I first reached out to Alan Rowan in March 2018 following a discussion with Steven Fallon (who holds the record from having climbed the most Munro rounds to date). I was interested in Alan’s journey from journalist to moonwalker and in particular, I wanted to understand what key characteristics, which armed Alan with psychological resilience to keep life/work in the balance to survive and thrive through this transformation. I was curious: how did Alan transform himself from the shackled desk job with unsociable hours and stressful deadlines to the physical and psychological freedom of the Scottish hills. I myself was in need of this transformation; therefore I was keen to meet someone who had already made the transformation.
Alan and I conducted a podcast in March 2018 which was published on my WordPress Balanceandrisk.com, https://wordpress.com/post/balanceandrisk.com/246
During the podcast, Alan told me about his two books Moonwalker published in (2014), followed by, A Mountain before Breakfast published in (2016). Alan then went on to explain that he was at the beginning of creating a new book, and a new 2018 challenge; Mountains of the Moon. This involves being on or around an iconic Scottish mountain on the night of every full moon, of which there are 13 in 2018. I jokingly asked if I could come along on one of his moonwalking adventures, to which, he agreed!!!!!!! OMG, what have I done!!!!! Ok, so I was never one to step down from a challenge, therefore, challenge accepted. See you on the 22nd of December to climb Ben Hope, (The Cold Moon) the furthest most northerly Munro. Nothing hidden in the name, its December, it’s a Munro, its located in Scotland and it’s going to be cold.
I needed to work on my fitness and diet. I increased my running and aerobic exercise to increase strength and endurance, running 3 or 5 miles each day, from the 23rd of September to 31st of December, completing a 100-day running challenge. I mixed this up with 50 Squats/50 Burpees/50 Sit Ups and Planks to build core strength. I took part in the National Three Peaks Challenge -Time: 22 hours and 09 minutes, and completed 20 new Munro’s within the year. Most notably I made a deliberate effort to improve my diet by adding two specific micronutrient drinks each day which I blended myself.
- Lemon, lime, ginger, garlic and mineral water, in a 100ml shot first thing in the morning
- Kale, spinach, avocado, cucumber, broccoli and broccoli sprout which I grow myself.
December 2018, Preparation and Planning Over
I made arrangements to travel north by train and Alan picked me up at Inverness train station on the 21st of December. Immediately on entering the car Alan got the initial pleasantries over with and began to unravel his past 11 months of his 2018 challenge, moonwalk all of the 13 moons of the year. In a reflective mode, Alan discussed the weather conditions at the beginning of the year, the beast from the east one and two and the mental agility needed to remain resilient when undertaking a challenge over a prolonged period of time. When we are in the listening mode we not only pick up the content of a conversation, but it’s also easy to pick up the passion and the energy of the person who is talking. By the time we arrived at the Tongue private hostel, I had a good idea of the challenges we may face and the problem-solving Alan had gone through to ensure a positive outcome to this final full moon Munro. On arrival the hostel was closed, I took the opportunity to get changed in the porch into my running gear, still on the 100 days running challenge, I was not going to let climbing a mountain stop me from completing this goal so, a quick wonder woman change into my running gear and I was off running the Kyle of Tongue Bridge is part of the Kyle of Tongue Causeway, which crosses Kyle of Tongue sea loch on the north coast of Scotland. A quick 2.5 mile run and then back to the hostel for a well-earned cup of tea. Ten minutes later we are in the car and driving round to the foot of Ben Hope (the Cold Moon). Alan wanted to do a quick time check and access check to the base of Ben Hope, it’s always good if the opportunity does present itself to do a quick recognizance.
