ViewRanger catches up with mountain addict Tom Clague, who shares his amazing story of climbing 318 British peaks in the past two years.
You bagged all 104 of Snowdonia’s Hewitts in 2016. For those who don’t know, can you explain what they are?
Basically, a Hewitt is a hill or mountain in England, Wales and Ireland that’s at least 2000ft in height with a prominence of at least 30 metres (98ft) from the mountains around it. This rules out quite a number of hills that are subsidiary tops of others or merely bumps along ridges. There are 528 Hewitts in total – 179 in England, 138 in Wales and 211 in Ireland. When I completed the 214 Wainwrights in 2015 (every peak in Alfred Wainwright’s legendary pictorial guides to the English Lake District) I was searching for another challenge and found that the Snowdonia National Park contained 104 Hewitts, which made it the perfect next step!
That’s 318 mountains in two years! How do you find the motivation to keep going?
I had the idea for my Lake District Wainwrights challenge after completing a hike around the Kentmere Horseshoe, talking about how many Wainwrights there were and how many we had completed that day, which led me on to wondering if it would be possible to complete them all in one year. I’ve always loved the Lake District and enjoy physical challenges so this seemed the perfect thing for me to tackle. Once I got started on my Wainwrights challenge, motivation never really came into it. I was getting up at 5am on Saturday mornings after being in work all week, but I was doing it to visit one of the most beautiful parts of the country to do something I loved.
Of all the mountains you climbed, which was the most memorable?
They’re all memorable for different reasons. Some for the difficulty of the ascent, like Hen Comb and Kirk Fell. Some for the beauty of the views from the summit, like Tyrrau Mawr and Mellbreak. Some for the horrendous weather, like Harrison Stickle and Swirl Ho. And some for the stunning weather, like Cnicht and Skiddaw. I had an amazing day in the Rhinogs on 6th August 2016 – perfect weather, beautiful location and brutally long, just over 31km if I remember correctly. Another day that springs to mind was 21st November 2015, when snow had recently fallen on Scafell Pike and the wind chill was -21 deg C. There were icicles on Broad Stand that were 10ft long and the sky was completely clear.
Which mountain had the best summit view?
Similar to the previous question, choosing just one view would be impossible, and of course for some of the mountains I climbed there were no views from the summit! If I was pushed to choose just one Welsh view and one Lake District view I would say Tyrrau Mawr for Wales, which is part of the Cadair Idris range and offers stunning views across Cardigan Bay and Barmouth. And Mellbreak for the Lake District, as it offers views on the ascent of the Vale of Lorton and the most perfect view of Buttermere from the summit.
You must have experienced some unique weather …
I’ve seen everything from glorious summer days without a cloud in the sky, to days of rain that lasted from the moment I stepped outside to the moment the hike was over. Those glorious summer days are the ones that get most people outside, but for me just as much fun can be had climbing Coniston Old Man with wind gusts over 90mph. I’ve experienced wind chills on Scafell Pike, Ben Nevis and Cairn Gorm of -20 deg C, and on other days been in shorts and a t-shirt on Snowdon and Helvellyn. In March 2015, I did the Langdale Pikes on possibly the wettest day I had ever witnessed – that was until I climbed the fells around Ullscarf in November and found out what real rain was!
What advice would you give to anyone thinking of doing a similar challenge?
I would tell them go for it! There’s no better way to see all corners of both these beautiful national parks than to climb to the top of all the mountains within them. You will get fit, experience amazing things and never forget it. The Wainwrights are the best place to start as there are books with all the routes in them, which you can then plot in Viewranger of course! Snowdonia is a bit more difficult as I had to plan and plot all the routes myself. Viewranger was an invaluable tool for me during both challenges, but even more so during my Hewitts.
How much did ViewRanger help your challenges?
I used ViewRanger to constantly check my progress along the routes I was hiking and to pinpoint my location to ensure I was on the summit of each of the Wainwrights, especially during poor visibility. It was during my Hewitts challenge that my use of ViewRanger became essential. I plotted all 104 of the routes, then used the app to check my progress and pinpoint my location. ViewRanger Skyline was also useful for explaining the views from mountain summits, so I knew what I was looking at.
What do you love most about being in the mountains?
It feels like going home to me. The fresh mountain air, the views, the challenge of the climb, the wildlife, the geology, the friendliness of fellow hikers and fell-runners, the feeling of summiting a new peak, the solitude, the stress relief and exercise. There are just too many reasons for me to name just one.
If you could spend a day walking anywhere in the world, where would it be?
In the future I’m looking to progress to bigger and harder challenges. If I could spend the day walking anywhere I would say somewhere that has high mountains and the scenery to match, like the Alps, Andes, Himalayas or Rockies. These are all places I hope to visit in my life.
Follow Tom on Instagram: @greyfox2711
All pictures belong to Tom Clague.