For Simon Ogunlana, becoming a Mountain Leader opened the door to a new world of work as a mountain professional. From his home in Warrington, he now takes groups to explore the hills and mountains throughout the UK.
How did you get into the outdoors? Is walking the activity that you enjoy the most or have you been involved in other sports?
My first ever walking experience was when I was around 12 or 13. I completed a 25 mile hike in North Wales with the Boys Brigade. My biggest memory of the hike was not the distance or the hills or anything like that but a farmer’s field that was plagued with flies that we had to walk through. The thought of those flies buzzing round me now still makes me shiver. I didn’t really do any further walking until I went on an expedition to Costa Rica with World Challenge when I was 18. It was a once in a lifetime experience, so I thought. Although looking back now it was the first of many.
Some of the leaders and I at a local Boys Brigade decided to undertake the Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge with the boys to raise some funds for the company. We were sadly told by the Boys Brigade a week before the event and after all the planning, that due the Boys Brigade regulations we could not undertake the challenge with the boys as the leaders held no qualifications. As leaders we decided to do it ourselves without the boys and still donated our sponsorship to the Boys Brigade. 11 hours and 5 minutes was pretty good for a beginner I thought, although tackling the stairs to bed that night was the biggest challenge of all. I see this as my real entry point into the outdoor industry as it began a whirlwind of personal walking days, and peak bagging to fill my log book.
I completed a Basic Expedition and Leadership Award and managed to get a job with my local council running the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, which enabled me to continue work towards the main goal, which was to be a Mountain Leader.
When did you do your Mountain Leader award and how did you find the experience?
I completed my Mountain Leader Award on 26th November 2010, just 5 months after my training. The experience was brilliant and I loved every minute, despite the rather large dump of snow during the first night of the expedition. The instructor said if we could do everything we needed to fulfil the criteria in those conditions, summer would be a breeze.
All four of us passed and I drove home with a very large smile on my face at the thought of my next walking day being one where I would be an outdoor professional. My other motivation for completing the award was the fact I was being threatened with redundancy at work and as Mountain Leader I would at least be able to work freelance for companies. It was a backup in case I was made redundant.
When and how did you set up your company? What sort of work do you do?
I began freelancing almost straight away leading Duke of Edinburgh’s expeditions and doing mountain challenges whilst building a basic website and processes for a business.
In April 2011 we set up Mountaineerin, which offers National Three Peaks Challenges, Yorkshire Three Peaks and Guided Mountain Days. Almost three years on I am still amazed that people book events with us and each booking is a mini achievement. We are also a Duke of Edinburgh Award approved activity provider under the name Challenge Expeditions. I spend most of my time leading National Three Peaks or on Duke of Edinburgh expeditions.
As well as the above we are now planning trips overseas for the first time and are in the early stages of taking a group to Kilimanjaro and possibly Mount Toubkal. The business continues to move forward and it is a constant excitement planning new events and trips.
What stops you giving it all up for a ‘normal’ job earning more money?
Running your own business doesn’t always feel secure in the sense that you are reliant on you and you alone to bring in the wages. It’s really easy to go to work each day and someone pays you at the end of each month. It’s hassle free and you don’t have to worry about getting paid whereas living month to month, week to week can be stressful, but, and I think it’s a big but, a lot of people go to work every day and then spend their first hour at home that night complaining about work.
I have never returned to my car or settled down in my tent and thought “blimey that was a rubbish day.” Even the worst day I have had on a hill was a better day than that sat behind a desk in an office. I love what I do and living a positive enjoyable life is more important than spending the bulk of it in a job you hate.
That said, I currently work part time for the Youth Offending Team training volunteers who do one-to-one mentoring with young offenders. I have an exit strategy from ‘normal’ employment to hopefully be fully self employed by the start of the 2015 financial year. I suppose at some point you have to stop thinking about it and jump straight in!
Where’s your favourite place to go walking?
My favourite place close by would be Snowdonia, especially around Snowdon and Ogwen. I love the colour of the mountains and its rugged feel. The views on a good day are also spectacular.
A little further afield would be the Highlands in Scotland. Ben Lui is a personal favourite. I have also spent a little time in the French Alps and the sheer size of the mountain range gets me excited like a child at Christmas but also scares the hell out of me. A few years ago I remember being on the summit of Tete de Bostan and getting all giddy about the fact I could stand with half of my body in France and the other half in Switzerland. Crazy I know but I think what they say is true; the mountains do keep you young.
What’s your scariest moment in the mountains?
This is simple, Scafell Pike at night wins every time especially in the rain and clag. Approaching the peak in the dark, being thrown around the minibus with a group of ten Three Peakers frantically trying to get boots on and prepare themselves whilst I sit there quietly going through the route in my head. Suddenly the responsibility of being a Mountain Leader becomes a bit more real. No one would ever know and I have been up there many times but it makes me nervous every time without fail.
Do you have any goals for your future in the mountains?
I want to continue my personal walking and see more countries and the mountains in them. I would also like to give others an opportunity to go to new places too and share those first inspiring moments with them as they reach the summit after a gruelling climb. Watching the pain in someone’s face being replaced with awe and joy is a gift you can’t buy.
I would also like to summit Aconcagua.
What’s your favourite piece of kit you take with you for a day on the hill?
If camping, an iPod. Noisy campers = Grrrrrrrr
For a day walk, my Primaloft insulating jacket. It’s so snug and even on a summer day allows me to sit on a summit for longer all cosy and warm. Any type of food is a very close second though.
This article is part of a series of articles celebrating Mountain Training’s 50th anniversary year in 2014.