2018 didn’t quite go as planned, and was pretty hard work on occasions. However, looking back at the year whilst writing this post I realise that there has been some some really great stuff. Here are the highs, and some of the lows, in my roundup of 2018.
The Best Bits of 2018
Solo cycle touring in Zimbabwe
Six years ago on my first solo cycle tour in Malawi, I’d heard about how wonderful Zimbabwe was for cyclists. This year the opportunity to go arose when I could stay in southern Africa after leading an expedition in Swaziland.
When post-election troubles occurred my plans were nearly thwarted. Luckily, the violence turned out to be short-lived and localised, so I struck out to explore the southeast corner of the country.
Highlights of the trip were Great Zimbabwe, Chirinda rainforest and Gonarezhou National Park. The Chimanimani hills provided some fabulous riding. I met many fascinating people and stayed in campsites, deserted lodges, with local Shona people and missionaries and at one very fancy lodge with a cricket loving manager. Zimbabwe lived up to my expectations and more.
I finished each day with tired legs and had all the time in the world to think. I returned rejuvenated.
Passing my Mountaineering Instructor Certificate (MIC)
This was a big goal of last winter. Something I’d been working specifically towards for the past 3 winters, as well as the summer and autumn running up to it. The MIC is the pinnacle of the Mountain Training qualifications. Most importantly, it would enable me to pass on my love for Scottish winter climbing as a professional instructor.
Winter’s in Scotland are fickle, exhausting and often frustrating. More frequently than not the best laid plans have to be changed due to the weather. Carrying out a plan to practise all the skills and gain the experience necessary to prepare for assessment is nay on impossible, and consequently quite stressful.
Luckily, conditions were excellent last winter. I got the right support in place and gave myself plenty of time to practise. I staved off a cold during the assessment; drinking lemsips in the bar each evening, as I made my plan with other candidates for the next day.
The assessment went well. I had one slip up, but otherwise OK. I was able to draw on my breadth of mountaineering experience to climb solidly, use slick rope work, navigate, route find, instruct and deliver good days in the mountains. During the assessment I didn’t climb a single route that I’d climbed before, but that was OK as I had the experience for it not to faze me. By the end I had even enjoyed some of the days.
I became the 40th woman to gain the MIC and was one of four women to gain the award out of the 13 successful candidates last winter. And I also got photographed by Nadir Khan for his fantastic new book Extreme Scotland.
Great Gully, North Wales
Giggles on every pitch, good friends and my last Classic Rock route in North Wales, what could be better?
After a sustained dry period, Great Gully on Craig yr Ysfa was in the best condition for years. 11-ish pitches of classic fun. This video Jon made captures the day perfectly (if with the occasional swear word – so be warned!).
Lut Desert Expedition, Iran
I’ve wanted to go to Iran for a long time. I was pretty excited to be offered a job to lead a Damavand expedition (Iran’s highest mountain) at the end of the summer, and then desperately disappointed when this trip was cancelled. Whilst contacting companies to try to replace this work, by a complete stroke of luck, I was offered a different Iran trip. A rare opportunity to lead an expedition across the Lut desert, famed for having one of the hottest ever recorded temperatures.
Although deserts aren’t an environment I’m usually drawn to, I jumped at the chance. And what a trip it turned out to be!
As ever, it was the people in the team who made the trip special, both the team members and the fantastic local support team we had. The Lut was kind to us, with bearable temperatures and no sandstorms. She showed off her beauty from mega dunes (up to 400m high dunes), the curious Eye of the Lut and the otherworldly kalut landscape. We were visited by the small bodied, big eared desert fox and treated to a show of dark skies and bright stars each night.
It wasn’t without it’s hard work, of course. We walked up to 32 km a day, averaging around 26 km. The heat was a struggle some days. Shifting sand made walking difficult and long open plains hard to estimate distance to a landmark. There were quite a few blisters and some very tired legs, but it was worth all the effort.
We were the fifth team ever to cross this desert on foot and I was the first woman to lead a crossing. Not many opportunities come up to lead such expeditions, so it was a real privilege.
