2023 – a little bit of everything

It is eight months since I moved to the Lake District and dipped my toes into the world of outdoor instructing. As I review the year, and start to make plans for next year, it is clear that the highlight of 2023 has been variety!

It is impossible to do justice to all the sunny days, soggy days, laughter and shivering, but below are some of the highlights from 2023.

May – I was due to guide two people up Scafell Pike, starting from Seathwaite. I hadn’t actually walked this particular route since an early foray to the Lakes on a school trip in the early 90’s! So, to avoid any embarrassing navigational errors, I decided to walk the route a few days beforehand, with a pre-dawn start. In stark contrast to every other time I have walked up England’s highest mountain, my early start meant that I saw nobody until I was nearly back at the car. Standing alone on the summit in the rose-light of dawn surrounded by a cloud inversion is something I will never forget. Seeking out solitude in the mountains is something that I would love everyone to be able to experience.

The view from Side Pike – a lovely little walk if you are venturing into the hills for the first time

June – fresh from a 9-day training course to become a mountaineering and climbing instructor (MCI) I was keen to shadow other instructors and see them put the skills I had to master into action. There is now a strong focus on developing the softer skills of instructing, and it was a treat to shadow Esther Foster as she worked with a group of climbers who were looking to improve their trad climbing. Take-always for me were: the care needed to set the day up so that it is a safe space for people to both learn and fail; the importance of giving people options and allowing them to decide what to focus on; and the prolonged suffering that people are happy to endure once they get stuck into a task (it rained all day…)!

Rock climbing skills day – despite it being a full waterproof day everyone was ridiculously enthusiastic!

July – from coaching to guiding… I had the privilege of shadowing Sam Marsland (Lake District Mountaineering) as he guided a client up Slab and Notch route, on Pillar Rock. This is a big day out (made unnecessarily bigger by Hardknott Pass being closed on the way home…) and it was humbling to see the attention to detail that is needed to keep someone safe on this mountaineering journey. This was the start of my obsession with note-taking! I frantically noted the details of Sam’s briefing, the time taken to approach, complete and descend the route, the step-by-step instructions to the client that ensured they were always safe, and how the route can be broken down into different sections. I have always loved the stamina and focus needed to safely journey through mountainous terrain and can’t wait for more days like this.

August – a day off, and a classic route. There are some fantastic mid-grade climbs in the Lake District that are often on people’s list as they make the step from climbing wall, to single-pitch climbs (one rope-length) and onto multi-pitch climbs. Gillercombe Buttress is a 6-pitch route in a beautiful setting at the southern end of Borrowdale. The climbing is not too hard, but there is a lot of it, and the complex nature of the crag means that care is needed to stay on route. I hooked up with trainee (now qualified) rock climbing instructor Helen Shaw to scope the route out with an eye on bringing clients here in the future. One of my favourite things about multi-pitch climbing is the enforced downtime while your partner climbs. Aside from attentively holding their rope, there is nothing to do other than sit on a rocky ledge, relax, and admire the view…

Easy climbing high on Gillercombe Buttress

September – a month of new experiences! Before I moved to the Lake District, people asked me what my new job would entail. I didn’t really know. But I certainly couldn’t have guessed that in a few short weeks I would work on the safety team for an ultra-running race in North Wales, run a ‘problem-solving workshop’ at the first outdoor edition of the Women’s Climbing Symposium, and supervise a climbing weekend for visually impaired people. Wow!

October – half term brought some autumnal weather, but also a host of friends and their various offspring, responding to my invite to visit and maybe have a go at hillwalking or rock climbing – the latter was a fairly optimistic goal for the time of year, but we made it work! With a careful eye on the weather forecast, and some local knowledge to pick suitable destinations, it was a delight to see teenagers and parents alike enjoying the hills and crags, and reaching their personal summits. And since my friends know me well, by way of a tip, I was treated to several edible gifts – do come back next year!!

November – as we headed into the hillwalking season I was reunited with the wonderful team of students at Durham University Hillwalking Society who organise weekly walking trips for a coach-load of students. I love leading walks for this group – many of them have never had the opportunity to visit the hills before, and as they escape the pressures of university, even just for a day, I see them gradually relax and reboot. It’s not all plain sailing, and my favourite day this autumn was sneaking in a walk to the summit of Moel Hebog on a wet and windy trip to North Wales. Armed with lots of spare hats and gloves, and a host of tasty snacks, it was lovely to pass on tips to the next generation as I encouraged them to make decisions, lead the group, and navigate through the misty landscape. My reward was seeing their enthusiasm spill out in boisterous chatter as we piled in for a well-earned cafe stop at the end of the walk.

December – snow arrived, surely the outdoor climbing season was well and truly over and it was time to hang out at the climbing wall? Not so! I’d had a rock climbing refresher day pencilled into the diary for a while, but was expecting to have to delay it to the spring. However, my spies in Langdale confirmed that the road was open and the snow had melted on the sunny south-facing crags, so we were on. Every now and then you get reimbursed for all the days of shivering in the rain and you snatch a perfect day. It is difficult to teach technical climbing skills when you are being blasted by wind and rain, but we were treated to blue skies, no wind, gentle sun, and a fly-by from two fighter jets.

Winter sun in Langdale

Roll on 2024 – here’s to lots more variety and lots of days on the hill… in all weather!

2 thoughts on “2023 – a little bit of everything”

  1. What a brilliant blog! I felt as though I was living it all alongside Pippa, especially with the great pictures and smiley faces. Well, not quite, as I could not have done even a bit of it – though she did offer to guide us on a first rock climbing expedition (at the ages of 79 and 78)! All the best for 2024.

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