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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.