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A Night Time Ice Climb

Dave belays supportively from two ice screws at the bottom of the ice pitch. Water drips from them and it’s getting dark. I climb a few metres to place my first screw but we’ve forgotten to transfer the last ice screws to my harness. I carefully climb down, take the screws and attach my torch to my helmet. Up again, on good ice axe placements and small ledges for front points. With two solid axes above my head, I twist the screw into the best ice I can find, feeling its sharp points touch rock. With several centimetres of ice screw sticking out towards me, I tie it off with a short sling and clip it. Lacking confidence in this thought provoking protrusion, I focus on axe placements instead.

Cracks appear in the brittle ice, spreading outwards from the embedded pick and sending warning signals to my brain. Pulling lumps of ice onto Dave below, I clear them away to find more solid, more elastic ice underneath. Testing good axe placements, I move up on front points and swing again, aiming for small, snow-filled depressions in the ice – a good tip handed to me by my winter mountaineering instructor mentor, Alan Kimber. A few more metres and the ice steepens at a tricky step. My hands feel tired from gripping too tight. I take a moment to breathe and relax. It’s time for my second ice screw. It’s going to be my last too. We only put four in the rack.

In the most solid looking ice I can see, the screw feels good at first. Then it breaks through to a hollow space behind. The ice is only half as thick as our shortest ice screw is long. It looks like the best I’m going to get so I clip it. To my right, there’s an icicle as thick as my wrist that’s merged into the ice below it to create a thread. I pass a sling behind it and clip that too. Taking my mind off these thin layers of protection, the climbing becomes my safety. Make every placement a good one. Take my time. Keep my heels low. Rotate my legs at the hip to kick both front points evenly into the ice. A high and wide step to my left, a lock off with my right arm, a high swing with my left ice axe and I pull over the step.

Above the steepest ice now, I see more ice climbing above me. Pushing on, I’m conscious of a big fall potential below me. Every axe placement has to be good. Aiming for some rocks on the left wall of the gully, I hope to find a good belay. When I reach them, I find nothing but cracks too flared, too thin or too choked with ice for me to use. There’s a short and steep step between me and the next belay possibility way above. Hammering a bulldog all the way into the ice is the best I can do for now. Over the step and on easy ground, I find a large flake of rock wedged tightly into a wide crack. After several hits, it still looks, feels and sounds solid. Tied to the flake, I shout “Safe!” down to Dave.

Sitting in the safety of the belay, I whoop and shout into the wild and windy night. That was exactly what I came for! I just didn’t know until it found me. Watching the light from Dave’s head torch dance on the ice, this feels like a very atmospheric way to climb. In three fast and easy pitches, we are at the top of the route and re-packing our rucksacks for the long walk back to the car. Out on the mountain, in the dark and the snow, through the wind and the wildness, there’s beauty and peace right there, just for us. While the world around us is in the warmth of a fire or a bed, I am all alight inside and wide awake with life.

Let’s solve the climate change problem.

This weekend, we felt the devastating effect of the most intense rainfall ever recorded in Cumbria. Roads have been washed away like sandcastles and cracked open like eggshells. Carlisle, Cockermouth, Keswick, Kendal, Appleby and Ambleside have all been flooded like never before. Even Lancaster’s town centre was under water, along with its electricity sub station, throwing 55,000 homes into a long, dark night.

So where is the shining light of Storm Desmond’s silver lining? Some parts of the planet are under much more water than Cumbria and it’s going to get worse. Here’s an article about the link between climate change and increased risk of flooding in case you’re sceptical. So what’s the good news?

Human induced global warming can be brought to a stop. We can do it.

To the best of our knowledge and belief, we either evolved from single cell organisms, or we have God on our side. Either way, that’s a pretty impressive set of credentials. So let’s get on with it.

Some of us are real experts in this. There are people who devote their lives to understanding climate change. They are intelligent, they work hard and they care about what they do. They are in a brilliant position to advise us about climate change. They are the people we should be reading, watching and listening to. They are the scientists. They know their stuff.

If you already know what to do, please do it, please spread the word and please lead by example. We need you. If you’re wondering what to do, please read about it, please Google it and please ask questions. We all need to think about this. For what it’s worth, here’s what I’ve learned so far…

We need to reduce our average carbon footprint to two tonnes per year. The UK average is ten tonnes per year. That’s a big change but it’s microscopic compared to our evolution, or our faith. We will have to take big steps in our lifetimes but it’s a small step for mankind. We have survived ice-ages and great floods without so much as a penknife, let alone a rocket or a space suit.

I have been working on this for two years and my carbon footprint is close to four tonnes per year, without carbon offsetting. There are online carbon footprint calculators that will tell you roughly how much carbon you account for. They will also tell you which areas of your life it comes from. For example, owning my Ford Transit contributes about one tonne per year and the 5000 miles I drive per year contribute one more.

That’s the half of it. What about the rest? I eat local animals that lived outside and grazed on grass. I burn wood for fuel. It’s carbon neutral. I have no fridge or freezer. I use a cool box. I buy fresh and often. I have a twenty-five litre kitchen water tank I have to refill. It makes me careful. My lighting is powered by a battery. The battery is charged by my 5000 miles per year. So is my phone. My laptop is second hand. It still needs mains electricity. I need to work on that.

I’m working on creating my life into one where I live, work and play close to home. Ideally, I would never drive again. Realistically, I may still have a small electric car that’s recharged by a small hydro power scheme in the Great Langdale valley. This is all very possible in the near future. Where there’s a will, there normally is a way in Britain. We are very lucky like that and that luck means that we have a great opportunity. Now there’s a thought…

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: