My universe turned white. There were no other colours visible. If I looked up I saw snow falling if I looked down I was thigh deep in carpet of white, I may as well have been blind for all I could see. My compass needle was all that remained to give me direction and that pointed into the unfathomable whiteness. By now the snow was so deep progress was becoming impossible.
Lately I’ve been thinking about the weather, this summer’s unending rain has given all of us who like to tramp about Scotland’s hills plenty to moan about as it has forced us into inactivity. I know that there are hardy types who scoff at a little rain and rush about the rain soaked hill dripping Gortex and unbridled enthusiasm. Well I am not one of them, walking in the rain is miserable in my opinion and best avoided. You start out dry enough but no matter how good your waterproofs the rain seems always to find a way in. It seeps in up your sleeves and, one way or another, inevitably finds a way to get down the back of your neck.
Thinking about how fickle the weather can be reminded me of a winter day in the Mamores many moons ago. It had been snowing all day as I began to return along the ridge and descend from the summit of Stob Coire a Charn. I notice that I was now in the middle of a full blown blizzard as I headed back to Mamore lodge. This didn’t bother me unduly and I was thinking about how nice it would be to be back in our chalet at the Clachaig Inn and paying little attention to the route when I suddenly thought “Where the Hell am I?”
My mind wanders sometimes, one day I think it might leave me all together and have a holiday in Spain without me. Somehow I had let myself walk off the crest of the ridge and down the wrong side of the hill towards Glen Nevis. “No problem,” I thought, “the ridge is only a couple of hundred feet above me I’ll just head back up.” That’s when my difficulties began, the snow was so deep and soft getting any sort of purchase to make upward progression was impossible. I tried swimming in a sort of frantic breast stroke, I peddaled as though on an iunvisible byclycle. I would gain a couple of feet only to slip back as the snow collapsed beneath me.
After an hour I seemed to have moved only a yard or so and mostly the whiteout around me meant I had no idea if I was moving at all. I contemplated my options. I could snow hole and spend a long uncomfortable night where I was with my mates in the chalet doubtless stirring Hamish MacInnes from his fireside to come and look for me. Or I could walk down through Glen Nevis and get back somehow to Glen Coe but that would be a very long walk. Neither option appealed and I renewed my efforts to regain the ridge.
Then, just for a second or two, the snow abated and I glimpsed the crest of the ridge no more than a hundred yards away. I pushed for it with all my strength, kicking and thrashing through the snow. I was quickly becoming exhausted but I thought, just don’t stop. Suddenly my foot hit something solid and I popped out of the snow and on to the ridge like a drowning man suddenly finding shallow water. For a few minutes I stood, doubled over by the effort, my legs screaming as the muscles struggled to recover.
Suddenly I could move again and the sense of liberation was exhilarating. After a few hundred feet the snow turned to rain and the ground around was so wet it could absorb no more water and everywhere great torrents spouted from the earth. I sought shelter, and a much needed cigarette, in a small wrecked caravan someone had left on the hillside. It was almost dry inside and I was enjoying a welcome respite, sucking in lung full’s, of warm smoke when I noticed a tree pass the caravan window. It dawned on me that the caravan must be sliding down the hillside with me as a reluctant passenger. Given that there was several hundred feet of steep hillside below me I decided that this was not a good place to be and leapt, like superman, out of one of the windows. Unlike Superman, who would have flown down to the chalet, I landed in a soggy heap back in the torrential rain, my precious cigarette reduced to a dripping mass of paper and tobacco.
It was well after dark by the time I drove back to the warmth of the Clachaig. It reminded me of one of my old school reports “Must pay closer attention,” it read, I guess I haven’t changed.