Scottish Winter climbing is a funny thing. I’m not sure if it’s the feezeing belays, the long leg breaking uphill slogs, the hot aches, the blisters or the spraying of snow and ice down the back of your neck that draws me back in every year. I’m sure that for most sane people the idea of living in a van with your friends for the week/month/season, walking around in the biting wind and snow for 12 hours a day before returning to a semi-damp cold van to sleep, cook cous-cous and attempt to dry out wet knickers is their idea of hell. Yet for some reason there is a small selection of climbers who gamble their own pain and discomfort for an indescribable jackpot. I can honestly say I actually get some kind of masochist enjoyment from a long, battering day out, where nothing was known or predictable, where the 30 seconds of views from the summit was worth the 4 hours of post-holing in polystyrene, that the intense terror induced from some routes is pleasurable…but most likely not while your doing it.
Scottish Winter has a reputation for, at times, being a complete and utter suffer-fest. I think mainly down the conditions, the weather, the amount of snow and ice, the wind, the elemental factors that are uncontrollable. One minute you can be trudging uphill sweating into your thermals, the next freezing on a belay in the full force of a biting northerly. That’s hard to dress for. Scottish Winter in general comes with a steep learning curve.
“Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment.” Evan Hardin
I think all returning or experienced winter climbers have made those bad judgements. Wearing too much and then shivering the sweat away. Or wearing too little and just shivering. Only packing one pair of spare gloves for a 4 glove day. Forgetting your goggles. Taking boost bars for lunch (the caramel will freeze solid and then are very effective at slicing your mouth apart). Using a camel back. Forgetting your head torch. Not checking an up to date weather report or avalanche forecast. Thinking your toes will be warm in just one pair of socks. Thinking that the next summit will be the actual summit.
This year consisted of a week long trip to get my fix of suffering in the Highlands. My week was spent with 3 wonderful women, Charlie, Jen and Gemma (plus Ollie for a day). There was something deeply satisfying about getting out in a male dominated arena with such inspiring and psyched females. Although we didn’t do the first ascent of the worlds first XIII, we did get out practicing skills for out Mountain Leader Winter assessments, get each other psyched and have a fantastic day out on the CMD Arete.
I have never been a massive advocate for female only courses believing that we can be taught and learn in the same ways as males, and that we don’t need some kind of special treatment. That we can keep up with the guys. It’s something I’ve touched on before in my ‘Great Gender Debate’ post. But alas there was something so refreshing being out with other women who where as keen to be out in the white room.
It was an awesome week of mixed weather, brilliant company and an awesome reminder of how awesome climbing in every aspect is!