Category Archives: Personal

Communication Breakdown

It’s been a while. I’m hibernating. The winter has been dark and cold and wet and there’s too much negative shit going on in the world. It makes me want to stay wrapped up and cocooned away from it all. I need to build a shelter in the mountains, fill it with supplies and just stay there indefinitely.

I am getting out though. Not enough adventure but I walk to work and run home, sometimes I make the journey on bike. It’s only an 8 mile round trip but its exercise, a good chance to think, and there’s always something new to see.

I’m helping Sally with a Meetup group based in Bristol to get people out more and explore some of the things you miss while living in a city. And also helping her with a new adventure\expedition company called Lightfoot. Lots of scheming going on. It’s what winter months are for.

We might be heading up to the Cairngorms next month for a winter adventure, but its dependant on a few things. After last year’s weekend in the snow I wasn’t sure if I would ever want to go back out and spend some time in the cold but I’m actually hoping we get to go. A chance to put into practice some of the things I learnt and, more importantly, get away into the wild and have a proper adventure again.

I’m planning some adventures for the time I’m taking off in the summer and autumn. A Cape Wrath expedition to tie off the unfinished LEJOG trek from last year and looking at locations for days out and weeks away while I drive around finding new places to explore in Wales, Scotland and the Lake District. Scouting out adventures that might get offered as guided treks in the future with Lightfoot.

Thinking further ahead I want to do a bike packing adventure with Sally. She’s cycled round the world and through South America so must be itching to get back on the saddle. I don’t know why but I’m drawn to Iran and parts of the middle east. I know she has some ideas as well so we need to stick our heads together for 2018.

I’ve volunteered to help with some camps the Youth Adventure Trust are running. I’m looking forward to do some worthwhile charity work and help young adults realise their potential.

I should be getting out more to climb but I’m finding it a struggle. I’m still rehabbing my shoulder and back so it’ll come. No point in pushing things too much. But I do need to get back on this and learn to lead. I need to be competent enough to book my SPA.

I was looking at some notes I made for possible blog posts. I’m still conscious I haven’t written much on a regular basis and I came across an idea about social networking. This was a result of a conversation with one of my best friends. I forget how we got there but essentially it boiled down to how, when we were kids, there was no Facebook, no Twitter, no mobile phones. The internet was a novelty, yet to grow and realise its potential. The only way we could arrange things was at school for later in the evening, by land line or pay phones. If that person or group of friends were out, you had to become an expert tracker to figure out where they might be.

But in the last 30+ years the world has opened up more. I work with people now who have no idea what the world was like without the internet or mobile phones, and I’m only 41. That astounded me and made me realise that I was raised during a pretty significant milestone in human history. The dawn of the internet.

Email predates the internet but from the early networks of the 60s & 70s (ARPANET, NPL, X25 and Usenet) came TCP/IP and a global network which eventually spawned the internet. From government and academic use, to the creation of ISPs and eventual early use in the 90s, the internet and email has meant that someone is always there and available. Information is at our finger tips.

I gloss over the history but it really was a fascinating time, and if you get the chance then read up on it. But things people take for granted today, like the internet and smart phones, were really only developed in the last 20+ years. An explosion of technology and communication. You can tweet from the top of Everest for gods sake.

Original forms of communication across distances included word of mouth, smoke signals, pigeons, semaphore and written word. Then came Morse code and the telegraph. This signalled (pardon the pun) a big milestone as it changed how the world communicated. There was limited knowledge of national or international news but this low cost network expanded the world in new ways.

After the telegraph came the telephone. Spoken word transmitted over a network of copper lines. Simple and effective, it was the stable of the modern world for a long time. In the 50s, cell technology was explored and in the 70s the first steps to commercial mobile phones were taken.

After the significant advances of the internet and mobiles, what does the future hold for communication? I would say we’re heading for less is more. Nano ear pieces, holographic images, swipe screens. I dare say we’re already there with those technologies but eventually we’ll have implants and fully immerse ourselves into the technology.

However, the more demand for communication, the more intrusive and personal it becomes. Could we put up with this, the monitoring of our communications and always being switched on?

