Highlights of a year well lived.....

3rd Jan 2018

Before a mountain ascent I am fastidious about organisation.  I will check and recheck that I have everything, look for items that can be safely left behind to save weight and pack carefully to ensure the space is wisely used and I know where everything is.  It is a ritual.  Once I’m on the journey I try and document the adventure with as many photos as possible and love grabbing a record of shared adventures. 

Unfortunately, as soon as I get home I then promptly seem to forget all my good intentions of producing a slide show of the trip or, at the very least, of organising the photos so they they can easily be found in the future. So, although I’m not big on resolutions, I have promised myself that 2018 is the year when I will spend at least a few minutes after each trip getting my photos into some form of order.  How that order will look is still very much a work in progress (ideas  on easy ways to do this are very welcome!), but at least during some Christmas and new year down time I had a glance back on some of my snaps from last year.

I’m certainly no skilled photographer, but even a few minutes of browsing reminded that I’d enjoyed some incredible adventures and I thought, in the hope that it highlights a few ideas for others, I’d share a selection of those special moments.  I’ve roughly charted the journey through the year on a monthly basis and so I’ll be adding a new one each day for the next 12 days.  I really hope you enjoy them……

JANUARY - Necessity is the mother

Corrour Bothy

I arrived in Scotland for our winter season and found, to dismay shared with many, that there was very little winter - 2017 offered a very lean year and, although we ran almost everything as scheduled, some of our courses needed a very flexible approach.  Our first snow shelter trip was scheduled for mid January and it was obvious that we were lacking a key white and fluffy ingredient.  No matter,  we turned a snow shelter journey into a winter journey and planned a bothy overnighter instead.

A stunning journey over Ben Macdui and a sociable night in the Corrour Bothy made a fantastic trip with many highlights.  The stunning Macdui summit, honing the team’s navigation skills, finding some quick descent routes via snow filled gullies, a toasty fire and single malt in the comfort of the bothy, close encounters with the Cairngorm reindeer on our walk out and celebratory host chocolates in Aviemore.  It was a relaxed and very memorable start to my winter season.

FEBRUARY - In the shadows

Rjukan Ice Climbing

You really can’t beat the uniqueness of Scottish winters but, at least for a week or two, the short walk ins, reliable steep ice and unique character of Norway comes very close!  Rjukan is a short (and cheap) hop from the U.K. and has a unique wartime history and always offers, despite the sub zero temperatures, a warm welcome.

Many Rjukan routes are only a short walk from the road or are accessed by abseil and there are endless options suitable for all abilities and aspirations.  February again proved to be the perfect time to visit.  

MARCH - Life in the freezer

E5xplorers Connect Group

Scotland is always unpredictable and always an adventure.  For 2017 our winter courses continued into late March and some of the most wintry conditions came late.  This photo is one of my favourite of the year and shows, along with the need for the right clothing and equipment,  just how a winter day in the U.K. can resemble a day in the Antarctic!

The group were part of a large Explorers Connect team and, over the last few years, it has been fantastic to welcome them to the Highlands.  We were learning skills in the Cairngorms Northern Corries and, on a day like this, there is plenty to learn!  

April - Coming home

Peak District Mountain Biking

I passionately love my annual northern pilgrimage but, like any migrating bird, there is something very special about my final journey south as spring starts to show its colours.  The gritstone is getting warmer, the evenings are lengthening and the mountain bike trails are calling.  The Peak District is special at anytime - but Spring is probably my very favourite time.

The Spring of 2017 was extra special.  I arrived back to a spell of clear days and the sort of blue skies best enjoyed from a saddle.  I am privileged to live only a short ride from trails of the finest quality and this photo sums that time up nicely.  Head through Hope, take the bridleway past Hope Cross to the crossroads and take a left towards Jaggers Clough.  The Great Ridge and Edale Valley entice you on.  Treasured moments. 

MAY - Getting to grips

Burbage North Gritstone

The Peak District is famous for lots of reasons but, if you asked a climber, top of their list would undoubtedly be the amazing gritstone climbing on offer.  It is a spiritual place where, as you caress rocky features formed hundreds of millions of years ago, you will feel the power of all that natural history .  I am unashamedly biased, but a visit to Peak grit should be on every climbers bucket list.

The popularity of gritstone climbing can also, however, sometimes be a curse.  A sunny May weekend day at Stanage Popular isn’t too different to rush hour on the Northern Line, and so a creative approach is sometimes required.  On this May Day a bit of heather bashing along to the end of Burbage North were all that was needed to shake the crowds.  

