dancing not fighting

A few personal photos here, taken quickly while teaching/guiding on the west coast this last weekend. There's quite a range just in these few, so although these are pretty disparate thematically it at least gives a sense of some of the ground we covered. If you fancy joining me on one of these outings, please get in touch.

(title with a more than a nod to Tirzah)

The humble mountain doss

I've just had a tiny piece in TGO mag around bothies (to support Ed Byrne's Corrour feature), and bothies in general are getting a fair bit of air time at the moment on the back of a new book by MO Geoff Allan. It's reminded me of this short piece I wrote for the same magazine to accompany a photo feature in 2015, to mark the MBA's 50th anniversary.

Shenavall in the Fisherfields

The Mountain Bothy Association celebrate their 50th birthday this year. They have been duly honoured with the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service, a tribute to the graft, craft and ingenuity that’s required to keep around 100 buildings afloat, tiny ships adrift in lonely seas of bog and heather, places that exist against the odds. For me, the real reason to celebrate bothies is not a birthday, or a merit badge from Her Maj’, but for a love of stories and preservation of ethics.

The bothy code is a code for life. Turn no-one away, leave no trace, respect each other and the place you stay. Not ‘rules’, but an appeal to that rarest of elements in the modern periodic table - empathy. A wistful reminder of mountain ethics in an age of dumbing down and go pro drones, but the romantic in us kens it: These ideas are fit to guide our wider life, not just for taking shelter in the wilds.

A bothy stay will warm hands, but can also warm hearts and even save lives. Thankfully I’ve never arrived at death’s door, but I have fallen through the door at Corrour drenched and dehydrated, to find a fire already burning and a chair already waiting. Camban bothy is a favourite, purely because it saved a friend new to Scottish hillwalking from what might have become hypothermia. Fortunes change under a roof and four walls - even if the only running water is running down the walls, and the roof is shared with mice. These buildings are also places to share with new friends and old, and a gentler introduction for those new to big, wide-open spaces.

I used to vaguely disapprove of bothies, their nod to creature comforts where I thought there should be no concessions. But as my understanding of our backcountry has deepened, I’ve grown to love them, not as intrusions, but part of the landscape story. Bothies offer a link to our natural and cultural history, fragments of past lives lived.

By visiting, writing in the bothy book and meeting likeminded souls, we make the story new. A bothy book is my favourite kind of reading – episodic, as much about what’s absent as what’s present, accents unique, each voice given equal measure. Funny, stupid, poignant, pointless and poetic – all of life is here, the pages of an enormous novel thrown to the wind, each character given license to run riot in the hills outside.

fragments of past lives lived - found pinned up in Staoineag bothy

More information about the MBA: http://www.mountainbothies.org.uk

Ben Lui under a snow moon

My window was a little marginal, but I couldn't pass up a camp under a clear sky and the snow moon. The East ridge of Ben Lui under winter conditions has been on the wish list for at least the last 3 seasons, and it didn't disappoint. Getting up it with a full pack in soft snow took all morning and also felt pretty marginal in a couple of places, that pack tipping me backwards on exposed boulders near the top. Next time, a bike and a day sack. Extremely high winds (too fierce to stand up, let alone mess around with the Windoo toy... but from experience I'm saying gusts of 50+mph on the top of Beinn a' Chleib) meant I bailed on a try for the four Munro group. There was simply no place sheltered enough to camp, and I wasn't convinced the snow was deep enough under Ben Oss to dig a snowhole. The walk out involved way too much tarmac, but gave me time to make my peace with the change of fortune.

I'll save the commercial shots for elsewhere, but here's a few I like for now.

Mountain Pro magazine - final issue

As you may have already seen, it's the last hurrah for our climbing and mountaineering quarterly. If you've ever tried to give a dirtbag climber a deadline, you'll understand me when I say it sometimes felt like herding cats, but they were passionate, bristling-with-ideas-and-energy cats and I'm genuinely sad to see the title go.

Due to the vagaries of timetabling, I didn't get the chance to say goodbye and thankyou on the 'welcome' page, so I want to thank everyone who wrote, photographed, reviewed and was interviewed for their input to the magazine, here and now. Thank you.

Of course I'm biased, but it felt to me as if the title found its voice over the last couple of years. I consciously moved it away from a previous competitor, to give both them and us some room. I can only hope this was appreciated - it certainly didn't affect the bottom line either way. We didn't do listicles, and partners like JMT, MHT and Vertebrate lent further gravitas to proceedings. We even paid (never a lot, but better than some) for articles. We ran pieces by name climbers, rank outsiders, and those inbetween... and our magazine and I hope the wider culture was better for it. I'm originally from an independent music background, and the ethos is not so different - know your niche, play straight, pay it forward. A friend and colleague described it as a 'thin Alpinist' - I think she was being a touch generous... but I know we were doing something right, because I started to see some of our ideas mirrored in neighbouring titles. They wanted some of what we had. And I know because of stories and emails sent from readers on every continent. I really liked that about a digital mag; that it could, and did, end up anywhere and everywhere.

However, these are tough times for magazines that rely on advertising... even those with healthy 5 figure readerships. There were other factors that I'll save for another time, but the publisher did right by the title and gave it an extra six month's grace.

Click on the image below for the last ever edition of Mountain Pro magazine. There's also a good back catalogue - just scroll down a bit. Everything is free to read.