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Mike Pescod

Public Information Feature

The full programme for the 2013 Fort William Mountain Festival, presented by the Outdoor Capital of the UK, has been announced. It has an impressive and diverse line up of inspirational speakers made up of top climbers, mountaineers and extreme sports men and women, together with adventure film screenings and mountain workshops. This year’s festival will be staged in and around the bustling Highland town of Fort William, in the heart of Lochaber, The Outdoor Capital of the UK, from Thursday 21 to Sunday 24 February 2013.

Mike Pescod, Chairman of the Highland Mountain Culture Association, organisers of the Festival, said: “The 2013 Fort William Mountain Festival is one of the most popular events in Scotland’s outdoor adventure calendar and everyone attending will be inspired, energized and entertained.

“This year’s programme celebrates mountain culture in all its forms and promotes the mountains as an attractive, accessible and above all enjoyable place to be. It includes a superb line up of top climbers and explorers, mountain films, inspirational speakers and skills workshops. It caters for a wide spectrum of enthusiasts from armchair adventurers to climbers and mountaineers to mountain bikers and budding wildlife photographers.”

The Fort William Mountain Festival programme includes:

Festival Launch Night – Wednesday 20/02/13 – The festival kicks off in action packed style at Nevis Range Mountain Experience, near Fort William. The evening will begin with a torchlight descent spectacular as a range of local outdoor athletes on skis, bike and foot weave their way down Aonach Mhor. This will be followed by a locally sourced and inspired four course meal, a preview screening of the festival competition films and live musical entertainment.

Bike Night – Thursday 21/02/13 – Kicking off the festival in style will be a full-on evening of mountain bike film action in the company of Chipps Chippendale (Singletrack Magazine), Rob Warner (Former pro dowhhill rider and mountain bike commentator) and Stu Thomson (Former pro downhill rider and mountain bike film maker – MTBCut); with compere Nigel Page (Former BMX and pro downhill rider, race team manager and commentator). They will present their favourite bike films throughout the night and conduct an interactive and light hearted Q & A session.

British Mountain Guides Night – Thursday 21/02/13 – Three members of British Mountain Guides, the most qualified and experienced professionals to lead people in the mountains, will share their passion for climbing and mountaineering. Andy Nelson lives in Glencoe where he has climbed extensively, putting up new routes at the highest standard. He will recount his experiences of Scottish winter climbing. Tim Neill, who has climbed widely in the UK, Ireland and throughout the world, will entertain the audience with his alpine climbing adventures. Stu McAleese is one of the best alpinists currently operating from the UK, a true all-rounder. He will focus his talk on some of the major expedition climbs he has been involved in including the ascent of Arctic Monkeys VI A4 V+ on Baffin Island that involved 18 consecutive nights on portaledges.

Antarctic Adventures Night with Karen Darke – ’From the Paralympics to the Pole…’ and Felicity Aston – ‘Call of the White’ – Friday 22/02/13. Karen Darke, a silver medallist in the hand-cycling Time Trial at the London 2012 Paralympic Games, has hand-cycled all over the world including Central Asia and the Himalayas, the Karakoram and the length of the Japanese archipelago. She has co-organised sea kayaking expeditions along the coastlines of British Columbia and Alaska, a sit-skiing trip across the Greenland Icecap, climbing El Capitan and kayaking through the fjords of Patagonia. Karen will entertain the audience with stories of her adventures and the challenges of wheels in them before finishing with her plans for her next expedition to the South Pole. In 2009 Felicity Aston lead a group of seven women from six different countries, representing six religions and seven languages, on a 900km trek from the south coast of Antarctica to the Geographic South Pole, in just 38 days. The team, many of them complete novices, had met only eight months before they set off. Felicity will bring their incredible journey to life, not just the physical aspects but also what it took to transform these individuals into such a successful team.

Climbing Night with Andy Cave – Saturday 23/02/13. Ben Nevis has been central in the history of Scottish winter mountaineering – the site of legendary new routes, incredible characters, unfailing passion and tragedy. As a teenager Andy Cave, one of the greatest mountaineers of his generation who explores new routes in remote mountain ranges all over the world, had his first taste of mountaineering on the Ben. In 2013 he returns with friends to examine the importance of Scottish Winter climbing and its impact on mountaineering throughout the world. Packed with both humour and drama this entertaining lecture is a celebration of winter climbing through the prism of Ben Nevis; together with some freshly shot video of The Ben by award winning film maker Paul Diffley. The 6th recipient of the Scottish Award for Excellence in Mountain Culture will also be formally announced.

The Best of Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour Film Night – Sunday 24/02/13 – Always a sell-out, this is your chance to see the best in award winning mountain films from around the world – extreme expeditions and challenges, remote cultures and the world’s last great wild places. Don’t miss it!

