Tag Archives: WML

Highland Hobo Epilogue

Welcome home card

Welcome home card

Mark Chadwick, the Course Director for my Winter Mountain Leader (WML) assessment, passed my logbook across the table. There was a new red sticker in the WML section.

 

I had passed.

 

Primarily I was relieved, but then wondered what to do next. Better go and pack up and leave, was my conclusion. Clearly the culmination of six weeks was a huge anticlimax, but I was profoundly glad that the process had come to a happy end.

 

During the assessment, I was reminded of the Kraken, a mythical sea monster that is said to have ambushed ships and consumed their crews. Another candidate, Lucy Wallace of Wild on Arran, who passed the week before, had also described the process like a sudden, but expected, attack by demons:

 

There is a demon waiting out there in the storm for every prospective winter ML candidate.  You know it is coming, but you have to wait to learn how and when it will attack.

 

Although the weather was wild on the first day when it became hard to see fellow candidates in the blizzard carrying out their ice axe arrest skills 10 metres down on a slope, I felt we were given a reprieve on the expedition. Navigation plays a big part in the assessment, and although we had low visibility, walking in cloud predominantly, there were no winds to deal with at the critical points.

 

Tennyson wrote a sonnet about the Kraken, but interestingly in the poem the beast remains hidden in the depths, silent, still and waiting. Only one day will it awake and roar to the surface. We had escaped the Kraken – the weather beasts had granted us safe passage, but they are still out there waiting for the unwary…

 

So there ends the mini-chronicle of the highland hobo. Hopefully most of my walking will now be in and out from climbing routes and leading clients and friends in winter conditions!

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Highland Hobo #6

DSC06156

My favourite photo from the last month. Ben Alder, the ‘hill of rock and water’. A fitting title for a mountain which exhibits so flawlessly all the elemental aspects of the outdoors.

This is my final update before my Winter Mountain Leader (WML) assessment starts on Monday. It’s strange to think that I stepped onto the hillside of Lochnagar on New’s Year’s Day, a month ago yesterday.

 

I want to revisit briefly a legacy post to bring this little chronicle neatly to a close. I quoted from Ulysses, by Alfred, Lord Tennyson in Scotland, Skyfall & Ulysses and would like to mention The Charge of the Light Brigade in conclusion.

 

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
Volleyed and thundered;
Stormed at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of hell
Rode the six hundred.

 

I’ve invested a lot of time, effort and money into working towards the WML award. There have been sacrifices – family, comforts and conveniences – and it’s taken a lot of determination, and it all boils down to this coming week. Perhaps the process has become all-engrossing; I do feel that it’s now do or die.

 

The reference to The Charge of the Light Brigade is not meant to create an overly-heroic or macho image. Life will go on after the assessment regardless of the result. However, I have thought a lot about family, fathers and children while I’ve been away – unsurprising, I suppose, with a small family at home and in the face of very harsh and unrelenting conditions.

 

Little boys and girls idolise their fathers, and love to maintain their daddy as a hero who does great things and then comes home for hugs. All fathers are human and prone to fault, but all too often the role model of a father is lacking. Children don’t demand perfection, they are willing to forgive, but do look for a true heart. I quote The Charge of the Light Brigade because I want to be an inspiring role model to my girls and to encourage other fathers to be all they can be to their children.

 

It’s not about war heroism, putting on a façade or being false. Let’s not be melodramatic, no one’s going to die, but it’s about getting a job done. It’s about being all you can be and giving it your all. The poem talks about carrying on in the face of errors:

 

Not though the soldier knew
Someone had blundered.
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die.

 

This week the weather may have some tricks up it’s sleeve . It’s a bit of an unknown, wondering how you’ll cope in gales and storms, whilst juggling all the other demands of a winter leader – navigation, avalanche and group safety, route choice. At the end of the end of the day, though, I hope I can put aside replies and reasoning whys and simply put to good affect the skills, knowledge and enthusiasm that I’ve built up over the last while.

