Two winter seasons had been missed due to the ‘C’ Word and it was time to return. Rather than plan a week in one area, my friend Dean and I were going for a flexible approach, armed with guidebooks, gear and his well kitted plastering van.
Arriving in Fort William, all was well and the forecast was bearable. Scotland brings some of the most unpredictable weather I’ve ever known in the mountains, particularly when it comes to sliding down hills, or ‘Combat Skiing’ as we call it, but this week, we were here for Mountaineering. Thankfully the cloud cleared as we attained the Càrn Mòr Dearg Arête and a beautiful day graced our eyes. The slog upward had been as hard as ever and I knew my fitness has waned over the pandemic – regardless of how much I’ve walked and cycled. I’m also still exhausted after caring for my Mum, knowing that being in my 50’s, recovery comes slowly.
The hills were busy and as we wandered, we met two very different groups of people. One was a small party, out to film in their ’shiny new kit’, for a well know high street shop. They had no intention of actually doing anything, walked past beautiful flora and fauna, made sure their hair was straight and posed for the camera, before heading down. They included an influencer (don’t ask me, I’m too old), who seemed more interested in looks rather than achievement. The second group was from the Lancaster University Hiking Club, who were determined to cross the Arete, were dressed in whatever they could afford, beg or borrow, bore huge smiles, laughed and enjoyed a wonderful day out. They were young, fit, able and great fun to be with.
I know which group I preferred to be with. Now, please don’t think I’m being grumpy or dismissive. We all have our place and we all have our time, but it’s what people see and how we express ourselves which concerns me. If we’re going to educate or influence others, then we’d better do it well and be good at it. There are far too many folk online full of talk and freebies, but lacking in skills and knowledge. If you ‘Influence’ remember that your actions and ideas will be used by others who may not understand environments or consequences at all. Here’s a recent example…
I remember being at a conference where we were asked to put the top three ‘adventures’ planned for our next year onto a wall chart. Lots of folks piled in and were speedily writing down routes, paths and climbs they were determined to complete and I wonder if they actually did them..?
I felt a little shell shocked, before wandering up and writing Lead by Example, Lead by Example, Lead by Example. I was thought a little non committal, but was then told that I had ‘Life Experience on my side’. Perhaps a polite way to say I was getting old..!
The summit of the Ben brought clear skies, plenty of snow and miles of smiles. We plodded down the tourist path as No.4 Gully wasn’t in condition and as darkness fell, donned our head torches as we headed back to plasterboard central. The Hiking Clubs knees bounced downhill much quicker and we bid them a safe journey back home. The week had started well.
We slept like the dead and after a lazy morning consuming much tea and bacon, we headed north to Kintail. There was a short drop off at the Spean Bridge Commando Memorial and the sun warmed us as we drove. We pulled near the Shiel Bridge Battle Ground and took a reconnaissance for the next days plan to cross the Forcan Ridge.
The world of Mobile Communications has changed much and it is certainly easier to get a weather forecast these days. Sadly it was for high winds and though we walked up to the survey the ridge, we knew it wasn’t happening. I love mountaineering, but flying in crampons isn’t quite my thing..! Instead we walked (almost) to the Falls of Glomach, before looking in gloom at the coming storms as they queued up from the SW. It wasn’t a time to be high. Lochaber MRT had been very busy and sadly, we decided to begin a slow journey south in search of shelter.
Firstly, we returned to Fort William in the hope of a bed and a shower, before continuing our journey into the Arrochar Alps and taking a look at Ben Arthur. The wind was howling through the forests, making camping interesting to say the least as we were surrounded by woodland. Fallen trees littered the hillsides like matchsticks and as we headed up, a couple of blasts put us on our knees. It was time to call it a day and head home. Sad though it was, the right decision had been reached as over the next couple of days all hell broke loose. Transport closed down, houses were damaged and power was cut to thousands.
Back at home, sitting before my fire with a dram in my hand, it’s easy to think we should have done more, but safety comes first. I’ve had a fair few run ins with nature over the years and it was again, time to ‘Lead by Example’.