilderness

He’s circumnavigated Scotland by kayak and conquered every Munro mountain in the depths of winter, now Will Copestake is intent on spreading the virtues of the great outdoors

Stormy seas surround a rugged interior of snow-capped peaks and pinewood forests in the UK’s one true wilderness: Scotland. To explore this land is to experience the unspoiled natural world in all its beautiful, unforgiving glory – and few have explored it as extensively as kayaker and mountaineer Will Copestake. In 2015, at the age of just 23, a solo, self-powered expedition saw him kayak around 1,600km of coastline before heading for home – via all 282 munro mountains and in the depths of winter.

That expedition earned Copestake the well-deserved accolade of 2015 UK Adventurer of the Year, and was swiftly followed by a winter round of the Corbett Mountains (all the hills with a height of at least 2,500ft). In his work as an outdoor guide – leading kayaking and mountaineering tours through the fjords of Patagonia as well as the wilds of Scotland – Copestake is committed to helping others experience the wonder of the great outdoors in the hope that the more we enjoy and understand the natural world, the more we’ll feel compelled to protect it.

In places like the Cairngorm Plateau you’re dealing with a subarctic environment

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Q: When did your love for adventure begin?
A: ‘I've always had a keen sense of adventure. When I was younger it was focused on the smaller stuff, so rather than going out and climbing mountains, and that sort of thing, I was much more interested in flora and fauna: going out and discovering the hidden wildlife under rocks and in the long grass. That progressed, as I got older, to venturing further to see what was beyond the next corner or on top of the next hill, which led to a passion for hiking that really blossomed in 2008 when I spent eight months travelling around New Zealand. From that adventure I learned a lot about myself and where my comfort zones are. I also developed a real passion for wild places and areas less travelled.’

Q: In 2014 you completed a 364-day expedition around and then through the heart of Scotland – what inspired that journey?
A: ‘The idea for the trip came about having done a few other trips and realising that, as a local who grew up in Scotland, I didn't actually know my country that well. I think we tend to do that: we neglect exploring the areas on our doorsteps in favour of travelling further afield and in doing so we overlook all the magic that's in our back garden. I wanted to get a much better understanding of my country, its culture and the place I consider to be home.’

Q: Just how challenging was it?
A: ‘Some of the mountains were much, much harder than I was expecting. In winter the Munros make for certainly the most challenging landscape I've experienced anywhere in the world and the weather, when you’re climbing, dictates everything. In places like the Cairngorm Plateau you’re dealing with a subarctic environment up there in the winter, so you’re battling snow drifts and you get a really clear feeling of being somewhere completely wild and remote.’

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Q: You were alone for over a year – how difficult was that, mentally?
A: ‘With solo travelling the hard part is not the gnarly, physical challenges; it’s dealing with what is often a very repetitive routine. Every day I would write in my diary how I was feeling out of 10 and from I worked out that my personality average was about a seven. Anything over that was a very good day, but as soon as it started to drop below six I knew I had to rectify the situation. Having that visual sightline allowed me to think, right something is wrong and I need to take action. That could be something very simple like having a chocolate bar or a restful night in a tent. Mental games can help pull you through.’

Q: For half the year, you live and work in Patagonia – what first drew you to that part of the world?
A: ‘Having completed a big expedition in and around Scotland, Patagonia seemed a step up in the sense that it’s just that little bit harder, the mountains are bigger and the wilderness is much more wild and much less forgiving. There is no infrastructure once you get out of the national parks – there are some amazing walking trails but as soon as you're off those you can quickly end up very far from the nearest road or potential help.’

Q: The modern world facilitates increasingly sedentary behaviour – how important do you think it is for people to experience the great outdoors?
A: ‘It's absolutely crucial, especially for children. If a kid is playing in a stream or river and they’re playing with rocks, that kid is going to learn basic engineering related to how structures can obstruct the flow of water and those type of lessons may seem small but they can really help with a child's development. If you don't enjoy something and you don't know about it you're not going to feel compelled to protect it, so education from a young age is paramount.’

Will Copestake is an A BCU 5* Sea Kayaker and Mountain leader – find out more about his guiding or adventures at https://willcopestakemedia.com/.

Words: Isaac Williams

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