R.uss Moorhouse decided to change his life during the second Covid lockdown. A financial adviser at a high street bank earning close to six figures, the 46-year-old was comfortable. But he gave it up to become the first person to climb and camp on the 214 Wainwrights peaks.
Starting in spring 2021 and finishing in February this year, he completed the challenge within 12 months, replacing his five-day week at the bank with five days a week on a mountain.
During the pandemic Moorhouse realized that he was in danger of reaching his eighties having accumulated wealth but no memorable life experiences. “I had a lot of customers who had half a million upwards,” he says. “I used to sit with them in meetings and they’d have all this money, but they weren’t doing anything with it.
A hiker in the Lake District
“I just thought that if you wait until you retire you’ve kind of missed the chance. So I thought I’d take the year out and do something I really wanted to do. “
He had always enjoyed hiking and reading about mountains, and his decision to combine this with wild camping was partly inspired by a quote from the Scottish writer Nan Shepherd, who said that “no one knows the mountain completely who has not slept on it”.
Named after the famed hiker, author and illustrator Alfred Wainwright, the peaks all fall within the perimeter of the Lake District National Park – including Scafell Pike, the highest mountain in England. All but one are more than 1,000ft high.
He set out for the Lakes on March 1 last year. Each morning he would pick the name of one fell at random from a bag, determining where he would end up that night. While the maximum journey time between peaks was 90 minutes, his lucky-dip system di lui sometimes meant traveling the full length of the national park between climbs.
Russ wild camping with his partner, Doro
The year had other challenges too – five of the seven named storms blew in while Moorhouse was camping on mountainsides. “The worst was Storm Barra in December, when I had to sleep in a cave on Bessyboot [a summit on Rosthwaite Fell] because the wind and rain were too strong for me to sleep outside, ”he says. “That was towards the end of the adventure and I must have done about 195 camps by then, so I wasn’t going to give up.”
During some of the climbs he faced snow, sleet and winds of up to 80mph, and one night a tent pole snapped during strong winds. “I had to put my head torch on, climb out of my sleeping bag and go outside in the pouring rain in my underpants.” He managed a temporary fix with a spare tent peg and a wet hiking sock, but “that was a hard night”.
Despite this, Moorhouse says that the highs more than compensated for the challenging times. Though he was occasionally joined by his partner di lui, Doro, or 15-year-old son Will, most of the time he was alone on the mountain.
His favorite moments were the sunrises and sunsets. “Watching the sun come up behind Blencathra was transforming because you just see the world differently; the perspective is so different from up there, ”he says. “Sometimes I was higher than the sun – I was on top of Grasmoor looking down on it. It was spectacular and otherworldly.
“I planned to start in spring so I had a little bit of snow at the very beginning but then the weather improved. By winter I’d already done 150 camps, so I was used to it. “
Will and Moorhouse’s 13-year-old daughter Annie gave him their blessings before he set out on his adventure. “I had a little mission from my daughter,” he says. “To take a photograph or video of an animal every day and send it to her.
“There were lots of sheep, but I did see some special animals as well – a few ospreys, which are lovely to capture, and quite a lot of deer on occasions.”
The idea of camping on all the Wainwrights was first conceived two decades ago by the author and hiker Ronald Turnbull, who wrote a book about the mountains, but nobody had attempted it. Moorhouse contacted him and told him that he was setting out on the adventure, and was elated to hear that the 70-year-old was keen to join him on one of the overnights.
Russ above the clouds in the Lake District
“It still hadn’t been done 20 years after his book,” Moorhouse says. “So it was quite a good achievement – the last wilderness adventure in the country, somebody told me.”
He’s now thinking about tackling the 189 peaks in Wales and wild camping there. “People ask me what’s next, which is a horrible question when you get to the end of a challenge,” he says. “The only thing scary about the adventure was finishing – I could see it coming like a cliff edge and I didn’t want it to end.”
Moorhouse, who has been diagnosed with emotionally unstable personality disorder, raised more than £ 10,000 for mental health charities while completing the Wainwrights challenge, which he believes helped to boost his own mental health. “Everybody knows that people feel better in the outdoors,” he says. “And it’s just a nice environment and you’re healthier when you’re on a mountaintop than you are when you’re getting squeezed by the pressures of modern life.”
Grasmoor and Whiteless Pike reflected in Crummock Water
He self-published a book, Fell Asleep, about the first part of his challenge in the spring, with three further volumes to come. It is already a bestseller among hiking books on Amazon. “I’m very proud of myself,” he says. “To do it was a matter of sacrifice – I sacrificed all monetary possessions and financial gain.
“And so I’m very poor now, but I’m very rich in experience, which I think was the right decision. And I don’t regret it at all. “