I get to go to the Alps regularly, skiing or climbing, and enjoy my time on world icons like the Matterhorn and Mont Blanc. It’s the same for me over there as it is here in the UK; I enjoy it most when I’m going to new places or climbing routes I’ve not done before. It’s a great way to stay sharp as a guide and it certainly keeps me inspired. However, I always enjoy coming home. The sense of open space and the complete beauty of the landscape make it the best place in the world for me.
Being based originally on the south coast of England was not giving me the experience I needed for the mountain guides qualification so I moved to Fort William in Scotland. Arriving in March of 1995, one of the best winters for spring ice climbing on Ben Nevis, I was keen to get stuck in. Point Five Gully seemed to be the obvious target and not having found any climbing partners was not going to hold me back. So my third ice climb was Point Five Gully, solo. I took a liking to solo ice climbing for a while and worked my way through many of the Ben Nevis classics. I felt very secure on ice and enjoyed the freedom of being able to move at my own pace. Unfortunately a climber’s natural tendency to try to push the grade meant there was a limit to the duration of my solo climbing. I got as far as Mega Route X and called it a day there.
Over in the Alps I enjoyed a few solos as well including Les Droites North Face. This went a bit too well resulting in me arriving at the crux before it was light so I had an excuse for half an hour’s sleep. Being sat on top on my own with all the Alps laid out in the sunshine below was a brilliant moment. Missing the last train down from Montenvers was not so good.
Many years later I am still finding plenty of inspiration in Scotland. It’s a tough playground but all the more rewarding for that. Winter climbing here is such a great mix of physical and mental challenge demanding the full range of mountaineering skills as well as climbing technique. You never quite master the dark art of judging the climbing conditions but when you get it right the reward is great. We get to enjoy big adventures in a relatively small package.
Mike operates Fort William-based Abacus Mountaineering, providing skills training and mountain guiding in Scotland and the Alps.