• I'VE LOST THE ABILITY TO PLAN AHEAD DURING COVID DAYS

    Published 12th January 2022, 19:15

    MEET the new year. Same as the old year. Apologies to Roger Daltrey and Co, but it's hard to shift the feeling we've all been here before. A classic case of Deja Who. 

    Normally, this is the time to get excited about fresh mountain plans for the days and months ahead, but for many it's about blowing the dust off the blueprints and catching up on the missed opportunities of the last two years. 

    I don't imagine for one moment this is what conspiracy theorists mean when they refer to a great reset, but there's little doubt we are in desperate need of a reboot. Let's just hope it's third time lucky in 2022.

    Every aspect of life has been turned upside down by the pandemic, and there were far greater considerations than whether or not your mountain plans remained intact. But the importance of the outdoors for health and well-being should not be under-estimated, especially when there are so many other variables in so many lives.

    The previous two years weren't a complete write-off: looking back, it's surprising how much we were eventually able to get out and about. But one of the main personal impacts of the pandemic was that it caused chaos with my ability to plan ahead.

    In any given year, I would be looking forward to a dozen or so dates for weekend mountain meets, the same for club day trips by coach, plus the annual week-long reunion with friends. Added to that were annual festivals, meetings, dinners. Suddenly, everything was up in the air and the upshot is that I now find it near impossible to commit to anything.

    When looking ahead to 2020, I was confident about finishing the 54 Munros needed to complete my fourth round by autumn. Then came lockdown, and we were confined to quarters for what typically turned out to the best three consecutive weather months for eons. By the time some semblance of freedom was restored, it was July, and the double whammy of curbs on holidays abroad and restrictions which limited the availability of accommodation at home made the idea of some long trips unrealistic.

    The result was that most of my big mountain days were more spur of the moment, a long journey during the night for an early start, or an evening ascent followed by a few hours' sleep in the car and then a second climb at sunrise. That was the tactic for the big ridges such as Mullardoch, Strathfarrar, Glen Shiel, the Fannaichs and the Alders. It also worked for Torridon, Arkaig, Achnashellach and the far north. 

    This piecemeal approach shouldn't be confused with spontaneity, another major casualty of Covid. The random nature of the walks – often decided the night before or even on the day – meant there were fewer hostelry stops, fewer choices to relax or alter the plan. It felt laboured most of the time, slower going than being able to stay away at a base for days on end and with the caveat that I didn't want to waste good hills with bad weather, I inevitably I ran out of time.

    And so I head into another year with seven still to be ticked, three in Knoydart, four on Skye. All fine peaks, all deserving of only the finest conditions. I'm happy to wait until the time is right. For the moment, there are plenty of fine walks to be had without travelling too far, and a cautious commitment to getting round the Corbetts again is well underway.

    But if there's one aspect of life in the past two years I have come to dislike more than any other, it's the dreaded Zoom meeting. Like most folk, I was grateful in the first instance for this continuation of communication. The novelty soon wore off. Now it just seems like a punishment, an admission that this plague mindset is going to be never-ending. Instead of being able to chat in person in relaxed fashion over a coffee or a beer, we are just talking heads – often at the same time – with a tendency to freeze in mid-sentence. 

    I suspect also that it brought into focus how much time I wasn't spending in the mountains. Every time there is a Zoom meeting, the weather is glorious, and the resentment of sitting indoors waiting for time-lapsed comments rather than being outside just simmers.

    It's maybe unfair to blame the technology. The reality is that it only exacerbates my continuing lifelong aversion to committees and meetings.  Maybe it's the realisation that time is becoming more precious with every passing year that makes me think I am spending too much of it talking about mountains than actually climbing them.

    It's time to stand up and be counted. I'm going to learn to say No more, and Yes less. It's the new model for a more stress-free, more fulfilling life. Or to paraphrase The Who once more: We won't get Zoomed again.