I’ll tell you from my mountain cabin. But you’ll need to learn how to read smoke signals…..

A Hypothetical Expedition Idea

I was browsing through iPlayer the other night, looking for something quick and easy to watch. I came across this documentary and it peaked my interest.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p03yfgzt/breathing-space-to-the-land-where-glaciers-grow

The lack of camera filters, rudimentary kit used and the “get stuck in” British approach, without the health and safety nonsense that might normally follow this sort of program, would be refreshing.

I think it might have been filmed in 1973, shown in 1974 and featured the Simpsons family as they were dropped into the middle of Greenland with supplies and four canoes. That’s two parents, four children (aged between 5-12 at a guess) a three man BBC film unit and a load of supplies to keep them all going for at least three weeks.

It turns out this family didn’t do normal family holidays. The father, Hugh Simpson, was introduced as an experienced polar explorer who spent three years in Antarctica and led an expedition to the North Pole. The mother, Myrtle, was described as a “tough explorer”. It’s hard to not notice the dismissive sexism in old TV shows but when it came to find out more I was pretty much blown away by Myrtle.

Turns out she is more than just a tough explorer. While I have no doubt about Hugh’s achievements, Myrtle was a pioneer of skiing and guiding in Scotland and key to setting up Glencoe, Cairngorm and Nevis Range ski centres. Its thought she may have been one of the first official mountain guides on Ben Nevis, guiding clients up Tower Ridge. She travelled to New Zealand to continue her climbing and then planned an expedition to Peru where she met Hugh. It was here they climbed six new peaks and were the first UK climbers to reach the summit of the 22,000ft Huascaran on a new route.

They married in 1959 and it was while planning an expedition to Spitsbergen in the Arctic that Myrtle found out she was pregnant. Rather than stay behind like a “dutiful wife” of the times they went with a six week old baby. She was the first person to ski across Greenland and attempted to ski to the north pole, eventually reaching the most northerly point for a woman at the time. Bear in mind that all this in a period of time when being outdoors and exploring was predominately seen as a boys own club. What an awesome lady.

This expedition found the Simpson family travel from Glasgow to Greenland, where they would attempt to canoe down the waterways of Lake Tasersiaq, over the Arctic Circle to Sondre Stromfjord.

This was certainly no package holiday to Majorca. I wonder how much say the children actually had in this or if they were simply dragged along. From watching they appeared enthusiastic enough to be there and were old hats at it all.

The expedition starts off well and we pass some lovely scenery as they paddle gently along. The whole family act as a team to make camp, prepare food and eat. The children are allowed to make a fire and cook on it. Its all about teaching them self sufficiency and responsibility.

After 5 days, they stop to make camp and decide to climb a nearby mountain because its there and want to see what lies ahead. The parents allow the children to make decisions on how to approach the mountain and the irony wasn’t lost on me when the children argue who was first up, while forgetting that the camera man was standing there filming them from the top.

The team (they’re more than just a family) reach a point where they have to portage because of the tide working against them. They all carry the canoes and kit for over a mile, making a few journeys, to progress. Later still they find two small lakes they were meant to go over were still frozen so have to find an alternative route on foot.

They abandon two canoes and head off, portaging two canoes and carrying other equipment across land. They find old Eskimo settlements along the way and allow the children to canoe short parts where they can to make transporting some of the equipment and supplies easier.

In the end, after three weeks, they make it to the destination and spend time with Eskimos. This allows their children to learn about another culture and share customs.

I’ve blogged before about getting kids outdoors and this film, from a long time gone by, certainly buys into that principle. It shows how it can work and the positive impact it can have if you allow your children to be empowered.

I got to thinking as I watched it. I wondered who was still alive and surely it was ripe for a follow up. I’d love to find out how these types of holidays and experiences helped shape what the children would become. Had they passed on this approach and experience to their own families and what did they actually think looking back.

And as a final thought, how it would be pretty cool to try and recreate the journey with the children now as adults. Sounds stupid but I got all this from watching a TV program over 40 years old, before I was even born.

