Steve and Angie
This year, as every year, I have spent my time with, among many others, doctors, nurses, midwives, dentists, teachers, students, commercial directors, artists, vets, dog walkers, builders, gas fitters, shop owners, shop workers, beauty therapists, massage therapists, accountants, book keepers, IT experts, chefs, miners, soldiers, authors, unemployed people, full time carers, professional photographers, expedition leaders, lecturers, school children and entrepreneurs.
I’ve climbed with a man who has responsibility for keeping the electricity flowing to a substantial chunk of the U.K and a woman whose every working day involves making life and death decisions about treatment for seriously ill people. I’ve climbed with another who creates stunning art work from recycled materials and learnt tales from the battlefield just as I’ve learnt about life in the classroom.
It is an honour and privilege to share their stories and I must confess that, as much as I love guiding these amazing people in the mountains, I actually love finding out about their unique lives just as much. Whatever their background, they always have a rich story to tell and anecdotes to share. It is surprising what you get to discuss on belay ledges and crag walk ins and I know only too well how lucky I am.
Infact, I will dare to say to say that I am luckier than any of those I meet. Lucky to spend my life in the mountains certainly, but also lucky in that I also get to meet all these people for a period in their lives aimed at being fun and life enhancing. With the exception of a few people who may be on assessment courses they would rather not attend (we bring them around in the end!), everyone I meet has chosen to be there and wants to have a good time. They arrive with a smile and, if I am doing my job correctly, they will go home with an even bigger smile. Many of these people, although I know they find their work fulfilling and rewarding, won’t face such smiley happy clients in their professional lives.
Last week, as a recent example, I was in Scotland with return clients Steve and Angie. They are both people with a great outlook, busy careers and a full and varied life. I met them for the first time several years ago and they have now joined us for a wide range of adventures. I have trekked with them in India and Morocco and climbed with them in the Peak District. In between, they have both spent considerable time on a host of Scottish trips and last week they took the long trip north again.
The main aim of this trip was a snow shelter night in the Northern Cairngorms and I had looked forward to catching up with them ever since we had booked it in the calendar months before. They now have quite a bit of experience in the winter mountains but I was really excited to share something completely new with them.
The first evening was spent discussing equipment and catching up over a meal. Another privilege of my work is how well, with a customer return rate of 84%, I get to know many of our clients. Going out for a meal with people like Steve and Angie is like going out with old friends and we had a great meal at Aviemore’s Skiing Do restaurant (recommended if you are in the area).
We finished our preparations the next morning and headed to the ski area. All the way along there were bits of information I could share with them and we discussed everything from top tips for snow shelter cooking to the benefits of the Cairngorm Poo Project (if you don’t know what that is please have a read about this brilliant initiative here).
Steve and Angie took over from the off. We had discussed a suitable route into our shelter site and between them they managed the navigating and decision making about the terrain and safe route choice. The navigation gradually increased in difficulty and we had lots of chance to revise compass bearing skills and try techniques like pacing. They have both completed a summer navigation course with us and so it was interesting to experience the additional challenges winter navigation brings.
Once at the shelter site we set about creating our home for the night. We discovered a previously used shelter and so our challenge was to improve it and dig out the block up entrances. Steve is a construction manager and so his standards were exacting - by the time we finished we had a comfy shelter with two entrances and even an outside seating area.
The weather that day was really fantastic and so we chose to cook dinner outside. Dehydrated meals prepared with melted snow were another first for the team and they relished it all. The plan for after dinner was to head out for a night navigation session and Steve and Angie loved this too. There is something extremely satisfying about being able to competently navigate at night and they were both buzzing by the time our shelter entrance appeared out of the gloom.
We settled in for the night and were soon costly wrapped in our bundles of down with mugs of steaming hot chocolate to enjoy. No one can claim life in a snow shelter is an easy option and yet, as we bedded down, I was impressed with how well the duo had taken everything in their stride.
As forecast, conditions changed drastically overnight and we woke to a very wild morning. It is incredible how protective a shelter can be and we made use of it for breakfast in bed before packing up and heading out into the blizzard. A couple of careful compass bearings and careful management in exceedingly strong winds and we got ourselves back to the funicular top station. I could see in Angie’s eyes before she voiced it that she was keen to take the train and Steve and I were happy with the plan.
A slide down the railway tracks and hop back to Aviemore and we were drinking celebratory cappacino’s before we knew it. Our rosy smiles couldn’t have been any bigger -a fantastic adventure shared with great people who loved trying something new and learning some new skills. As I said at the top, I do dare to say I am a luckier man than any of our clients!
A couple of days later I got an email from Angie and she summed it up nicely. Apparently she had showed the photos to work colleagues who thought she was mad. You are a little bit mad Angie but I mean that in the very best way. Now you two.....what’s our next adventure?
Posted by Paul