Opps! autumn has slipped away, the last big wind has stripped the few remaining dashes of colour from the trees. They now stand bare, like stark skeletons, naked and shivering in the late autumn sunlight. Its time for the squirrels to hide there nuts, seal up the granary and cap the den, ready for hibernation. It’s a time for me to start enjoying the rugby on the TV and a few mid week champions league matches, after all “they do play very attractive football”. Its also time now, however to review the warm days of the year and prepare for the winter hardness and focus on what is required, in order to fire up the body on the powder snow mornings and the ice climbing walk-ins
Summer and the crispy mornings in Autumn, are easy; saunter up to the crag, hopefully in the sun and spend the days coiling and uncoiling ropes, repairing burst MTB tyres and walking up the odd Monroe. Winter for me is an all to different story, dark snow shovelling mornings, at times with temperatures into the big minus regions.
Temperatures where damp hands will stick to cold metal, it’s a time of head torch batteries and avalanche beacon checks in the lift queue, or in the car park pre a skinning up a mountain trip. It’s a time of bastard metal files, edging tools (for skis and snowboards), hot wax irons and cold fingers. Hot aches and cold toes, lukewarm flask coffee and rock hard energy bars. It’s a time of early mornings, frost encrusted cars and careful driving, snow tyres and salt, frozen windscreen washers and beanie hats.
I love the run up to full on winter and in Scotland if we have one, I am one of the few who do not complain about the super cold winds, the dark mornings of city slush. For I know if it’s a bit miserable in town is dumping its crowning white glory on the hills. The list of kit to unearth from the depths of the garage is huge. It ranges from the spiky ice axe to the soft spare set of gloves, harsh metal hedgehog crampons and the clothes tearing ice screw. They have lain dormant for over 9 months, a pregnant pause in their respective roles to accompany me on my winter adventures, lost behind kids bikes, burst paddling pools and garden tools.
There are also the forgotten skills, those essential tools that you hope will never really have to be used in anger. Deep white out navigation, the 100-meter pacing count, (67 on the flat) used to navigate at a critical mountain juncture, avalanche transceiver drill, and the essential Scottish winter skill of the eternal optimist. Not for me 2010, the worst winter in 30 years, it was the best. Bring on the dump, the ice and the dark, for it should hopefully transform our dreary autumn dampness, into a hard edged winter,counter pointed by the beat of axe against ice, and the melody of ski on snow.