They say finding a new hobby and something to focus on can really change your outlook on life. For Keith White, Assistant Manager of the Cotswold Outdoor store in Liverpool, walking and mountaineering not only helped his mindset but also led him to embark on an entirely new career path.
Having combined his passion and expertise in a role at Cotswold Outdoor, Keith reflects on just how much the outdoors has helped to shape who he is today.
After a series of unfortunate events between 2009 and 2011, Keith, 43, from Liverpool, had been struggling with his mental health. Losing his dad to lung cancer, a relationship ending and his home needing to have some costly repairs, were all taking their toll. After speaking with some close friends from Aberdeen, they invited Keith to walk the West Highland Way to help him ‘get away from it all’. Upon accepting their invitation, Keith immediately noticed how it began to impact positively on his mental state, and how the walk itself allowed him to process what was going on in his life more objectively, rather than emotionally.
“Before that first walk in Scotland, I’d never done any walking at all. I had fallen into the rut of working, spending my money on clothes, and paying the bills. I would occasionally play squash for something to do. I learnt I was at my happiest when surrounded by the greens and blues of the outdoors. It resonated with me so much. Whether you’re walking along a canal, the coast, or up a mountain – as long as you’re in nature, you’re in a good place. It allowed me to process everything that was happening in my life at that time.”
He continues: “After losing my dad in 2011 to a two-year battle with lung cancer, I decided I was going to climb Kilimanjaro to raise money for Macmillan Cancer Support. As part of my training for Kilimanjaro, I climbed my first mountain, Snowdon, in 2012. It was tough but I loved it. I then went on to tackle the likes of the Yorkshire Three Peaks, National Three Peaks and other hills in Snowdonia and the Lake District.
“Through my preparation for climbing Kilimanjaro, I met lots of like-minded people. We would share stories of our walks and adventures, and after completing the Kilimanjaro expedition in 2013, I knew I’d made friends for life.
“With a newfound love for walking, when I came back from Kilimanjaro, I suddenly started to feel empty again. I’d spent so much time preparing for the climb and thinking about it non-stop, then suddenly, it was over and done with. I had been working in the mobile phone industry since 2001 and I no longer had a passion for that line of work. It bored me, I wasn’t motivated by money and the market was overly saturated. It was at this point I started looking at Cotswold Outdoor.”
Keith’s passion for the outdoors, hiking and rambling with friends, made Cotswold Outdoor the perfect place for him to work. Seven and half years later, Keith hasn’t looked back. Now as an Assistant Manager at the Liverpool Church Street store, Keith loves nothing more than to share his experiences with customers who are embarking on their first adventures. Customers have frequently noted how his excitement, confidence and reassuring advice have really resonated with budding mountaineers who visit the store.
After realising his love for all things hiking and walking with friends, Keith qualified as a Summer Mountain Leader in 2017, enabling him to offer his clients amazing adventures and lifelong memories.
“Keeping in touch with friends I made on the Kilimanjaro trek, I kept finding myself asking them how I could do what they do. They referred me to the Mountain Training Association and from that point on, I documented every activity I did until I qualified as a Mountain Leader.
“Working as a Mountain Leader based just outside Liverpool, I’m equidistant from Snowdonia, the Lake District and the Yorkshire peaks. From April to October, I lead groups in the mountains and hills. I love getting to work with people from all backgrounds and different levels of experience. They might be a group that has come together from a workplace, through a scheme such as ‘Choose a Challenge’ at university, or even walking to raise money for a charity. “Having a leader helps them to enjoy the day more and they don’t have to stress about navigation or what the weather might have in store. I can help them with fuelling on their hikes or even just pass on general knowledge, guiding them on outdoor etiquette. For example, instilling in people the ethos of taking everything off the mountains – including the likes of banana skins. Some people might ask questions about clouds, rock formations or even animals – we get a lot of wild goats in Snowdonia. For many it’s their first time, so I love that I get to be a part of their journey.”
