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Highlander – A Year In Fort William

by Steve Holmes April 28, 2015

On the 16th April 2014 we made the move north to Fort William. This was to be my mental and physical step to moving away from contract work in the Middle East and committing fully to working as a Mountaineering Instructor in Scotland. For five years previous I had managed to work between jobs, living out of my van whilst working as a Mountain Leader in the highlands escaping back to the Middle East when times got tough and the seasonal work dried up. Leaving our home in Dundee to travel around Europe during 2013 Jane and I certainly had no plans to move to Fort William, if anything our trip was indefinite with high hopes of settling down in Europe once the travel bug was finally satisfied. Unforeseen circumstances brought us back to Scotland within 5 months of setting sail, friends and family took us in whilst we decided what was to be for the best – Fort William became the likely candidate.


Breo-Hero-Steve-Holmes-climbingand climbing.

When I left the Royal Marines in 2006 I had been lucky with my initial steps into working in the mountains. I was taken in by a guiding company who trained their instructors in house, no formal qualifications needed. I guided in summer and winter even led expeditions to the Himalaya and Africa but now some mental focus was required to make myself more employable: MIA reassessment, WML assessment and MIC Training courses were all necessary and thankfully have all now been completed. I have been so lucky to work and be considered a worthy instructor by some of the well known guides in the area. I have been thrown high standard work that shows a degree of trust in what I can deliver. These people know who they are and I can’t thank them enough for helping make ends meet during these initial steps into full time Instructional work. Special thanks to:

Breo-Hero-Steve-Holmes--Al-HalewoodAl Halewood

Breo-Hero-Steve-Holmes--Mike-LatesMike Lates

Breo-Hero-Steve-Holmes--Mike-PescodMike Pescod

Breo-Hero-Steve-Holmes--Dave-AndersonDave Anderson

One big step was accompanied by another. My rock climbing performance had always fluctuated, I put it down to not enough partners and hence not being current enough on rock. The move North has seen me share a rope with local guides / instructors, psyched new friends and professional climbers who have all had a big influence in what was to make 2014 my best rock season yet. Leading  On the Beach   (E5,6a) the same day I held  Kev Shields ropes on the first ascent of  Cu Sith   (E7,6c) was the dream start to the season. I went on the climb two more E5’s and my first E6,6b –  The Rebellionsomething I would not have even considered had I not met and climbed with new found friends living in and around the local area. I even put a new route up at my (now) favourite piece of rock in Scotland – Stand Fast   (E3,6a). Off the back of some of this success I have been sponsored by  Breo, perhaps not a company you would associate with outdoor sports but they are gradually moving in the performance eye-wear/watch direction with plans to develop glasses with polarized lenses, something I will be involved with this year. Having spent four years on their Pro Program I have also been lucky enough to gain a new deal with Patagonia, testing and reviewing some of their new shiny products.

Breo-Hero-Steve-Holmes--Kev-high-up-on-Cu-SithKev high up on Cu Sith

Breo-Hero-Steve-Holmes--Climbing-with-a-new-group-of-very-motivated-friendsClimbing with a new group of very motivated friends

Breo-Hero-Steve-Holmes--On-the-Beach-my-first-E5On the Beach – My first E5

Breo-Hero-Steve-Holmes--Working-with-lots-of-clients-both-old-and-newWorking with lots of clients, both old and new…


Breo-Hero-Steve-Holmes--My-best-route-of-the-year-The-Rebellion-E6-6bMy best route of the year ‘The Rebellion’ E6,6b

Breo-Hero-Steve-Holmes--Dot-leading-pitch-1-CenturionDot leading pitch 1; Centurion

Breo-Hero-Steve-Holmes--Alpine-hit-with-KenAlpine hit with Ken…

Breo-Hero-Steve-Holmes-Alpine-hit-with-Adam-and-Duncand Adam & Dunc

Following an exceptional summer on the West Coast of Scotland we were to get some of the best winter conditions in recent years. Low to mid level ice has been in brilliant condition for many weeks during the winter, routes such as  The Shield, Mega Route X and The Shroud received multiple ascents and although I didn’t climb any of these three routes I did tick lots of Ben Nevis classics. My big aspirations to climb my first winter ‘tech 8′ didn’t materialise; I did climb with friends old and new on some superb ice which was thoroughly enjoyable and just as rewarding.

Breo-Hero-Steve-Holmes--The-second-pitch-of-Crest-RouteThe second pitch of Crest Route

Breo-Hero-Steve-Holmes--Graeme-getting-involved-in-The-Great-ChimneyGraeme getting involved in The Great Chimney

Breo-Hero-Steve-Holmes--Duncan-on-an-early-season-ascent-of-Point-Five-GullyDuncan on an early season ascent of Point Five Gully

Breo-Hero-Steve-Holmes--Me-and-Jon-Sanders-on-The-CurtainMe and Jon Sanders on The Curtain

Breo-Hero-Steve-Holmes--Al-on-the-top-pitch-of-Peter-Pan-DirectAl on the top pitch of Peter Pan Direct

Approaching the second belay on DirectosaurApproaching the second belay on Directosaur

Superb technical and well protected climbing on the FA of Inception (V,7) on Ben NevisSuperb technical and well protected climbing on the FA of Inception (V,7) on Ben Nevis

Great day out with Colin on Hadrians WallGreat day out with Colin on Hadrians Wall

Just about to start Smiths Route with Hannah and DaveJust about to start Smiths Route with Hannah and Dave

Big thumbs up after a great couple of days working for Abacus Mountain GuidesBig thumbs up after a great couple of days working for Abacus Mountain Guides

Setting off on the second pitch of Psychedelic WallSetting off on the second pitch of Psychedelic Wall

Rich Parker happy with our ascent of Psychedelic WallRich Parker happy with our ascent of Psychedelic Wall

Into summer 2015, the focus and psych is high but as expected the performance isn’t yet there to match. I’ve had some great day’s cragging, on-sighting E2’s and getting plenty of mileage down the Glen. A slap in the face was going back to my long standing project at Wave Buttress. I found it hard to believe I was just a couple of moves of leading this route last year. A few days ago I had to top rope it in three sections, resting on the rope after getting totally pumped. Maybe I can finally put it to bed this season, hopefully in time for the new Highland Outcrops guidebook due out later in the year.

First day on rock of 2015 was a belter!First day on rock of 2015 was a belter!

Route specific gear for a project – can you guess which route though!?….Route specific gear for a project – can you guess which route though!?….

My new training bibleMy new training bible


A calendar year living in Fort William has been very rewarding and a relatively easy transition for me. Much harder for my other half Jane who enjoys skiing and being behind her camera in the great outdoors but is, by her own admission, not an outdoor addict in any way shape or form. The only tar on last year was losing our husky dog Maverick, what a great dog he was and is still missed ten months on, even more so by his younger brother Goose. I have also lost touch with some old friends from over East, one way or another I expect the move north has contributed to this.

Enjoying an afternoon skiing with JaneEnjoying an afternoon skiing with Jane

Dogs: part of the familyDogs: part of the family


Thanks to everyone who I have met, climbed with, worked for, worked with, employed me and trained me over the last year.

Let’s hope the next one is just as productive!

Steve Holmes
Steve Holmes

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