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A tale of mittens and mountains

It all started with a pair of mittens. I spent my most impressionable years in Cumbria, though my family explored the Lake District it's wasn't until I was 11 and we had just moved significantly south to Dorset, that I walked any of the serious fells with my dad. I remember Blencathra vividly: wrapped up in a thick wool jumper, borrowed boots and a silk scarf, my dad and I joined his friends and we tackled sharp edge. The cloud was down and the rock damp which I found thrilling rather than scary. Around this time, my dad bought my mum and I a pair of purple nylon mittens to share; it was unlikely we'd both go walking with dad and they were probably quite expensive then. I fell in love with the mittens and the possibility of more fells.

As time and circumstances moved on we didn't get into the fells much. But I kept the mittens, tucked at the very back of my drawers hidden away. I grew up, went to university, started a career. I gradually moved jobs further north ending up in Yorkshire and the mitts came with me. Annie had also recently moved north and we decided to go for a walk together around Ladybower in the Dark Peaks. That same thrill kicked when, OS map in hand, we stepped off the well trodden path and headed up to White Tor. And so several years of exploring the peaks followed. We taught ourselves navigation and pushed our boundaries resulting in a satisfyingly accurate navigation on a bearing across the treacherous peat hags of Bleaklow in fog. Walking became a way to clear my head when stress caused me to doubt myself: the realness of driving rain or a clear blue sky above purple heather kept me physically and mentally well. And the mitts were always with me. Annie moved away, new friends joined me and I planned and lead walks for them. I loved sharing the moors with them, taking them to places they would have never gone themselves.

Then three things happened that changed everything. I had also started climbing a little and stumbled across the Women's Climbing Symposium, nervously I went on my own and it was like someone had opened a door I never knew existed. The Mountain Training Association were there and I suddenly realised everything I had been doing with Annie, Melanie and Fanny were qualifying walks for the Hill and Moorland leader. At the same time, I met Viv through a climbing club I joined and she, like me, worked full time in a professional role but had just completed her Mountain Leader qualification. The third piece to fall in place was finding the Tough Girl podcasts back in late 2015 and the hugely inspirational women Sarah Williams interviewed. Suddenly my world had changed.

Before, I thought that at 38 the opportunity to fit mountains into my life was a train I had long missed. I thought that I could never really be strong enough, or learn the skills needed, or fit in with 'real' outdoorsy people. Now I find myself in a place that a couple of years ago I would never have thought possible: the WhatsApp group, Rando' Girls (short for randonne girls) set up to arrange where to meet has become a small but growing venture. I am fitter than I have ever been and my perspective has changed, I am excited about the future and what it might hold. And, though they are showing their age and are a little threadbare, the mitts are always in my pack.

Ellen Piercy

If you want to find our more about the walks I have done and my blogs about being in the wild, you can read more at

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