All of this has led to some truly memorable, one-of-a-kind adventures for Keith. From Kilimanjaro reunions that led to planning a trip to Argentina, to trekking in Russia in 2017 and Nepal in 2018. You name it, Keith’s walked it, or is planning to.
“My expedition to Argentina in 2016 was a special one. We climbed Aconcagua, the highest walk in the world, also known as one of the ‘Seven Summits’. Some of the views I saw on that trip will stay with me for the rest of my life: it was breath-taking.
“My favourite walks in the UK are in Snowdonia, as well as Helvellyn and Blencathra in the Lake District. Anywhere abroad is always a great trip too. You’re immediately immersed into a different culture and it’s a sensory overload with all different sights, sounds and smells.”
Always raring to go, Keith has planned a trip to Morocco next month, subject to any travel restrictions. The trip will be a welcome change of scenery after having to stay close to home during the last 18 months of the pandemic. Keith has also planned a fantastic trip to Tanzania for 2022. Other places high on Keith’s list of trekking adventures include New Zealand, Iceland, Vietnam, Canada and Antarctica.
Keith confesses to being quite naïve when he set out on his first walk a decade ago. On a 96-mile walk through the Highlands, his knees were shot to pieces after three days, so walking downhill was particularly painful. Since then, Keith has learnt so much about the physiology of walking and how it can take its toll on old sporting injuries if you aren’t fully prepared, and properly equipped.
Keith comments: “That first walk was a massive learning curve and I really tested myself. What is easy for someone might feel like Everest to someone else and I’m always aware of this, both in my role at Cotswold Outdoor and as a Mountain Leader.
“When it comes to expeditions there is so much to understand, from the weather and the impact it can have, to fulfilling your dietary requirements and how this might impact on the weight you’re carrying. It can really take you out of your comfort zone. I’ve learned ‘on the job’ and I take so much satisfaction from that. You learn a lot about yourself during those first few hikes.
“My best piece of advice to someone who is just starting out walking and wants to tackle these kinds of challenges is to have an easy going, adaptive attitude. Your mind will go before your body does. You need to have a way to manage your thoughts and stay resilient. Don’t look at the end goal if it is too overwhelming, break it down into segments then just absorb the adventure with every step you take.”
For those inspired by Keith’s memories and experiences, Keith shares his advice on the must-haves, whether you’re a walking newcomer or a seasoned pro.
“The one key piece of kit that I think everyone should own is a decent set of waterproofs, particularly when walking here in the UK where you can have four seasons in one day. You always want to take them with you. Trust me, it’s better to have them and not need them, than to get halfway into a walk and have to turn back.
“Footwear is also a really important piece of kit to get right. You’ve got to consider comfort, which is entirely subjective for everyone, but you also must have the right fit and wiggle room at the toes, with minimal heel lift when walking downhill. A footwear fitting appointment at Cotswold Outdoor really helps with this. Rather than just having a transaction at a till point, a fitting gives me the opportunity to get to know a customer. You get a conversation going during the fitting and understand their requirements better, ensuring they get the right purchase first time.”
Keith’s top kit picks:
Synthetic Jacket: Mountain Equipment Fitzroy
“It’s bombproof! I’ve had it for six years and it’s still going strong. It goes everywhere with me – in the UK and abroad.”
for Cotswold Outdoor’s range of jackets from Mountain Equipment. here Mid-layer: Mountain Equipment Switch
“It’s practical as it wicks moisture away from my skin and keeps me comfortable, but I also think I look good in it!”
for the Mountain Equipment Men’s Switch Jacket. here Montane Terra Pants
“I’ve had these since 2014 and they are my go-to trousers. They’re well ventilated but are also reinforced in places and are really hard-wearing, so if you were to rub against a boulder or fall over, there’s protection there.”
for Cotswold Outdoor’s range of Montane Men’s Terra Pants. here
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