There is a Scottish bill being proposed that would ensure that all young people have the opportunity to experience residential outdoor education. If this gets passed, every 12 to 16 year old pupil will be guaranteed a week long outdoor education residential experience.
Most people I know who work in the outdoor industry benefited from an outdoor education programme early in their careers. Most went on outdoor education residential trips, and many worked in outdoor education for a time. I was lucky enough to do both. As a child being brought up in Somerset I went on a residential trip to Charterhouse Outdoor Education Centre in the Mendips in Somerset. Even now, getting on for forty years later, I remember some of the things we did. Before I set up Abacus Mountain Guides I worked at Outward Bound Locheil for two years, specifically to gain the skills and experience that I knew I would need to work as a mountain guide. Right now, my daughter is on a school outdoor education residential trip and I am sure the experience will remain with her for decades to come.
Not every young person gets this opportunity. This bill would change this around completely, making it law that every young person would get the opportunity to go on a week long residential trip. In doing so, outdoor activities would be introduced to every child in Scotland. Once children have received a high quality experience in the outdoors, they are far more likely to return to it in later life, meaning they will be far more likely to live active, healthy lifestyles. They will also make connections with the landscape, the outdoor environment and nature, something that is crucial to tackle the climate emergency.
There are many barriers to participation in outdoor activities, financial, cultural and geographical, but the benefits to participation are wide-ranging and profound. This bill would cut through these barriers and introduce the outdoors to everyone growing up in Scotland.
I fully support this proposal, and if you would like to contribute to the consultation you can do so here.
Adventurous new experiences in the outdoors develop young people with a lifelong connection and concern for the natural environment, self-esteem, self reliance, confidence, resilience and an understanding of how to deal with new challenges and manage risk. It also helps young people to know what it means to be part of a team, to learn leadership skills and the importance of valuing friendship.
The evidence about these benefits of residential outdoor education is both widespread and compelling, and, in the age of COVID-19, when there is growing national concern about young people’s health and lifestyles and the fact that many children from some of the more deprived areas do not get the same opportunities as their counterparts elsewhere, residential outdoor education should be a key part of the curriculum.
Is it too early to be thinking about next winter? The summer solstice is only a month away after all. I only just emptied my van of all the accumulated gear and rubbish from a winter and spring of ice climbing and mountaineering. All my ice axes are now hanging in my shed, my winter boots are deep in the cupboard and I have been enjoying some rock climbing. But, winter is always on my mind. When people ask what my goals are, they are always wintry things.
The winter just finished was a blast. For me it started in December with some early season mixed climbing on Buachaille Etive Mor and on Ben Nevis. North Buttress and Hobgoblin make fine early season climbs. January was soggy for a long time and it kept us guessing what the rest of the winter would be like. Even so, we managed some very good fun days of climbing. February, as ever, was hard work. Storm after storm brought snow, thaw and freeze and incredibly quick cycles. One week gave us three overnight thaws with rain followed by freeze and fresh snow during the day.
It all came good in March though and we had some fabulous days in sunshine on good ice and snow. Some rare climbs were enjoyed like the last big icicle on Ben Nevis and a few ascents of Astronomy. The better weather and snow cover lasted well into April. I made several laps of Tower Ridge when it is at its best, covered in solid icy snow with the rock just starting to peak out again and in amazing weather.
This was my 22nd winter of work in Scotland. I missed most of one winter when I broke my back but I have enjoyed just about all of the other 21 winters and had a fantastic time. I really hope that I will get to enjoy another 20 odd winters. But I also want to explore some other places, so next winter I will be going to Norway to work alongside my good friend Donald King. We will still be running a full winter of guiding in Scotland but I will be away ice climbing in Norway for three weeks at the end of February and early March.
