Lucy writes: Since Thursday I've been immersed in a dense little block of freelance work of the type that is the standard bread and butter stuff of the jobbing Winter ML. On Thursday and Saturday, I was working on the "tourist path" of Ben Nevis for West Coast Mountain Guides and yesterday it was the Ptarmigan Ridge of Ben Lomond for Abacus Mountain Guides. Both companies are well respected and highly professional outfits operating out of Fort William, led by super experienced local guides, and I'm very pleased to be on their books as a freelancer.
Getting to the point where I am using my Winter ML Award in this way has not always been straightforward. I was warned when I began the qualification years ago that there isn't much work out there. It took me a while to get my foot in the door with a few companies, and I've had to gamble quite a bit, laying out for accommodation in the Highlands with no guarantee of work. This winter, chracterised by poor conditions and lack of snow, it's been hard at times to keep the faith. However, when it comes, it is definitely the most rewarding and satisfying work that I do.
Both Ben Nevis and Ben Lomond attract a wide range of visitors, from experienced Munro baggers to folk out on their first ever mountain walk, and some might even consider these peaks a little dull. However, in winter, they can be serious undertakings. On Ben Nevis this week I've encountered the "Full Scottish" platter of strong winds, blizzards, and visibility so bad that even the summit marker cairns are hard to find without a compass. On Thursday I broke trail almost from the snowline to the summit. I used all my navigation skills even though I was on a summit plateau that I know like the back of my hand. The sense of achievement of a job well done at the end of a day like that is immense. I was back on that same plateau on Saturday, the vis only marginally better, but thanks to two determined clients, keen to lap up as much winter experience and knowledge as possible, I did not feel at all jaded in my work. I love meeting people who are just beginning to fall in love with winter, and am honoured to have a part to play in their journey.
Yesterday on Ben Lomond, the conditions were a little quieter, but on the steep Ptarmigan ridge, crampons and ice axe were essential for safe progression. My clients were super keen, super psyched, but with no winter walking experience. It was brilliant fun teaching them how to use the kit, seeing their big grins as they stomped and kicked their way up the snowy ridge. At the top, a cloud inversion, and that rare sight, a brockenspectre, an angel in a rainbow, waiting for us. The delight in these things is as real as happiness can ever be. All three of us, clients and leader, feeling alive and filled with joy at a day in the mountains well spent.
I began this season on a training course in the Alps, and it seemed a far cry from the wild weather and unreliable conditions of Scotland in winter. I wondered if I was missing a trick by spending my time fighting spindrift and gales, rather than swishing through Euro powder. Now, as the first signs of spring are creeping in to the glens, I'm sure that there is nowhere I would rather be working than the West Coast of Scotland. Here, in a typical day, even when I'm repeatedly doing the same routes, I'm using every skill in the box, to coach, inspire, and take care of people in some of the most challenging and exciting conditions out there. Its a massive cliche, but I absolutely love my job.