Greg Boswell has pushed standards in Scottish winter climbing for many years - from onsight first ascents of grade X, 10, to exploring lesser-known cliffs like An Teallach. Greg's famously dedicated to training, and for a while it appeared he only climbed in winter - a true enthusiast! In recent years, Greg's also visited more remote locations like Senja and Lofoten in Norway, and the Buckskin Glacier in Alaska.

You obviously train hard. Can you tell us about your routine?
I usually dial up the training a lot in the autumn. Throughout the summer, I like to keep myself at a generally high-ish level of overall fitness. I do a load of general sport, trad and bouldering, along with the usual basic weekly training sessions. I make sure to keep a high cardio fitness all year round, which mainly involves mountain biking and lots of hill running miles. Obviously, it’s good to stay fit when you're into climbing and alpinism, but I also just love to run in the Scottish mountains, so it’s a win-win!
Over the last couple of seasons, as autumn creeps up, I get a little more specific. I spend a lot of time on my axes to get a good stamina base, before I step it up a notch. For the last two seasons, I’ve followed an Uphill Athlete ‘Advanced Mixed Climbing Programme’, which lasts 8 weeks, and I’ve found this has helped my preparation for the winter season immensely! I think I’ll be sticking to this setup for the next couple of seasons, to see how it brings me into shape.

What motivates you to climb? Aesthetics or difficulty, for example?
I think there are a lot of things that drive me to climb. I used to get drawn to the higher mixed grades when I was younger. I suppose this was because I felt like I could progress quite far in this aspect of the sport, and I wanted to see what grade I could achieve if I really pushed myself. But as I got older, I moved away from chasing established routes and high grades and seem to have fallen in love with the 'unknown' of new routing. I started looking more for the beauty in a route or face, and less for whether it would be difficult or not. I now get really motivated by 'the line' and try and look for aesthetic features on a face. Don’t get me wrong, most of the lines I’m drawn towards are still on the tricky side, but this is usually because it’s steep or follows a feature through a roof. I wouldn’t be jumping on a blank face with zero gear and tiny edges to hook, just for the glory of getting up the thing. Whereas a good few years ago, I might have.

Greg on Slaughter House. Icefeilds Parkway, Canada. Photo: Jon Walsh 
What summer and winter routes stand out as highlights?
Hmmm... that’s a hard question. I’ve done so many awesome routes throughout both seasons that it’s tricky to choose.
Summer highlights would have to be something like Above and Beyond (E6 6b) at Fair Head - or anything at that crag really. Although you can’t really beat any of the routes in the Outer Hebrides - anything on the Pink Walls of Pabbay or Dun Mingulay. I also really enjoyed Trajan’s Column (E6 6b) on Ben Nevis, as the rock quality is so good up there, and it was nice to be on the Ben and not freezing my ass off!
Winter highlights would be something like Messiah (X,10) on Beinn Bhan or Stone Temple Pilots (X,9) on the Shelterstone. There’s probably a massive list of others, but these two definitely are up there!

In recent years you’ve only climbed in winter - is that because it’s what you enjoy most, or because of work commitments, for example? Why the shift to rock climbing a bit this summer?
Yes, you're correct. Up until last summer, I had moved away from rock climbing for almost five years, for no particular reason other than I just wasn’t super motivated to make the effort. I was living in the Tweed Valley in the Scottish Borders and that place is world-renowned for enduro mountain biking and not so much for climbing. I could ride from my back door every day and spend the next five hours having 'Type One' fun. The closest good rock climbing venue was two hours away and the nearest boulder gym was about an hour. I just wasn’t motivated for it for a while. My wife is also really into mountain biking, and as I’m away a lot chasing winter climbing in the colder months, it was super fun to ride the trails with her all day and just do what we enjoyed. Having said that, last summer I got super psyched for the rock again and so did my wife actually, so it’s awesome to have that drive for crimping and warm rock again and as we now live in a van, it’s easy to find places close to home.

