Ten years ago, I chose adventure

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An important anniversary has slipped past unnoticed. In February 2006 I chose adventure, and although it didn’t seem like the prudent course at the time, my priorities were the right ones.

Back in early 2006, I was a first-year student at the University of East Anglia and had recently joined the Fell Club. My hillwalking experience was modest – I’d done some backpacking in Wales and the Lake District, plus a small clutch of summits in these areas and some walking in the Yorkshire Dales, but I had never done any proper mountaineering. My ambitions were becoming more vertical. I wanted to get to grips with snow and ice, and I dreamed of legendary routes north of the border with grand names such as Curved Ridge, the Aonach Eagach and the Lochaber Traverse.

So I booked myself on a winter skills course with the UEA Fell Club, travelled by minibus up to Aviemore, and immersed myself in a new world.

It was one of the biggest turning points of my life.

Walking up into Coire Cas
Walking up into Coire Cas

Our visit coincided with mild weather which had decimated the snow pack, but we spent a couple of days pottering around on the snow in Coire Cas, practising vital skills such as safe travel in crampons, how to use an ice axe, and how to arrest a slip. These are some of the most worthwhile skills I have ever learned.

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It’s strange how priorities are not always clear. In early 2006, I was studying for a degree in computing science and I was urged to apply myself to my studies and focus on getting a career as a software developer. It seemed like the smart thing to do. But at the same time, new priorities were bubbling to the surface: become a mountaineer, get the experience, see where this new adventure takes you.

People around me thought I was getting my priorities wrong, and my first real relationship failed partly because I chose to focus on the outdoors, but a decade later I have been proved right. Software development was not the course for me. I chose adventure, and it has enriched my life beyond measure – beyond anything I could have hoped for or expected.

Bivouac on the Ring of Steall, September 2009
Bivouac on the Ring of Steall, September 2006

Once I started, I couldn’t stop. The deeper down the rabbit-hole I went the deeper I wanted to go, and the further I strayed from the life others wanted me to pursue. Although I did not neglect my studies, I could not throw myself 100% into computing science without feeling like a hypocrite. I knew it was a dead future.

Reality, for me, was out there. I was chasing a vision of wildness, of being immersed in remote open places. After I graduated in 2008, the natural next stage was to move to Scotland. I got a job at the Clachaig Inn and jumped without hesitation.

The summit of Ben Nevis just after dawn on the 3rd of June 2009, my 23rd birthday. Isi and I had just climbed Tower Ridge.
The summit of Ben Nevis just after dawn on the 3rd of June 2009, my 23rd birthday. Isi and I had just climbed Tower Ridge

For the next two and a half years, I lived a strange and charmed life. It was hard work at times – full-time bar work can be physically knackering – but almost every moment of spare time was spent in the mountains. I came to know the Glen Coe hills intimately and developed my climbing skills.

Sunset from the summit of Stob Coire nan Lochan
Sunset from the summit of Stob Coire nan Lochan
Twenty-four hours in the Mamores
Twenty-four hours in the Mamores
Exploratory climbing on the NE Face of Bidean nam Bian after a night under the stars in the Lost Valley
Exploratory climbing on the NE Face of Bidean nam Bian after a night under the stars in the Lost Valley

I saw the Scottish mountains at their best and experienced more beauty than I thought it was possible to see in this world. I was lucky enough to be there during the legendary 2009-10 winter, when deep cold and clear skies blanketed the Highlands for weeks. I climbed frozen waterfalls in the bottom of the glen one day before striding out on crunchy styrofoam snow on the tops the next.

A thousand feet of air on the North Face of Aonach Beag
A thousand feet of air on the North Face of Aonach Beag

In the summer, I took to the crags. A place I returned to again and again was the West Face of Aonach Dubh, that complex mass of rock jutting above Clachaig and throwing down an irresistible challenge. I climbed most of the easy routes on the wall and even added a few of my own.

On the second ascent of Shrike Ridge. I made the first ascent in September 2009 solo.
On the second ascent of Shrike Ridge. I made the first ascent in September 2009 solo
On the South Face of A'Chailleach. I continued along the crest of the Aonach Eagach before starting my shift behind the bar.
On the South Face of A’Chailleach. I continued along the crest of the Aonach Eagach before starting my shift behind the bar
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On the Pinnacle Ridge of Sgurr nan Gillean, Skye

During my years in Scotland, the outdoors was my passion but it did not pay the bills. Since moving back down south I have made regular visits back to the Highlands. In June 2014 I left my day job at the Carphone Warehouse and set up shop as a freelance editor. Although all my initial clients were fiction authors, I chose the name Pinnacle Editorial because I had a vision of something a little different – editorial services for the outdoor industry.

The farthest NW point in the British mainland, after hiking the Cape Wrath Trail in June 2015.
The farthest NW point in the British mainland, after hiking the Cape Wrath Trail in June 2015

Today, I still work on a lot of fiction, but most of my new clients are outdoor writers. I am sub-editor for Sidetracked adventure travel magazine. And after years of occasionally writing online outdoor articles, I am now starting to produce regular features on my adventures for a variety of magazines and other publications. In fact, outdoor writing is the part of my job I enjoy the most.

So today, in 2016, I find myself with what might be broadly termed an outdoor career. It’s work that I love. Sometimes I find myself marvelling at my own good fortune, that I get to disappear into the mountains for days or weeks at a time and actually get paid for it; that I have the privilege of editing the stories of other adventurers, helping to polish their words and let their message shine through; that I am one of the very people I used to look up to ten years ago, people whose words I devoured in the magazines I read for inspiration.

None of this happened overnight. None of it happened by accident. It happened because I turned my back on the priorities others told me I should be focusing on, and instead turned towards what I knew I wanted – what I knew I was meant to do. Throughout my life I have always trusted my gut and leapt for opportunities that feel right, and this instinct has never let me down.

In an alternate universe, I’m a software developer living in London. I probably have more money and material possessions, but I am haunted by the path not travelled. I’m a lesser person in that reality.

My decade of mountaineering in Scotland has given me everything I hold dear: adventures, friends, memories that will last a lifetime, work that matters, even my partner Hannah. I would never have met her had I not been a member of the UKClimbing forums, which I joined in order to ask questions about the Lochaber Traverse.

Thank you all for travelling this path with me and following my adventures. Here’s to the next ten years.

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February 2006, on Cairn Gorm
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February 2016, on Carn Dearg
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