After an inaugural annual review of 2021 I thought let’s do that again. So here we go…
Orienteering has been somewhat selective this year. As I moved up to M45, I was super pleased to win the British Night Champs for the first time (and only my second ever British O champs title in any discipline – first being British Long at Balmoral in 2018) on a magical night in the snow at Ilkley Moor. This was in stark contrast to an awful mistake I made at the JK long this year, the likes of which I haven’t made for years…
In July Pippa and I headed to the OOCup which this year was “abroad” from its usual home in Slovenia. Instead it visited Sweden, in the forests near Umea, which was a return visit for me after previously doing O-Ringen there in 1997 (part of a Scandinavian road trip with Nick Barrable, Ian Cumpstey and Hedley Proctor – happy memories). It was very enjoyable O in the detailed rocky terrain, but I’m coming to learn that those techniques I honed as a junior and young senior are starting to fade without enough quality O practice in recent years, and many minutes were lost to mistakes. It was still lots of fun mind! Sadly I finally succumbed to catching Covid while out there (Pippa having got it a few months earlier) and was laid up for a week with fever (but at least made it home first and it didn’t spoil the holiday).
Volunteering for various orienteering roles continues for me:
- Orienteering Foundation ambassador, webmaster and social media
- NEOA treasurer
- CLOK weekly e-newsletter editor, Racesignup admin (new) and created a newcomer website
- controlled a day of the Lakes5 (my biggest controlling job yet but made easy by the area Swindale and very competent planners Karen and Dan Parker) and a day of the Northumberland Spring, and planned CLOK’s Acorn national event
- lead coached on an NEJS weekend in the Lakes in February, with a CLOK adult group at the Orienteering Foundation coaching day in September, and took NEJS juniors to the JROS Hawkshead weekend.
Running has had its ups and down, literally and figuratively. After doing the Bob Graham Round back in 2015, I really wanted to do another classic round. A few days away in Snowdonia in September 2021 (while Pippa was on a women’s climbing meet) gave me a chance to explore the Paddy Buckley Round. I recce-ed another leg on the way home from the JK in Wales, supported Andy Berry on his awesomely speedy round in May, and had a great day out on a sub-10-hour Durham Hewitts Round. Come June I decided to give the PBR a crack, and with Pippa away at a conference, and it being slightly spur of the moment, I decided to go solo unsupported. Sadly it was not to be. About halfway round on the Capel Curig / Moelwyns leg my knee started to tighten and became too painful to continue (not for what would be another ~10 hours anyway).
I’d love to return one day and do it all (and then do the Ramsey Round in Scotland) but honestly something would have to change to allow me to get the time on the fells to prepare and then do the thing itself. The last few years have seen a string of niggling injuries – calves, hamstrings, Achilles – all a sign of getting well into my 40’s when you can no longer treat your body like you used to, it needs care, strength, conditioning, stretching, etc. But running is what I love, so my 2023 New Year’s resolution is 3x strength / conditioning sessions a week. We’ll see what that leads to.
Meanwhile it has been a relatively good year for climbing. Just before Easter we got away for a week in Morocco. It was our first trip abroad since Covid and was much like previous trips in 2014, 2016 and 2018 except climbers didn’t seem to have returned in great numbers to the region yet and we were the only climbers there. That added a degree of solitude which was both peaceful and slightly worrying when you only see a donkey all day and know that any scrapes you get into on a 9 pitch E1 you have to get yourself out of them. However we had a fantastic week and climbed on new crags every day – there is so much great rock there!!
That was followed in late August by another week’s holiday booked for climbing but without any firm plans. After Morocco and Sweden, and with half an eye on limiting our climate impact by not flying, it was going to be UK based, but where? Scotland has lots of rock which we’ve barely scratched the surface of so let’s go north. I suggested Skye. Then I suggested the Skye Ridge. In a day. I think at first Pippa laughed off what was surely a joke from her husband? Then I announced I’d bought the excellent and detailed Cicerone guide to the ridge – a well known tactic of mine to push some plans. Eventually she came round to the idea.