Whats A Quality Mountain Day?

I’ve struggled with what to write about recently. I started tapping away in the early hours but it was way too personal. I have some other ideas but they aren’t fleshed out enough yet.

I’ve put pressure on myself to write and publish something. To generate content. People who write blogs tell you to keep to a schedule and try to write weekly or monthly at least. Given everything else I have going on it seems like hard work and not high on the list of priorities.

I’m starting my mountain leader training and on top of the self studying involved in subjects like navigation, geology, geography and weather, I have to accrue experience in the mountains. These are in the form of Quality Mountain Days (QMD)

According to the Mountain Training Association a QMD is a technical day taking into account route planning & choice, exploration of new areas, terrain covered, conditions overhead and under foot and any challenges faced. It gives the candidate a chance to practice navigation away from marked paths and potentially lead less experienced people. The idea is to contribute towards your development as a mountaineer and leader.

Mountainous areas in the UK might include Snowdonia, Brecon Beacons, Lake District, Scottish Highlands and parts of Ireland. As a bare minimum I need 20 of these days before I can take the training. After that I have to get more experience in the mountains and complete at least 20 more QMD. This on top of trying to get experience leading or assistant leading groups before I take the assessment.

The planning of these days needs to be thorough including route cards, mapping and any risk\hazard management (if I’m going to do it properly) I have a stack of places I want to walk so as you can expect things are pretty busy for me as I try to map them out.

However, for me personally, a QMD is not all about making a summit or finishing a trail, its about having fun, enjoying being out and being safe. As an ML that would be my priority for any group I am managing.

So in the summer, while everyone else is working, spare a thought for me as I take time off again to travel around England, Wales and Scotland immersing myself in the mountains.

Anyway. That’s all I have to say. I might have something more substantial in a few weeks to write about. We’ll see.

Connect : Disconnect

It seems to me that there’s a lot that can stop kids from spending much time outdoors these days. Games consoles making it hard to have a real sense of wonder when blasting the shit out of something in the latest Halo. TV channels pumping out hours of crap and keeping minds hypnotised into buying the latest teenage barbie pokemon monsters. The amount of time spent doing homework as schools face the pressure of passing ridiculous OFSTED reports. Parental fear of letting kids stray too far.

If we wrap up our kids in protective custody how can we expect them to make a connection to nature and the outdoors?

I’m not a parent so its hard for me to form that much of an opinion on raising children but it doesn’t stop me from having one. I’m not saying it was any different when I was a kid. We certainly had some of these distractions. I know its easy to just plonk your children in front of a screen at the weekend and allow them to waste their day. There was a time many years ago when I would think nothing of wasting an entire Saturday in front of Call of Duty. I snapped out of it and ended up giving away my console. Why spend time shut away in a room exploring an imaginary world when I could go out and experience it for real. I got my time back and felt better for it.

I was walking home from work the other night. Its a walk I take 3-4 times a week as I think you can experience more this way rather than being stuck on a bus. Night was creeping in and there was a sharp winter chill biting at my cheeks. I could smell smoke from a fire in the nearby city farm. I got to the park and made my way round the footpaths. I happened to catch a light moving in the nearby trees and stopped to look over.

There was a young kid wrapped up in winter clothes with a head torch on. He was picking through the fallen leaves and examining them closely like a scientist might exam a new species. He inspected the edges for imperfections, checking the size and then transparency before handing those that made the grade to his mother. She was waiting patiently with a carrier bag as he picked through this pile. I wanted to go over and ask what they had planned for the leaves but didn’t want to intrude on the moment. I smiled to myself as I walked away. The bite of cold air not feeling so cold anymore.

Juxtapose this with a few weeks ago. I was walking through another park in the centre of the city. The nights were lighter then and the place was bustling with people. I’ve sat in this park a few times watching the squirrels hopping around burying their spoils. As I walked along I saw two kids throwing stuff at a squirrel in a tree. Society tells us not to get involved and walk away but I stopped and told them not to throw stuff. They stared at me blankly but I made my point and started to walk away when their Dad appeared from no where and asked why I was scaring his kids.

