Interview with mountain guide Rob Collister
- Monday 12th September 2016
On 1 September we proudly published Days to Remember, a collection of tales from well-known mountain guide Rob Collister.
Rob’s book is about excursions in his beloved North Wales as well as worldwide expeditions to peaks such as the Gletscherhorn and Annapurna, to name but a couple. The final section of the book – ‘Issues’ – is dedicated to discussion on contemporary issues in the mountains, and man’s impact on conservation of the environment – a topic we would all do well to be better informed upon. Days to Remember reignites our passion and appreciation for nature and being active outside in beautiful places – the inspiring stories are complemented by Rob’s impressive photography of stunning landscapes.
Rob stopped by the Vertebrate offices in Sheffield to say hello and to sign some books, so I thought I would probe him a bit further on some of the things I read about in Days to Remember.
In Days to Remember you tell of stories of cycling, walking, climbing, skiing and running. Do you have a preferred method by which to explore the hills these days?
I really don’t have a preference, just whatever seems most appropriate at the time. Leaving aside the fact that I am injured at the moment, I still love running (though never on roads) but I also enjoy the slower pace of walking and the opportunities it provides to see, hear and smell things around me. I don’t much like walking fast, which is the worst of both worlds! In winter I much prefer travelling on ski to floundering through deep snow. On the other hand I actively dislike the noise and congestion of piste skiing and feel far more at risk on a piste than I do out in the mountains. I feel quite vulnerable cycling on roads, too, so prefer mountain biking to road cycling, and usually choose to journey on tracks and bridleways rather than use purpose-built trails. Though having said that, we have had a lot of fun over the years on our local Marin and Penmachno trails which our two boys were involved in building.
What do the peaks of Wales mean to you in comparison to some of the larger, more famous mountains you have explored across the globe?
Though I have been lucky enough to climb and travel on every continent and have visited some truly wonderful places I would never choose to live anywhere but here in Wales. It is the sheer Welshness of these hills, their names and their stories and history, along with their complex geology and varying flora that I love more than anything.
What is the best and worst thing about being a mountain guide?
The best thing about being a guide, apart from being out and about in beautiful places most days, is that so many clients become good friends with whom work becomes a real pleasure! The worst thing has always been the frequent leave-takings, especially when the children were small and life was hard for Netti, when guilt blended with regret. Life was often a delicate balancing act.
In Days to Remember, you talk passionately about conservation in the mountains. How do you see conservation and man's impact in the mountains in fifty years’ time?
It is hard not to be pessimistic given the low priority given to the environment by the current government and the increasing pressure on the countryside exerted by demands for renewable energy and new housing. In Wales the three national parks have had their funding slashed dramatically compared to their English counterparts, despite their clear value to the economy. On the other hand, public perception is changing about some things. There is increasing support for the concept of rewilding, for instance, with its emphasis on increasing broad-leaved tree cover, which can reduce flooding as well as improving biodiversity, and on reintroducing keystone species like beaver, lynx or even wolf. So the outlook is not totally gloomy.
You have written extensively for the Alpine Journal and many other outdoor publications. What do you think makes a good piece of mountaineering literature? What do you get from writing?
Except for journalists, academics and others who write for a living, in the eyes of many people putting pen to paper and being published is no more than an ego trip. And, of course, there is something in that. Undeniably, it is pleasing to see one’s name in print. But I like to think my writing is saying more than just, ‘Hey, look at me, look at all the things I’ve done’. Most of us have an instinctive urge to be creative in some way or another. Not being artistic or musical, I have always enjoyed the sense of crafting something durable with words. Although in no sense ‘creative writing’ it still feels like a creative act to produce something that is both readable and, I hope, worth reading. In some instances like writing about a specific issue, I try actively to influence the way other people think or feel.
In other cases it is more about sharing an attitude while sharing an experience. Either way, at the risk of sounding pretentious, I hope the reader sees the world, or a tiny portion of it, a little differently as a result. Ultimately, the function of any literature is to open the reader’s eyes to other ways of seeing, be it people or places or things, and add meaning to them.