Warning: Self-indulgent post. You may want to go and read another blog instead...
Two Thousand and Eleven. A year of building for me. There was not as much ultralight as I would like, mostly ultra new and ultra hard. It was a year of stretching boundaries and of learning new skills. I wrote a guest post for Martin Rye a little while ago called Pushing the Envelope and in that post I discussed my thoughts on pushing your own perceived limits and learning new skills - something I personally consider rewarding and, in fact, essential. That said, pushing your limits is a vaguely terrifying thing but as Eleanor Roosevelt was once famously quoted as saying "do one thing every day that scares you". In the last 365 days, I can't say I've been scared for more than a small percentage of those days, but when I have been, it's been pretty intense.
In February, I undertook my first ever Scottish Winter Grade 1 climb as part of a five day Winter Mountaineering course in the Cairngorms. That course now features in the December issue of Trek and Mountain Magazine. Although Jacob's Ladder is not really a difficult climb by most standards (one need only take a look at Climb magazine to see what some of those lunatics are able to achieve), for me, with limited experience in winter mountaineering, it was a steep learning curve. I can carve a notch in my 'fear post' for that one.
It also served as the start point for a program of skill building to enhance my alpine and mountaineering skills. But it would be wrong to say I was focusing only on alpinism. Each and every moment spent in the Alps, or in Scotland, entrenches mental survival skills and the ability to deal with fear. This is an essential expertise in our lockers, especially when outdoors. I have sometimes felt paralysed by fear and found it difficult to think clearly - perhaps this is what Roosevelt was saying: learn how to deal with fear, accept it as a part of your existence, an essential survival mechanism, and learn how to control it. I suspect I'll only ever be able to do that as a function of age and experience, but each day I spend in the hills where I am stretching myself beyond what I perceive to be my limits, I come closer to being able to recognise the onset of fear, calm myself and learn to think clearly.
In March, I took an old friend into the Brecon Beacons for his first wild camp. After an overnight monsoon, we had to break camp at 3am and hike out. The fact he still talks about the trip with passion and badgers me to go again must mean we had a good time - the torrential rain, waist-level river fording, floating tents, freeze-dried food and a 'broken compass' (yes, Lee, that is an admission) did nothing to dampen (sorry) his enthusiasm. It won't go down as my best overnighter this year but it was another powerful learning experience for me.
In August, we traveled to the Alps again. From Argentiére, we walked the high-level route to Zermatt. That trek was, perhaps understandably, one of the high-points of the year. A chance to embed the skills I was learning, to further learn to control my fear and to get one step closer to autonomy in alpinism and in harsh outdoor environments generally. We got to know our guide, Nigel Shepherd very well and became good friends. This led to some more vertical endeavours...
In December we headed to North Wales to stay with Nigel and spend a few days learning rope skills climbing various Grade 2 and 3 scrambling routes in the Glyderau. No post yet on that as it will appear in the January issue of an outdoor magazine. Once it is out, I'll do a post on that trip but, suffice to say, this was yet another opportunity to learn the value of controlling fear and thinking clearly. All this with a view to undertaking PD routes in the alps next year and a 5 or 6 day traverse, wild camping, in one of the harsher national parks in Europe - Sarek in Swedish Lapland.
Throughout the year, I have been building a freelance career as a writer and photographer. At some point in the not to distant future, it is my intention to leave my profession (I am barrister) and experience a little bit more fear as I plunge the depths of being self-employed for a second time. I am not stupid enough to think this will happen overnight and I am working towards it one piece at a time. With four magazine commissions under my belt, two with Trek and Mountain and two with TGO, and more to come, I am more than happy with the progress so far. This is, in large part, to several bloggers who have taken the time to assist me with critique of my writing and getting my on the right road when it comes to taking my photography to a more advanced level.
So, some heartfelt thanks in particular to Martin Rye, Robin Evans, Hendrik Morkel, David Lintern, Alan Rayner and Fraser McAlister. You've all helped set me on the right path and for that I will be eternally grateful.
And so to 2012 - more alpine, more ultralight, more writing and more photography. Hope you have enjoyed my journeys this year and will come back for more next year.