Tom Clague: the hobbyist hiker reaching incredible heights

WE TALK to Tom Clague about how his hobby of hiking has seen him take on some climbing challenges respected throughout the sport.

Tom Clague

Tom Clague got into mountaineering early. At the age of five he climbed Loughrigg in the English Lake District with his dad.

TOM CLAGUE was introduced to mountaineering by his dad at the age of five. Throughout his childhood from that time on he would accompany his father on hikes and climbs all over the country. It was when he started hiking with a friend that he had an idea. That idea was to climb the Alfred Wainwright’s list of the 214 most famous hills and mountains in the English Lake District within a year. 

He completed the challenge in 337 days and hasn’t looked back, setting himself other climbing goals and getting out to France and Spain to hike over the last year. Here he talks about the big adventures he’s set himself for the months and years ahead and goes into detail about where he draws his inspiration from. Find out more about his passion for photography and his ambition to share his love of hiking through his blog and photos online. 


When were you first introduced to hiking and mountaineering and who encouraged you to give the sports a go?


My first experience of hiking is one of my earliest memories, I climbed Loughrigg in the English Lake District with my dad when I was just five.


After that initial introduction to the outdoors and mountains I completed in a number of other hikes over the following years with my dad. We would go hiking maybe four or five times a year but in April 2014 it became a more serious hobby.


A friend from school said he was interested in doing some hiking and knew I had done a bit before so asked me to join. That was the start of a very busy year of hiking; we did various different hikes in the Lakes and Snowdonia mostly long distance and over numerous mountains. It was during one of these hikes, around the Kentmere Horseshoe, that I first had the idea to climb all 214 Wainwrights in one year.



Tom came up with the idea to climb all 214 Wainwrights while out on a hike with a friend.

How often were you able to get out and hike and climb when you were younger and who were some of the mountaineers you looked up to?


As I mentioned earlier, when I was younger I would hike maybe four or five times a year but since hiking became a more serious hobby I am out at least every other week. I began aspiring to climb higher mountains and main inspiration has been Anatoli Boukreev. I first heard of him when reading The Climb and then read his own book, Diaries of a High Altitude Mountaineer. It was at this point that I knew I wanted to become a mountaineer.


Anatoli was a legend and believed strongly in the value of experience when climbing high mountains. I wanted to climb mountains the correct way, by building up my experience of winter climbing and gradually increasing the altitude of mountains I climbed. I have heard lots of stories of people turning up for expeditions with inadequate experience and causing all kinds of problems for the guides and other members. I began to increase my confidence moving over exposed ridges in both summer and winter and learned how to use my ice-axe and crampons correctly. By this time I had also completed a winter mountaineering course and other winter climbs in Scotland, including a solo ascent of Ben Nevis in a blizzard and was now beginning to consider my next step.


What have been some of your most memorable hikes and climbs and where in the world has your passion taken you?


I have had some incredible hikes and climbs over the last three years, mostly in the UK, but my hiking has now taken me to France and Spain. My trip to the Pyrenees this summer was certainly one of the highlights. I spent a week staying around the Gavarnie area and managed to climb both Grand Vignemale and Pic du Taillon during the trip. Grand Vignemale was my first time above 3,000 metres and just two days later Pic du Taillon took me over 3,000 metres again. Climbing Vignemale also included a glacier crossing which provided me with valuable experience. Of my climbs in the UK my most memorable include my solo ascent of Ben Nevis, an amazing day on Skiddaw during a cloud inversion during which I saw my first Brocken Spectre and the final hikes of my Snowdonia and Wainwrights challenges.



Hiking has more recently taken Tom to France and Spain.

Tell us about your challenge of completing all 214 Wainwrights and whether it was successful?


As previously mentioned, during a hike around the Kentmere Horseshoe in December 2014 I decided to attempt all 214 of the fells described in Alfred Wainwright’s Pictorial Guides to Lakeland in one year. This is basically a list of the 214 most famous hills and mountains in the English Lake District. The hike I completed around Kentmere that day took me over eight of Wainwright’s fells and with it being the 28th December it all seemed to fit perfectly. When I got home that evening I researched the possibility of climbing all 214 Wainwrights in 2015. I also thought this would be a fantastic way to see all the parts of the Lake District that I had not visited before and the idea of challenging myself to climb 214 hills and mountains in a year was exciting.


Almost a year and 35 walks later on the 13th December 2015 I stood on top of Loughrigg Fell, the hill that had started it all for me, having completed the 214 Wainwrights in 337 days. I followed this with a new challenge in 2016 when I climbed the 104 official mountains of Snowdonia in 329 days and then this year (2017) I have challenged myself to climb the 116 Outlying Fells of the English Lake District as described in Wainwrights 10th book. At the time of writing this I have climbed 88 outliers and have three months remaining to complete my most recent challenge.


How have you combined your passions for writing and photography with hiking?


My passion for photography and hiking complement each other perfectly, my hiking takes me to some of the most beautiful places and then I have the pleasure of capturing those amazing views with my camera. I love sharing the pictures I capture on my Instagram page (greyfoxhiking) as well as my most recent updates from my challenges. I enjoy writing blogs about my different challenges and am even considering a book documenting my Wainwrights adventure, at the moment however, this is still a working progress and certainly will not be completed anytime soon.


Tom Clague

You can find Tom on Instagram at ‘greyfoxhiking’.

How are you currently spending your time and how often are you out on the mountains? Do you have any exciting climbs or hikes coming up soon?


Currently I am spending my time in the hills working towards the completion of my most recent challenge. I am 88 Outlying Fells down leaving 28 for me to summit before the end of December 2017. I have maintained my rate of being out in the mountains at least every other week over the last three years, ever since hiking and mountaineering became a more serious hobby for me.


In the future I am planning a return to Scotland this winter to gain some more experience of winter mountaineering and I am in the early stages of planning my progression into the Alps next summer with the 4,000 metre peaks of Gran Paradiso and Monte Rosa being high on my list of possible summits.

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