My Mountains - Heather Morning

© Heather Morning

Safety advisor Heather Morning wasn't always an expert. Here she tells Fiona Russell about childhood trips to the hills, and turning up to her Mountain Leader course in red wellies...

As Mountain Safety Advisor for Mountaineering Scotland, the national representative body north of the border for hill walkers, mountaineers, climbers and snowsport tourers, Heather Morning is based at Scottish National Outdoor Training Centre at Glenmore Lodge in the Cairngorms, where her works focuses on developing and delivering mountain safety training. Part of her role is to assess and analyse Mountain Rescue statistics to discover why people get into difficulties in the first place – and to then create training courses.

Heather doing what she loves  © Heather Morning
Heather doing what she loves
© Heather Morning

She has a lifetime's experience in the mountains, as a professional mountaineer of 25 years and as a former member of the Cairngorm Mountain Rescue Team (17 years).

Heather leads an annual lecture tour about mountain safety and is a frequent guest on TV and radio, usually in response to a mountain rescue incidence or to offer general mountain safety advice according to the seasons.

She says: "I enjoy being an outdoors ambassador and I hope that through my work and talks I encourage more people to enjoy the mountains in safety. I think I have now become more associated with inspiring the more mature woman – I am now 54 – to believe the mountains are also for them. I enjoy sharing my love of the mountains with other people and I take pride in my role both as safety advisor and teaching skills."

In her spare time, Heather, who lives with her partner Duncan Gray and their 13-year-old collie Milly in Aviemore, is a keen mountaineer, climber, sea kayaker and mountain biker.

What is your first memory of walking in the hills?

I can remember walking the Snowdon Horseshoe with my dad when I was aged about eight. There is a great photo of my dad and me, me wearing red trousers, and looking at the lovely views.

I was fortunate when growing up because both my parents enjoyed the outdoors and we did a lot of walking and adventures as a family. I have an older brother, too. Strangely, while I went on to embrace this same enthusiasm for the outdoors, my brother is not so interested.

Who introduced you to the joys of the great outdoors?

My parents, Margaret and Donald Rich. We lived in North Yorkshire and the great outdoors and walking were a way of life for our family. We also made trips and had holidays to walk in different places around Britain, especially in Scotland. Dad did all the Munros and I have fond memories of walking some of these with him. I had walked half of the Munros before I really knew what they were.

As a child, with her Dad in Snowdonia
© Heather Morning

When did you realise you would make a career in the outdoors?

It took me a while, actually. I had what I would call a working class background and when I left school I followed a traditional career path of secretarial studies and an office job.

Meantime, I worked for Cleveland Youth Service in a youth club in the evenings. As part of this, I completed a summer mountain leader training award. I remember turning up in a pair of red wellies for that course because that is what I used to wear for walking the hills. It's funny now I look back.

My time with Cleveland allowed me to dream a bit more about working in the outdoors. I then decided I wanted to further my education in outdoors studies but I didn't have the right qualifications from school to go to university so I looked around and finally came across a course at Plymouth College for BA in recreation and leisure and got a place as a mature student. This led to a post-grad in education at Bangor University and I spent a couple of years teaching in North Wales at a Local Education Authority outdoor centre.

My next step was an instructor training scheme at Plas y Brenin, the National Mountain Sports Centre in Wales. I went on to work as an instructor at Plas y Brenin for eight years. I arrived in Scotland in the mid-90s when I took a job as an instructor at the Ballachulish joint service mountain training centre. The rest, as they say, is history.

Do you prefer coast, hills, moorland or mountain ridges?

I like them all and it's hard to choose because my enjoyment is more about who I am with and the challenges. I really enjoy remote locations and the challenges of getting there, as well as the ever-changing conditions.

Part of the day job, teaching winter navigation  © Heather Morning
Part of the day job, teaching winter navigation
© Heather Morning

Are you a fair weather or any weather walker?

I am an any weather type of person and I enjoy the challenge of a walk in harsh weather. The outdoors environment changes all the time, especially in the mountains, so you might start in good weather and then be faced with difficult conditions at higher altitude. I like the challenge of the decision-making in these circumstances. However, of course, I do enjoy being in the mountains on a lovely warm day, too.

What are your three all-time favourite walks or outings, and why?

That is such a difficult question. There are so many to choose from and it depends on the people, weather and routes.

If I have to choose I'd say the north-west area of Scotland is a favourite for fantastic remote mountains and views. I enjoy the peace and quiet – and the views across the Torridon area are stunning.

I also love a bothy. I enjoy sea kayaking and it's wonderful to paddle to a quiet location and then walk to a bothy. One of my favourite locations for this type of outing is the Outer Hebrides, especially the hills of North Uist. The scenery is beautiful and when the sea is calm it's a wonderful experience. I also enjoy spotting a wide variety of wildlife. Sea Kayaking is a rewarding hobby.

Another favourite is a ski tour. I live in Aviemore and have easy access to the Cairngorms. A great day of ski touring, especially when there is powder snow, a blue sky and no wind, is to ski between the summits of Ben Macdui, Beinn Mheadhoin and Cairngorm. It's a perfect outing.

Is the night-time a good time to go walking?

Yes, as it can be a great thing to do. For some of my winter courses, we will be going out as a group as many people are heading home from work and this feels very special. I teach navigation and other skills in the winter and also at night and there is so much to learn.

Have you ever been lucky to avoid/escape a difficult situation in the mountains?

I have spent a lot of time in the mountains, including being a member of Cairngorm Mountain Rescue, so I have witnessed many incidents; some that saved lives and some that were tragic.

Climbing Red Gully, December 2018  © Heather Morning
Climbing Red Gully, December 2018
© Heather Morning

Your perfect walking partner?

My partner Duncan. In the past, Milly the collie would often be a favourite partner, too, but she is now quite elderly and has bad arthritis.

Are you happy to go solo?

Yes. Absolutely. I enjoy being on my own, but I also greatly enjoy being with friends or leading a group as an instructor.

Boots, trail shoes, Wellies or barefoot?

All of them because it depends on the terrain and situation.

How do you navigate?

I use a range of different ways to navigate in the hills and mountains but I would never go out without a map and compass and this is my favoured way to navigate.

What three items are always in your rucksack?

M&S Colin the Caterpillar sweets, a flask of hot blackcurrant juice and a map.

What goes in your pack as a guilty secret?

A bar of milk chocolate.

Your favourite walking foods?

In the winter, I take foods that are easy to eat and have a lot of calories. That's why I list sweets and chocolate. In the summer, I am more likely to take fruit as well but I am a believer in having food that is high in energy and I like sweet things for that reason.

If you could only pick one area of Britain to walk in, where would it be?

North-west Scotland. It is so beautiful and the scenery is dramatic. It is also peaceful and I like to get away form the crowds in the mountains.

What is your ultimate walking heaven?

South Georgia is where I would most like to go. I actually spent three seasons in Antarctica guiding on the highest mountain, Mount Vinson. It was a long way inland and there was no wildlife due to the harsh environment. So, I would like to go back to South Georgia to the coast to enjoy walking and seeing the wildlife I didn't see when I was last there.

Will you be walking until you are 103?

Oh no! I don't want to live that long! I don't want to live past a point where I can't walk and I suspect that would be before I am 103.

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