Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Risky business?

The sun has been shining and the daffodils are bursting into bloom. I’ve still been cycling to work in thermal underwear alongside the canal with its thin veneer of ice but it does feel like winter has passed and spring is upon us.  

I’m always sad to see the end of winter, though at least it’s been a good one this year with some sustained cold weather and decent amounts of snow, even here in the city. I won’t forget cycling home through the Grange in a blizzard one evening and passing a snow-plough on the quiet, residential streets! I love the cold and crisp weather, wrapping up in fleeces and woollen scarves, scrunching through the snow and being tucked up early in my tent on wild, dark nights. And I love the majesty of Scotland’s winter mountains.

Sadly, this winter there have been several high-profile fatalities in Scotland’s mountains. While these events are tragic they certainly don't warrant the resultant calls for access curbs, perhaps not surprisingly from people who understand nothing about the mountains and whose obese backsides spend most of the time on sofas or car seats. Even some of my friends question why anybody would risk their life in the mountains in winter. It's difficult to explain to people who have never experienced the winter hills but I think at this time of year the mountains take on a special beauty and appeal when the snow makes them appear higher, wilder and more demanding. And the enormous sense of well-being and connection with nature that I feel throughout the year in the mountains, is certainly heightened in winter when nature feels so much more in control. Climbing a hill with snow crunching under your boots and soaking up the winter wonderland around you is without parallel. There is also the extra edge that winter brings when a simple walk or a night out in the tent can become a serious struggle if difficult conditions set in. And I love a good struggle with the elements!

Of course, there are risks associated with the winter mountains but they are calculated risks and management of them is mostly down to you. Relative to the number of people enjoying the outdoors, the level of fatalities is very small, particularly when you consider there are nearly 2000 deaths on our roads each year. Many of those deaths will be of people driving for leisure who have died as a result of somebody taking a reckless risk and yet we don’t hear calls to close the roads. And remember that out in the mountains people get exercise, fresh air and a deep sense of rejuvenation. 

In the sanitised, bubble-wrapped, comfortable, concrete cocoons that so many people live in today, it’s necessary to escape to the natural elements and to take some risks just to feel alive. I head out alone into remote parts of the mounatins all year round, sometimes for a week at a time. I cycled mostly alone for over two years around the world. I don't see these things as being risky. To me the greatest risk in life is not to live it. In the words of Leo F Buscaglia …

“The person who risks nothing, does nothing, has nothing, is nothing, and becomes nothing. He may avoid suffering and sorrow, but he simply cannot learn and feel and change and grow and love and live.”


  1. Always a pleasure to catch up on your trips and see what new territory you've been covering. Your writing never fails to offer the necessary encouragement, at the exact right time, to get me off the couch and out of doors.

    1. I'm glad I'm useful for something in life!!!! Always nice to hear from you ... hope life is good. Pauline