My Mountain Family

With the notable exception of the Isle of Man, no man is an island. All of my mountain experiences have been shared with a ragtag clan of like-minded individuals who I believe deserve a mention.

The Motivator

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If it had not been for Matt, I would not be here today and instead be smashed to pieces at the bottom of a waterfall. Admittedly though I wouldn’t have been there in the first place as it was he who first introduced me to vertical ice. The tirelessly driven Matt can always push me slightly out of my comfort zone in the best way possible, embracing both type 1 and type 2 fun, and as a result has been with me on some of the most memorable routes of my life to date.

He has touches of the old-school about his style and ethos, climbing routes multiple times to perfect them, ending up in frightening scenarios with an air of nonchalance and enduring discomfort without a hint of whinging (he managed to fully immerse himself in a pool of icy water and climb for the rest of the day in wet clothes, and the rest of the week in wet boots).

Whilst I may be happy to frequently join him for butt-crack of dawn indoor bouldering sessions before work, I think I’ll leave his North Face of the Eiger aspirations to him and whatever unfortunate/fortunate soul decides to tag along.

The Long Distance Path Companion

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At the risk of sounding old before my time, before social media enslaved us all, teenagers actually did stuff. Quite why Leo and I chose such a masochistic pursuit is up for debate. In between smashing up televisions in his Nan’s shed and lacerating hands with cricket bats with nails in, Leo and I would throw ourselves and heavy rucksacks at long, well-trodden stretches of the British landscape.

After tallying the vast number of rabbits, unfortunate sheep and beloved family pets that had managed to drown themselves along the 130 miles of the Grand Union Canal, we later opted for the Wainwright’s Coast to Coast, West Highland Way and the Walker’s Haute Route in Switzerland (which prematurely ended in injury, a recurring theme for me).

With an uncanny ability to walk hundreds of miles on his tip-toes and eat pies all across north England, sharing a generously designated “2-man tent” with this 6’4” micro-giant has always been a pleasure.

The Gear Freak

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Some people turn their spare room into an office, or a games room, or somewhere to shove the in-laws (and not just at bedtime). Rob, instead, has a gear room and I am immensely jealous. Far from the all-the-gear-no-idea muppets I frequently assisted working in outdoor retail, Rob has plenty of idea in the mountains, is constantly out and also has some of the best technical gear knowledge of anyone I know.

He has an unhealthy obsession with the Mammut brand (to the point where I find stuffed mammoths dotted around his house, I shared a bed with one) and managed to convince his girlfriend to relinquish a wardrobe, for him to meticulously hang his various items of clothing that would make any gear freak salivate (but don’t dribble on the face fabric, it’ll damage it).

The Indoor Partner

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Living in a city devoid of mountains or anything with a remote incline, I often find myself cranking on plastic with Mark to keep climbing fit. But why have I never been outside with him? He’s the full package when it comes to the outdoors – snowboarder, climber, cycle tourer, mountain biker, runner, 4000 metre Alpine summiteer. A trip together encompassing all of the above is necessary I believe, to make up for lost time.

Unfortunately, his work life borders on the criminal as he works for Arc’Teryx, an outdoor brand that convinces some poor souls to part with £750 for a basic around-town rucksack.

The Bad-Weather Buddy

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Deep breath … Sgurr Alasdair – rain with no view; Ben Nevis (twice failed) – sleet, rain and winds that made me stumble around like a drunk who had just stolen some walking poles to keep himself erect; Ring of Steall – torrential rain coupled with a drenching river crossing; Trotternish Ridge – rain, wind and zero visibility culminating in getting lost; Bidean nam Bian – rain and avalanche risk (it avalanched later that day). This is my impressively miserable CV of mountain walking with Nick.

I understand we live on an island that juts into the Atlantic and snags much of the rubbish weather bumbling along the jet stream, but this is starting to defy the statistics. I recently backed out of a short-notice winter trip with Nick as the forecast warned of the 3 Ws: warm, wet and windy. Just once, I’d love a couple of days walking in good conditions with him. We’ve rescheduled for February; goodness knows what we’ll find.

The Enigma

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He’s an Italian who can’t stand tomatoes or coffee; he has the eyesight of a bat flying into a cloud of CS gas yet attempts to blind himself further by yanking cams out of walls that fly straight into his eye; he is a chronic moaner in the hills yet I can see that Simone loves every moment and has an infectious buzz that catches quickly.

Even type 2 fun has a tendency to veer into type 1 with Simone, whether it’s climbing in 46 degree heat (115 farenheit), sleeping in motor oil behind a mosquito-infested railway station or battling through deep snow and stopping for lunch only to be told that he doesn’t like the sandwich you made him. You can be a pain Simone, but please don’t change.

The Mate on Two Wheels

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Riding into the unknown together is always special. As we set off on our 1300 mile cycle tour to Rome, I was such a novice on the bike as to wear underpants beneath my cycling shorts (ladies understand the faux pas of VPL), and Adrian had a bike with gear ratios highly unsuited to the high Alpine passes.

Since dragging our fatigued and sunburnt bodies across Europe, we have both grown as cyclists: Adrian has become a red-hot bike mechanic, and I have taken to cycling so strongly that I almost cry when the Tour de France starts (my wife also cries when the Tour starts). I should be angry at someone who has introduced me to a world of pain in riding up hills, but I am instead immensely grateful.

The Extended Family – Ellis Brigham Mountain Sports

Put your ear to any manhole cover and sewage workers knee-deep in excrement can often be heard remarking, “Be grateful, at least we aren’t working in outdoor retail.” Or at least that’s how I imagined it as I juggled 5 customers at a time, each with a few thousand daft questions, whilst a mountain of stock built up in the back stockroom getting soaked as the indoor icewall rapidly thawed – all for not even peanuts, but the inedible husks.

Working there isn’t about the work though, it’s about the people (and the discounts on gear). Despite the odd weirdo who came and went, my colleagues at Ellis Brigham were as great a bunch as anyone could wish for. With a manager who’s simultaneously very intelligent and mad as a box of frogs, colleagues who take snoozes in the sleeping bag stock, and a womanising salesman with a penchant for bleach and unwashed crockery, I couldn’t think of a finer group to work with.

The Seed Planter

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Only the best fathers/husbands can convince their wives that dangerous mountains are a safe and productive place to take their children. Seemingly undeterred by memories of him intentionally losing me in the forest as a child (hiding behind trees to watch the unfolding panic), I followed my dad through bog, rain, wind, snow and midges, and loved it.

I blame him personally for the hold that the hills have on my life – the reason for me not having a proper career and instead possessing a half-cooked idea that I want to be outdoors in some shape or form. Dad, if you wanted me to be successful, you shouldn’t have introduced me to a sport where the best performers live in the back of their vans.

Please share this piece with anyone who you think fits the description for your mountain family.


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