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Lockdown adventures in Scotland’s beautiful mountains

Gerry McGarry has been climbing mountains all his life and has climbed and mountaineered in 5 of the 7 continents (so far!). He has extensive experience of the European Alps, but it is his home mountains of the Scottish Highlands that keep him busy looking for new adventures. When not in the hills he can be found on his Kayak, Paddleboard or having a swim in a Loch or the sea…

‘Local outdoor physically distanced exercise’ that’s what we were allowed up here in Scotland during Covid lockdown. Every word of that exemption to the ‘stay at home’ rule chimed with my routine. Sadly, local meant that my climbing partner could not travel to join me on the rope and so we were going to have greater than normal physical distancing. As soon as the Lockdown restrictions were announced I correctly predicted that Sods Law would ensure that we would have the best winter climbing conditions for years! So, with no climbing buddy and with a winter wonderland right here on my doorstep I resigned myself to a winter of solo activity. In the existing climate of existential threat from all angles the activity needed to be limited to exercise that was safe and well within my abilities. I am so fortunate to live in the mountains with Munros, Corbetts and low-level walks all around, all local and well within the legal lockdown definitions of travel and permitted exercise.

The mountains looked stunning draped in an unbroken covering of snow beneath cloudless blue skies. A brisk Easterly was blowing -17 degrees of windchill as I geared up at home bound for a favourite hill. I like to start off feeling slightly cool, so I pulled my Enduro Windproof on over an old Páramo reversible baselayer and started up the steep winding path through the forest. Before long I was cosy and opening the vents in the jacket to keep the engine at optimal operating temperature. The Enduro Windproof seems to occupy my Goldilocks zone for brisk exercise in cold conditions, not too hot and not too cold and never seems to get damp with sweat like some of my other kit.

The path was covered in sheets of crystalline ice and crampons were needed early on. Once out of the forest the views were superb, and I had the hill all to myself as I made my way through deep snow towards the East face of the mountain. I wound my way steeply up, through, over and around various crags and short gullies beneath the North Peak. The snow, having thawed in the sunlight of the previous day had refrozen overnight to form perfect, squeaky, neve for the crampons to bite into. Here and there the pick of my axe was needed to surmount small steps and then it was a matter of carefully traversing to the bealach (col) between the North and Central Peaks. The wind was channelling at 30mph over the col and the far slope was still in the shade. I often think conditions like these must be similar to those experienced by astronauts on a space-walk, in the sunlit side of the orbit their spacesuits keep them from being boiled alive and then once on the dark side their suits stop them freezing!

Now I was well and truly on the dark side of the hill, so I stopped and pulled on my Torres Medio Gilet. I immediately warmed up as picked my way up the convex icy slopes to the summit. Once again, I had the summit of this favourite mountain entirely to myself, social distancing of the very best kind. The wind was freezing exposed flesh and I quickly lost sensation in the tip of my nose! Even though I had my Velez Smock in my rucksack, which I usually pull on for summit lunch stops, there was no way I was going to hang around and so after enjoying the views, snapping some photos and downing some jelly babies I headed down the Northern flank of the hill towards the Glen far below.

All traces of the normal path were lost, buried beneath bullet proof neve. Careful footwork was needed on the convex ice slope, the sort of ‘facing-out’ cramponing that concentrates the mind as any slip or trip would have consequences. Once down in the Glen I stuffed the Gilet back in my sac and headed South-East, taking photographs and studying the numerous fat green icefalls that sadly would have to wait for another time. Before long I was stepping back into the house in the same layers of clothing that I had left in earlier. I am old enough to have started my climbing career wearing full-shank leather double boots and woollens and fleeces and sweat-box waterproofs. Having for years endured alternating sweating and freezing cycles inside heavy impervious anoraks I can fully appreciate the importance of good kit. Being able to come indoors and make a coffee and sit down without changing out of winter hill togs says a lot for the versatility of Paramo gear. Once again it turned out to be a perfect Lockdown exercise session thanks in part to appropriate PPE…….Paramo, Personal, Envelope!

Gerry sometimes posts photographs of his adventures as ‘Lomondpaddlesports’ on Instagram or as ‘AlpinistG’ on Twitter. He contributes to his climbing partner’s Youtube channel ‘Scotland’s Mountains’ and occasionally on his own channel ‘Steaming Boots’

2 thoughts on “Lockdown adventures in Scotland’s beautiful mountains

  1. Great story, very well described. Respect!
    I daren’t even think of doing anything of that nature, even though I know my Paramo would do the job.

  2. Thanks for your comment Barry… enjoy your great outdoors!

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