 

I’m looking forward to a big hug with my wife and little girls next Sunday too.

 

 

Simon is the Morocco Director and an instructor with The Mountain People. He is currently preparing for his Winter Mountain Leader assessment, as chronicled by the ‘Highland Hobo’ series.


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Highland Hobo #4

On the Lancet Ridge

On the Lancet Ridge

Intense was the feeling that I came away with after a week in the Ben Alder region.

 

Intense situations: a knife edge ridge, snow covered mountains to the horizons, night navigation to leave the area, crossing frozen burns

 

Intense cold: -2 to -7 degrees average outdoor temperatures; 0 to 2 degrees average indoor; breaking ice to draw water; the lingering feeling of cold in the bones

 

Intense emotionally: taking responsibility for another person in a real wilderness situation; assessing avalanche hazards; and the long, interminable nights

 

I would be lying if I did not admit that I am weary from the cumulative experience of the last three weeks. Perhaps it was the lack of a rest day for over a week. Really, it is being apart from family and having a lot of comforts and norms stripped away. Yet something in me keeps me to the task of seeing this Winter Mountain Leader award through to completion.

 

There were many moments of sublime consciousness, seeing things in nature and the landscape that evoked deep thoughts. I will not share these at this point, not to multiply those from last time. I simply share one from the extraction walk.

 

We left the bothy at 4:00am to commence the five hour trudge to the road, walking by the light of headtorches with wind-driven snow falling around us. In the beam of my torch snowflakes scudded past, too fast for the eye to recognise an individual form. Instead, the flakes took on the appearance of acetate film strips, the white of the flakes forming the perforations of the 35mm film. Multiple layers of strips, white on black, carved across my field of vision. I walked onwards, engrossed in the small cinematic world of one; a banal, yet strangely involved activity of night walking, finally, and thankfully, broken by the watery winter dawn.

 

Torridon was supposed to be next up on the list, but has been postponed because of high winds. We head into the back of Glencoe tomorrow, mindful of those who lost their lives recently, but eager for what our adventure will bring us.

 

Ben Alder Forest

Ben Alder Forest

 

Simon is the Morocco Director and an instructor with The Mountain People. He is currently preparing for his Winter Mountain Leader assessment, as chronicled by the ‘Highland Hobo’ series.

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Highland Hobo #3

Ice, sun and sky - at last!

Ice, sun and sky – at last!

Of what does a memorable mountain day consist? Good weather, great snow conditions, camaraderie?

 

A great day on the hill is the sum of its parts; it gains its integrity through an amalgamation of many small and different aspects that contribute to the whole experience.

 

Here are a few special moments from my last two days on the hill:

 

It was just before dawn on my expedition in the Grey Corries. A crimson colour was seeping across the sky with the rising of the sun.  All was still, soothed by a gentle cloaking of thin mist. I paused on the climb onto the flanks of Stob Choire Claurigh. Glancing over my shoulder, a stag had been silently observing me. More startled than I, it bolted, retreating to a safer distance to watch my progress.

 

One of my highlights during a winter day on the hill is the first snowpatch of the day. These normally linger in small hollows, and little irregularities in the hillside, shielded from the brunt of the milder weather that frequently sweeps past. The first snowpatch is, to me, a significant milestone, although small physically – a microcosm, which represents the spirit of resilience and strength in the face of adversity (winter must necessarily be tenacious in a maritime climate as Scotland). A small reminder each day to walk with a spirit of perseverance.

 

The Grey Corries ridge

The Grey Corries ridge

A trembling roar suddenly roused me from the steady rhythm of my short, regular steps up the slope. Initially I was anxious, the strident bellowing incongruous with the calm and restful atmosphere. However, the realisation quickly dawned that it was the  straining of the Fort William-London intercity express, pulling away from the outpost station of Corrour, several miles distant. No where is too far from wilderness or adventure, even London, and the overnight sleeper train will deposit you within reach of the Grey Corries or Ben Alder should you so wish.

