Tuesday, 1 January 2013

A very rewarding year

2012 was always going to be a bit of a question-mark for me…would I be able to maintain my momentum for yet another year in Glencoe? After having totally immersed myself in the glen and the West Highlands since 2009, would I be able to  keep finding new things to climb and having new great experiences to the same degree for another year?

 The Northern Cuillin after soloing Pinnacle Ridge on Sgurr nan Gillean.

Thankfully the answer has been a definite yes, and yet again I've had a year that has exceeded my expectations and surpassed 2011 for the sheer number of great days I've had.

2012 has been a brilliant year to spend in the West Highlands. In total contrast to the almost perpetual rain of 2011, this year has been defined by how much the sun has shone. After a poor second half of the winter, the spring and early summer were gorgeous and two lengthy heat-waves gave me the most memorable period of climbing I've ever had in a Scottish summer so far. The autumn was beautiful with stunning displays of colours and sunrises and starscapes amongst the best I've seen, and this winter started with a long cold snap and plenty of winter routes in good condition.

Early morning drama over the Aonach Eagach, Glencoe

But I knew that this year, my approach would have to change in order for me to remain as inspired and energetic as previous years. After you spend a certain amount of time somewhere (even somewhere as awesome as Glencoe) you can find your level of enthusiasm for getting out a bit more stretched than it used to be. The excitement of being somewhere new has calmed. 

Sunset in Glencoe
But I didn't just want to retain my enthusiasm and momentum, I wanted to increase it. The excitement of being new here has left and been replaced by a deep love for the area and a desire to get to know it again through a different set of eyes.

 First ascent of "The Surprise" (Severe*), Aonach Dubh, Glencoe

So how was I to do this? How do you make an area so familiar to you become a new playground again?

I needed to take my hill-fitness to a new level, to increase it to a point where I could be taking on normally 6-8 hour hill-days in a quarter of that time instead. I wanted to be fit enough so that I could enjoy the views from Ben Nevis and the Aonach Eagach on the same morning without having to think about aching legs. I wanted to be able to climb long mountaineering routes during a 3 hour break during a work-shift.

The Northern Lights, a meteor shower and the finest star-scape I've ever seen - an incomparable night on Rannoch Moor.

So I did. And it was very simple really…I ran uphill, up and down the corries several times a week for the last 14 months of so. It has been one of the single best changes to my lifestyle I've ever made - not only have I been out in the hills more frequently than ever before, but the fitness I've gained from hill-running has gone way beyond anything I was expecting.
 Soloing the North-East Ridge of Aonach Beag in scorching May weather. A very memorable and adventurous mountain route.

But I knew that increasing fitness was only one stepping stone towards achieving the kinds of days in the mountains I was after. Whilst some of my finest ever days in the mountains have not been the result of boldness, aiming higher this year on the routes I was soloing was going to be the key to opening up more possibilities. 

A golden eagle above Sgurr Thuilm, Glenfinnan.
And so, this year, it was time to start going for the routes which I'd always considered just that little bit too dangerous or hard for me to solo in the past. As a result some of the routes I've climbed this year have been some of the most memorable I've ever done. From long mountaineering adventures like the NE Ridge of Aonach Beag to short but high quality new routes in Glencoe.
Soloing "Archie's Ridge" (III,4*), Aonach Dubh West face.
As always though, I've reminded myself that no amount of fitness or boldness will necessarily determine which days are the best. The mountains do that. In my opinion climbing the hardest route you've ever done will never surpass the feeling of elation that comes from being high above a cloud inversion as the sun rises, or watching a meteor shower against the backdrop of the Northern Lights.
At the base of Beinn Eighe's mighty East Buttress, one of Scotland's best Difficult mountain routes.
Mountain sunrises and cloud inversions, long distance ridge traverses after no sleep, visits to Skye, Handa, Raasay and Fladday, close encounters with golden eagles, watching an otter swimming in Loch Etive…this year has reminded me yet again that there is so, so much more to the mountains than climbing.
 Schiehallion viewed from Carn Mor Dearg.

So 2013 is here, and it is time for me to re-define my own boundaries yet again. I have a bit of hard work to do to raise my fitness a bit higher again to open up another new set of possibilities, and I can't wait to get my teeth stuck in.

A very happy new year to you all folks. Keep safe and have fun in the mountains in 2013.

1 comment:

  1. A happy new year to you James, I have really enjoyed reading your blog this year and I always look forward to your fantastic photographs of Glencoe. I will be in Glencoe for 10 days at the beginning of February and hope to bump into in the Clachaig.