Friday 10 May 2013

Mindfulness of Trekking in the Mist

Welcome back to Adventures with Autism Works after a fascinating visit to Cumbria with my colleague Dan Cottrell, who originates from this part of the world. From my last entry, you will know that I was due to set out for the Lake District for my first serious bit of practice in my bid to summit Africa's highest peak Kilimanjaro in aid of the Daisy Chain project by taking on England's highest peak, Scafell Pike (978m). I can happily report that the trek up Scafell Pike was both successful and above all, enjoyable.

As well as the often spectacular scenery, what has made mountain treks that I have had the fortune to experience so enjoyable has been the company I have done them in. Dan and his brother Ben, who joined us on the trek, were great company and clearly enjoyed the experience as much as I did, despite it being misty at the summit. What was interesting was the different individual challenges that the trek was for the three of us, and what we found about walking outside our comfort zone of walking on flat pavements and floors or going up staircases.
Lake Wastwater emerges beneath the mist

Ben, struggling with motor co-ordination being dyspraxic, initially found it difficult to get used to different walking techniques needed to go up some steep rocks. Remembering mindfulness of walking practice,  I suggested to Ben that it might help him to focus attention on each step rather than the distance to or height towards the summit, just by being with each step as you make it. When taught mindfulness of walking, the three aspects of the technique involve focusing on the lifting, moving and putting of each step during the exercise. When trekking though, because the terrain is often so uneven or slippery, in addition to putting an extra aspect to focus on is placing, bringing an awareness of where you are placing your feet with each step, including being wary of the gradient and surface of each placing, including stepping on slippery surfaces and also being aware of balance and gait. Awareness of when to adjust walking speed also helps.

At Scafell Pike summit with Dan and Ben
What we had anticipated from the weather forecast was that the conditions would be highly variable, which turned out to be the case. At the starting point, Wasdale Camp car park, the weather was quite warm, but as we gradually ascended, it started to become cloudier and windier while the temperature dropped. This is where the sensory aspect of trekking become noticeable, in how our senses cope with changing temperatures, including how our skin responds to colder temperatures.

Where mindfulness of walking helped particularly was on the way back from the summit. Trekking downhill is often harder on the joints, but it is often easier to slip over by stepping onto loose gravel when coming down! All three of us had different levels of tiredness when we completed the trek, but when I attempt Kilimanjaro in October, I will be doing this and more each day for ten days!

Including offline donations, my fundraising for Daisy Chain has now exceeded the £1,000 mark! A huge thank you to all who have very generously donated so far. To help further increase the total, I am looking at holding raffles locally, if I can hopefully obtain some generous prize donations. In the meantime, donations can be made online on my sponsorship page at

Special thanks to the Cottrell family for their hospitality during my time in Cumbria, including to the frieddly family dog Tara

Friday 3 May 2013

Prelude to Kilimanjaro I - Scafell

Welcome back to adventures with Autism Works! After an interview on Radio Tees and a Quiz Night, preparations for for my attempt to summit Kilimanjaro are getting more serious, as well as physical! This Bank Holiday Weekend, I have my first bit of practice in the build up, which is a trek up England's highest peak, Scafell Pike in the Lake District (978m). Though, altitude and climate-wise, it may seem a long way from Africa's highest peak, but it is a challenge in its own right.

In common with other treks I have completed, Scafell has an interchangeable climate of its own. Coping with and adjusting to interchangeable weather, as well as being good preparation for the bigger challenge to come later in the year, also helps me in relation to coping with stress and anxiety. Like many other people diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome, I do still sometimes find change difficult to manage. It was through trekking in interchangeable conditions that I began to realise that it was more helpful to be with and open up to change rather than resist it.

Scafell Pike (978m)

As well as the physical aspect of preparation, the trek up Scafell is also good sensory preparation, not just in getting a feel of the outdoors, but also getting used to outdoor clothing, which during most 'normal days' I tend not to wear. To help get the best experience out of a trek or climb, it helps to have clothing and footwear that one is comfortable in. This is where trekking can also help those who experience sensory difficulties in relation to autism by being with and opening up to them. 

Accompanying me on the trek up Scafell Pike will be Dan Cottrell, one of Autism Works Software Test Analysts, who is originally from nearby St Bees in Cumbria. On a clear day, it is possible to see England, Scotland, Wales, the Isle of Man and Northern Ireland from the summit of Scafell Pike. However, forecasts suggest that it will be cloudy when we intend to go. To donate to my Kilimanjaro trek in aid of Daisy Chain, my sponsorship page is accessible at

To find out how Dan and I fare going up Scafell Pike, stay tuned to Adventures with Autism Works!