Monday, 24 October 2011

A pause for thought before the coming winter (posted by James)

The risks and the rewards

At about 8:15am on the 28th February this year, I had one of the most memorable 10 minutes of my life. I was stood on the Aonach Eagach in the snow, watching the sun rise. I have seen dozens upon dozens of sunrises, but this was one apart. First it made the hair stand up on the back of my neck, then it took my breath away. And in the minutes that followed it imprinted itself on my soul. I will take the raw beauty of that dawn with me to my grave.


I'm often asked by friends and blog-followers just why I am so massively inspired by the winters in Scotland. That sunrise appears again in my mind's eye, and I briefly toy with using it as an anecdote to explain. But the truth is, there's no point. You had to be there.


October and November are the months which are exciting and frustrating in equal measures for winter climbers in Scotland. And I find myself sometimes wondering…why go to such lengths? Why invest so much of my time and energy in such a notoriously fickle endeavour as winter climbing?


Just now I'm in training mode, trying to get as fit as possible before the season kicks in properly. I'm pretty fit just now, but am I "winter fit"? I don't know anything as physically demanding as a full season winter climbing in Scotland, and especially in the early season there just seems to be a great deal of effort involved. Two exhausting hours post-holing through deep snow to find your route isn't in condition can really ruin your day….


So you go through the quite usual run of bad days, route failures, awful weather and "sod-it-lets-go-to-the-pub-instead" moments, and then one morning it all comes together and you have an amazing day.


"Amazing"….just a word, and not an adequate one. Moments that are quite common and usual in a standard day of winter climbing are far outside the experience of the vast majority of people. And that includes all the bad days…a 12 hour epic on Ben Nevis is grim at the time, but how much life do you live in those 12 hours? A lot, I think.


It's a strange old thing, facing the start of my 3rd complete Scottish winter season with the knowledge gained from past experience. I know that in the next 5 months or so in the mountains I will experience ball-breaking fatigue, fear and anxiety. I'll feel such cold that it hurts and at points I'll probably have to fight for my life.


But I also know I'll experience such moments again as that sunrise on the Aonach Eagach. And that a few moments in the right place, at the right time, can quite genuinely touch your soul.


Have a great winter everyone.


James

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