Lessons from Scottish Winter

It IS worth it. (Photo thanks to Peter Naylor)

Lessons from Scottish Winter

Climbing, like no other activity I have ever found, has the ability to transcend 'normal' life.  The very nature of the heroic struggle of climber against gravity and weather obliterates the normal pervasive culture of consumerism, career and c**tishness: which I call the three c's.  The raw fight against factors which do not depend on society's opinions allow some stunning insights into the nature of reality.

Here are mine from the recent Highball Scottish Winter Trip.

1.  Going on a climbing trip and being around other climbers means you are not an secret agent any more.  If you surreptitiously try out a crimp on a brick wall, or eye up potential lines on the rock of a road cutting - your mates will notice and take the piss.  It is important to revel in this.

2.  The mental aspect of Scottish Winter is crucial.  Essentially, you will load yourself with a near crippling anxiety, like winding a spring up to near-breaking point.  Unwinding this mental spring provides the momentum to fling you up the route like a fucking arrow.  

3.  If you aren't anxious enough, you may be complacent and will therefore automatically die.  Thinking of the prospect of dying through no fault of your own - like literally none- may be enough to ramp up the anxiety to survivable levels.  Dwell on the apparent slidy-ness of snow above hundreds of feet of exposure for that 'what the fuck am I doing here' motivation.

Mike Surtees Goes For It on Tower Ridge  (Photo thanks to Peter Naylor)

4.  If not, you may need to increase the anxiety through artificial means.  And ideal 'trick' is to use the Aonach Mor ski-lift, with its strict cut-off deadline at 5.15pm.  Having previously done the walk of shame down the mountain bike track will further ratchet this anxiety level up to a point where you may well be climbing three grades harder with a lightning fast turnaround at belays.  If the anxiety level is not high enough however, just fail to flake out ropes properly: the resulting faff will produce a near-crippling tension which will work nicely.

5.  Going out with a guide is money well spent, as he uses his skills and expertise to ensure your safety.  Also, he is using his anxiety to keep you both safe: as a trained guide he will be much better at hiding this.  Signals that reveal he is in fact much more worried than you think:  perhaps when he refuses to talk about anything other than the view.  

6.  Being connected together by a rope allows an intimacy unmatched outside of a sexual relationship.  If you slip on easy ground while moving together, not just your life but your climbing partner's will flash in front of your eyes.  Do not climb with anyone who has had either a significantly more interesting or tediously dull life than your own.  Your final two seconds will be a sad and frustrating mismatch.

7.  Twenty year old Ski Club members from Glasgow University are cunts.  They would rather party in an obnoxiously self-centred way than actually go skiing.  Do not be afraid.  When they start shouting and playing guitar at three in the morning, do not lie there waiting for them to stop, give them ten minutes then go out - fully clothed - to send them to bed.  There will turn out to be only three of them, they know they are out of line, and the ten thousand yard stare of the true mountaineer will make them slink upstairs with their own shit running down their legs.

8.  When going for the above confrontation, do not - for fuck's sake- get locked out of your own dorm room.

9.  What gear you wear will have no impact on your ability to climb.  It will however vastly alter your comfort.  Beware!  without simultaneously sweating your tits off AND being freezing cold you may not have enough anxiety to survive.

10. Monitor your sleep closely.  Waking eight or nine times in the night is a sign that you are too confident: your brain is therefore subconsciously keeping you sharp by making you tired and tense.

11.  The release of tension at the top of a climb is worth it.

Just look at Steve unwind.

12.  The views on a clear day are worth it.

13.  Lording a successful week over a) climbing mates who have been on an unsuccessful week, or b) non climbers who think you are fucking superman because of your FaceAche profile picture - is worth it. Do not feel guilty.  You are their gladiator, taking the risks they don't have to.  Or if it stings sufficiently it will provide enough negative emotion to propel them into the hills at the right time, to create their own anxiety driven achievements.

14.  After one week of crippling tension, any other climbing related activity is a joy and a pleasure.  You will never enjoy multi-pitching v.diff in the dry so much.  Boulder problems on resin holds become almost orgasmically satisfying, no matter how much you fail to succeed or even progress at Three Wise Monkeys.  Sport climbing will now have an irresistible allure of both hard  movement but also total safety.

15.  The drive home will be the most dangerous bit as you relax into a familiar activity with a much higher statistical death rate.  Ensure climbing podcasts are to hand.  

16.  A phase of depression after a climbing trip is normal.  Normal life is safe in the extreme, and not having to secure yourself to a rock using a rope just to stand fucking still is extremely difficult to readjust to.

Hopefully this blog will inspire you to embrace negative emotion in a positive way.  This is perhaps Scottish Winter's Greatest Lesson.

It IS worth it.  (Photo thanks to Peter Naylor)