I pointed out they were scaring the squirrel and it wasn’t great parenting to allow them to throw stuff at animals like that. We got into a short “conversation” which ended with him telling me to “go fuck myself”. I walked away pretty pissed off, wanting to go back and land one on his chin, but violence doesn’t solve situations like that and I figured I’d at least made my point. That and I secretly hoped the squirrel would face plant one of the kids before running off. I got over it after a few hours but I do wonder why I have to share space with people like that.

I read about eco-therapy a few months ago, the idea of prolonged periods of exposure to the outdoors and how this exposure to nature can improve your well-being. Whether it be time in the mountains or hills, a walk in the park, a bike ride or even just a few hours in the garden. That deep sense of connection and awareness of plants, animals and the landscape can lead you to open up and think more about the existence of things beyond you.

Michael Cohen suggests that nature offers a different civilisation from human culture. The earth offers wisdom and beauty as opposed to the general insanity of the human race. Nature is willing to share its magic while we continue to spoil and pollute anything of any value. He writes “the natural world produces no garbage. On a macro level, everything is valued, nothing is discarded or unwanted and that defines unconditional love in action…we, as part of life, inherit the natural worlds integrity as our inner nature, a profound, globally shared creation blueprint which too often we, demeaningly call the little child within us”

Modern life sees us sleeping in buildings which isolate us from the earth more. With the internet and mobile communication we have electrons flying through the air. They couldn’t make us more disconnected from ourselves but strangely keep us connected.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this post to be honest. I had an idea but it escapes me. A strand. A point. But its gone. Maybe I’ll go outside for a walk and breath in some fresh air. Let the winter chill in for a bit. Get the blood moving. Look into the sky at the stars shining like tiny pearls.

One day I’ll find myself staring out into the black openness from my cabin in the mountains. Away from the idiots intent on spoiling this world. Away from the suffocation of a city. Enjoying the silence and space that nature can offer.

Superfly Splash

We were standing at the base of La Chalavreu, staring up at the rock face looming over us like a castle wall. Two small insignificant ants under an insurmountable lump of rock. Past it were the towers of Aiguille de Varan and Aiguille Rouge. It looked like there’d been recent rock fall. I imagined the chaos and noise as chunks rained down from above but there was an eerie silence as we stood under its shadow, taking in the scale. I wanted to pick a line and see how far I could scramble up to take a closer look. Stupid idea but that was the little voice in the back of my head I now keep in check whenever I see something I want to explore more. I’m constantly looking for lines, angles and holds. I’m by no means an experienced or competent climber yet, but I’m curious and like to push things.

I was in the Alps with Sally and we’d spent the morning walking up to this point and joining the Tour du Pays du Mont Blanc trail. The heat of the day was at its peak and I was sweating from the walk up, my back soaked where the rucksack was sitting.

It was my first time in the Alps and I instantly got it. Lots of mountains, trails, treks and climbing routes; an outdoor playground stretching for approximately 750 miles across eight countries. This range was formed tens of millions of years ago as the plates of Africa and Eurasia collided. The rocks rose up and folded, forming mountains like the Matterhorn and Mont Blanc.

A friend of a friend died on Mont Blanc a few years ago. It was a tragic premature end but the things in life that matter, like the experience of doing new things and going to new places, is a natural human instinct. Some seem happy in their box but some like to push away the fear every now and again and challenge themselves. I think I’d like to do some serious Alpine climbing one day. Pushing my boundaries and comfort zones to another level. Telling fear to go fuck itself.

I think the fear I feel as a rational thinking adult didn’t exist when I was a kid and that probably rang true for a lot of people. We were invincible right? Stones would bounce off us. A fall on the bike meant nothing. If we hurt ourselves then a quick dust down, magic plaster and we were off again.

When I got older our gang got braver and we explored more. Jumping the walls of building sites, mooching around industrial estates and climbing the fence of a local car scrap yard. We had no qualms about getting into cars stacked three high and pretending to drive them. I remember racing up and down the sides of angled subway walls and hopping around the ledges. Scrambling onto school roofs, jumping over gaps and edging over drops. Climbing up old shipping containers and jumping off, mimicking our favourite wrestlers of the time. I was always partial to Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka.

