The 9-5 Worker Who Climbed Every Mountain In England

In an attempt to mix adventure with his everyday existence, James Forrest decided to climb England’s 446 mountains in less than six months – the catch was that he had to do it all while keeping up with his own 9-5

Focus can be a luxury. The dream of a life of adventure seems to be realised in those able to dedicate their all to it – the pros. The rest of us, who choose to follow other careers, might think that being an adventurer is incompatible with our 9-5. James Forrest dared to think different.

In 2016 he and his wife quit their jobs and sold their house to travel the world, looking for fresh experiences. The expedition was a success, but when they got back and needed to find jobs, and somewhere to live, Forrest’s thoughts were still on adventure.

Rather than hanging up his travel-stained boots he decided he would climb every 2,000ft+ mountain in England – the so-called ‘Nuttalls’ – in under six months. That meant walking over 1,000 miles, climbing more than five times the height of Everest and sleeping in a bivy bag on mountains more than 50 times, all while working around a four-day-a-week job. What started out as an experiment developed into a way of life...

It’s remarkable how much time you can free up if you cut out mindless time-wasting

Q: Doing the maths means you were climbing an average of 17 mountains a week – wasn’t that a punishing schedule?
A:
‘Well, I had three days off per week. That amounted to 78 days available for mountains over six months. Add in 15 days of annual leave and I had a whopping 93 non-work days. In the end it took 82 days of walking to climb all 446 mountains. My life was totally hectic during that time. It felt like I had a split-personality: half intrepid, footloose mountain addict, half regular guy.’

Q: How did you cope with living this split lifestyle?
A:
‘I coped with it in quite a simple way. I just lived a ruthlessly efficient existence. I stopped watching crappy TV, banned myself from using the ‘snooze’ button, virtually never had a day of bumming around the shops or lazing about the house. It’s remarkable how much time you can free up, if you cut out mindless time-wasting. It felt life-affirming to be blinkered by a goal. My priority was the Nuttalls and nothing else.’

Q: Have you brought that mindset back into your regular life?
A:
‘Well, things have changed a bit – I’ve got a book deal on the challenge, so bizarrely doing the big adventures left me chained to a desk. Something that was really enlightening was that we spend so much time watching TV, checking social media, checking emails. There’s so much wasted time that you can free up by being efficient and prioritising what you really care about, what you really want to do. It’s about what you can do between 5pm and 9am. Often at the weekend I’ll force myself to switch off and sleep on a mountain, disconnect from social media and then I’ll come back re-energised and refreshed. I’d rather watch sunsets than most TV.’

Q: What about your next adventure challenge?
A:
‘For the first month or so afterwards I didn’t climb a single mountain, I was ready to slob out and not do anything active. I was so fatigued: it took a lot out of me mentally. But in the longer term, after that initial stage, my wanderlust is still there. Everyone keeps saying I’ve got to do the Munros, and I’ve got my eye on doing all the mountains in Ireland. So maybe I can do all the mountains in Britain?’

Q: Is there one little-known mountain in England that you’d suggest we all lace on our boots to climb?
A:
‘There’s one I love in the Lake District called Hope Gill Head – it’s very dramatic because of its exposed summit, it’s a rocky scramble to the top, but it’s also prominent on the skyline where I live, it’s the peak that keeps calling me to the mountains. I loved Rhinog Fach in Snowdonia: a rugged and remote peak where you're more likely to see feral goats than fellow hikers. I felt like the only man on earth hiking in this heather-clad, rocky wilderness.’

‘Then there’s Steeple in the Lake District: Alfred Wainwright described the summit of Steeple as a thrilling spot where “one's feet are on the ground but one's eyes see as from a cloud in the heavens.” Surrounded by precipitous drops on all sides, it’s my favourite viewpoint to gaze out over the beauty of Lakeland. It was great doing all the classics, but it was doing the obscure mountains that had a charm all of its own.’