Mirror article: waking up to life as mountain – did I really have to climb them?

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How one woman gave up her high-powered career to climb mountains
12:01, 3 JUN 2016 UPDATED 12:13, 3 JUN 2016
Mags MacKean gave up her high-powered career to pursue her dream of climbing mountains – only to find she got just as burnt out following her dream as she did chasing her career.


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Mags MacKean – The Upside Down Mountain Mags MacKean – The Upside Down Mountain

Driving the radio car among a maze of back streets towards Canary Wharf, I followed the plume of smoke to a dead end: a police cordon. I couldn’t get within a mile of the bomb blast .

My phone rang: “Mags, you’re live in four minutes, after this next record.” I managed to find a dazed pedestrian who described the devastation: the blast and shattered glass, dust, panic and sirens.

I had some printed police copy about the suspected IRA , basic knowledge about the stalling peace process in Northern Ireland, and nothing more.

Handing back to the presenter, I summed up: “Key questions remain unanswered here in the Docklands: who carried out this attack and why.”

Back at the studio, the editor thanked me, adding, “about your pay-off Mags… that is why we sent you there.”

GettyRoad to Mount Cook – New Zealand – which Mags climbed
The years rolled on and stories rolled out. A reporter has to be detached and impartial. For all the rewards, and access to people and places, I felt frustrated. Life was happening to others: and I was hired to tell their story. What about my own?

My love exploring the outdoors began to fill weekends and holidays. Mountains inspired me – and the thrill of climbing them. I took three career-breaks to learn expedition skills – and realized I couldn’t take a fourth.

So, I quit my career, BBC pension, network of friends – and rented out my flat to fund my travels, with odd jobs to keep me going. I roamed with the seasons across hemispheres, the next mountain in sight.

Eight months in to my new life, I realized two things: I was as worn out and restless chasing my dream as the rat race from which I’d escaped.

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There were always more summits to scale as rungs to climb. And I was terrified of heights:

High and alone on an ice-wall, I was two hundred feet above my friend waiting in the bitter cold. I was unable to move up or down.

There was no rope to hold me: only the blades of two ice axes and crampons strapped to my boots.

Within a lick of the Southern Ocean, the weather changes without warning. It was always a race against time at such height and scale: setting up protection not an option. We faced hours of strenuous descent to reach the valley by nightfall. Panic seized me.

“Keep going, Mags!” Gavin hollered, with thinly disguised impatience. But pulling out an axe went against the sane instinct to survive. What was more, my 30-kilo backpack could flip me over like a turtle. The weight of gravity pulled at my body. Shaking, muscles cramped, I vowed never to put myself in such danger again – if I got down in one piece.

Time slows in the hell of fear. Every step, each single moment was a torment – as well as the thirst that raged for us both, having run out of water.

Fourteen hours later, Gavin and I slumped at the front door of his home outside Mount Cook National Park. We had achieved our goal – but at what joyless cost?

That was my last ever ice climb. Summits promised a peak experience. The high I felt was always followed by, “what now?” I had swapped the values of a career ladder for one at altitude and nothing had really changed. I was the same restless me – in every new setting, country or relationship. Life, I figured, was one big mountain – so why climb them?

Mags MacKeanMags MacKean – The Upside Down MountainMags MacKean – The Upside Down Mountain
I took a good look at the inner mountain that had driven me for so long. I was fed up with chasing change – holding out for a ‘better’ moment or conditions for happiness. I’d forgotten to enjoy this moment, now.

Storytelling is my impulse for work and play: lapping up ordinary life as the adventure it is: out with my dog, among neighbours, enjoying the culture around me.

I guide others to rewrite their personal story – a brighter story that feels good. We are all storytellers, making sense of the grit – and gift – of being human. And I don’t need to climb mountains to remember that.

For more information about Mags MacKean: Web: https://www.magsmackean.com

Her book The Upside Down Mountain is available now.