Harrison Ward AKA @fellfoodie explains how hiking helped him through the toughest of times…
Back in 2015, my life hit rock bottom. I’d suffered from a crippling depression and suicidal thoughts since puberty, but in early adulthood my life spiralled out of control. I turned to alcohol to sedate my mind.
At first it acted as an escape – a way to silence thoughts of self-loathing – but before long it was my poison. Alcohol became my sole focus, affecting relationships with family, friends and loved-ones. By the age of 21, I was regularly consuming over 20 pints a day and chain-smoking. I ballooned to 22 stone.
A relationship break-up proved the turning point. I finally came to terms with my problems: I was an alcoholic and mentally unwell. Almost overnight, I removed alcohol and cigarettes from my life, moved home to Cumbria, sought medical help and threw myself into fitness.
I began to lose the excess weight, maintain sobriety and begin to see the world through fresh eyes. It feels like I’m looking back at a stranger when I recall my past days.
Back living on the edge of the Lake District, my good friend Ryan introduced me to hill walking. Completely unfit and still in the throes of withdrawal, I hiked up Blencathra. The climbing of that mountain felt like a physical manifestation of my own struggles.
Helvellyn followed a week later, Scafell Pike after that, and a new addiction was born. I loved the sense of achievement, but also the escapism from the negatives of everyday life.
Now I’m a big advocate for eco-therapy. The endorphin boost you get from walking in the great outdoors is essential to both physical and mental health.
That ‘high’ of reaching a summit and gazing over the landscape far exceeds any placebo I may have had in the past. I consider walking and the mountains as key to my life redemption and newfound contentment – and I’m proud say I’m now five years sober.