Annoying bits of 2018
- A Bad back – This put a hold to most things, both work and play, for 3 months at the end of last year beginning of 2018. Followed by a struggle to get back to fitness in time for scottish winter work and my MIC assessment.
- Vehicles breakdowns – Two vehicles scrapped this year! The demise of Valerie the Van was particularly painful and drawn out including a 5 month battle to get compensated.
- Burglary – the week before my MIC assessment. Not ideal.
- Major DIY – I wasn’t meant to be doing a DIY project but having been let down by the builder I took April off to complete the work myself. I never want to go to ScrewFix again.
- Complaint – Not something we usually talk about, but I had a complaint made against me this year. More of personal attack than criticism of my work. Fortunately, I’d protected myself by communicating an update post-course including this individual’s behaviour. Professionalism won, but only after a lot of admin.
Now back to the good stuff….
The perfect alpine trip: Friends, beers and a north face
Early summer this year I finished work in Switzerland and my partner, Simon, was about to start work in the French Alps. We had 5 days to do some routes together.
After an end of work meal and beers (for me, not Si as he said he’d drive – just in case you ask Mum!), we drove up the Zinal valley in the darkness and slept by the side of the car. After a couple of hours, we rose, packed up and started up the trail towards the Pigne de la Lé. With the sun on us now we soloed the NE Ridge, making fluid, easy progress.
Pigne de la Lé was the acclimatisation we had hoped for. Back at the car we drove to Saas Grund, met up with some friends for beers. The following day, did the massive hike up to the Mischabel hut – the climb before the climb, I called it!
Conditions were cold and, due to the very snowy winter, faces still in good condition. We had the North Face of the Lenzspitze in our sights which, to return, also involves traversing over to another 4000m peak, the Nadelhorn.
I’d not climbed such an open face like this before. It was pretty exhilarating but also comforting to know that the skills I did have were more than enough to tackle such a climb. The face was in good condition and we were able to move quickly. After reaching the summit of the Lenzspitze we enjoyed the contrast of the rocky Lenzspitze-Nadelhorn traverse.
We completed the climb in time as the weather broke the following day with big thunderstorms as we rested in Chamonix. On our final day together, we climbed some multi-pitch sport routes in the Berade Valley and finished with an ice cream to celebrate. Perfecto!
Swimming a length of the local pool
Llyn Padarn is within a few minutes walk from my front door. It is 3.2km long, if you go in a straight line. The year before last I tried to swim a length. It didn’t go well. I got disorientated, managed to do a U-turn and swam back the way I’d come. I got back on track but then became too cold to continue and had to abort the attempt at just over halfway.
This year, with a lot more experience open water swimming under my wetsuit, and on a perfect evening, I successfully swam a length of this beautiful lake. In fact, this time I found the swim quite easy and wasn’t tired afterwards. Amazing what you can do with the right practice!
Thanks to Simon for the canoe support and Alex for the loan of the canoe and drop off. Also, unbeknown to me at the time, Jon who popped down to the lake and got some footage.
Other things that have ranked pretty high this year included becoming a Montane Athlete, enjoying some good routes at Gogarth like Concrete Chimney, some great winter routes such as Orion Direct and Observatory Buttress on Ben Nevis and Cold Climbs’ Number 6 Gully in Glen Coe, skiing some classic Scottish winter lines like Rush on Aonach Mor, ticking off quite a few more Munros including my first trip to Assynt in the NW highlands, seeing a leopard in Tanzania and doing rewarding community project work in Tanzania and Swaziland.
Although I’m not that sorry to see the back of 2018, I finish the year stronger, both physically and mentally, and more qualified.
Looking forward to 2019 I’ve got big alpine plans and a new sponsorship deal that I can nearly announce. For now I’m looking forward to working in Scotland this winter and leading the Love Her Wild Skye Trail trip. If you are looking for any guided climbing or instruction in Scotland this winter I have some availability in the first week of February and first week of March left, but that’s it.
Happy New Year everyone, and here’s to a fantastic 2019, and remember to give me a wave if you see me on the hard shoulder in 2019 🙂