Who says fellwalking’s not a competitive sport? Not Simon Whaley, that’s for sure …
Climbers’ Tag. I wonder why it isn’t an Olympic sport. It’s a game many have played without even realizing. I last took part recently, on the Old Man of Coniston and Helvellyn, although I didn’t set out to play. Yet whenever we take to the hills, the rules of engagement somehow always come into play.
Your opponents are the walkers who arrive at the car park five minutes after you. By the time you’ve strapped on your walking boots and adjusted your rucksack, they’ve stretched their legs, taken several huge lungfuls of fresh air and beat their chests with their hands in anticipation of their climb. Whilst studying your map, Tim and Jim (or whatever their real names are) are getting their boots and gear out of the car. It is customary to say ‘morning’ at this point.
Once you’ve identified which stile escapes the car park, you set off with your map in the pocket and your camera around your neck, confident that the next two hours will be hard work but worth it. The beginning of the climb is usually straight forward, but within minutes you reach a bridge and a junction of paths. This is where the game really begins. Whilst you scrutinise the map to decide which path to take, Tim and Jim have caught you up. Now if this was the school playground, one of them would tap you on the shoulder and shout “it!”. However, we’re adults now, so we don’t do that bit.
Instead we acknowledge each other again, usually with another “morning”. Tim and Jim continue on the path that you’ve just identified you need, so instead of following hot on their heels, you realise that the stream flowing underneath the bridge would make a perfect photo. By the time you’ve pressed the shutter release, a respectable gap has been created between you and Tim and Jim.
Fifteen minutes later, Tim and Jim come into view again. Tim’s realised that he’s wearing too much clothing and needs to remove his mid-layer. Thankfully Jim is on hand to hold his top layer, whilst Tim sorts himself out. As he brings it over his head, you have the opportunity to pass the metaphorical ‘it’ and pass them.
By this stage the climbing is steeper and the breaths much shorter. The muscles at the top of your thighs request a short break, and to reinforce this message, your mouth has dried out, signalling the need for a fluid intake break. As you glug quantities of mineral water down your throat, Tim and Jim wander past, making you ‘it’ again, whilst nonchalantly commenting on how lucky we are with the weather today.
Five minutes later, your heart has calmed down and is signalling that it’s prepared to give this climb another go, so this time you set off at a slower pace in an attempt to be more comfortable. Despite this, thirty minutes later, you pass Tim and Jim and delight in making them ‘it’ once more. Luckily Jim now needs to rearrange his layering system and it’s Tim who is acting at as clothes horse. Striding purposefully onwards and upwards, you head towards the summit.
By now the altitude gained is measured in thousands of feet and the views are worthy of a few mega pixels on your memory card. Whilst you’re busy framing your shot again, Tim and Jim appear around the corner, passing the tag back to you whilst your eye is still fixed to your viewfinder.
Within minutes though, you’re back on track, and having had chance to give your heart a sneaky rest, the strides are confident again. Within minutes you take advantage of Tim and Jim’s drink break as your pass the tag back to them, joking sarcastically, that a mountain can’t possibly have any more false summits.
It’s at the summit that I often wonder why Climber’s Tag isn’t a recognised sport. The more I play, the louder my tagging becomes. I’ve even started saying “it” quite loudly. Luckily I quickly follow this with a “’s a lovely day,” or “’s a great view”. And as Tim and Jim reach the summit the next decision arises. Should I play tag with them, or pick someone else for the descent game?
(c) Simon Whaley