Leaving the city to start a new life up in the mountains is the kind of thing most of us talk about in the pub shortly before closing time. But for Charley Radcliffe it was a very real decision, one that saw him and his wife Sophie change their lives dramatically. Here he explains how their search for adventure went from being a dream to what they do every day.
As I pack my bags in preparation for my trip to the Nepal, I can’t help but look back at how much my life has changed over the last 12 months. From working in a rapidly growing tech startup in London to the giant mountains of the Mont Blanc Massif in Chamonix, things are certainly very different.
“When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life” – Samuel Johnson
I was born and raised in London and, up until recently, was convinced that I would live there for the rest of my life. I’ve often said that I’m spoilt having growing up in London; the access to world-class events, gigs, and museums; the fact that, no matter what time or day, you can find a club, bar or restaurant willing to feed your desire; or, the incredible work and career opportunities in the city that never sleeps.
Things started to change for me, though.
I first visited Chamonix in 2010, to climb Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in Western Europe at 4,810m, with my (now) wife, Sophie. We had just started dating when she dropped the bomb that she wanted to climb Mont Blanc and she would be away the following summer for a few weeks training and then climbing the mountain. I was eager to impress my new girlfriend but also, as a long time snowboarder, was intrigued by idea of being in the mountains in the summer.
It didn’t take long for both us to start considering it as the place we were meant to be.
All it took was that one trip and I was hooked. I fell in love, not just with Chamonix but, everything to do with the mountains, especially when they’re covered with snow and ice. I was well and truly bitten by the bug and Sophie and my holidays quickly transformed from bar-hopping city breaks to weekends camping in soggy fields, sweating, and struggling up rock climbs and mountains.
We continued to visit Chamonix and it didn’t take long for both us to start considering it as the place we were meant to be. We were captivated by the mountains, the climbing, the running, and any one of the other seemingly endless sports you could do here. Returning to London started to lose its appeal and before long we were discussing what it would be like to live here rather than just visit. The big question, though, was ‘How?’.
Living the dream and the sacrifices that takes
People often say that we are living the dream out here in the Alps and I would have to agree. What this fails to cover, however, is the sacrifices we have made to turn that dream into a reality. We knew when we first discussed moving to Chamonix that we didn’t want to be working cleaning chalets or driving transfer buses, we had worked too hard at our careers to just throw it all away.
Sophie and I both worked in and ran digital and technology companies, with our roles requiring a high level of colleague and client face-to-face engagement. How were we going to take these jobs with us if we needed to be meeting people in the UK every week? Could we commute weekly back and forth? We’ve heard of people who do that but it didn’t appeal. We didn’t want to just live in the mountains at weekends and scrape together one or two days a week out there. What we were looking for was a more wholesale change to our approach to work and life, to the clients we worked with and, in the kind of work we were doing.
Over the following 12 months, both of us worked hard to retrain and gain new skills that would translate to being able to earn enough money to live on while freeing up as much time as possible to be in the outdoors. We started fine tuning who we wanted to work with and then what we could offer them from our digital skillset that we could deliver on remotely. Little by little we started to make progress and gain the confidence that the big move could work.
What if we have to come back in 6 months time with our tails between our legs begging for our old jobs back?
Finally we came to a crossroad. It was decision time. If we were going to do this we needed to commit, but committing was terrifying; we were going to have to resign from the companies we worked for, give up our flat, sell as much of our belongings as possible, then pack what was left in the car and drive off into the sunset. What if it doesn’t work out? What if we have to come back in 6 months time with our tails between our legs begging for our old jobs back?
As we ventured into the first 6 months in Chamonix, we had to make more sacrifices; colleagues we left would tell us of work going from strength to strength, we missed important birthdays or celebrations back home, and spending money was tighter. Had we made a mistake?
I won’t lie, this thought has crossed my mind once or twice in the last year and every time, it is resoundingly cast out of my head as I look up at the mountains around me. The fact I’ve swapped my runs along the canals of London for ski-touring up the mountains before dawn to be greeted by the sun creeping over these beautiful mountains, or, when finishing work, being welcomed home to views like the setting sun lighting the deep red granite spires in the Mont Blanc Aiguilles is enough alone to know this is where I want to be, no matter what the cost.
What makes it truly special is that the combination of modern technology coupled with companies being more open-minded with work possibilities, means I’m able to continue my career out here. Yes, it is not exactly what I was doing in London, in fact, it is far more exciting. I’m working with outdoor brands that I can really relate to, on projects that inspire and challenge me, all while being able to enjoy the quality of life that is nigh on impossible to achieve in London.
We had to take a leap of faith to give this a chance to exist. With planning, preparation, and a willingness to live a little by the seat of our pants, we are making it work. All the sacrifices are worth it and moving to the mountains has truly allowed me to live my dream.
Picture Credit: Charley Radcliffe