Russell Moorhouse is trying to ‘sleep bag’ the Wainwrights – by wild camping on the summit of all 214 fells. We caught up with him to find out how it’s going.
You’ve heard of peak bagging – now what about giving ‘sleep bagging’ a try?
Russell Moorhouse is hoping to spark a new trend by sleeping on every Wainwright summit over the course of the next year, wild camping during the week and retreating to his van for weekends and holidays. He’s using the project to highlight the importance of the Leave no Trace principle and to raise money for MQ Mental Health Research.
What gave you the idea of sleep bagging the Wainwrights?
I’m not sure! I wanted an adventure, something that was fun and could inspire other people. For 15 years I’ve read mountain books about everything from the first people to climb the Himalayan giants to my hero Hermann Buhl and right through to people doing crazy stuff nowadays like Alex Honnold. It made me think that I wasn’t doing anything myself. I was just that typical person who goes to the Lake District wild camping once per year, and I wanted to change that. Then I read the Book of the Bivvy [by Ronald Turnbull] and he mentioned sleep bagging as an idea in his book. I’d already done some peak bagging – I was three-quarters of the way through doing the Wainwrights – and I thought that I’d quite like to be the founder of mountain sleep bagging! I’m 39 fells down so far and hoping to complete the whole lot within a year.
How do you plan your time?
I’m in the mountains during the week and at weekends I stay in the van for a break. My plan is to do Sunday night to Thursday night camping. That’s the quiet time – it can get really busy at weekends. I’m doing it almost like the school year, taking holidays off so I can spend time with my children. I wanted to cover all four seasons and experience all weather conditions, so I’m finishing in the winter.
How do you pick which fell to climb each evening?
By random! I wrote out all 214 names, printed them out and put them in a waterproof yellow bag. Every morning I just put my hand in, pick one out at random and, whichever one it is, I have to go and do it! What I like about that is I’m not following a circuit. I’ve done the Bob Graham Round and the West Highland Way, and I know there’s a big Wainwright round where people run it in two weeks or something. But routes like that are like Grand Prix tracks where you just follow them round. What’s really refreshing about this project is that I don’t know what’s coming next!
Has the experience lived up to your expectations?
It’s really good fun and I’ve been surprised – I thought that some days I wouldn’t be up for it, but actually every day is really good. It’s either a challenge or a nice relaxing one. Somebody said I look like I’m having a bit too much fun, so I should probably start emphasising the hardcore challenge element of it!
Has the weather been good to you?
I started on March 1 and that first week was amazing. The sunsets were incredible. I had a cloud inversion on the top of Haycock – it was cloudy all the way up along Ennerdale and when I was just about at the summit plateau I got a brocken spectre. I’ve never seen one of those before! Then I got to the top and looked down on the whole of Wastwater covered with cloud. Beautiful. Obviously I’ve had bad weather days. There was one really windy day when I went up Hart Crag and the wind on the ridge was so strong that it was blowing me over. I really struggled to get to the top! My rule is that I have to reach every summit and then find somewhere safe to camp, so on that day I dropped down to one side of the ridge to pitch up.
How are you juggling the project with work?
By taking a sabbatical. I’ve been a financial advisor for 15 years and if I scrimped and saved then I might be able to retire at 55… but I might not have the health to do this then, so I thought: just do it now. Afterwards, I might go back to work or it might to lead to something else, maybe something in the mountains. Working for the same company for a long time you get institutionalised and you think that’s all life is, so I’d say don’t be scared to leave your job!
What about family?
My children needed all my attention when they were younger, but now they are teenagers and they’re at the age where dad isn’t cool anymore! I’ve got a good quote from one of them: “I don’t see the point of wild camping. You just walk to the top of a mountain, turn round and walk back down.” Obviously there’s a bit more to it than that. But I want them to see that you don’t have to do what the world tells you to do. If you want to do something, then don’t be afraid to take a risk to enjoy yourself.
This project is all about raising awareness for the principle of Leave No Trace and also for the charity MQ Mental Health Research. You’ve said that ‘sleep bagging’ is even better for your mental health than peak bagging – why is that?
Peak bagging is great, but you’re spending more time in the mountains with sleep bagging. I’ve been wild camping since I was 14 and I’m always surprised that lots of people are scared of doing it. I’ve tried to remind myself of the first time I went on my own – it was a bit spooky, you think someone’s going to creep up on you in the night – but in reality who’s going to be up there wandering around? You have to overcome all those feelings to go wild camping and that’s really good for your mental health.
How do you think it might feel to finish the challenge and get back to working life?
I’m a bit worried about that, because I don’t want to go back to working life. It’s so much fun! I’ve been joking that I might go round again. I recently did a Zoom interview with Sir Alan Hinkes and he’s going to be coming on a wild camp with me. There are lots of 6000 and 7000 metres Himalayan peaks yet to be climbed and if you climb them then you get to name them – that’s his next project. He doesn’t know it yet, but I’m planning to befriend him and go along too! I’d call my summit Mount Doro. That would be a dream.
Donate to Russell’s charity MQ Mental Health Research at https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/russmoorhousewildcamp214.
Follow Russell’s progress on Twitter.
INTERVIEW: Hanna Lindon