The Mountains

I have always loved wilderness country, although my introduction to climbing and skiing in the mountains came late in life. There were no mountains where I grew up, and in those days there were no package ski tours on offer, or cheap flights with which to explore and climb the mountain ranges of the world.

In the UK, skiing was still the province of the well-heeled. So too was climbing in the alps - this was the time of the elite mountaineering clubs where a climbing trip to the alps was a gentlemanly affair involving guides and accomodation at hotels rather than the local campsite which has become the norm today.

My initial contact with the mountains came through rambling in the Peak District and the Brecon Beacons. Fairly humble stuff, but it led to more serious climbing endeavours. I enrolled for a winter mountaineering course at Glenmore Lodge in Aviemore, Scotland. This took place in the Cairngorms and covered avalanche awareness, judging snow conditions, rope work, crampon technique, ice axe braking, belaying with ice pegs or a dead man, and ended with a climb up to the edge of the Cairngorm plateau where we dug snow holes in which we spent the night.

Great fun, but it made me aware of how unfit I was. Our normal training area in the Cairngorms was Coire an Lochan, and to get there we had to slog up from the car park at Coire Cas with all our gear, my eyes cast enviously on the ski lifts that whisked by overhead. When walking up a mountain such as Pen y Fan in the Brecon Beacons there are well-trodden paths to follow and it is too easy to pause to admire the view - read take a breather. But taking a breather is not an option when a super-fit Glenmore Lodge climbing instructor is setting the pace and the group is cramponing up Ben Macdhui.

I soon found out real mountaineers don't pause for breath. To a mountaineer the leisurely outing of a rambler is just the 'walk in' to where the real climb begins. In summer it's a plod up steep grassy slopes (in the UK usually wet) and the inevitable loose scree as you near the crag where too often one step forward equals two steps back.

In winter it's a slog through a snow-bound wilderness where, again all too often in the UK, the snow can be too soft to take your weight and what should have been the easiest part of the route has become a struggle to put one foot in front of the other. And all this carrying ropes and a heavy rucksack full of slings and carrabiniers, climbing axe and crampons, helmet, bivvi bag, head torch, and all the other gear that seemed so essential when you set out, but now hangs around your shoulders like a long-dead albatross.

The week on the Winter Mountaineering course was a wakeup call, but the cure for my unfitness was simple, running. (I deny the accusation that all I did was jog.)

Then it was back to Scotland and Glenmore Lodge again, this time for a climbing course which took place in Glencoe. There were only two of us plus our instructor, and from our campsite in Glencoe we became familar with most of the major climbing areas around the Glen. Initially mere 'Diffs' and 'V.Diffs' at Rannoch Wall on Buachaille Etive Mor, but also included climbs such as Clachaig Gully and a VS at the Etive Slabs on Beinn Trilleachan at the head of Loch Etive.

From there it was but a step to joining a climbing club, the London-based Tuesday Climbing Club, TCC, which organised weekend climbing trips to Wales, the Peak District, or the club hut at Patterdale in the Lake District, and lengthier visits to climb the Scottish mountains or the sea cliffs of South-West England.

Climbing in the Alps followed inevitably, and also a love of skiing, although a much-anticipated trip to the Himalayas has never materialized.

There are more details in the sections listed in the index.