Hiking For Nature 2023

Climbing Britain's Highest Peaks in Scotland

Hiking For Nature 2023

Climbing Britain's Highest Peaks in Scotland

Sealed with tattoo ink on my right arm, every year I embark on a challenging adventure. Not only are these adventures a great way to build resilience, wisdom, and joy, but they also raise awareness and critical funds against the war on nature. It’s my creative expression of ‘finding joy’ in climate action which I hope inspires you to find yours.

Written by Rebecca Woolford

Before any adventure, I still feel fear and anxiety, and I question my capability. Committing to climb the highest peaks in Britain as winter approached was no different. But once you’ve stood at the top of that mountain, or reached the 100th mile of a multi-day hike, you realise what you are truly capable of and you not only see yourself differently – but the world.

With the help of friends, family, Kiwano Ambassadors, and some super generous folk (see below) who are also passionate about nature, we surpassed our initial target. Together we raised over £1,200 for The European Nature Trust which is working closely with Kyle Riverwoods – a community-led, grassroots project in the Scottish highlands.

A BIG THANK YOU to everyone.

  • Senderos, Latin American Sustainable Travel Experiences
  • Marie Rowe, a leading sustainable travel agent
  • Julie Breckon, a conscious travel advisor and animal welfare advocate
  • Tredwell Travel, a safari and eco-travel travel consultant

*The important bit* Every penny raised went directly to the charity European Nature Trust. The cost of the equipment, accommodation, food, and travel to make this hike possible was all funded by Kiwano.

Location: Cairngorms, Scotland
Number of Peaks: 3 out of 5
Number of plasters used: 7

 A great adventure and experience in a remote part of Scotland, the wild Cairngorms

Why skip Ben Nevis?

You may have noticed that the famous ‘Ben Nevis‘ does not feature below. Why? Well, as Britain’s highest mountain – an extra 30 odd meters more than we climbed – its prestige makes it very popular.

Over 130,000 people climb to the summit each year. For those who know me, a big part of what I share about sustainable travel is to carefully consider the ‘hotspots’ and ‘beaten path’ – and instead seek the places less visited. Moving from unbalanced to more balanced tourism. This applies to all my adventures.

Why Support the European Nature Trust?

The European Nature Trust is dedicated to the protection and restoration of wild areas in Europe. A charity founded in 2000 by Paul Lister, a passionate conservationist whom I interviewed last year here.

When we first learned about ‘The Kyle Riverwoods Project’ through the European Nature Trust we knew this would be the perfect project to support. Connecting our footsteps in the Scottish Highlands with the work that needs to be done to better protect and preserve nature is what these adventures are all about.

Discover 3 more reasons we chose the Cairngorms and why it holds significance for us all here.

On the left: Treeless and broken riparian landscape | On the right: Restoration of native woodland

Peak 1 | Ben Macdui, Cairngorms

The 2nd tallest mountain in the UK after the mighty Ben Nevis, it stands 35 odd meters under Britain’s highest peak.

Our morning began in the quiet town of Aviemore. Here we met our local guide Andy who’s been walking these summits for decades. To say I felt nervous at this point would be an understatement. I was wearing 3 jumpers and a winter jacket and I was still cold. I didn’t know what to expect, whether I was going to make it, and the worry that I might let everyone down if I didn’t make it felt like a dark cloud above me.

As we piled our gear into the boot of the car, our local guide shared the bad news. The hiking plan we had agreed together detailing which mountains we would climb when would now be thrown out of the window. The weather front coming in meant we needed to adapt, be flexible, and summit 2 mountains instead of 1 as previously planned.

So much for easing ourselves into the challenge. But what a great metaphor for life adventure is!

As we climbed we learned about the snow ice crystals, the group of school kids who’d sadly perished on these mountains, and the story of Queen Victoria. I also found out the hard way why some of my gear – aka my water bladder – wasn’t fit for these freezing conditions.

Our local guide Andy, Lionel, and myself all wrapped up from the elements and the top of Ben Macdui

Peak 2 | Cairn Gorm, Cairngorms

With a summit of 4,084ft, this is one of the most well-known summits in Scotland. Britain’s 6th highest mountain.

Due to the forecast over the next coming days, we decided as a team to push on, to summit Cairn Gorm alongside Ben Macdui. At this point, the weather had started to turn and the reassuring sun had long disappeared.

