First Times – by Ian Parnell

We all have humble beginnings. Here our Creative Director Ian Parnell experiences ‘full conditions’ on his first Scottish winter route, a lowly Cairngorms grade I. It’s from unforgettable moments like these that we’ve built our experience to work in the World’s most challenging environments.

Friday, December 9th, 2016

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Your first time is special.

There is that feeling of butterflies dancing in the pit of your stomach.

There is expectation, nervousness perhaps even fear but hopefully outweighed by excitement. And there is mystery about it.

That was how I felt travelling up the A9 through the highlands about to have my first date with Scottish winter climbing. My climbing partner Andy was the expert on our team – he had been on a beginner’s weekend course with a guide. We had all the gear – my Buffalo Pertex-fibre pile shirt was the all the rage at that time, but probably little idea. Not that that should be a deterrent – the best way to learn is to rub your nose in something, get experience and make mistakes. The problem of course lies in the fact that Scottish winters can be very unforgiving and any mistake could prove more than just a learning process. Luckily we were suitably scared so agreed we would start on the very first rung of climbing difficulty with a classic grade one couloir called…yes, The Couloir (Grade I). Basically a steep snow slope, The Couloir didn’t offer too much technical difficulty in its own right. But surrounding it were huge looming rock walls dramatically spiked with long hoar frost crystals. As the gully wove between these intimidating bastions we inched our way up like nervous snails peering out from under our protective helmets. At one point with the daylight running out Andy suggested we might have to vivi on the summit plateau. “No way!’ I replied, “we wouldn’t last the night.” In hindsight it good to see I was developing some mountain sense. Crawling onto the summit plateau we gingerly stood up adjusting to the horizontal. We had made it! We had survived our first time! By the time we reached back at the car, all the fearful memories had been replaced by euphoria and we were busy planning the next day’s route. Our excitement even pushing us to consider a grade I/II gully we had spotted nearby. Since that time I’ve climbed a couple of hundred routes in Scotland, including some of the tougher winter challenges available – many of them have been brilliant days out but none better than that first time. Interestingly I experienced almost the same voyage of emotions the first time I picked up a camera as a youngster – that mix of wonder and trepidation. The nervousness waiting to see the results and the joy when the magic of image making works and you realize you’ve captured something of that wonder you felt. Even now when we head out at LWimages to shoot a new subject we get that feeling of butterflies… it reminds us of that magic of the first time.

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