Dreams, War, Breath, Yoga, Politics and Peace

New blog post. Saturday 28th of November. 2016. Woke from a dream in the middle of the night. Nothing major. Just sharing the benefits of walking barefoot in wild places to a room full of people. Loud music was coming from somewhere. They couldn’t hear me. All understanding was lost. I found myself awake with both hands clutching my heart. I lay awake for hours thinking of many things: work, climbing, friends, partner but mostly Syria, Isis, Iraq, air strikes, international politics and today’s Stop The War demonstrations happening all around the country. I breathed my way through an in-depth body scan to find some peace: toes, balls of feet, arches, tendons, heels, Achilles, ankle joint and so on. One body part, one breath, all the way to the top of my head. Still wide awake. Nowt else for it. Get up.

Back to the laptop. I’ve been there all week. Google, Facebook, civilian casualties, collateral damage, Cameron, Corbyn, airstrike precision, airstrike inaccuracy, government and military say this, reporters and aid workers say that. The first reporter to actually meet Isis and come back alive says its soldiers are spread out amongst the cities they occupy. They live next to civilians. To wipe them out would mean wiping out whole cities and all the innocent people who live in them. Does each airstrike fuel the fire and fan the flames of terrorism? Quite possibly. If a bomb or missile destroyed your home and killed your family, how would you react? How much of the big picture would you see? When I was a young man, I just assumed that Britain was always the good guys. It turns out we’ve had our fair share of bad guy roles for a very long time.

Staying in Manchester, there are no mountains or moorland on my doorstep. No forest to escape to. Nature’s welcome distraction from the violence and suffering caused by people is all too diluted here. Slouching on the floor and staring at the world through a screen, nothing but the pain in my sitting bones motivates me to move. Closing the laptop lid and shutting the door on the world, an hour or so of free-flowing yoga helps me to feel much better. Now I’m sitting cross-legged with a straight back, balanced emotions and a clear head. It’s heart wrenchingly sad to face the suffering we cause in the world. When has our government ever really cared for all of us, let alone the civilians caught up in a war? What gives it the moral authority to play the military role it chooses? To what extent are we compliant with its actions?

The lessons learned from Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya suggest that the US, the UK, France and the rest of the powerfully armed world need to consider a different approach. Maybe more political brain, less lethal brawn and some compassionate love would be worth a try. Are we capable of it? We love our family and our friends. We care for them. We make mistakes but we take responsibility for our actions. All of this happens on a small scale, all of the time, all over the place. What does it take to extend this further? Could we ever have the option of a government that genuinely cares for all of its people as much as it does for its own way of life? Would its foreign policy make more friends and less enemies? Would we vote for it if we could?

Feeling the need to do something, albeit rather small, the recent attacks in Paris pushed me to start a Just Giving page for Refugee Action. This winter solstice, we will be walking the skyline of the Great Langdale valley in the Lake District. Starting at sunset and finishing at sunrise, the walk will climb 10 peaks, cover 20 miles and ascend 5000 feet. We will walk through the longest night of the year in solidarity with all innocent victims of war. If you are a keen hill walker and you would like to join us, please get in touch. If you would like to support us, please donate here:


Posted: November 28th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | Comments Off on Dreams, War, Breath, Yoga, Politics and Peace

Introduction to Scottish Winter Climbing

Last week, I spent six days with Gavin, a regular client who has progressed from easy scrambles to rock climbing and winter climbing. We were joined by Alan Kimber for our first two days. He is the co-author of the ‘Winter Climbs Ben Nevis and Glencoe’ guidebook, an incredibly experienced guide and I am very fortunate that he is mentoring me through the last stage of my mountaineering instructing qualifications.

Castle Buttress on Ben Nevis

Castle Buttress on Ben Nevis.

On day one we paid a visit to the north face of Ben Nevis, to introduce Gavin to movement on steep terrain with ice axes and crampons. We traversed under the Douglas Boulder to the east side of Tower Ridge and climbed steep snow as a biting wind picked up and whipped the snow around us. When ground became more steep and technical, we built a belay for Alan to lead a pitch with a short ice step. I took the lead on pitch two and climbed through some interesting mixed terrain.

Easy snow climbing at the end of the 2nd pitch.

Easy snow climbing at the end of the 2nd pitch.

Belaying with a Petzl Reverso.

Belaying with a Petzl Reverso.

Pitch three was a traverse across the ridge to the top of a short gully, where we belayed one last time to climb down onto a snow ramp that led to the bottom of the Douglas Boulder…

Traversing to descend.