We descended on the Sligachan campsite, warmed up by dodging midges on some sea cliffs, then a fine day of weather opened up and we were on. With a 4am start from Glen Brittle we attempted the ridge from Gars-Bheinn to Sgurr nan Gillean, hitting all the Munros and obvious tops, taking a rope and scant gear for the classic climbs of TD gap, King’s Chimney, and Naismith’s Route, four short abseils, and soloing the rest (including up the Inaccessible Pinnacle – possibly one of the most exhilarating climbing experiences I’ve had at the grade!). Going for it in a day avoids the need to carry bivvy gear but it is a very long way with miles of exposed scrambling to focus on. We emerged from a misty valley on the start of the ridge, and enjoyed fine weather, sunny spells and a gentle breeze to keep the midges at bay for three quarters of the ridge, but then it started to spit with rain. To move quickly and safely you really need dry rock, and as it started to become slick with rain we decided to cut our losses at the col after Bidean Druim nan Ramh and descend via Fairy Pools.
After a day chilling out we returned to the same spot on the ridge two days later to finish the job. You could say it was a shame to not get the one day tick, but I like to think we just prolonged the pleasure into another day. It is such a memorable ridge and I’ll remember it for years. Oh and then we continued our holiday with the excellent Garbh-bheinn ridge another day, then Tower Ridge on Ben Nevis in glorious conditions, and then – dodging the incoming weather – we did the classics of Savage Slit and Fallout Corner in the Northern Cairngorms. What a week!
It is not all just outdoor fun – I decided in 2022 I was going to read one classic novel a month. It was going quite well until I took the plunge on “War and Peace” which dragged a bit, but nevertheless a fine tally of classic reads from the last two centuries.
Family exploits have included another trip to Sweden to see my brother’s family with Vilhelm’s “studenten” (celebration of finishing high school) and a visit to Ellen’s university town of Lund. We were due to celebrate my parents’ golden (50th) wedding anniversary with a weekend away in Amsterdam, but flight cancellations put paid to that, so I entertained them closer to home in County Durham, including a trip to the outdoor museum at Beamish (including recreating some photos from a previous visit in 1983!). Then my brother Matt and family came over just before Christmas for a weekend in Liverpool, and I’m writing this from a visit to Pippa’s parents in Surrey between Christmas and New Year.
Meanwhile work has continued to keep me busy. Since my previous company Metaswitch was acquired by Microsoft in 2020, I now have a software engineering team of ~80 working in the Azure for Operators division. Our mission is to provide communications solutions in the public cloud for the world’s top mobile carriers. My team specifically focusses on big data analytics and operator insights from the mass of data generated by these networks – up to 1 petabyte a day. Working with a live service in the public cloud and with emerging big data and AI/ML technologies is an awesome place to be and I feel really privileged to have the opportunity.
Meanwhile Pippa’s career is taking a very different turn. She loves teaching the students, giving them inspiration and getting them to engage their brains. Her project to install and upgrade a network of GPS instruments in Antarctica (which allow development of models for Glacial Isostatic Adjustment – how much the earth slowly “rebounds” after you remove or melt a glacier that was squashing it) has made great strides in becoming remotely managed. She reached the grand milestone of becoming a professor this year (I am a very proud husband). And she has a real passion for her EDI work (equality, diversity and inclusivity). However, academia is placing ever increasing demands on its staff, constantly prioritising the student experience above the wellbeing of staff, always driving up student numbers to make more money (but not always employing enough extra staff thus increasing workloads), Covid has left a legacy of assuming content must be accessible both in person and online (which means more work), endless admin nonsense, not enough time for research etc. All of which grinds down anyone who is conscientious about doing any job to the best of their abilities, affecting their mental and physical well-being.
So after two decades in academia, she has decided it is time to change careers and feed a desire to work in the outdoors, leading individuals and groups walking, rock climbing and having adventures in the mountains. She told Durham Uni that she’d like to leave academia, and they countered by offering 18 months unpaid leave and keeping her post open if she wants to return. We shall see whether she does, but either way come April a new chapter will be written. Now there aren’t many mountains in the North East so we are going to move to the Lake District, where I plan to continue working (mostly from home) for Microsoft unless/until something new and exciting catches my eye in the Lakes, and Pippa will see where things lead for her.
She has started to prepare for this – and I’ve been following along – by getting our Mountain Leader (ML) qualifications in 2021, and to gain experience we started doing stuff with Durham University Hill Walking Society. We are currently working towards our Rock Climbing Instructor (RCI) awards, having done the training in November, and are now in the “consolidation” phase where you have to shadow / assist with some groups or teach friends and family – so if anyone wants a day’s climbing or abseiling let us know! Pippa ultimately wants to get her Moutaineering and Climbing Instructor (MCI) award which allows you to take clients on any multi pitch climbing and scrambling in the UK.
So 2023 is going to be a fun year – tune back in 12 months’ time to see how it has gone!