As a kid I was never very keen about being out in snow. I had poor circulation in my hands and feet, which took a lot of the fun out of playing in the cold – I still feel the cold, but I’ve learned how to deal with it over the years. In fact, nowadays I can’t wait for the first decent snowfall on the hills. A good covering of snow turns old familiar hills into something rather special, and the past weeks weather over the UK is a good start for this winter.
My mountaineering started in my teens with hillwalking then rock climbing, which in those days was the usual gateway to more serious stuff. My first outing with a (borrowed) ice axe was in February 1969, and two months later four of us did the Snowdon Horseshoe for the first time, some of the route being under snow conditions – from the beginning I was hooked!
Over the next four years we built up our winter skills, mainly in the Lake District but occasionally further afield. A typical day out would be the wide and easy Angle Tarn Gully (Grade 1) that cleaves the north face of Hanging Knotts in Langdale.
The trouble with all this adventuring, especially when young, is that it gives you an appetite for more of the same – my answer to this was 6½ years in the Royal Marines. On completion of commando training, most of our recruit troop went to 41 Commando in Malta, a place not noted for its winter climbing – four of us went north instead, to 45 Commando based in Scotland.
The highlight of the year with 45 Cdo was the annual deployment to Norway, to rehearse our role as NATO reinforcements to counter the possibility of a Soviet incursion.
With only one main road (the E6, running the length of the country) the easiest form of movement was on ski, so much of the three month deployment was spent learning how to ski without falling over too much. Living in tents and snowholes was also an important part of the routine.
All of this must have had the desired effect, because the Soviets never did decide to invade Norway, though with the abysmal maps of the area at the time, there is a very good chance that we skied into Sweden on more than one occasion!
My first command was as a lance corporal in charge of the section machine gun – when I left 45 Cdo in 1978 I was an Arctic Survival Instructor and a lieutenant in command of a troop of 30 arctic-trained Royal Marines.
And I’ve been playing in the snow ever since, as a member of Penrith Mountain Rescue team for 17 years, and now simply for fun. Still skiing, walking and climbing in Scotland, the Lake District, Snowdonia and the Yorkshire Dales and as I write this, looking forward to another good winter – In the words of the song, “Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow”!
In a months time I’m helping out on a great new winter ‘ultra-marathon’ challenge. Named ‘The Spine’, the race has been described as ‘Britain’s most brutal’, following the 268 mile spine of the Pennine Way. Most people walk the Pennine Way in 3 weeks or so in summer – competitors on the race will run the route in 6 days, and in winter conditions! I just hope that when they get there, Pen y Ghent looks something like this –
Text and images © Paul Shorrock