This Christmas was a difficult one for a lot of people. Isolation, lockdowns and travel restrictions kept families apart and impeded the conventional holiday traditions so many of us enjoy. For me this was further compounded by illness. Stabbing stomach pain, a trip to the hospital and being contact traced which resulted in being stuck inside for 10 days of self-isolation, have all been reminders of how things can always get worse.
By contrast, last Christmas I also spent much of the holiday alone, but the experience couldn’t have been more different. I planned a solo mission on Ben Nevis to climb some ice and speedfly from the summit on a crystal clear winter day. This sort of thing has for a long time been my idea of a high quality day out, so I was more than happy to have the time to myself.
In the end the ice was thin, forcing me to retreat off the climb. After reaching the summit via number four gully I realised the valley was completely obscured by fog, making a safe flight down impossible. As I walked down to the valley, pondering the outcome of the day I found myself feeling like it had been something of a failure. I was a little disappointed by not having achieved what I originally set out to do. Upon reflection though, I soon realised that I still had a great adventure in the mountains. After all I was happy, free and came back in one piece, which one should always consider a success.
Looking back now, given how 2020 has panned out, it makes me really appreciate each and every opportunity I have had to be out in the mountains over the years. Considering a day out in terms of success or failure, now seems fairly petty and irrelevant given that we currently lack the most basic freedom to even travel to the mountains.
Elective suffering and isolation are often a big part of any good mountain adventure. For me these challenges are best overcome by remembering past experiences where things seemed grim, but yet I survived.
When freedom of movement is restored again, my biggest hope is that we are all able to put these difficult times behind us, but in such a way that gives us greater strength to overcome the next challenges we will inevitably face. Hopefully next Christmas is a significant contrast to this one.