The Borders Group of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society will start its talks this winter in Peebles. Di Gilbert, Scottish mountaineer, will lead the winter programme on Wednesday evening at the Eastgate Theatre.
Di Gilbert is a full-time mountaineering instructor and holder of the MIC. This is the highest qualification within the British Mountaineering Instructor scheme. MIC holders are qualified to instruct all aspects of mountaineering, both summer and winter, including rock climbing, scrambling, technical snow and ice climbing and winter mountaineering.
Di grew up in the Don Valley in Alford. This town lies in between Aberdeen and the Grampian mountains. I like to think that as the sun set Di would be in the shadows of the hills and drawn towards them in her childhood.
In fact, my analogy is shattered as she tells me that her mother’s love of hillwalking was not bestowed on her. Encouraged to get out and try things by her parents, she did start rock climbing, an activity that was to grip her more than any other.
As Di, pictured top of page, became more experienced at her sport she realised that the mountains were a necessary part.
She told me: “I have bad Duke of Edinburgh Award memories. It was only when I got into rock climbing and discovered that if I wanted to climb the bigger routes, I needed to venture into the mountains.”
I note from scrolling down Di’s favourite British ascents that there are a healthy number in Scotland, including Savage Slit on Coirean Lochan and Poachers Fall on Liathach. For some mountaineers, the Scottish hill ranges become too small, or maybe it is the weather that turns the heads of technical climbers towards more exotic mountains – this is certainly true for Di.
It is for the Alpine and Greater ranges that Di really has most passion. Having travelled extensively around the globe since 1997, she has been expedition leader to no fewer than 18 commercial expeditions and countless personal forays.
When I asked why she plumped for a career in mountaineering, she told me: “You have asked the wrong question – I am a climber and mountaineer first. I discovered that I could combine my passion with a career in later years. I actually enjoy the academic side of the business – the marketing, developing the website, the blog, etc. I have learnt that without this business element, I wouldn’t be able to sustain the lifestyle that I have just now.”
With much of her time spent on the hills and organising trips to the hills, her hobbies tend to be integrally linked to these pursuits.
“I love journeying through mountains with great company on mountain bikes and I’ve recently got into running over hills. I spend a lot of time playing on my Mac looking at photos and editing video,” she added.
“I am known for taking photographs when out with friends and clients. In fact, my clients know they get shouted at for wearing dark jackets as they do not look as good in images as nice colourful ones.”
In the midst of Di’s mountain CV which includes Mount Everest (8,848m) and Huascaran in Peru (6,768m), I get a glimpse of a home life behind the veil of ropes, pitons, axes and snow.
Now living in the Spey Valley, it is apparent to me that this lady’s heart still has a tie to home.
Derek, Di’s partner, has looked after the running of their house up north for 20 years.
When she is at home, the greatest pleasures that allow her time off from the mountains and their ancillary activities are baking cakes and doing the garden – gentle pursuits in contrast to the exhilarating endeavours of this woman.
Having led expeditions on all seven continents, Di will give an insight into the highs and lows of adventures in the high places through her illustrated talk Climbing on the Seven Continents.