Friday, 2 December 2011

Thoughts on quality versus quantity (posted by James)

A frustrating and grim day in Glencoe

I retreated off the Beinn Fhada ridge in Glencoe this morning, quite rightly so in rapidly deteriorating weather. But the very fact I was up there at all in such weather proves that today I am guilty of not practicing what I preach…i.e that patience is the the greatest virtue of a winter climber in Scotland.

It is so hard to remember sometimes that waiting out the bad weather and holding back until conditions are good is often the key to getting the most out of the winters. Last year we were all spoilt…generally speaking there was something (usually lots) you could climb between November and March, and as a result I hurtled through the winter months non-stop and ticked off a long list of routes.

But something photography has taught me is that a handful of special moments can be worth far more than all the rest combined. And when this winter is over, I'll look back and it'll be those moments, whatever they might be, that come to mind first. The ability to wait, to keep a constant eye on how conditions progress and then to spring into action when the time is right....that's what will get you your results, not the ability to do one-arm pull ups.

Going out in bad weather and conditions like today and turning around, if done often is not only demoralising, it is actively deleterious for a soloist like me. Andy Kirkpatrick wisely observes in his recent book that the soloist's mind can be full of nothing but positive thoughts. And so often when you back off a route you analyse in your mind whether you were justified in doing so….could you have pressed on if you'd just "manned up"?

My major goal for this season is a one that, if I do it, could probably only be surpassed in quality by a winter traverse of the Cuillin Ridge. But I'm going to need to be fit, really really fit in order to achieve it and enjoy it at the same time. So perhaps if on the poor weather days this winter I focus more on training and fitness than getting rained off the hill..…then it'll hopefully become a reality. Better to have one magical experience define a winter season, rather than a long string of "could have been" days.


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