Just Another Mountain by Sarah Jane Douglas
In 1997, at the age of 24, Sarah lost her mother to breast cancer, Alone and adrift in the world, she very nearly gave up hope – but she’d made a promise to her mother that she’d keep going, no matter what. So, she turned to the beautiful, dangerous, forbidding mountains of her native Scotland.
By walking in her mother’s footsteps, she learns to accept her own troubled past, finding the strength to overcome her grief – and, ultimately, to carry on in the face of her own diagnosis twenty years later.
Sarah writes with searing honesty about how chaotic her life became, and how alone and unsupported she had often felt, following the death of her mother and then later, as a single mother to two young sons, the deaths of her grandparents who had, since her childhood, always been there to support her. She described herself as having ‘spent years lurching from one distraction to the next: drinking too much, dabbling with drugs, loveless sex with too many men, motherhood. I got into trouble with the police. I wound up in a volatile marriage.’ She felt that no one truly cared and, although she loved her two young sons, there times when it ‘felt like a struggle just to keep breathing.’
However, even when she felt at her lowest, she never forgot the promise she’d made to her mother that she’d never give up. Some of her favourite memories of her mother were of the frequent walks they shared and, following her mother’s death, she would go for long walks along the beach and the river because retracing some of those walks helped her to feel closer to her. As she’d grown up in the Scottish Highlands, the mountains had always formed the backdrop to her life. However, it wasn’t until she felt that her life was spiralling out of control that she felt a need to seek out these wilder places to walk in. She found a sense of peace in these wild landscapes and discovered that taking on the often-tough physical challenges (be that terrain, weather – or both!) enabled her to confront the difficulties she was experiencing in her life. As she set herself increasingly difficult challenges, as she began to climb higher and higher, she began to gain different perspectives on her life, to reflect on what was important to her and decide how to achieve the goals she was setting herself. She eventually climbed Kilimanjaro, all 282 Munros (each over 3,000ft) and a 5,000-metre peak in the Himalayas, where she scattered some of her mother’s ashes, finally being able to lay to rest some of the ghosts of her (and her mother’s) past. There is an important thread which runs through her story which leads to this ‘pilgrimage’ to Nepal (you must read the story to find out what it is!) and I found the symbolic nature of her trip very poignant and powerful as, yet again, she battled the elements with huge fortitude, determined not to give up on her ultimate goal.
Written in an engaging, easy to read style, I found this a moving and inspiring story about loss, grief and love, and of how the author’s determination and courage enabled her to face and overcome the difficulties and challenges of her life. As someone for whom being in the outdoors, especially sitting on top of a mountain I’ve toiled up, has always meant knowing that whatever my mood when starting out, my efforts would be rewarded with a sense of achievement, joy and peaceful contentment, I found much that I could identify with in Sarah’s accounts of the healing nature of the landscape. Also, as I’m familiar with many of the Scottish locations she described, reading her accounts of particular walks and climbs evoked some very vivid and enjoyable memories for me. Walking in wild, remote places can be dangerous, however well-prepared you are, but the dangers are increased if you don’t take some basic precautions and if you take any unnecessary risks. So, whilst reading her accounts of her early ventures into the mountains, when she didn’t follow some of the basic ‘rules’, and especially when she appeared not to learn from earlier mistakes, I did find myself feeling quite angry with her for putting not only herself, but others, at risk – even though I could sympathise with some of the psychology underlying her apparent carelessness about her own safety!
I think Sarah has written a truly inspirational story, one which demonstrates that with courage, a determination never to give up and a willingness to carry on putting ‘one foot in front of the other and just keep on walking’ it’s possible to overcome problems and achieve your goals, whatever they are. It is clear from her story that she has valued the support of family and friends during her journey of self-discovery, but I hope she feels proud of what she has achieved because all her successes are her own – and in never giving up, she has certainly fulfilled her promise to her mother.
Elliott Thompson 20th June 2019
Personal read: 4*
Group read: 4*
Review by Linda Hepworth