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Andy Nisbett's Stomping GroundIn winter Scotland's low level hills are transformed into a mountaineering wonderland to rival any other range. It's the sort of place that attracts the wild at heart in search of adventure amongst the frozen North's raw and beautiful landscape. It was that challenge that first drew Aberdonian Andy Nisbet out across to the Highlands 37 years ago. Since then he's barely stopped to defrost his gear establishing over 700 new winter routes in all corners of Scotland. Here he gives us a few of his more memorable outings across the full spectrum of the winter game.
Winter climbing is all about teamwork. Alfie Robertson and I went to school together, climbed the Munros together, started rock climbing together and went on a beginners'winter climbing course together at Glenmore Lodge. (I'm writing this story at his house in Spain 35 years later - it's too wet to climb.) In those days a course was often considered as unethical, like resting on a runner nowadays. So we felt obliged to climb a route before the course, but I'm still not sure how I managed to second the crux of Raeburn's Gully using the sides of my crampons, two days before being taught to stick the front points in the ice. In those days course members led from the start and conditions were lean, so a strip of frozen turf in Crotched Gully was pummelled into submission over a long hour while instructor Tim Walker asked every five minutes, and one step higher, if I really was OK. But total determination that every foot placement had to be embedded was matched by legs toughened by years of hillwalking as I gained the belay with paired relief and achievement.
And you wonder why there is no turf left. We ran up the rest of the route and were back in the corrie early afternoon. 'Can we do that gully next?', as we looked up at the snow filled trough of The Runnel. 'No time', said Tim tactfully, not mentioning the chimney at the top. It must have been visible, though not to two overenthusiastic optimists. 'If you're in a hurry, we'll do it ourselves and walk back to the Lodge', we said. To his credit, Tim gave us a polite negative answer.
OLD MAN ROCKS: AFTER A FEW YEARS OUT OF THE LIMELIGHT STEVIE HASTON, NOW AGED 51, HAS BOUNCED BACK WITH HIS HARDEST EVER CLIMB DESCENTE AUX ENFERS F8c+ AND IT LOOKS LIKE THERE'S MORE TO COME.
What's it like to grow old?
Well I could lie and tell you it's great, yes it's just dandy having no chance of realizing those unfulfilled ambitions, wonderful to have plenty of excuses that everybody blindly agrees with. Growing old is, in reality, about giving in, it's about going quietly into that dark night, it's what most teenagers do nowadays without even realizing it. It's not really for me... well not just yet.
Climbing for me is a very natural process, after all I have done it for most of my 52 years, but climbing hard is not natural, it's taxing and requires obstinacy and dedication and aspiration and other words I'm too old to remember. As the years went by my body changed, I'd put on too much muscle as an antidote to a high speed snowboard accident and this left me with an excuse not to fulfil one of my ambitions (dare I say it, obligations). Was this ambition possible, still feasible, not a fey foolishness? Is the ambition to climb at a good level, at F8c+, really dementia?
The Grotte de Sabart is like something out of the Final Fantasy film: it's surreal, a huge upside down pleasure dome, where athletic dance is carried out by mutant monkeys from a parallel universe - I love it! I always have and always will.
CHRIS SHARMA WILL BE MAKING A RARE UK APPEARANCE AT THE SHEFFIELD ADVENTURE FILM FESTIVAL IN FEBRUARY AS THE HEADLINE SPEAKER ON SATURDAY NIGHT. WE TOOK THE OPPORTUNITY TO ASK CHRIS A FEW QUESTIONS:
Training guru Marius Morstad once said that people like you find climbing the easiest part of your life - would you agree with that?
'Yeah I would definitely agree with that. Climbing is what I do, it's my passion and my life, I'm super happy when climbing because I'm focused, determined and concentrated. It's harder to get into that mindset when I am doing things other than climbing. It's not as fun.'
Do you ever get bored of climbing and think you might like to try a different career?
There have been brief periods where I've maybe been bored. I've been climbing for 15 years and I'm still super passionate, though.'
Genius is said to be 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration - given that a lot of people would call you a climbing genius do you agree with that percentage breakdown?
'It's the other way around for me: climbing is all about motivation and inspiration. If I'm not motivated I don't have the energy, physically, to climb; I don't believe I'm capable. It would be impossible to climb without motivation and inspiration, actually. When I'm motivated it's like flipping a switch and everything turns around -my body turns on and I'm inspired.
TOM RICHARDSON ON STOVES COOKING AND FOOD
Carrying bundles of firewood, or rather having someone else carry bundles of firewood, halfway up peaks in the summer may just have been feasible for the Victorians. Sitting round a camp fire dressed in tweeds sipping a glass of port as the sun sets over an alpine landscape (but not over the British Empire) sounds quite pleasant too, I suppose.
The whole thing, however, very quickly goes from romantic to impossible in bad weather, when you need to melt snow for water, let alone cook anything, or you are going to be out for more than a night.
Some mountain people still have no choice but to use firewood of course. Tibetan traders, for example, gather wood and brush or even dried yak dung (don't try this at home) and load it onto their yaks for them to carry for the nightly camp fires. The weather and altitude is harsh in Tibet. They have evolved their tent design to accommodate it. They sleep in woollen ridge tents but the ridge part is open to let the smoke out from the fire they light inside! (Don't try this at home either.) Believe me, inside the tent it is truly ghastly, full of smoke an blackened with greasy soot. Given the choice between freezing to death outside and choking to death inside, I'm for the freezing option every time!
Thankfully we have a wide range of stoves available for use in the mountains and they have improved greatly in recent years. I report below my experience of using some of them in harsh conditions from Snowdonia to the Himalaya over the last year or so.
Whilst on the subject of stoves it also seems appropriate to consider what we might use them for, so I also include some recent experiences of cooking and food preparation on them.
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