JUNE - The next generation

Wild Camping in Snowdonia

A privileged part of my work is always my role in training and assessing new instructors and leaders.  Empowering new leaders to share new adventures and skills with a host of new outdoor folk - I never underestimate how special that is.  One of my favourite qualification courses I am involved with is the Mountain Leader course.  An intensive training course is followed by a consolidation period and then, ultimately, an assessment course.  

Part of that assessment process is a wild camping expedition which, for our courses, usually happens in Snowdonia.  The camping venues have to take account of the weather, the route and, at certain times of the year, the midge count.  But, when all the stars align I sometimes take a group up to this special little place overlooking the east face of Tryfan, Snowdonia’s finest mountain.  A very special place to spend a night and sometimes from this vantage point you can even see Adam and Eve on top.  

JULY - Picos paradise

Naranjo De Bulnes

I’ve visited the Picos d’Europa area several times, but 2017 was the first year that we’d taken the Peak Mountaineering juniors.  It is a beautiful wilderness area and is now, with cheap flights to Asturias or Santander, more accessible than ever.  It is also an area with lots of possibilities - from single pitch sport crags off the beach to long mountain routes and from coastal SUPing to stunning mountain biking.  It is a world of possibilities.

Our trip had lots of highlights, but the stand out feature (literally!) of the Picos area really has to be the mighty rock monolith known as the Naranjo  De Bulnes.  This is a commiting objective with a long walk in and a choice of multi pitch climbs all requiring an abseil descent.  It is also fantastic! 

AUGUST - A special summit 

Mount Elbrus Summit

If there was one photo that summed up highlights of my 2017, it would be this one.  It is a very staged shot and yet, in so many ways, it is all that is so special about mountain life.  In August we headed to Mt Elbrus and sat through several days of poor weather and strong winds. 

Our summit attempt the previous night had been stopped only a few hundred metres from our hut and we had just about run out of time. However, some rapid calculations and we realised we could maybe fit in one more rushed attempt.  That morning, all the stars aligned and we enjoyed a very special morning on the summit of Europe. 

September - Time for Toubkal

Toubkal Summit

I have been visiting Morocco for many years and it never ceases to inspire and delight me - the culture, people, food, simplicity of life and stunning mountains all combine to always provide a very special experience.

Peak Mountaineering was back for another Toubkal adventure in September and, after several days traversing the Atlas Mountains, we were ready for our summit attempt.  Everything went well on a crisp and clear September night and the team moved fluidly.  After a rest at the col we headed up the final slopes as sunrise approached and, as it turned out, we really couldn’t have timed it better. 

October - Kinder Scout beckons

Kinder Scout Scenery

If I head out from home and go just a couple of miles over the hill, I have access to the beauty and remoteness of Kinder Scout.  It is an area I’ve explored since my scouting days and I’ve seen it in all its guises - it feels like an old friend.

In autumn Kinder often shows a more brooding side.  There is less wildlife to see, the colour has faded from the heather, the water logged peat looks blacker than ever and the peat tinted streams flow brown and cold.  

There’s lots of reasons to leave Kinder for warmer times, but if you pick the right day you’ll realise what a special time this really is.  The October hill walker will be rewarded by stunning light, bracing temperatures, quieter paths and the restless feeling that winter will soon be showing its icy face. 

November - High friction

Yorkshire Gritstone Bouldering

Aficionados of God’s rock will know that cooler temperatures are the true friend of the gritstone climber.  The friction is at its very best and the cool rock is a pleasure to caress.

On this November day it was a simple mission with chalk bag, rock shoes and plenty of warm layers.  On this day it felt very special. 

December -  Myanmar magic

Reclining Buddha

With December offering a quieter spell at Peak Mountaineering I have, for the last few years, taken the time to head abroad in December and lead a trip for other providers.  In December 2017 I was lucky enough to get the chance to explore Myanmar.  

What I found was a country rapidly embracing its new freedoms and a country packed with things to see and do.  Trekking was a big feature of this expedition and yet, when I wanted a photo for December, I was drawn to this snap of a Yangon reclining Buddha statue which we stumbled across one sticky city day.  

My lasting memory of Myanmar will be the Buddhist influences that dictate the way people live and the many thousands of temples, monastery’s and statues that are in every city and village.  I sat in tranquility with this Buddha for quite some time.

Posted by Paul

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