I first started winter mountaineering when a group of work friends invited me to join them in Glencoe. That was over 20 years ago. I was young, had dark brown hair, fingers and toes. Much has changed since those heady days, but my love of the hills has never been daunted. If anything its got worse…
We were a large group back then, with a dozen or so walkers, climbers and skiers piling into a house, cooking huge meals, drinking our own weight in beer and dancing long into the night, before nursing our heads on the snows next morning. They were weeks of legend, and that’s were they will forever remain. Lives changed, numbers dwindled and then there were two.
Ian and I are the remaining duo of those times. We still walk, climb, and ski together with varying degrees of success, but always enjoy our times in the hills. We’ve been accused of being an old married couple and on occasion Ian has been asked if he’s my carer..! Such is the friendship that we share and that’s what I’m going to write about – friendship in the mountains. As climbers we need a strong bond to exist between us. Ian an I almost instinctively know what the other is thinking at any point on a route, which helps no end. We’re not going to set any records with our achievements, but we’re happy in what we do. Many of you who read my blogs will know about my epic on Mt. McKinley and I’m not going to go on about it here, but Ian, and his wife Jean supported me tremendously through my recovery. When presenting, I tell a story about having all my fingers and toes removed under surgery, only to be bought a nailbrush by two friends. Those two friends were Ian and Jean. Some people think that a little sick, or underhand, but Ian and Jean know me well, and I needed something to make me laugh. At the time, I was in an awful place mentally. Thoughts of suicide ran through my mind and people were worried. Their plan worked and I still carry that nailbrush into lectures to this day.
Many people come as a couple, with their partners either loving what they do, or becoming a widow to it. I know many who suffer at the arms of a dedicated mechanic, collector or climber (and from my own experiences, expedition work is either fantastic for a relationship, or a disaster waiting to happen). Ian and Jean worked in youth work together and spent many a long day in the hills. All seemed well, until February 2015. Ian and I had only been back from Scotland a few days when Jean suffered a stroke. She was only in her early 50’s. Words cannot describe what the last year has been like for both of them, coming to terms with what had happened, but the long the road to recovery continues. Jean and I share a common issue – wanting our recovery to speed up. When I was in hospital with black fingers, toes and nose, I held onto the thought that my recovery would be swift as modern medicine was wonderful. ‘In no time at all i’d be back on the mountainside at full health’ I thought to myself. It was over a year before I faced a simple rock climb and to this day, I still feel my injuries complaining. Only recently I visited the Podiatry clinic again, as I do every month, to keep my skin grafts in top condition. Ian and Jean supported me through the dark times of my amputations, as I have supported them through Jeans’ stroke. Both frostbite and strokes change people’s lives dramatically in very little time, but we all share a common desire to live as best as we can. Sitting moaning about our problems will never fix them. Only positive mental attitude works.
This February was Ian and I’s first climbing trip since last winter. We’re usually out and about on a regular basis, but priorities had changed and that was that. It was good to get into the mountains together again, with my carer/partner/other half, or whatever people think. Ian is a great friend and together we wander our way into the snow. We toured and climbed around the Northern Corries, Cairngorm and Glenshee in typical Scottish conditions – clear, blizzard, still, gale, sun and snow.
The harder climbing of years ago has changed into simpler routes and ski touring.
The raucous nights of boozing have been replaced with a quiet drink, but our friendship has never been stronger…