21st – up very early to coffee and a hot oats breakfast, then into the car and a quick drive to the base of Ben Hope. Getting ready in the dark is in itself a new adventure and your senses are up at the very beginning of the preparation. Checking and rechecking the gear, lights, spare batteries, and spare dry gear was essential. Alan being the more established hill walker double checked his gear and verbalized a double check for me. We had already done this the evening before and the morning on our exit from the hostel but there is no need to be complacent when climbing in Scotland or in the dark. We pulled up the Munro, relatively quickly stopping only to remove layers, as the temperature was unseasonably hot. Prior to this climb, my friend’s father had passed away (Tommy Burke) he was a fellow hill climber, Munro bagger, and all-around adventurer. I decided to take his Order of Service up Ben Hope with me. At the top a said a prayer for him, my prayer was for a man well-loved and a life well lived. The top of Ben Hope was covered in ice and a dusting of snow, nothing of difficulty but still care was required underfoot. A quick descent and off back to the hostel and out for another run across the Kyle of Tongue Causeway.
22nd – Winter Solstice and the final moonwalk of the year, Ben Hope the Cold Moon. A final run across the Kyle of Tongue Causeway in the morning, followed by breakfast. There were restful periods during the day waiting for the light to go from the day. There was lots of lovely food and a short walk around the village to be enjoyed prior to the start of the Munro. Time past with anticipation and then we were gear up and departing our cosy hostel. At the base, we were met by a journalist who would join us and create an article on Alan. Once the introductions and pleasantries were acknowledged we were off up Ben Hope for the second time in as many days. Knowing the terrain in advance and knowing the direction of travel is always positive on the hills and now that we were in the dark it was an added advantage on the initial pull up. Darkness brings with it a very different perspective, the shadowing effect and the silhouette from the upper sections of the mountain cast ghostly forms all around. No sign of the moon in the first hour of our assent, the sky was dark and there was cloud cover, but there was also movement within the clouds and that’s a good sign. Lumps of vision come out in the darkness; large shapes of stillness, with no detail to express their function or purpose, the imagination can be fun and frightening in equal measure. Suddenly off to the right side of the mountain, the moon began to make shadows in between the clouds and then out it popped. Round and bright, the dark clouds persisting to shield its full exposure, we stopped only to take some quick photos. It was clear from the speed of the clouds there was potential for a gap in the clouds to emerge, and so the group continued onward and up. The top third of the mountain was covered in a thin powdering of snow, with some ice in patches but not enough to warrant the use of crampons. As the group neared the summit, there was a noble silence which occurred organically. Talking had changed to silence, no rustling of gear, not even a sound from our footsteps. The stillness and the silence were incredibly powerful, a feeling of serenity and hope entered into my consciousness. To the left tombstone began to emerge from the upper left side of the summit, the moon now clearing had to cast eerie shadows. As we neared the top of the summit on a relatively flat approach the moon gave out in a single spectacular reveal, the group were relieved and Alan had reached his goal. It was a privilege to share at this moment. The Cold Moon had responded with such a wonderful and illuminating displace which literally lit up the sky, revealing the surrounding landscape, the water below, the hills that flanked to the left and right of Ben Hope. The usual round to congratulatory handshakes and hugs and as quickly as it had revealed itself the Cold Moon was now on the retreat, as was the group. The weather changed with the arrival of snow, with it an increase in wind and a reduction in temperature. A slight detour down the side of the summit before regaining the main path and down we went with speed and agility stopping only at a lower stone stack to take on food and fuel as quickly as we could and it was down, down and down and to the cars. A new Munro ticked off form me, my first moonwalk and the last moon or the year for Alan and the content of Chapter 13 of the book. All in all a good nights work. I did wonder how this would have compared to Alan’s previous life as a sports journalist.
23rd – The road home, was an enjoyable experience; an early morning drive through the Scottish Highlands was a pleasant one. The road ahead was clear and the weather was favourable. The conversation flowed with reflective learnings and Alan’s voice revealed a slight crackle or tiredness, which was well earned and well deserved. The drive back to Inverness train station marked the end of a very challenging year. My reflections back across 2018 were many and challenging. Climbing Ben Hope was a tonic; it gave me a purpose and a focus, developing my psychological and physical resilience. Human life is fleeting, blink and it’s over, but living it is truly worth it.
Thank you, Alan Rowan, for setting this amazing challenge and for allowing me the privilege for sharing it with you.