This was a pivotal moment in my life, a moment of very careful consideration that changed the direction of everything I was working towards. My life hinged around this moment, turned to a new path, one which I have followed without looking back ever since.
The moment was at the age of 17 with my university application form, neatly filled in with my best hand writing for aeronautical engineering courses, sealed in the envelope and held in the mouth of the letterbox. I was at the point of dropping it in when I took a moment to consider the impact of letting go.
My Dad always said that I never made a paper aeroplane that did not fly. With a bit of shaping and tinkering I could always get a reasonable flight out of anything. I went on to build planes from cardboard (called Gonzo after the Muppet with a long bent nose after a heavy landing) and expanded polystyrene with a wing span nearly as big as my arm span. I remember taking these two planes in to cubs and flying the length of the church hall in front of all the other cubs.
It made sense that I would become an aeronautical engineer. I found it fascinating how you can manage airflow over a surface to create lift and stability, how a subtle shift in centre of mass can cause a glider to stall or to carve a graceful arc across the living room. I was very good at maths too, finding a satisfaction in applying graceful equations to solve sums. Physics and CDT (Craft, Design and Technology) were my other two A level subjects that were fun and would take me towards a career in engineering. And what could be better than designing aeroplanes?
The romantic notion of designing fast jets was chipped away by my CDT course. We went on field trips to the Clarks shoe factory and another batch process factory where we saw the day to day reality of a life in engineering. It was clear that I would not be sketching aeroplanes and following the design process through to its eventual first test flight. Instead I would be a small part in a big team of people sat at desks working on computers. The big vision of designing aeroplanes would come down to a daily grind of tinkering on a screen with momentary high points as a new plane is launched.
So I was there with the application form in the envelope in the mouth of the letterbox trying to work out what I want to do with the rest of my life. I did realise at the time that this was a pivotal moment.
It came down to this – I did not want to spend my life inside, behind a desk, no matter how interesting the work would be. I wanted a career outdoors, exploring new places and foreign countries. How I knew this I’m not totally sure since I had not done very much travelling. I’d been to Greece and done some walking and cycle touring, I’d done lots of walking on Dartmoor and in the Lake District, I’d had a taster rock climbing session and I was heavily in to mountain biking. It was enough to realise that a lifetime of exploring mountains and wild places would be the way to go.
How to get there was the next problem. I thought that having a degree would be a good plan in case my dream did not come true. These days I would have studied in Fort William on the Adventure Tourism Management or Adventure Performance and Coaching course. Back then the closest I could find was a Sports and Exercise Science course at Birmingham University. The thought of going to Birmingham did not appeal but crucially they have an outdoor centre on Coniston Water in The Lake District. Instead of studying athletics, football and rugby I studied mountaineering, sailing and kayaking.
First year students go on a week long, multi-activity course to have a go at all the different activities. In the second and third years there was the possibility to work on the course delivering rock climbing, walking and mountain biking sessions to the first year students. I jumped at the chance and ended up working with Libby Peter, a BMG mountain guide. This was just before I left university and it focussed my direction even further. Libby is an inspiration and I decided then that I would become a mountain guide. The ability to work anywhere in the world taking people up mountains was exactly what I wanted to do and the IFMGA being the top qualification in the world made it all the more appealing.
Ten years later I got my badge after a brilliant ski touring assessment around Mont Velan, after three years of exceptionally hard work on the BMG scheme of training and assessment. I’d already been to Kenya and Tajikistan to guide trips and gone to the Caucasus and Nepal on personal trips. Getting your BMG badge is one of those moments that you will always remember but this was step forwards in the direction I had chosen many years before.
So, I’m very lucky. I am doing the best job for me that continues to challenge and inspire me. I get to live in Fort William, The Outdoor Capital of the UK, and raise my children here. My guiding supports my family and gives me the opportunity to go and do some of the best climbing in the world. But most of all, I’m lucky to have known what I wanted to do for the rest of my life at the tender age of 17. My life pivoted around that moment when I sensed the momentum of my life was taking me in the wrong direction and I had the confidence to change path. I’ve never looked back.
Mike Pescod is the owner of Fort William-based Abacus Mountain Guides. He is also the author of 'Winter Climbs in Ben Nevis and Glen Coe', a volunteer member of Lochaber Mountain Rescue Team and an ambassador for Jöttnar. Photography courtesy of his son, Owen Pescod.
Read about a week's climbing with Mike last winter, here. A guide in his element.