Donald has been ice climbing in Norway for many years now. He has found a place where there is a huge range of climbs with very people there climbing, based in the village of Aurland. Aurlands fjord itself is a branch off the great Sognefjord, which is the longest fjord in Norway. The mountains surrounding Aurland rise on all sides to an altitude of around 1800 metres, on the slopes of these and in the gorges between them, the great icefalls form. Within ten minutes drive of the cabins there are low level options for climbs when conditions allow, extending the drive to half an hour one can be at an altitude of 700m or in another valley entirely, so good ice can usually be found.
So if you fancy something a bit different, a week of the best ice climbing in a beautiful part of the world, and if you want to sample my cooking, have look here and get in touch with Donald.
You will need sharp picks and crampons, and a sense of adventure!
In some ways I feel like I should apologise for our social media feeds. I put up nice pictures of all the adventures I experience and describe them in detail, and you might feel like you have missed out on something. It is a common theme in the outdoor community and is enhanced by the ephemeral nature of what we seek. We quite like, secretly or openly, to get one up on our friends. Knowing that we have got to a climb in perfect condition, when most other people have not, is quite satisfying.
If this FOMO (fear of missing out) generates the drive to get out and have your own adventures I’m delighted. Going climbing and walking and biking (and even kayaking, although that’s not one I enjoy as much) is brilliant in so many ways. I hope to encourage people to get out and engage with our beautiful landscape. The benefits of exercise and challenge in nature to our physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing are profound. And it’s a lot of fun too!
One-upmanship can be a fun game but let’s not let it get out of hand. What I don’t want to encourage is a kind of outdoor consumerism. If we start to get the idea that climbing a certain route makes you better than someone else we will start to follow the wrong path.
I have fallen into this trap before myself. Many years ago, my friend Jonny and I enjoyed soloing big ice climbs on Ben Nevis. We compared notes on climbing Point Five Gully, Zero Gully, Hadrian’s Wall Direct, all solo. It started to get competitive and we started to think about whether we could go for a grade VI and who would do it first. So I found myself standing underneath Mega Route X with every intention of climbing it but with a slightly unsettled feeling inside. The climb was in great shape and the weather was good but something wasn’t quite right.
So, I went home, without climbing the route, and I’m very happy with this decision. It became clear to me that the main reason for climbing that route was to get one up on Jonny. That’s no reason to do such a serious thing as climb vertical ice solo.
A couple of weeks later I went back up with my wife Louise and my friend Tony. We were deciding what to do when I suggested I could climb Mega Route X before doing something else. This time it felt so good to climb the route, even with Louise watching me at the bottom of the coire. We went off and did another climb together afterwards and had a lovely day. We did the climbs we wanted to do for us and for no other reason.
We praise achievement and we are right to do so. When Dave MacLeod completes another of the world’s hardest climbs we all celebrate his success. When we first climbed Everest the whole nation celebrated. Now, some people climb Everest to be able to say that they have climbed Everest thinking that this status gives them something other people don’t have. We might complete the Munro’s, or the Cuillin Traverse or climb Orion Direct and feel like this makes us better than others. This is not universal, it is only a few people but it is not healthy.
We should not collect outdoor objectives like badges we can wear on our sleeves. We should not do things so that we can say we have done them with the intention of making our audience feel small.
The challenge is ours and ours alone. It is so hard to do but we should not measure ourselves up with other people. We should push ourselves to new things, new places and new adventures for the experience it gives us. Let’s share our experiences to encourage others to have their own adventures but the reward is entirely personal. It’s about the struggle, the escape from everyday life, the sense of perspective, the focus on what actually matters right here, right now. It’s not actually about what you do at all.
Doing great things in the outdoors does not make us better than anyone else but it might just make us better people.
So I hope we inspire action and not envy, that people get out and have adventures of their own instead of feeling that they are missing out. Don’t read it and think about what I have been up to. Read it and think about what you can get up to.
Self reliance is a fundamental principle of mountaineering. By participating we accept this and take responsibility for the decisions we make. These blog posts and conditions reports are intended to help you make good decisions. They do not remove the need for you to make your own judgements when out in the hills.