Up until now, Scottish winter climbing has always been an spectator sport for me. Something you watch in social media from the comfort of your home, wandering what makes these keen folk get in such predicament. But I could see the appeal, it lures too many of my dear friends into it.
Last year's season was a good one but it lacked in adventure and spice. Climbing a bolted roof is good fun, but it hardly shrinks your balls when push comes to shove, and there are no consequences when you let go of your ice axes. I find that over the years I turned a little purist if you like. I find it hard to justify in my mind why I would spend my winter holidays stuck in a unsightly cave with a bolted roof for the sake of a hard grade. I did an M13 in two attempts, another M13+ in five and I'm sure I can climb M15 if I try a little. But is that really why I do winter climbing? To chase the grades? Or is it the power of a true winter line? I certainly know the answer. But I had to explore all the avenues to find out. And that's the beauty of climbing, it means entirely different things to different people, and only you can find out what is that ticks your boxes. I love the sense of achievement, but achievement doesn't always mean grades. It might mean exploring new things, learning again, putting yourself out there and find out a little more about yourself in the process.
There are some extremely strong winter climbers out there. But it makes you wonder when someone makes the news for climbing some manufactured route with axes in the middle of the summer. I get drytooling, I love it, I do a bucket load myself. Rock, plastic, comps, the lot. But it is just training at the end of the day. A means o an end. It seems that a lot of people are missing the point of what's all about. What counts is what you do in the mountains. Exposed, out there, running it out, searching for gear, teetering on thin ice and hooking crumbling little hooks. That's my opinion, and I don't expect for everyone to share it. But it's the conclusion I've got to after all these years..
In the search of trying to find my own path in winter climbing, I had enough years shying away from Scottish winter climbing. I suppose it's partly because I knew it would put me in my place. I would have to start at the bottom and make my way up. It would require hard graft, and I knew that climbing M-silly grades would be as useful as a trapdoor in a lifeboat. This season seemed that finally the time was right, and so I thought it was about time I got involved...
... and involved I got. Looking up at the crux of Bulgy and wondering how the hell you stack two hexes, I certainly felt a bit too involved too soon. Scott had just backed off his lead and asked to pass the baton onto me. I duly declined. We bailed and lived another day. I wasn't bothered, it was all a bit of a novelty to me. I was just happy to finally be out in the Scottish hills and seeing what was all about for myself. Scott seemed disappointed to come empty handed, understandably, and I apologised for not pulling my weight when push came to shove.
Read the full account of my first proper Scottish season over on my blog.