Stairway to heaven: League of ‘mountaineers’ sign up to conquer the Great Indoors

The views, of course, are all in my imagination. The coronavirus pandemic means that we’re all now restricted to our homes and I’m not really standing astride the summit of Scafell Pike, but rather the top step of my staircase at home. Nevertheless, I have just made the 978 metre climb… by going up and down my east London staircase 391 times. And the sense of reward is, almost, as great.

This is our new reality. With the virus outside our doors, and the NHS under mounting pressure, the best thing most of us can do is stay home. But that doesn’t mean we have to stop having adventures. We just need to employ a little extra imagination.

With this in mind, last week I set up the Coronavirus Indoor Mountaineering League – a growing group of likeminded people on Facebook (@CoronavirusIndoor MountaineeringLeague) who want to stay fit, have fun and keep exploring by summiting peaks in the safety of their own home.

As a 45-year-old journalist for The Conversation, who spends his spare time paragliding, I’ve been lucky enough to have my fair share of adventures. In my 20s I got to travel the world as a Lonely Planet author and reported fromAfghanistan, abseiled with the Royal Marines and, as a former editor of The Lady magazine, was chased by a pack of bloodhounds around Derbyshire (yes, they caught me).

All you really need for indoor mountaineering, however, is a bit of spare time and a passion for the (imaginary) outdoors.

The concept is simple. Measure the height of your staircase (I have 14 carpeted steps that ascend 2.5 metres) and pick a hill or mountain you’ve always wanted to climb – from Surrey’s Box Hill (224 metres or 89 ascents of my staircase) to Mount Everest (8,848 metres or… well… you can imagine).

After that, just do the simple maths and climb your stairs as many times as required. Dress up in your finest mountaineering garb, get your children or grandchildren involved, and pitch a tent in your bedroom as a base camp for overnight adventures.

Basically, have fun. There’s certainly no need for crampons and ice axes. In fact, slippers are far easier on the luxury deep pile – you don’t want your first trip after the lockdown ends to be to the carpet shop. But a certain amount of care is required.

The NHS doesn’t need a sudden influx of indoor mountaineers with twisted ankles. One of the trickiest parts of indoor mountaineering is keeping count. To climb Scafell Pike, for example, I climbed 5,474 individual stairs.

I got around this conundrum by noting every 10th staircase ascent on a card, but others have persuaded family members to record their progress on more charts.This may require bribery. The only real rule of indoor mountaineering, however, is to try. Cambridge-based indoor mountaineer Jonty Este has been advised not to leave his house due to an underlying health condition.

“I haven’t got a head for heights, so indoor twisted So a mountaineering is ideal,” he says. “I can climb to some of Britain’s most famous beauty spots without house, break for a cup of tea and then admire the views online.

“Last week was Box Hill, the setting of the famous picnic Jane Austen’s Emma. It’s important to continue exercising and avoid going stir crazy – and this is ideal.”

Will Appleyard, who has been stuck in Spain on lockdown since March 16, and used to spend much of his time climbing real mountains, such as the Matterhorn and Mont Blanc, is now also using his stairs to stay in shape.

“It’s all about exploring uncharted new territory for me,” he says. “The Great Indoors an environment that puts me well out of my comfort zone.”

James Moore, director of the International Diploma in Expedition and Wilderness Medicine, meanwhile, wanted to stretch his children’s (aged 12 and 14) indoor PE lessons and give them a target. He picked a few UK mountains to climb and despite suggesting this was not a competition, they’d nearly reached the summit of Pen Y Fan (886 metres or 354 staircase ascents) by the end of the first day.

“If they can knock off Everest Base Camp by half-term, the summit of Everest is within grasp,” he says.

Not that things always run smoothly, as Glenys Roberts, a former Soho Conservative councillor who is now locked down in Morocco, discovered. “I was inspired to use my apartment block’s communal stairway to try a virtual summit of Jebel Musa (851 metres), the opposite Pillar of Hercules to Gibraltar.

“Alas, I was hampered by too much of the local red wine at base camp, and a dangerous avalanche when the drains blocked and flooded the stairs below.”

But perhaps this all can lead to some wider good. My next personal challenge on Saturday is to climb Ben Nevis (1,345 metres) indoors for Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders).

I’ll be going up and down my stairs 538 times and hope to raise £1,000 for the charity in the process.

So if you’re still wondering why you should bother climbing your stairs even once, recall the famous three words attributed to mountaineer George Mallory when asked why he wanted to climb Everest: “Because it’s there!” 

Matt’s Just Giving charity fundraising page can be found here:

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