The relationship of Fun/Fear

You’ve probably heard of type 2 fun – when fun challenges you and might scare you but otherwise leads to massive personal development.

I actually imagine fun to be a bubble that I’m in. Its a fairly massive bubble that most of the time I never notice the edges of where it becomes fear. As I’ve pushed myself to do harder and newer things the bubble has grown.

For example, I now love running in the dark on my own. I enjoy hiking long distances in the mountains far from civilisation and love being out in the cold Scottish winters with my face freezing. I love travelling alone to countries that don’t even share the same alphabet, let alone have English speakers.

I like to test the edges of the bubble to work out how far I can push it without popping it. For me this translates to sobbing pathetically or having to concentrate so hard I can hardly think straight and end up with a massive migraine.

There have been some surprises on this journey to stretch my bubble – for example I’ve never been great with heights so was surprised to find I loved paragliding.

I never expected to want to climb higher after reaching Kilimanjaro summit and to continue to want to push this limit in Nepal and Bolivia, going higher and more technical. And to wonder what else I could achieve too…

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I never thought I’d enter a 25km trail race after my first 10km only 2 years ago. While I was physically knackered at the end I was proud of my time, given the heavy rain and sliding around on the rocks and falling over in the mud. I certainly never thought after feeling broken at the end I would run another 2 half marathons in the same year and be considering a marathon.

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I still have a love/hate relationship with climbing due to harbouring a fear of falling. I really have to be in the right frame of mind and with the right people that I trust to feel confident. And even then I can still break out the disco legs and drop an f-bomb.

Trad lead climbing is still on the edge of what I’m happy with, I still shake with fear too much but its a fear I want to conquer. It’s on the right side of the edge of the bubble. I know if I conquer this fear there’s a whole world of challenges to complete.

There’s been few activities that I’ve tried and would never do again; things that were just too far the wrong side of the bubble for me. Caving is possibly one – I don’t enjoy abseiling at the best of times but in the dark and wet was possibly a step too far. Sobbing at the bottom of Alum Pot wasn’t my finest hour, and I’m grateful to Ben and Aly for giving me the opportunity; but sometimes in life you find things that you just don’t have the stomach for.

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In striving to expand my bubble and I’m either going to run out of experiences to try, or keep finding myself shaking like a leaf wishing I was somewhere else. Thats the thing with the fun/fear relationship though, trying to find out which side of the bubble you’ll be is addictive.

Scrambling the Aonach Eagach Ridge

I’ve driven down the Glencoe valley numerous times and looked up at the jagged line of the Aonach Eagach ridge, impressed with the shape and both desperate and terrified at the prospect of scrambling the ridge.  I’ve wanted to tackle the ridge since I first visited North West Scotland aged 18, so when I was recently rained off a trip to scramble the Cullins I decided this was a perfect substitute.

I should caveat that as entertaining as the Aonach Eagach ridge is, if you’ve not yet completed routes such as Sharp Edge or Crib Goch then consider getting some serious grade 1 scrambles under your belt before you have a go at this. Its a serious undertaking, as nowhere along the route can you escape and some of the sections of scrambling are exposed and committing.

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First things first…

The first thing to note doing this ridge is that is essential to have a plan for transport between the start and finish as the last thing you want to do is end up walking back up the busy road for your car at the end of the day.

We had planned on hitchhiking – but a summer weekend is the moment to try this with traffic being too busy to stop. After 15 minutes of trying we were not getting anywhere; then two other hikers arrived with the same idea  – 4 of us had no chance of getting a lift. Thankfully they were off to do the ridge too so we decided to car share.

The car park at the start of the route is tiny and usually filled with tourists wanting to quickly photograph the mountains as they drive through the valley so I was lucky to squeeze my car into a spot.

Serious Scrambling

We set off from the car park at a slow pace; the path up to Am Bodach might be easy to follow but it’s quite steep. Initially the path is across a broad ridge and is easy to follow, but its not long before the scrambling starts and route finding is required.
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Scrambling on the Aonach Eagach ridge is really downclimbing, which requires good foot placements and a slow pace. The first of these sections comes after just leaving Am Bodach summit.

