Meet Greg Boswell: the future of Scottish winter climbing

Posted by Alex Messenger on 17/03/2015
Greg Boswell. Photo: Alex Messenger.

Greg Boswell is the future of Scottish winter climbing. Equally at home screaming with hot aches in a corrie or beasting his body in a mammoth training session, he's just put up Scotland's second grade 12 route. Read our Summit interview with him.

Mention Scottish winter climbing and the chances are that it conjures up images of deep gullies, woolly balaclavas and an intrepid leader making his way up a series of snowy mantelshelves, while his belayer shivers below.

Think again. That old sport of ‘ledge shuffling’ is becoming a thing of the past, pushed out by a leaner, stronger and more futuristic animal. The new breed of winter climber has taken winter climbing and turned it on its head. Steep walls have replaced slabs; overhangs replace ledges. Success is no longer measured in half-day battles with the cold, but in ten-minute sprints where only incredible power will see you through.

At this cold cutting edge is Greg Boswell. Despite his youth, Greg has mastered the skills in this most traditional of activities, repeating the hardest climbs of his peers and adding his own big lines.

Originally from Yorkshire, he moved to Scotland when he was three. He now lives and works on a farm on the east coast of Scotland.

I’m an all-round climber. But it’s winter that I look forward to the most.

My mum and dad let me leave school at 15 because she saw I had a passion for climbing. I still live with my family – my mum, dad and sister. I don’t think I could have got to where I am without their support.

Farming is good preparation for alpine climbing. The past month has been harvest time and I’ve often spent 20 hours a day sat in a tractor, doing hard physical work in all weather and surviving on not much sleep.

I like to think that I don’t care much about money. But I know what it can get you. If I hear a major route somewhere is in condition then I want to get on a plane and just get out there.

Pete MacPherson and Guy Robertson have been a massive inspiration. They’ve led the surge in Scottish winter climbing with their dedication to training and commitment to adventure.

The route which has meant the most was Stone Temple Pilots on the Shelter Stone. It’s Pete and Guy’s route, with nine pitches of the highest level on a huge face. I made the second ascent with Will Sim in 2011 on virtually the shortest day, all on sight, with no falls. It brought lots of things together for me and opened my eyes to what’s possible.

There are climbs at the top level a few years ago that I wouldn’t think twice about soloing now. Even in that time, Scottish winter climbing has really moved on. Five years ago, the hardest winter lines were following summer E1s. Now the top winter climbs haven’t even had summer ascents.

Winter climbing gets a lot of interest from the ethics police. But most of the shouting comes from armchair critics; the people who actually do it understand that it comes down to a gut reaction. Most of the top guys care a lot about the mountains, and probably a lot more than the ones running their mouths about conditions (with a few exceptions on both fronts!)

I’ve fallen off routes that were supposedly death, and survived. There are different ways to winter climb. I’ve met people who climb fast, never put any runners in and run a massive risk. Me, I prefer to learn patience, take it steady and stay in control.

I barely drink, and I’m not into clubbing, but I do love dance music. I put on really heavy trance for monster training sessions. There’s something about the deep, incessant bass that really gets inside me. Hours go by and I barely notice.

I love training and beasting myself to the limit. I’m not taking about ten seconds of dead-hanging, this is all-over savagery. I’m talking tractor tyres, weight vests and snorkels.

Highlining was the biggest rush I’ve ever had. You know that feeling in climbing when you’re just about to fall off, that only lasts an instant? It’s like that but drawn out for a minute.

The Lord of the Rings is my favourite book. It gets me psyched: war, metal, magic, it’s got everything.

One word I keep thinking of in terms of winter climbing is ‘screaming’. Screaming pain, screaming cold. Sometimes it feels like you’ve been standing on a tiny edge with your front points, in a blizzard, forever. The suffering is incredible, but it makes all the training worth it.

Harness the adventure and stay true to yourself. These are the two guides to my climbing.

Interview: Niall Grimes. Originally published in Summit 2012.



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