James Forrest quit his city job to climb every mountain in the UK. He tells MF about shifting perspectives, simple nutrition and a Porsche-driven getaway.
Men’s Fitness: Have you always been a mountain man?
James Forrest: “OK, so let’s make it clear that what I am doing definitely isn’t hardcore. It’s not Everest or K2. Essentially I’m just a mid-thirties anorak-wearing rambler. I’m far from a highly polished adventurer and don’t have any outdoor qualifications. I just learn as I go.”
MF: So what made you lace up for this challenge?
JF: “I always dreamed I’d have an outdoorsy and adventurous kind of life. But after university I got sidelined by responsibilities and a decade quickly passed. I found myself working in an office in a job I didn’t like, feeling a bit low, overweight and not getting outdoors enough. I needed to make a change.”
MF: But you had done some hiking before, right?
JF: “Yeah, during my twenties I’d ticked off the Wainwrights (the 214 English peaks in the Lake District). The challenge of climbing them on odd weekends gave a bit of structure to my adventures. I got really drawn to this British idea of mountains, wild camping and lists. I liked the structure of that. But I liked the escapism too: of just going off by myself. It was the perfect ‘me time’.”
MF: How did you make the big break?
JF: “In my thirties I went on a gap year. It was an adventure but completely unsustainable. I blew a load of money travelling and I came back feeling, ‘is that me done in this life, or is there a way to do this more long-term?’
“In 2017, I moved from Birmingham to the Lake District and got a part-time job. I reduced my costs and got into the mountains more. Since then I’ve hiked the 446 mountains in England and Wales, 273 in Ireland and Northern Ireland, and 282 in Scotland. Today I work as a freelancer, writing about my adventures and making films.”
MF: Tell us about that time with the Porsche…
JF: “I’ve had some wild nights camping. I’ve woken up before at 3am in a storm with my broken tent collapsing into a swamp. That night I packed up, hiked down the mountain and hitchhiked to the nearest 24-hour McDonalds. That was salvation.
“Probably the best hitch I’ve ever caught though was a guy who picked me up in a Porsche Cayman GT4 in the Lakes. Clearly excited to show off his car, he razzed me down these country roads. I did feel guilty about all the mud that fell off my hiking boots.”
MF: And have you got all the best gear?
JF: “Definitely not, at least certainly not to begin with. I try to spend as little as possible. Everything on a shoestring. I set out with a £99 Vango tent. I try to walk linear routes, ticking off multiple peaks before hitching back to my car.
“My typical meal on the hill costs 99p, consisting of Aldi pasta and a package soup mixed together. It’s not high-end endurance athlete food. But it means I get the job done.”
MF: What final tips would you give anyone wanting to make a similar adventurous break in their life?
JF: “I’ve got a book out called Mountain Man. People love the concept that you can go on a big adventure around your everyday life. I believe in it.
“You don’t need to be Sir Ranulph Fiennes to find your own grand adventure. There’s a healthier and probably happier place than spending your weekends in the pub and hungover.”
Check out James Forrest’s book, Mountain Man: 446 Mountains. Six Months. One record-breaking adventure and his Instagram @jamesmichaelforrest
Words: Matt Maynard
Photos: Edward Fitzpatrick @eddiefitz7