Snuka came to my attention while watching WWF wrestling in the late 80s and early 90s. I loved wrestling when I was a kid. I used to watch the World of Sport on a Saturday afternoon with Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks but it wasn’t until I watched the WWF that it really appealed.

Snuka was one of the wrestlers we loved to imitate because of his high-flying displays, a true innovator, and he garnered a lot of fans because of this athletic ability. Its claimed that Snuka was the first to climb the top turnbuckle of the ring and vault into the air, slamming into the often prone stretched out opponent while giving the split finger salute. In 1983 he made wrestling history in a steel cage match against Don Muraco. Despite losing he dragged Muraco back into the cage and flew 15 feet off the top, landing the famous Superfly Splash. This move was one we would imitate, leaping into the air and splashing onto our opponent.

While I stopped watching wrestling a long time ago I read Snuka was arrested in September 2015 and charged with third degree murder and involuntary manslaughter. Back in 1983, after defeating Jose Estrada at a televised WWF show, Snuka made a call for an ambulance from his hotel room. Emergency personnel found his girlfriend, Nancy Argentino, injured and took her to hospital where she died shortly after. Her body covered in cuts and bruises, the coroner stated she had died of traumatic brain injuries consistent with a moving head striking a stationary object. Snuka was the only suspect but charges weren’t pressed at the time and the case went cold. In 2013 the still-open case was reviewed and turned over to a grand jury who concluded Snuka caused the injuries leading to her death.

In 2015, thirty two years after the incident, Snuka was arrested and charged. He pleaded not guilty and his legal team argued his mental competency was deteriorating because of dementia. The prosecutors countered by showing a tape of Snuka wrestling in May 2015 and said they thought he was faking it. A fair claim but the judge ruled in Snuka’s favour and a new hearing is to be held in December to further determine his competency. To compound things, Snuka had surgery in August to remove his lymph nodes and part of his stomach after he was diagnosed with stomach cancer.

He’s recovering but his attorney has reiterated Snuka’s dementia as a result from wrestling and Snuka, now a broke ageing shell, his body and brain giving up on him, is part of a class action lawsuit filed against the WWF that alleges wrestlers have incurred long term injuries and the WWF has failed to care for them. The high velocity collisions with opponents has taken its toll it would seem.

The older I got then these chances to push boundaries of where to explore and generally do stupid things receded. The realisation of the serious repercussions kicked in. Cuts and breaks take longer to heal. And they actually hurt. Much like the slow bloated demise of these early pioneers of my childhood, the need to push things died out and was seemingly locked away for good.

The next day me and Sally got on a train to Chamonix and followed a track up towards Aiguille du Midi. We weren’t planning on going up Aiguille du Midi but heading round a balcony track to look at Mer de Glace. A living glacier in France that stretches for around 12km. As we sat around the cairns, looking down at this slow moving river of ice, we could make out tiny little figures scurrying around on the ice. Picking a careful track to avoid the crevasses and seracs. They are where I want to be. Tired, dirty, hungry, laden down with kit but probably on a high with what they’d accomplished, seen and experienced. The fear they might have felt extinguished.

Fear again. If you don’t feel fear then you’re stupid right? I think it’s good to feel fear but not let it rule you. That nagging doubt at the back of your head. You question your sanity. The first rush of adrenaline and the wobble in your legs. Then you compose yourself and just go for it. Without thinking. Without worry. Without doubt. Trust in yourself.

Fear is your body’s way of preparing you for danger. Like an internal spider sense tingling, your body senses fear and sends out hormones that rush to the amygdala. You go into self-preservation mode which actually helps you sharpen your senses to survive and focuses your mind to the danger. Your brain reacts to this and perceives it as a negative, shutting down your ability fast and saving you from danger. Which is why many us back away and stop.

