The following guide contains everything you need to know to be as good at winter climbing as I am.
1 – Always catch a nasty bug just before leaving for the mountains. Headache, sore throat, runny nose, feverish nightmares; the more the better. Bonus point if your climbing partner gets it as well.
2 – Head up to Ben Nevis overnight with two of you sharing the driving. Make sure that the passenger still remains awake, and that neither of you gets any sleep on the journey.
3 – Get pulled over by the police 10 seconds before the turning off for the car park. Extra points if you are already wearing all your gear and as a result look fucking stupid. “Do you always drive with a balaclava and headtorch, sir?”
4 – Hike up the steep path towards the north face carrying obscenely heavy rucksacks. This is training, and will get you really fit for the days’ climb.
5 – Pitch the tent miles away from the CIC hut. After all, you don’t want it to be in a convenient position to the climbing. Why else do you think you’re enduring the misery of camping?
6 – Despite being ill and exhausted, start straight up for a big scary route like the North East Buttress, that would be near the limit of your capabilities if you were feeling good. This is mountaineering, not a bloody picnic (if you are carrying a picnic get rid of it right away; make do with a handful of unpleasant cheap muesli bars instead, or nothing).
7 – Make sure you are last in line of the big queue of climbers all going for the same route. This means you get to wait for longer at freezing belays, enjoying the stunning views of cloud and spindrift.
8 – If the first section of the route is very easy snow plodding without much gear, don’t whatever you do move together or solo it. Pitch it. This will ensure it takes four times longer than it has to, and is far more sporting.
9 – When you do finally get to the harder climbing, make sure your partner has just led off from the belay before suddenly discovering an overwhelming need to take a shit. More points according to how long it takes to clear up, how numb your arse gets, and whether you actually remembered to bring bog roll or not.
10 – Always check the security of a bit of fixed tat by hooking your axe round it and yanking hard as you can. If this doesn’t break it then nothing will.
11 – Should you find yourself leading a long run out pitch, and running out of rope, make sure you deliberately ignore any massive belay boulders you pass. These are considered cheating. Instead keep going, that way your second can dismantle the anchor and climb up after you.
12 – When moving together up steep snow and ice, NEVER COMMUNICATE.
13 – Upon finding yourself stuck on a stamped out snow ledge on a dodgy belay, waiting for hours for the people in front of you to get a move on, do not, under any circumstances, abseil off the route. It just isn’t cricket, what?
14 – Also, why not develop stage 1 hypothermia? Just lie back and enjoy that sudden sense of warmth you feel!
15 – If you say “one more pitch then we’ll see”, make sure that one pitch both fully commits you to the rest of the route and uses up all the remaining daylight.
16 – When you have finished belaying, it is always better if your screwgate jams when you try to undo it. This way you can spend many long minutes screaming with impotent frustration and smashing the fucking thing with your ice hammer.
17 – (BONUS POINT!) Try to get your phone out to call a helicopter, then realise you can’t because you’re belaying. Even better, spend ages figuring out some hugely complex and dangerous juggling system that allows you to do both, only to then realise you have no signal/phone.
18 – Make sure the pair in front top ropes you up out the last hard pitch. Mountaineering has nothing to do with self reliance or responsibility whatsoever.
19 –When you finally reach the top of the route, more exhausted than you’ve ever been in your life, realise you are on the featureless summit plateau of Ben Nevis, and therefore still have a very, very long way to go.
20 – And to really finish things off, spend the remainder of the trip shivering inside your dank, cramped tent, having developed your cold into a full on chest infection.Congratulations, you are now a winter climber! Mind you don’t trip over all those frozen corpses.