Winter Skills Workshops – There will also be plenty of opportunity for both novices and experts to hone their mountain skills through a series of workshops in avalanche awareness, winter walking and winter climbing with Abacus Mountaineering. There is a one off Climbing Technique Master Class with local climber Dave MacLeod. There will be mountain photography workshops with Nevispix and a two day outdoor emergency first aid course at the Snowgoose Mountain Centre. Indoor climbing and ice climbing skills workshops will also be on offer at Kinlochleven’s Ice Factor Indoor Climbing Centre. There is even a gaelic language workshop aimed at climbers, mountaineers and hillwalkers at theWest Highland College, UHI, entitled ‘Understanding our mountains through the Gaelic language’.

Mike Pescod added: “This celebration of mountain culture, showcasing the huge range of outdoor activity opportunities available to visitors to Fort William and Lochaber, one of Scotland’s most stunning natural environments, is the vision of The Outdoor Capital of the UK, which is our presenting sponsor once again.”

To find out more about the Fort William Mountain Festival 2013 and to buy your festival tickets go to – www.mountainfestival.co.uk/

This week, the annual Mountain Festival comes to Lochaber. Now in its fifth year, the event is a mixture of workshops offering practical skills in mountain craft, films and lectures on a wide range of hill-related topics and a whole host of social activities. Timed to coincide with the school half-term holidays, it attracts people from all over the UK, making this one of the business parts of the winter season for Fort William and the surrounding area.

By Colin Wells

Attacking Point 5 Gully with modern equipment

Attacking Point 5 Gully with modern equipment

Half a century ago this week, two Scottish climbers advanced the sport of winter climbing a full decade with a futuristic tour de force on Ben Nevis.

Over six consecutive days in February 1960, Edinburgh architect Jimmy Marshall and Edinburgh University philosophy student Robin Smith made six ground-breaking winter ascents, including the Alpine-sized Orion Face Direct and the second ascent of Point Five Gully (both graded V, 5). That they achieved this by means of the energy-sapping art of step-cutting appears, from the remove of the 21st century, to be almost unbelievable.

Dougal Haston, later to become Scotland’s most celebrated mountaineer after success on Everest, recalled partnering Marshall on the first ascent of Minus Two Gully on Ben Nevis: “…it was taking us as long to second as Jimmy to lead. His experience and ability were still beyond ours. He seemed able to cut steps like a
simple and economical machine.”

Robin Smith was the rising star of Scottish climbing, whose career was to be cut tragically short after falling from a mountain in the Pamirs aged just 23. Smith began climbing as a teenager and his reputation
was built on a bold, almost reckless, disregard for difficulty and conditions. He was technically far ahead of most of his peers, but was casual – clumsy, even – when carrying out these epic ascents. That famous week in February 1960, for example, he contrived to drop his single ice-axe on three occasions.

He recorded a typical incident on the ascent of Gardyloo Buttress: “…it started somersaulting in the air
with both my arms windmilling trying to grab it and my feet scarting about in crumbly holds.”

Ultimately it was this seemingly carefree approach to cutting-edge climbs, along with his formidable intellect and wit, which forged the Smith legend. These attributes were allied to a fierce national pride. It was no secret that one of the imperatives driving Smith’s performances was a desire to see Scottish climbers competing with – and overtaking – the new stars of English and Welsh climbing.

Marshall, too, had a nationalistic motive: to prove that Scottish climbers were as good as any in the world, and he saw the new wave of young guns such as Smith and Haston as the weapon with which to prove the point. Marshall was a prime mover behind the post-war resurgence of the Scottish Mountaineering Club, and another young climber, Jim Stenhouse, remembered he was a great tutor: “You couldn’t have had a better teacher than Jim Marshall. He was just
incredible, and he was like a sort of Godfather – I suppose he still is.”

Now, in honour of Smith and Marshall’s epoch-making week, two modern heirs to the Smith–Marshall tradition, leading Scots climbers are to attempt to recreate their predecessors’ sequence of hard Ben Nevis climbs. The efforts of Dave MacLeod and Andy Turner will coincide with the Fort William Mountain Film Festival, at which Jimmy Marshall, now aged 79, is to be a guest speaker.

Minus 2 Gully

Minus 2 Gully

“This challenge is something that a few of us in Lochaber had been talking about doing for a while,” says MacLeod. “However, Mike Pescod from the Fort William Mountain Festival really galvanised us into
action over the past few weeks. He also roped in Paul Diffley from Hot Aches to film us during the week and arranged for us to talk at the festival at the end of the experience about our thoughts on the challenge and the importance of Marshall and Smith’s incredible story and massive achievement in Scottish winter climbing.”

MacLeod and Turner are sure to find the challenge a tough one. Although it looks as if the Scottish weather may be co-operative, with slack winds and freezing temperatures, nothing can be taken for granted on Ben Nevis as there is the ever-present danger of avalanche-prone slopes, difficult cornices and sudden changes in
weather.

Modern climbers do well to take heed of Jimmy Marshall’s mordant verdict on Scottish winter climbing which still resonates 50 years on: “There was a time when the only hard men were Scots, forged from a baptism of wintry endeavour … it is disconcerting to find that they are [now] no longer unique. Nevertheless, Scottish winter climbing will continue to be a fabulous arena for the processing of exceptionally hardened men or premature corpses.”