The brain is also smart enough to store data and use memories of the experience. Smells, sights, sounds, weather and other odd details can be stored and triggered at another time. Almost becoming a predictor of danger like PTSD.

As the early pioneers of wrestling that drove my fearlessness as a kid, I’m starting to find I can handle fear better every time I’m confronted by it. I challenge myself more. I want to explore off the beaten track. Find new angles and take new lines. Find that right side of crazy and land the perfect Superfly Splash.

Why A Rename

My original intention for this blog was to write about the planning and training that went into the LEJOG walk and other adventures I had in the build up to it. With LEJOG finishing earlier this year I had to have a think about whether to keep it going and how.

Firstly I’m no longer “walking north”. I’m now actually working towards obtaining my Mountain Leader qualifications, looking to take my climbing more seriously and planning some other adventures over the next few years. So its more about the experiences I have while doing these activities than charting my progress on a “walk north”.

I also also want the freedom to write about other things in life without it just being an outdoor blog. I know I could have left the name as it was and done just that but it was important for me to move on and reflect this.

Finally, finding my writing style is important and I don’t want to succumb to publishing boring tales of where I went and what I did. I want to convey my experiences in a different, almost visceral, style. To express the emotions and target the interesting aspects of whatever I’m doing. So this blog is about practicing my writing and hopefully making it engaging enough for people to keep reading regardless of the subject matter.

If you do read and enjoy my blog posts and want to give some feedback then please feel free to get in touch. Its nice to hear that people are enjoying my writing but I know I have to work on it so I’m happy to take on board any advice or suggestions.

Thanks.

Broken: Scars

I’m sitting in a park under the shade of a tree. Its early but the sun’s been out long enough to warm the patch of grass I’ve parked myself. Its a new city so things are still a little alien. Slowly I’m feeling my way round, tuning into the same frequency of the machine, each street a new page to turn, a huge maze to explore, a puzzle to solve.

A homeless guy nearby is stirring. Appearing from behind the bushes he spent last night, blinking in the sunlight and wiping last night’s sleep from his eyes. Stretching and scratching his hair out like a dog when it finds the sweet spot.

I’m looking at my hands, scanning the lines that show my age and the scratches from my new neighbours cat. Its friendly enough but we’re both at that early stage. Wary of each other, unsure how much we should let each other in.

I look at the scars on my knuckles from another life so long ago. A teenager not understanding his place in the world. Lost, looking for answers and having no real guidance on what to do. Lashing out through frustration: bins, walls, windows. Real violence in the action but answers never quite coming. Pain lasting seconds but the scars forever etched, a reminder of where I came from.

I have another scar under my right thumb. I trace it and feel the lump that’s been there for as long as I can remember. I must have been 8 or 9 when I got that. A vague memory of sliding down a grass verge on a flattened piece of cardboard like some speed racer.

I caught my hand on broken glass and sliced it open. I ran all the way home crying, hoping to be healed. I got a plaster and cuddle. I have a few good memories of living in that house. Sometime later my parents split up and we moved away. The scar another reminder of where I came from.

I tried cutting myself once. I don’t think I ever told anyone but I took a craft knife and made a small slice in my arm. Not too deep but enough to draw a little blood and feel a blunt pain. The cut healed and whatever faint scar disappeared over time, now covered in tattoos. I never tried it again. It didn’t quite take care of the frustration I felt.

A scar can be a physical thing to remind you of an action, that you’re human and fragile in the shell you inhabit. It can also be emotional. Whether it be an insecurity, grief, post traumatic stress or, god forbid, a form of abuse. These mental scars can run a lot deeper than anything physical.

The homeless guy has moved on. Looking for breakfast, money, alcohol or even his next fix. I have no idea and I’m not judging. Whatever his reasons for living like he does are his.

The park is starting to come alive with people. Business folk, mothers and children, students. I wonder how many have scars, hidden deep inside. How many harbour those insecurities we all feel.

Its only human nature to feel this way and it’s how you deal with your problems that define you. Let them fester too long and you’re fucked. I’ve learnt to just grab a hold of the little bastards and squeeze them out. I’m broken but easily fixed.