 

Higher on the hillside, the softer tones of heather and grass became gilted with ice, as I passed through the freezing level. The pristine twinkle and sparkle of ice crystals brought memories of Christmas flooding back. The freshness and purity of the scene was uplifting. Later on the lustre and brightness of the rime was dulled by low cloud, the tones becoming monochrome and subdued. After several hours in the freezing clag, I dropped below the cloud level, and the world again came to life. Heather and grass regained their vibrancy, lit up by the sunshine and contrasting with the clear blue of the sky.

 

On top of the ridge a narrow crest of frost hardened snow snaked away for several kilometres. Although I was alone the paw tracks of a mountain hare accompanied me, marking the way forward for a remarkably long distance. The scene was humorous, reminiscent of something from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland; I imagined myself following the March Hare, perhaps to a bizarre mid-winter mountaintop tea party with various nursery rhyme characters. Isolation is a fertile setting for the imagination to run riot.

 

So, looking forward. Winter is forecast to return with some bite. I will be in Glasgow for a first aid course for a couple of days, then a longer, five-day expedition to Ben Alder area with Sam. This should set the stage for some great outings in remote hill country.

Beautiful end to the day

Beautiful end to the day

 

 

Simon is the Morocco Director and an instructor with The Mountain People. He is currently preparing for his Winter Mountain Leader assessment, as chronicled by the ‘Highland Hobo’ series.

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Highland Hobo #2

View of Braeriach from the Chalamain Gap. Image courtesy of Andrew Last. Some rights reserved.

View of Braeriach from the Chalamain Gap. Image courtesy of Andrew Last. Some rights reserved.

I am now fed up with dehydrated and pasta meals, which means, I think, that I am starting to get accustomed to this expeditionary lifestyle. What is more, my feet and ankles no longer protest at their incarceration in plastic boots; the bruises on my shoulders and hips have diminished. In short, I’m feeling pretty fit and have managed some big days out as a result.

 

The turning point was day two. I made good progress from the Hutchinson Memorial Hut to Ben Macdui on what was the only pleasant morning (nevermind day) of the expedition: blood red skies, crisp snow and very still. Two choices lay ahead: descend to the Lairig Ghru and Corrour – a short day; or descend and then climb onto Braeriach and cross the big plateau. Time was with me, and so seemed the weather, so the second option it was. The trouble was that halfway to the plateau strong southwesterly winds arrived as well as low cloud. To retreat would mean failure, to carry on require extra reserves of will-power and energy.

 

The gauntlet had been thrown down.

 

Mind games required the greatest resolve to overcome – can I trust my navigation and map skills; is there enough daylight left; have I got it in me to make it across; and, whatever you do, keep away from the cornices. After a leg or two of point to point navigation, I settled down and the peaks and bealachs (low points between peaks) came and went. Whilst engrossed in following bearings and keeping check of the distance I was covering, I glanced sideways and to my surprise noticed two other walkers on the plateau. I briefly wondered why they were there and then continued – the thought was probably reciprocated.

 

One concession I had to make en route was Cairn Toul, also known as Carn an t-Sabhail, ‘the hill of the barn’. After already having made a lot of height gain, this was beyond me physically, and the desire to climb a barn or a barn door after tackling the Lairig Ghru straight on had inevitably waned. So, it was then a case of making my way down to the Corrour hut, past the ominous and looming Devil’s Point, which went without incident.

 

After six days out now, my only desire is that the weather and conditions return to a more acceptable state of winter. Although you have to take every day as it comes, most will admit that they would take the blue sky days and leave the murky, wet ones. Forecasts are now suggesting  a return of certain amounts of colder airflows, which will fit nicely with a quick foray into the Grey Corries before a first aid course in Glasgow.

 

 

Simon is the Morocco Director and an instructor with The Mountain People. He is currently preparing for his Winter Mountain Leader assessment, as chronicled by the ‘Highland Hobo’ series.

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