Wednesday, 16 April 2014

A change of landscape for a while

 About to descend the chockstone pitch in Hob's House Cave, Peak District. I'll be based in the Peak District National Park until the end of the year.
A few weeks ago I watched a quite unbelievable display of the Nothern Lights from my home in the Cairngorms. Two hours of green and red shimmering curtains climaxed with a full-on "strobe light" show that was easily one of the most amazing things I'll ever see. As Nicole and I watched the Aurora from our front door, I couldn't help but give a thought to just how much of a wrench leaving the Highlands might be.

I'd known for months that we'd probably be leaving the Highlands for a while this Spring. My feelings about the whole idea have swung wildly from one place to another, from out-right terror at the whole idea to excitement at going somewhere new. The winter did its thing and I was fortunate enough to have 4 months to concentrate fully on climbing and fulfilling some long-held ambitions in the mountains.

Eventually my frenetic emotions about leaving started to settle, and a few things made me realise that being away from the Highlands for a while would be a good thing, and in all likelihood a healthy change. I've been climbing, walking, running, scrambling and exploring the Highlands without rest for 5 years now, often without thought for much else and at a pace I never thought I'd sustain for a fraction of that time.

It would have been awful to get to a point where I couldn't see the magic anymore. That was still a while in the future for certain, but for the first time recently I could actually see that happening some day. I'd shaped my life and circumstances in such a way that I've  been blessed to have done more in the Scottish mountains in the last 5 years than many would fit into a lifetime, but you can have too much of a good thing.

As I write this my hands are grazed and my fingertips a bit sore, there's some good bruises on my legs and my rucksack and climbing helmet are caked in dried mud. My first 30 gritstone route solos have proven a fascinating learning curve and I seem to be spending a lot of time crawling down caves getting a whole new kind of adrenaline fix. My newly bought guidebook to "Caves of the Peak District" is already becoming very familiar and I think I've found another outlet for my energy.

Who knows just how long we'll be here for? I've no illusions, I'm going to miss the Highlands in a very big way. Likely as not I'll always get pangs for those idyllic spring days climbing on Aonach Dubh before a shift in the Clachaig. But being unleashed on a totally new landscape like
this one can only be a good thing. My blog posts from now on will be fewer and further between, but check back on me from time to time, I'll still be around. And Snowdonia isn't very far away either....

Lathkill Dale, a mile from our new front door. A great place for running.
Entering the second chamber in Thirst House Cave, Deepdale. Caving is something I'll be doing much more of in the coming months.

V.Diffs at Castle Naze. My first 30 solos on gritstone have been a great learning curve.

Slanting Crack (Severe 4a), a fun solo with a quite physical crux.

Haddon Grove Dale Cave. I found this one by accident, the entrance very narrow and overgrown.

Flowstone formations in Thirst House Cave, Deepdale.
The impressive vertical slit of Hob's House Cave, Monsal Dale. Probably the most fun cave I've descended yet.

Deepdale, 5 minutes from our new home.

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