FOUR weeks into lockdown, and the big mountain days already feel like distant memories.
It doesn't help that we are now in a spell of fine weather after such a stormy and disappointing winter, but these are insignificant grumbles at this time of global crisis.
The devastating impact of the pandemic is being felt on every level, but the overriding priority has to be saving lives. The rest we can worry about later. Even when life returns to some semblance of normality, the economic challenges will be immense. Every sector has been hit and the outdoors industry is no exception.
Almost overnight, instructors, guides, rangers, photographers, writers and many more have seen business plans wiped out. Many are self-employed, most do it for the love of the job rather than money and the margins are narrow. There's not a lot of room for manouevre. There will be tough days ahead, but it's important to keep mind and body as healthy as possible and focus on what we can do, not what we can't.
Everyone has their own strategy for coping. Mine consists of a walking circuit every morning on the local path network to the beach, then, depending on the tides, a stroll across the sands or a boulder-hop along a higher line, before completing the loop back to the house. The walk along the soft sand often feels like a throwback to football training from the 1970s – it's hard work. Every few days I also litter pick along the way, even at this time there seems to be an endless supply of discarded bottles and cans.
It's been interesting seeing some of the innovative ways people have found to keep their fitness levels up while sticking within the restriction guidelines: garden camp-outs raising money for charity, running marathon distances at home, setting up climbing walls indoors, climbing to Munro height on the stairs. I asked a cross section of the outdoors community what they have been doing to cope during these challenging times.
JONAH JONES (Skye MRT and Cuillin guide):
“The Easter weekend would have been busy for the team, followed by a training exercise to iron out problems. In my guiding capacity, I had been scheduled for a Cuillin two-day traverse with clients from Germany, and a five-day Munro course for a group of six. Instead, the last week has been about recovery as I tested positive for the coronavirus three weeks ago. It's been frustrating in total lockdown but I am well on the way to full recovery. My goals now are to build up strength and to tackle technical questions regarding rigging stretchers, all from the confines of my home.”
HEATHER MORNING (Mountaineering Scotland mountain safety adviser):
“After a busy winter, I was looking forward to the annual adventure with my girlfriends. We had The Smiddy at Dundonnell booked for three nights and then we were moving onto Strawberry Cottage in Glen Affric. Sadly, it wasn't to be. I've been putting in the miles on the mountain bike and doing litter picks on my local road down to Glen Feshie. I've also been handling cancellations for MS events and courses. On the plus side, the veggie plots are looking better than ever and squirrel watching has taken on a more important role. And that's not to mention the badgers, stoats, slow worms, pheasants, buzzards, sparrowhawk, blue tits and wrens.”
HAZEL STRACHAN (Ten-time Munros 'compleator' and packrafter):
“I’m usually on long Munro ridges enjoying the freedom which spring weather brings after the long winter, either camping or bivvying up high if there is little wind. I found the first week of lockdown hard because of uncertainty with work, but it's easier now sticking to a routine. If I get bored I will run up and down the stairs a few times and I do my morning’s walk first thing when it’s quiet. I have been bivvying in the garden; on the back doorstep and on an upturned packraft, on top of wheelie bins, balanced between two chairs on a board made from a packing case and on a swing seat frame. I've spent a lot of time researching future trips, but I haven’t looked at a single hill weather forecast – it's just too depressing. A planned trip to the Yukon in June also looks to have gone.”
LUCY WALLACE (President of Ramblers Scotland, mountain guide and Arran MRT):
“I should have been working with young people on a Duke of Edinburgh Award expedition in Provence. It's an annual gig which clearly couldn't take place this year. I'm sad, as it was lovely work, and it will have an impact on the students' ambitions as well. I'm home on Arran, staying very local, trying to stay fit doing reps up and down my local hill on the bike, or taking a walk around the village. I'm missing the mountains, but am exploring Lamlash in great detail, enjoying working on the garden and reading.”
ANNE BUTLER (President of The Munro Society):
“Spring is my favourite time of year so I would be in a mad post-winter bagging frenzy, driving to wherever the weather was best and watching the landscape change colour as the days stretch out. Walking my dog, Ralph, and keeping him fit and healthy is a full-time job. There are plenty of low level walks on the tracks and trails around Aviemore with the odd excursion up a small local hill. Keeping active and enjoying as much daylight and sunshine as possible is important for physical and mental health.”
NEIL REID (Scottish Mountaineer editor and Mountain Bothies Association volunteer):
“Normally I'd be enjoying spring coming to the mountains and looking forward to the start of the bothies work party season. This year was to have seen the Red House Bothy on the Geldie being brought back from a ruin. Instead, I've been working from home bringing out the next edition of Scottish Mountaineer, and in evenings and weekends recreating the Cairngorms from memory, through the medium of a Harvey Maps Mazzle jigsaw done without any reference to the map. I've also managed to fit in a Zoom chat with some bothy pals with the odd song thrown in.”
MURRAY WILKIE (aka Steaming Boots, vlogger and film-maker):
“This is my favourite time of year, so I would have been out weekend wild camping in the mountains and putting together material for my Steaming Boots vlogs. As my weekends are now free, I am concentrating on trying to edit vlogs to keep some new content going for those who want a dose of outdoors from their living room. There's a lot of sitting around, not something I am used to!”
CORINNA GOECKERITZ (NTS ranger and Arran MRT):
“I would have been roaming the mountains in this glorious weather, training with the coastal rowing club, and fitting in kayaking trips. We had just started an informal trail running group before the restrictions came in, but at least I can still run low-level trails from my doorstep. This is the time of year when the mountain rescue team gets busier. Luckily, everyone seems to be heeding advice and staying away from the hills, so we've not had any call-outs. It's the first time in 16 years I haven't been part of the big Easter event at Brodick Castle, and I missed seeing all the children's happy faces. I've just been placed on furlough, so no work for probably well over a month, but it does free me up to volunteer in the community, where I might be able to help with food deliveries etc. The Arran Mountain Festival also had to be cancelled, so we are planning ahead early for next year.”
PATRICK BAKER (Author, The Cairngorms: A Secret History and The Unremembered Places):
“April and May are my 'golden window'. I'm usually busier expedition-wise than at any other time: the days are getting longer, the weather more stable and the midges have yet to emerge. A two-day canoe camp on Loch Affric, a high-level bivvy with my son on a secret spot in the Mamores and a climb on the Buachaille are all on hold. I'm trying to use the daily exercise allowance to good effect, mainly cardio stuff to keep up fitness levels – an early-morning cycle, or a romp up Arthur's Seat. I'm missing the local climbing wall, so I've rigged up an improvised fingerboard from the loft hatch!”
Stay healthy, stay safe and let's make sure we are there for each other long after this is all over.