Welcome to "On Belay With..."! This is a series of short interviews with all sorts of folks involved in mountain medicine. Joining us at the belay today is Dr Diggory North. Diggory is a junior doctor in Emergency Medicine and is currently completing a MSc in Sports Medicine...
What was the last mountain you climbed?
Living in Norfolk has meant missing the mountains and hills during the past year's restrictions. So perhaps poignantly, in a time that feels like a different era from now, my last trip was a dash to the Lakes, mere days before the first national lockdown was announced. I think we ended up cramming in Bleaberry, High Seat, Catbells, among others. This picture is overlooking Derwent Water and I remember feeling a real sense of foreboding here, with regard to how much longer we'd be able to enjoy the outdoors before retreating into our homes. It was 3 days before the national lockdown.
What does the perfect mountain day consist of?
I am a sucker for adverse conditions. Any day which is wet, muddy, snowy, icy, grumpy, whiney, but ends in a warm inn with boots off, feet drying in front of the fire, good stories and a pint of ale. Old before my time I guess!
Overlooking Derwent Water a few days before the first UK lockdown
What's been your worst mountain mishap?
I've been lucky so far. Not on a mountain, but I remember as a youngster ignoring the ominous forecasts and heading out to our usual remote swim spot back home on Dartmoor. Not only did we get caught in a torrential Autumn rainstorm with only swim shorts on, but were plagued by a swarm of flying ants. We were scraping them off and sprinting back through the driving rain and boggy moorland to the nearest farm. It felt very apocalyptic but highly characteristic of my home environment!
What's been your best mountain day?
I've not done much traditional mountaineering or alpine style climbing yet (that was all supposed to happen this past year) so it's probably pretty tame for the likes of mountain medics. But a day that sticks out in my mind is a lone day a few years back, soloing some easy lines on Haytor and Hound Tor on a warm Spring evening, followed by a pit-stop at The Rugglestone Inn in Widecombe. For me, there's no beating a day of solitude and tranquility with just your rock shoes and the rough Dartmoor granite. Those have been the most satisfying days for me, and they're days I always try to replicate when possible.
You learn to savour the bad weather when growing up on Dartmoor
What mountain changed your life?
Like so many, I guess my first 'proper' mountain would have been Snowdon via the PYG Track with primary school, and from there I caught the bug. I remember stealing a summit rock and writing the date in indelible marker and gifting it to my parents (always a cheapskate!). I think that was probably frowned upon as poor mountain etiquette, and I'm not sure my parents were particularly impressed by such a gift!
What's been your best bit of mountain kit?
Does it count if I say my Thermos? Tea or coffee is an essential – it's basically first aid in the colder climates!
What makes a great climbing partner? Has anyone come close?
Someone who's up for anything, any time – so usually an unemployed friend! A good all-rounder is always helpful – it's a little impersonal but I like to keep a list of climbing partners on my phone and what disciplines they prefer, so I can get in touch with them depending on their credentials for the trip and what skillsets it demands. The closest to 'great' is probably my oldest friend and longtime climbing partner; he is a pilot and therefore great at assessing weather conditions...
The majestic Haytor in all it's glory!
What's been your biggest mountain disappointment?
Even bad days in the hills can teach you something, so I don't have many disappointments. My only real one was recently, with a typical pandemic-induced non-starter. I was planning with a mate for a mad dash up to Arran to climb Cir Mohr via the South Face. I mainly study guidebook photos to find trip inspiration. There's a photo of Sou'wester Slabs (VD) in one of the Scottish Mountaineering Press guides that shows a climber seconding lost in a sea of beautiful granite that fills the photo frame like waves. I knew I had to do that route, and we'd booked everything. Lockdown #2 came into effect the week we were supposed to leave...
What is your "dream" mountain objective?
I've done very little big wall, mountaineering or alpine climbing, so pushing myself in these disciplines is one goal. Another would be to complete the UIAA Diploma in Mountain Medicine. I gained a place but it was cancelled this year due to Covid. Good things come to those who wait I suppose....
Looking towards Snowdon from the Glyders on one of my frequent pilgrimages to North Wales
Give us a mountain tip!
I'm not sure I'm qualified enough to give any technical tips out just yet! It sounds strange, but the golden rule I live by is to try not to let climbing define or consume my life. I believe this is important for general balance, and in order to maintain health, performance and enjoyment in the sport until an old age. So many people my age are leaving their old lives and careers behind in pursuit of the addiction that is climbing / mountaineering, often influenced by supposedly dreamy lifestyles posted on social media. I try not to buy into it – the adventures are infinitely more special when you have to work hard to live them.
What do Chris Sloan, Karen Greene, Stuart Allan, Edi Albert, Abigail Forsyth, Jon Morgan, Tom Yeoman, Marika Blackham, David Cambray Deakin, Jon Ellerton and David Hildebrandt all have in common? The answer is they’ve all taken part in "On Belay With...". If you would like to join them please get in touch!
If you would like to find out more about mountain medicine why not join the British Mountain Medicine Society? See this link for details.