What became so crystal clear to me in these wild mountains at this time of year is that movement is everything. When stopping for breaks to rest your legs and to refuel, you have 5-8 minutes at best. You simply cannot stay still for much longer as the cold creeps quickly into your bones.

What a relief it was to reach the 2nd summit, and the sense of achievement made all the weeks of planning, training, sweating, and pain simply fade away. The picture below is of a weather station which sits at the very top – I couldn’t help but think of the film ‘The Day After Tomorrow’ as I watched from a distance my partner Lionel climb towards it.

Pictures from the hike. A frozen weather station and ice snow crystals on the bare rock.

As we made the descent back down to the ski center where our trusty van was waiting to take us back to Andy’s lodge, I couldn’t stop smiling.

Peak 3 | Braeriach, Cairngorms

The third highest mountain in Britain, Braeriach’s remote position ensures a tough climb, which is partly why it’s far less visited than Ben Nevis.  

I couldn’t believe our luck when the sun came out once again to warm our faces and lift our spirits. I had a sense that Mother Nature was rooting for us as we attempted our hike for nature.

Another early start, the plan was to summit just one peak. Compared to the two the previous day, I was therefore naively under the impression it would be easier. I couldn’t have been more wrong…

Climbing Braeriach and taking on our local guides off-the-beaten-path route (which is more of a circle than up and down) was the hardest climb I’ve ever experienced. It took longer to climb this one peak than it did to climb the two peaks the day before. Testing my limits, it pushed me way outside of my comfort zone. It made me question at points why I do this to myself.

A short video a couple of hours into the climb. Little did I know we would return in complete darkness.

However, the harder the adventure the greater the sense of achievement and feelings of joy. The euphoric feeling I had as nature put on a spectacular (and free) light show for us as we descended, and meandered down the long winding path is hard to put into words. Despite the adversity, it was worth every minute. 9 hours into the hike and with a progressive limp, I was already planning our next adventure with the sunset as my inspiration.

Due to a fierce incoming storm, we spent the next evening considering our options with our local guide, to see how we might complete the 5 peaks. After exhausting all possibilities, including weighing packs down so we didn’t blow away, with a heavy heart we had no choice but to cut the adventure short.

We will be returning to these mountains in the spring of 2024 to climb Cairn Toul and Angel’s Peak to make up the 5 peaks. Stay tuned by following us on Instagram here.

Where did the £1,200 raised go?

With summer heatwaves already warming rivers to the point in which Atlantic salmon cannot feed and grow, the Scottish landscape urgently needs more trees to create habitat and shade, not only to save the salmon but also the many different species and communities that rely upon them. The project team that received the funds is focusing efforts on the Kyle of Sutherland area because it has less than 3% native woodland.

The email below explains the two phases of the project and why the funding came at a pivotal time.

“The wild Atlantic salmon is such an iconic species, despite this, it’s recently moved to the Endangered Species Red List in Scotland. While there are challenges to address at sea, on land we can do an awful lot to reverse the degradation of our river catchments. Riverwoods is an opportunity to improve the health of our rivers and all the species they support.” Jacob Dykes, Conservation Manager at The European Nature Trust

“The key purpose of this initiative is to create a network of riparian woodland and healthy river systems throughout Scotland, which will deliver a range of benefits including flood protection, improved water quality… as well as helping to tackle climate change and biodiversity loss.” Kyle of Sutherland Fisheries

The video below explains why trees, rivers, and salmon are all connected and why we need to act fast.

How To Find Joy In Climate Action…

Whoever you are, wherever you live, whatever your experience or age, we all have the ability to engage in the solutions, to raise awareness, find more meaning and purpose in our lives, and feel JOY. After listening to Ayana’s powerful TED talk and her drawing below, I discovered my ‘climate action’ and I have no doubt you’ll find yours.

“We can all play a role in the climate movement by tapping into our skills, resources and networks in ways that bring us satisfaction.” Ayana Elizabeth

Step 1: Draw 3 circles (see below) to map these 3 questions:

Step 2: Take time to reflect on where your 3 answers intersect. This is your gift to the world which is unique to you. With your skills, your life experience, and your network. No one else has this.

Thank you for taking the time to read. The good news is your journey need not end here. Discover more stories below OR grow your knowledge with my on-demand course for travel professionals here.

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