On day two, we took the gondola up Aonach Mor and traversed onto a sheltered snow slope to practice building snow belays. Day three brought particularly knarly weather so we went to a quiet dry tooling spot near Onich. Gavin made the most of the opportunity to climb a steep slab of rock on a top rope with ice axes and crampons – great practice for mixed winter climbing.

Day four was adventure day – Dinner Time Buttress on the west face of Aonach Dubh. The guidebook suggests an easy approach to 45m of grade I climbing, followed by an easy exit to the top of the ridge. The reality was a long approach up tricky grade I/II terrain with hard-won belays to secure Gavin. This led to two good pitches of steeper climbing, the second giving sustained interest at grade II/III. From the top of this technical section, it was clear that we still had a long way to go, up more grade I/II mixed ground.

The sun was setting, the moon was in the sky, Orion came out to keep us company and we pushed on through the dark, reaching the top of Aonach Dubh in an incredibly peaceful setting with a beautiful view of Stob Coire nan Lochan. We were tired but felt very lucky to be on the mountain on such an amazing night. Walking through deep snow to descend into the coire and down the valley, we reached the van a whole 13 hours after our departure. Hats off to Gavin for completing such a big day!

The west face of Aonach Dubh.

The west face of Aonach Dubh.

Looking west to Loch Leven and Loch Linnhe.

Looking west to Loch Leven and Loch Linnhe.

Day five brought us back to Ben Nevis, where Gavin climbed steeper ice steps and practiced removing ice screws…

Gavin's first taste of steep ice.

Gavin’s first taste of climbing ice.

With a train to catch on day six, we went to The Ice Factor and spent a few hours climbing much steeper ice. By the end of the session it was clear that Gavin will be ready for some much harder ice climbs next season!

Getting steeper at The Ice Factor.

Getting steeper at The Ice Factor.



Posted: February 8th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | No Comments »

1st Scottish Winter Mountain Walking Course This Year

With just one booking for this course by Christmas time last year, I was wondering if we might need to cancel. Then my friends Mike, Tig and Tim came to the rescue, joining us for the week and helping to cover the cost of the cottage. Add a last-minute booking with a week to go and we were all set.

This was the the first time we stayed in Burn Beag, a six bed cottage in Glen Coe, and we were delighted from the moment we walked through the door. It was beautifully decorated, spacious, comfortable, homely, warm with energy-efficient under-floor heating, equipped with a brilliant kitchen and had plenty of space for drying wet kit.

Our first day was a fairly easy introduction to the winter mountain environment and a chance for Roger and Chris to get to grips with an ice axe in a beginner-friendly setting…


Mike, Roger, Tig, Chris and Tim on the way up Buachaille Etive Beag.



Tig and Mike climbing Buachaille Etive Beag.


Day two was most definitely magical. We walked through a Narnia-like wonderland to ascend Stob Coire nan Lochan’s north ridge with stunning views across the Highlands. Descending the east ridge was a great opportunity to gain experience with crampons on more technical terrain.


Roger approaching the summit of Stob Coire nan Lochan.


We thought we had seen Scotland at its best but day three on Buachaille Etive Mor was one of those memorable mountain days that stay with you forever…


Chris preparing to ascend steep snow with ice axe and crampons for the first time.


With a considerable avalanche risk on north facing slopes, we played safe and avoided the potentially dangerous Coire na Tulaich by climbing the steep spur that bounds it on the west. Keeping close to the rocks we climbed a slope of firm snow that gave Chris and Roger a good taste of winter mountaineering on steeper ground. Weaving through rocky outcrops on the upper half of the spur, we found ourselves breaking trail through much softer snow that sapped our energy and slowed us down. The effort was well worth it as we climbed into the sunshine with views that touched the soul and a sky that invited spirits to soar…


One of Stob Dearg’s resident ravens.



Looking north to Ben Nevis.


After some time on the summit of Stob Dearg, we turned into the sun and thousands of snow crystals reflecting its golden light. As the sun descended in the sky and its angle of light refraction hit the sweet spot, the snow crystals began to flash hints of pink, green and blue as we approached them.


Walking into a magical sunset.


On day four, the amazing weather began to change and our legs were feeling tired from the deep snow stomping of the previous day. We enjoyed a slow walk up a peaceful stream bed to the ever changing sound of its playful flow, climbed onto the gently sloping ridge to the east of the Aonach Eagach and strolled easily towards the West Highland way under an atmospheric sky…


Looking south towards Buachaille Etive Beag.

With wet, stormy weather and legs ready for a rest, we spent our last day climbing indoor ice at the Ice Factor in Kinlochleven. It was a great opportunity for all of us to learn and improve the techniques for climbing steep ice in a safe environment.

It’s weeks like this that remind me time and time again how lucky I am!

Posted: January 24th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , | No Comments »
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