Greg on Expecting to Fly (E4 6a), Stac Pollaidh. Photo: James Dunn

Do you think you could do the equivalent campus board moves of '1 - 5 - 9' on your ice axes? Maybe three massive moves in a row, to small edges?! Are there any DT routes like this?!
Haha. I doubt it. I’m not as strong as everyone seams to think. I do like to train lots, but I usually get up my hardest routes by figuring out some contrived technique to be as efficient as possible, rather than raw power.
Did Anubis (XII,12) feel satisfying, not only because of it’s reputation and grade, but also because it confirmed your thoughts about Banana Wall (XII,12)?
Yes, for sure. There were a bunch of reasons I wanted to try Anubis. When I was younger I dreamt of climbing such a route because it was the hardest thing around. But then my drive for climbing changed over the years, as spoken about above, and I put the idea of it aside as I was less bothered about chasing grades. Even after climbing my route Banana Wall I wasn’t overly fussed to run and jump on Anubis. The thing that satisfied me the most about succeeding on Anubis was that I waited until one day I randomly just wanted to go and try it. Someone posted a picture of the Comb Buttress in the best winter condition I’d ever seen it, and I just got an urge to climb a route on that inhospitable face. So what better route than one of the biggest lines on the mountain?! Once I actually stood below the route, which I’d never done until the day I first tried it, I was overwhelmed by the urge to succeed. It's an amazing looking line and so improbable for a trad winter ascent. I knew then that I wanted to do it. Getting Anubis done was super satisfying so many ways. I gave the youth in me the prize of the grade, it confirmed my own grading of Banana Wall, and most of all I did what I wanted to do when I felt drawn to do it.

Greg on Anubis (XII, 12), Ben Nevis. Photo: Hamish Frost
How do you try to stay calm on bold routes?
This is something I’ve worked on a lot over the years. I swiftly realised that it didn’t matter how strong or 'climbing fit' you were in order to succeed on bold routes, it was mainly about how you operate in challenging situations. I’ve learnt to pick up on when I’m getting flustered almost straight away, and force myself to slow my breathing and fully zone in on the situation at hand. Sometimes it’s hard to do, as your natural instinct is to freak out when things get dangerous and you're getting flustered or fatigued. But I make sure I focus on not moving my axe picks, regardless of the size of the placement they’re on, and just take a second to slow everything down. It’s amazing how this can help. I also concentrate mostly on the pick placement that I’ve already got, rather than the next one I’m looking for. The last thing you want to do is shift your weight wrongly to try and reach a new placement and blow the one your already using to stay on the route. I also practice this a lot when training. It’s a good skill to master.

Greg on Hanging Garden (VII, 8), Ben Nevis. Photo: Hamish Frost
We heard that when you climbed The Hurting (XI,11), you thought you might be looking at a ground fall from near the top - is it pretty wild in the upper half?!
Haha. Yeah that was an interesting day, to say the least! Basically, as I'd tried The Hurting a couple of times before I succeeded, I knew where some specific gear was on the route. But on the day I did it, I decided to skip some hard-to-place gear, thinking I'd get the good cams up high that I already knew about from previous attempts. Unfortunately, the conditions were very different and the crack for the crucial cams was glazed shut! This left me having to continue upwards in search of other gear. Things then got very serious, and I remember fully wishing I wasn’t there, and vowing never to skip placing gear again just because it was strenuous - just get fitter and be safe! Thankfully, I found some marginal protection that helped me focus and push on. It is pretty spicy up high on that route though, so I’m glad I didn’t test the marginal pro!

What’s it like climbing with Jeff Mercier? Is he a casual French crusher?
Yeah, it’s awesome climbing with Jeff. He’s done so much over the years and is unbelievably efficient! We both have our strengths as a team, and I think we climb together really well. I love seeing him take his lifetime of mixed climbing skills and fitness to the mountain routes, and just cruise around like it’s nothing. He’s very inspirational! 

Any gossip on Guy Robertson? Is it true he can control the Scottish weather, as he always knows where to go?
Guy is another truly inspiring figure in my life. He’s done so much climbing over the years and put up so many new routes in cool places, that it’s hard not to just follow his lead when he has an interesting idea or objective to try! There's talk of him being able to control the weather, but actually he controls when his days off are, so he goes when it’s good. That’s the secret to a successful winter season. But even flexible work days won’t help you on some seasons, like this one!

Greg biking in the summer months in Torridon. Photo: Mhair McInnes

You can follow Greg on Instagram, or read his blog here.
Greg is sponsored by PetzlScarpa, Leki, Rab, Suunto, Sea to Summit, Edelweiss and Cab9 Eyewear.