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I was surprised to find the scrambling isn’t relentless, there are sections of the route where you resume walking. It is apparent from the views though that you really can’t escape the ridge once on it and the scrambling varies from terraced ridges, knife edge aretes, greasy gullys and towering chimneys.
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Towards the end of the ridge are the Crazy Pinnacles, which we took by heading right and down climbing a fairly greasy gully. This is definitely not a route to do in the rain!

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Once off the Crazy Pinnacles and over Stob Coire Leith the serious scrambling ends. From here make sure you continue on to the large shelter and trig point at Sgorr nam Fiannaidh.

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From here in good visibility its possible to see the path heading south west down to the Claichaig gully – do not take this as it is widely considered a dangerous descent route. Instead continue across heading north west towards the Pap of Glencoe. As you cross the broader peaty plateau you will pick up the descent path to take down to Glencoe and the valley.

We met a group of older men half way along the ridge who were definitely having trouble with the scrambling and taken 5 hours to get to the Pinnacles.  Later when we were in the pub with a whiskey they were only just off the hill (12 hours after starting) – a reminder not to under-estimate the ridge.

Mountaineering on Pointe Lachenal

The snow was like slush and the rock beneath like sand, not reassuring as I climbed the rockface trying to find a secure crack to stick my axe in, to pull me up.

There hadn’t been good conditions for alpine routes the week we were in Chamonix so being able to get onto anything felt like a bonus. The Pointe Lachenal Traverse is relatively easy to access via the Midi cable car and the snow arête descent. There was some trepidation as we headed up the cable car with the visibility being poor and it being considerable colder and windier than it had been for the last few days. At least it had stopped raining for long enough so we could get high.

Crossing the Glacier

I led the descent down the snow arête noting a lot more fresh snow than when we’d climbed a few days before on the Cosmiques Arete. As we descended down to the glacier the visibility dropped to about 100m, and at this point we were also breaking trail with the only other climbers already out heading for the Cosmiques.

It felt a lot like a wintery day in Scotland, minus the horizontal hail against my face.

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As we headed across the blank space, being mindful of the glacier beneath our feet, we met two young alpinists looking for a route. With no map and little concept of how far across the glacier they had to descend to get to their desired climb, we made sure they had at least a good photograph of our map before they headed off into the fog.

Ascending the ridge

At least the cloud lifted as we got near Pointe Lachenal so we had a good view of the snow conditions on the route. Bare ice in parts. Due to the strong wind that had accompanied the last few days snow and rain, and the extremely warm temperatures that had preceded that, the ascent onto the ridge had been completely scoured and had become ice with the constant freeze/thaw.

Whilst the ascent onto Pointe Lachenal isn’t difficult we had to ensure we were properly protected, so ice screws were deployed. This was the advantage of moving as a pair as we could do this with speed. Unfortunately at this point my partner lost his sunglasses which merry whizzed off down the ice into the abyss below. For once we then started praying the sun didn’t come out otherwise he would be quickly snowblind. We climbed the bulge of snow on the left of the image below, and the route continues right across over the first two rock points to descend the snow on the right.

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The ridge is fairly wide with only one awkward step round a rock before you reach the abseil point half way along the route.

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With the abseil complete it was a straightforward traverse of a snow slope to reach the crux of the route. Ah lovely, more rock climbing in crampons.

As it was, the crux wasn’t actually that complex but due to the poor snow conditions and the loose terrain on the chimneys meant that it took a long time for my partner to find a good line to take up the route.

Here’s Andy topping out behind me; our group of three friends had caught us up on the ascent of the crux.

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Andy’s exclamation that the crux was like a Scottish III maybe a IV made me pleased, yes I’d had a few moans en-route, but I got up it on second. (So fingers crossed for a good winter this year!)

The rest of the group were off to the Cosmiques hut to do the arete the following day. Having already done this a few days earlier, and my partner minus sunglasses at midday, we decided to head back.

Don’t underestimate yourself

If there’s one thing I learnt doing Alpine climbing is that I have to stop underestimating myself and have more confidence in my abilities.

Before we had left the Midi station that morning there was a lot of grumbling within our group and amongst other alpinists about the poor snow conditions and poor visibility. We had already seen two groups return from failing to get up Mont Blanc – poor snow conditions had led the Chamonix guides hut to recommend people did not try the mountain. We had certainly seen avalanches.

But I had felt confident in descending the snow arete and taking a look. Being in the blank fog didn’t faze me, I had a compass and was roped to someone I trusted if one of us was unfortunate enough to end up in a glacier. And I was confident enough to deal with it if it was him.

