Mountain Portraits | Winter Obsession
Words by Mountain Equipment
Throughout Autumn and Winter, we will be showcasing a collection of commissioned portraits by Lukasz Warzecha & others, as part of our Mountain Portraits series, an attempt to highlight some of the key characters who give meaning to our work. This week, having spent his working days watching conditions develop, Keith Ball’s days off are to be seized, a time to push a little harder and bag those coveted hard or rarely formed lines. His own winter obsession.
It’s mid-January and on the shores of Loch Leven after more than 17 hours of total darkness, the small settlement of North Ballachulish is finally succumbing to an eerie half-light that is the norm in this part of Northern Scotland during the winter months – at 57 degrees North, it’s on the same latitude as Southern Alaska.
For Keith Ball this is no time to rest. This is peak season at Alltshellach, a former country house turned hotel that for 3 months of the year is temporary home to Keith and some 10 other Instructors and Guides who work for Plas y Brenin. It’s a non-stop schedule of instruction and assessment, a full-time job that brings early starts and long days in unpredictable and often savage conditions.
Yet come the end of the week, there is little sign of slowing down. Having spent his working days watching conditions develop, days off are to be seized, a time to push a little harder and bag those coveted hard or rarely formed lines. And more often than not it is the distinctive sandstone mountains of Torridon with its remote cliffs and corries to which he is drawn. It’s become a focal point for climbers seeking adventure in Scotland’s far north-west with its difficult and intimidating routes far from the nearest road.
And then after two days of pre-dawn starts and torchlight finishes Keith makes the exhausting drive back, with just enough time to hang his kit up to dry, eat some food and ready himself for another 5 days work before starting all over again.
A different level of winter obsession.