Tuesday, 19 January 2016 19:29

Q&A with Mark Thomas: Jack of All Trades, Master of Suffering

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I became aware of Mark when I got to know the brand Jottnar. Mark is one of their accomplished brand ambassadors who assist them in their product development. I thought it would be good to find out more about what makes him tick, I read his exert of his trip to Nanda Devi East on the Jottnar Journal, which was followed up by the second part. I figured it would be valuable to see what we can learn from someone of his experience. Have a look at the amazing photos of his trip and read the interview - 

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Can you give our readers a quick summery of you and what fills your time?

I grew up on the North Pembrokeshire coastline, spending my youth surfing on our amazing beach breaks or climbing on the local sea cliffs. I ventured to the Alps for the 1st time 17 years ago, spending 4 days on the American Direct on the West Face of the Petit Dru, my 1st Alpine route, with an enormous rucksack, snow in Chamonix and a lot of enthusiasm for toughing it out! An incredible journey, where I instantly fell in love with the Alps and the idea of connecting with the mountains. Since then it’s been a rollercoaster of triumphs and failures, highs and lows, jubilation and pain, but always the journey has opened my eyes to what an incredible and beautiful arena I live and work in. I qualified as an IFMGA International Mountain Guide through the British Scheme 4 years ago, being a mountain guide is just the best job ever! Now I fill my time between guiding in the Alps, entirely private guiding on very cool routes and expeditioning worldwide from the Arctic to Japan to the Himalayas, it’s all a very magical existence. I have a lovely family, 2 little girls, who keep me busy when I’m not on the hill. I have a small farm in West Wales where we try to be as self-sufficient as possible. And I run, quite a lot!

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I’ve had a look at your “CV” found on different websites and there is a wide variety of disciplines you have achieved high accolades i.e. record holder for the Lakes 15 Classic Routes link up, completed the 1st circumnavigation of Pembrokeshire – 120 km Run, 40 km Kayak and 130 km bike ride, first ascents of Battement Du Coeur (Scottish VII) and Jottnar (VIII,8). Is there one sport you regard as your core discipline?

‘Jack of all trades, master of none!’ I just like doing loads of different stuff, mostly dictated by the seasons and the weather. The one thing I think I’m quite good at is suffering!! I do like the mixed climbing though.

Me skiing the north couloir of nedHuk 1 Tajikistan

What do you regard as your biggest achievement?

It’s not so much,’ greatest achievement’, but most magical moments, like running over the Lake District fells, soling perfect rock, feeling the flow with the sun on my back, like being strapped to a 1500m big wall in the high Arctic hanging off sky hooks and mashies, like running on the Pembrokeshire coast path and feeling the freedom of pure movement in an awe inspiring place. These are incredible moments, connecting with nature, are humbling, they fill me with so much energy, I could almost burst!

How did you get into winter mixed/ice climbing and get to the level of being an IFMGA guide?

I got into the winter climbing scene through a good friend of mine from The Lake District. I found myself on my 1st week in Scotland leading on Central Grooves, The Shroud and Mega Route X, it felt completely natural and absorbing. I absolutely loved it! And I did lots of it! Both in Scotland but also in the Lakes where I lived. I was quite lucky, as back then there were heaps of new winter lines to go at, we were just mad for it! But totally skint!

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What is the best advice you can give to someone looking to get into Winter Mixed/Ice Climbing?

If it looks like there might be some conditions, go and try. There are so many failed trips to Scotland, but you’ve just got to keep trying to get out, mileage is the best training.
Be super organised. Learn how your own body copes with the cold. We all have to suffer, before we learn and understand how to prevent or overcome the effects of cold. Once you learn how to survive, the climbing will follow pretty quickly, and you’ll enjoy it!

There is a lot I have read recently with the “risk and reward” of outdoor adventure. In a recent extract on Jottnar’s Journal you talk about, what sounded to me, as a dangerous or risky nights sleep (or lack of it) you had on Nanda Devi East. How do you justify acceptable “risk” for your adventures or expedition’s?

Sometimes it’s best not to dwell too much on it! I always believe that it will be alright, positive mental attitude, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t play with my mind. I use risk as tool to heighten the senses, not sleeping just means I’m ‘wired’.

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Good gear is very useful when you are on your adventures I’m sure, are you a gear geek or is it just something that serves a purpose?

It just serves a purpose, I don’t have any time to search for it, or to find the latest amazing piece of kit. I’m so lucky that I trust in Jottnar and they keep me kitted up in stuff that really works and that I trust in. I don’t like change, so all my kit is basic and just works.

You are an Ambassador for Jottnar, how have you seen them develop over the last couple of years?

Things are really moving forward for Jottnar. They have already an amazing ‘presence’ within the climbing community. The gear works, so the future for Jottnar is going to be mega.

What bit of Jottnar gear is your present “go-to” piece?

In general it’s the Alfar mid layer, it’s a great all round mid layer for the Alps and UK winter.

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What other bit of kit/gear/essential do you take with you on every adventure you go on?

For rock climbing – link cams. For winter – Hexes.

As the use of technology in the outdoors increases where do you stand, GPS or map and compass, what’s your thoughts?

Both. It’s nice to have the skills to get yourself around the mountains and it’s nice to back yourself up too. In Greenland I use just GPS, especially for ice cap crossings. In the Alps, when ski touring, when the weather comes in, it’s a combination of Map reading and GPS. Using a GPS in ski descent allows me to move much quicker and for the clients to enjoy the skiing with less stop, starts.

What GPS do you use for your trips?

I use the very bog standard Garmin, don't even know the name of it! It's one of the original ones in a yellow case, very simple!

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You’re in the UK at the moment, what are your plans over the coming winter?

Spend loads of time with my family. I’m just laying 700m of hedges on my farm – good training! Sneak in a few more new winter lines in the Lakes and Alps. Catch as many waves here in West Wales as I can before I head back out to Chamonix for the season.

After winter what’s going on in 2016?

It’s all a bit up in the air at the moment. I’m off to Yosemite in June, then to the Alps again for the summer season, my clients are super strong so it will be an action packed summer for sure. Then I’ll be heading back to the India Himalaya in September with my eye on a new peak and wall in the Himachael Pardesh, it’s totally stunning there.

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It looks like Mark has a great 2016 lined up and I’m sure he will continue to test Jottnar’s gear and take his clients out on some great adventures with his guiding company Elite Mountain Guides through the year. I’ll try to keep you up do date with his exploits in the future.

Keep your crampons sharp Mark and hopefully catch you on something pointy.