THE Strathpuffer is an extraordinary event. In fact it's quite nuts. Really, it's one of the maddest events in Scotland. Imagine it's January, the nights are long, the Christmas excesses are still hanging on your belly and it's dark at 4pm then light again, if you're lucky, about 8am.
We all abdicate responsibility for our welfare and safety in our daily lives. We happily let the bus driver navigate busy streets for us, the doctor peddle us medicines and restaurants sell us food for our health and well being. Some abdications, however, sit less well.
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MY SNOWBOARD was flapping behind my head, acting like a great big heavy black sail. Each gust of wind forced me to admit that John Falkner, mountain guide, guru, ski man and my wife's cousin, was right.
Duncan McCallum: 'Balancing on the steel points attached to my boots, progress was balance, luck and faith'
JOHN'S old Renault rolled up, held together by rust and orange paint, a bright herald of freedom. The Sundays of my youth were dull, especially in winter, when playing outside was a muddy, damp experience.
IF IT'S cold, warm, cold, then warm again, it can turn Cairngorm powder snow into bullet hard snow and ice, or a raked brown hillside in a matter of hours.
FOR a few years I have been working in a crossover world between big brands and adventure sports. I spend much of my life advising companies how to work with sports from the outside. The trick is understanding your market - what they like, what works within their language and what looks bad and ultimately turns off the core participant.
MY WORK giving feedback to mountaineering and snow sports clothing companies gives me the chance to use the best gear all year.
It's been a while since I squeezed myself into the Lycra suit, but it has to be done; an hour on the road bike is the best way I have found to burn it off the waist.
THE last big wind has stripped the few remaining flashes of colour from the trees and they now stand bare, like stark skeletons, shivering in the late autumn sunlight.
The smell of the thyme and crushed rosemary wafts across the hillside as the last rays of the sun dip behind the snow-capped peaks. Huge Corsican pines stand on the hillside, the hardiest silhouetted on the ridges against the dying late autumn sun. A pair of ravens wheel and talk to each other high above our heads, catching the last warm updrafts of the day's end.
Late Tuesday afternoon, it's just above freezing, and it's already dusk. It's 5pm, the team e-mails and texts have circulated, and the meeting is set.
THE bag is packed, flights booked and the pre-trip arrangements for bills, work and final goodbyes said to lovers and friends.
MY SON had just been born. I had spent much of the two weeks prior to his birth practising for the moment to arrive. When it did it was natural, and very moving.
IT'S A wonderful thing exploring a new skill. But it can be just as easy to stick with what you know. A few years ago indoor climbing walls were a novelty and were populated mostly by committed climbers who used the walls to train. Pulling on plastic couldn't compare with the real thing though, and many of us regarded the indoor wall as flawed.
IT'S FUNNY how you often reference yourself through exterior affectations, creating an image to feel comfortable with your place in the universe. Clothes, activities, music and cars all make up a projected picture for the outside world. These accoutrements act as a shield, often protecting a soft interior from a hard world full of forces beyond your control.
I WAS brought up, or brought myself up, on a menu of Chris Bonington, Dougal Haston and Joe Brown climbing books. As a dyslexic they had to be of interest as reading was a tough challenge for me.
THERE is an argument raging in the hillwalking and mountaineering world that raises the hackles of many. Actually, it's not really a debate, it's more a polarised rant between two sides that will never meet due to extreme differences. A good bun fight, if you will.
ONE and half hours north of Tromso, the turboprop aircraft punches through the cloud cover to reveal a fabulous sight: a group of dark islands with huge glaciers running into the sea. The fjords are choked with icebergs caused by glacial seracs crashing away from the ice mass into the cold north Atlantic Ocean.
SUMMER, 1990. It has been sunny for four weeks and all the high mountain crags are dry. Shelterstone Crag in the Cairngorms has finally lost the snow patch that sat on top of it all spring, causing the climbs to remain wet for day after frustrating day.
Delving into memory, I recall a beautiful day 20 years ago in Dunkeld. The rock is dry. I feel buff. It's one of those rare shirt-off, sunny rock days. Here in this little world, at "upper cave crag", I am king.