My last trip to the Alps led me to decide to do the Winter ML training, this trip has left me being confident to winter climb this season and consider other options too… watch this space!

Mera Peak – day 10 – up to high camp

Happy Christmas from High Camp!!

I’m so excited to be at 5900m and sleeping here for the night. Although I’m also wrecked and my appetite has finally left me.

We woke to gorgeous sunshine at our camp on the Mera La, a fantastic start to Christmas day.

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We had a slow start to the day to give our team chance to come up to the Mera La and pack up and head off before us. It seems a lot of effort that they didn’t all stay here the night with us, but then it would have meant more equipment and ultimately more porters. And frankly they’re so fit that I can see why they would want to head down to Khare where there’s a (relatively) real bed, a stove for warmth and a supply of whiskey and Raskshi.

Unfortunately as we put on our crampons to continue up the glacier, April decided she had done all she could and decided to descent to Khare. It was sad to lose a team member but she made the right decision for herself, and while we’ve not really walked very far today it has certainly been tough going in the wind and at this altitude.

We also couldn’t head directly up as we had to wind our way around the crevasses and so it took us all day to walk about 5km and climb 580m. Really slow going.

It’s hard to describe the effect of altitude to someone who hasn’t experienced it – the best I can say is that any normal movements such as walking, become a big deal. Walking and stamping crampons into concrete hard glass ice makes my leg muscles ache and my lungs scream from the lack of oxygen. Here there is only 50% as what there is at sea level. My heart races like I’ve run a race and I’m only shuffling along.

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I certainly felt drained when we arrived on the rocky ledges of high camp. It took me a while to recover before I could really appreciate where I am. It is truly amazing to be here looking at the Mera La so close to the summit. However the ledges we are camped on are ridiculously small and its a REALLY long drop below! Not that you can tell from these photos.

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We’ve had soup and stew in bed and the plan is to head to the summit at 2.45am – which will give us enough time to get up there and back down all the way to Khare. Its going to be a long day.

Bog trotting – munro bagging

I’m not sure I fit the stereotype of the typical Munro bagging, surely they have old 1980s oversized waterproofs in neon colours, big heavy gaiters over old boots, rucksacks you could fit yourself in and doggy determination to walk for miles and miles.

As I stood ankle-deep in the peat bog between Meall Glas and Sgiath Chuil I had to question whether I was, however, crazy. To start with neither of these mountains are significant players in the munro lists (199 and 270 highest out of 283), there is no distinct path across the endless bog between the two and frankly there are nicer munros in the Trossachs – I’d even bagged 2 the day before.

But I was there and even when the sun turned to rain there was no point turning back. I think that statement either marks me as a munro-bagger or just plain mad.

The hike starts out from the A85 in Glen Dochart, parking at Auchessen – a lovely little spot on a surprisingly sunny day.

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As I crossed the river and headed past the cottages I actually thought the walk was going to be a nice uncomplicated affair, a bit off-path, but otherwise not too strenuous and the sun was out. There is even a new track being constructed by the local farmers presumably to provide them with better access to the moors and also making a simpler ascent beyond the houses towards Meall Glas.

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To be honest, the smile on the chap’s face as I passed his JCB digger should have told me everything, and it didn’t take long for me to find myself in a pathless plateau aiming for Meall Glas but wondering if it wasn’t at all easier to give up munro bagging and enjoy dry feet. On the plus side I did see some amazing bog plants as I waded through the peat hags. Ever cloud has a silver lining…. til it rains on you.

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Which of course it then promptly did as I ascended out of the bog and up to Meall Glas summit. So heavy I quickly continued along the fell top. Frankly, after crossing mile after mile of bog I’d like the trig point to be at the top of the right mountain but it sits on neighbouring Beinn Cheathaich. At least it stopped raining. Well, at least long enough for me to sit and eat something.

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Whilst I toyed with the idea of heading straight back to the car to save my feet and my sanity the thought of having to ever cross the peat again to ascend Sgiath Chuil was enough of a motivation. It is after all only about 310m to climb. Oh good the rain is coming my way again.

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At least the descent back down is straight forward and once back down to the main river it’s possible to follow it and eventually a path emerges to follow back down to the track. Even the cows were surprised to see me.

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