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The climbing news you never want to hear

Written by Fiona

January 18 2016

The usual worrying thoughts began around 4pm on Saturday. I had not yet heard from the G-Force to tell me he was safe after a day of winter climbing in Glencoe. It is always at about 4pm that I start to properly worry – after a day of mild back-of-my-mind worrying – and by 6pm my thoughts become far more angst ridden.

It was 6.11pm as I drove north from Glasgow to meet with the G-Force for a Fern the Van overnight that the message finally came through: “That’s me back at the car, love. Xxx” I could breath a sigh of relief and tell myself off for being a worry head. The G-Force was safe after a big winter’s climb in Glencoe.

Sadly, for other people a climb in Glencoe the weekend did not end with the same message. While climbing on Stob Coire nam Beith in Glencoe, near the G-Force but not on the same route, Simon Davidson and Joe Smith lost their lives. The climbing pair fell while still roped together and reportedly died instantly.

Simon was an experienced climber and a holder of an MIA. He was also well known by many of our outdoors friends. The messages of condolence on Facebook have made me cry, especially as climbing accidents always seem too close to home.

I can still recall the heart-dropping moment when I was told that a former colleague on the Daily Record, Tim Harper, had fallen to his death on Ben Nevis. This must be almost 15 years ago now.

Another strong memory is of the group of walkers from the Lake District who died in an avalanche in Glencoe two years ago. The group included friends of friends.

Over the years, the G-Force and I have heard and read about other similar incidents and although we haven’t always known the casualty personally we have known of them through friends.

Of course, spending time in Scotland’s great outdoors can be risky, whatever the time of year. People slip or make poor judgements, the weather is fickle and, sometimes, we have no idea why a very experienced person ends up losing their life.

Winter ice and snow.

Tough conditions. Winter ice and snow.

The words of sympathy usually include such phrases as “they died doing something they loved”, and that is true. But they also leave behind family and friends who might not understand why they take risks with their lives.

Every time I receive the “I’m safe” message from the G-Force I feel a surge of joy. Every time he is late messaging me I feel anxious and uncomfortable. I would never tell him not to climb but I do tell him all the time how much I would prefer him to come home alive. “Take care, climb as safe as you can, only climb with people you trust, never take risks etc.”

My heart-felt sympathies go to family and friends of Simon and his climbing partner. This article is not meant to sound smug, because the G-Force came back safely from Glencoe this weekend, but to underline the worries of those who can only hope for the “I’m safe” message at the end of each climbing day.

A friend also reminded me this weekend that more people die while walking or cycling than climbing but there are risks with all sports. We should go out and enjoy the great outdoors and we should make sure we do so according to our personal experience and ability. Sadly, however, accidents do happen. It’s a sad weekend for Scotland’s close-knit climbing community.

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