Does size matter?

Mon, 26/10/2009 - 11:55
Submitted by sarah baxter

 Last month I climbed Mont Blanc. Well, actually, I didn’t. I flew to Chamonix, spent three days skidding about on lower-level glaciers – while roped to a handsome but haughty Frenchman – then got grounded by inclement weather. 

The skies were blue as you like for the pre-summit-attempt training (not that this helped me bond with either my crampons or puffed-up Pierre). Then, as the day came to face down the mighty, 4,800m mountain itself, the clouds rolled in, smothering any hopes of making it to the top. 
I was fairly equanimous. It was a little disappointing, sure, but you can’t argue with Mother Nature at such altitudes and, with Mont Blanc aborted, we popped into Italy and clambered up a nice peak there instead. But one of my fellow climbers was livid – spitting the feathers stuffed into his specially bought down jacket. “Who cares about this Italian mountain?” he spat derogatorily. “Who has even heard of it?” And I thought, that’s quite sad.
In some ways I understood his frustration – he’d paid his hard-earned specifically to climb a legend and left having conquered an understudy. But why are us humans so hung up on size and reputation? Are water-cooler bragging rights more important than the experience itself?
Many of my best outdoors experiences wouldn’t raise an eyebrow of interest from most. I mention Mont Blanc and colleagues are all ears. But name-drop a day walk along Shropshire’s Stiperstones – diminutive in comparison but a glorious stroll – and, well, nothing. 
Likewise the Cheviots. I spent a happy day being blown away by a set of hills I didn’t even know existed. Yet for some reason people would rather talk in detail about how I found the long-drop loos on Kilimanjaro than the dry-stone walls and bucolic bumps of this little-known pocket of Northumberland.
Don’t get me wrong – Kili and almost-Mt-Blanc were wonderful walks, but such obsession with high points and thumbs-up-on-the-summit photos feels belittling to all the other unheard of rambles and ambles out there. 
I’m proud of my Italian understudy and my Shropshire hike. And I’ll happily tell you all about them – if you’re willing to listen. 
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