LATE autumn is a wonderful time to be out in the mountains, the colours changing almost daily as nature prepares for its winter shutdown.
But with the increasing chance of Atlantic storm fronts sweeping in with high winds and heavy rain it’s also a time for walkers to be on their guard.
Conditions can change in a heartbeat at any time in Scotland. What starts out as a pleasant walk in calm, dry weather can suddenly turn into a battle for survival.
One of the biggest hazards is the river crossing. A burn crossed early in the day without any problem can have turned into a raging torrent in just an hour or so of heavy rain.
The increased rainfall at this time of year is especially noticeable coming hard on the heels of a long, relatively dry summer like the one we have enjoyed this year.
It’s always worth taking into consideration any river crossings you may have to make when planning your hill day, and make sure you have an escape option, such as a safer crossing at a higher point.
On a hot, dry day I was heading for Ben Aden from the end of Loch Quoich. This meant crossing the notorious Abhainn Chosaidh, a river with a fearsome reputation. The waters were low and I boulder-hopped over wondering what all the fuss was about. It was only when I looked back and noticed the tide mark a few feet above my head that I realised what this could be like in wet weather.
There is plenty of advice available. The Walkhighlands website has a range of mountain safety and skills info and the Mountaineering Council of Scotland has a water safety DVD available.
One of the best pieces of gear I ever bought was designed especially for problem river crossings. Drywalkers are very basic but very effective. They are essentially two large plastic bags with soles attached and ties at the ankles and knee.
Instead of having to remove boots and socks and roll up your trouser legs, you simply pull the bags over your boots and tie them up. A steady walk across with the use of poles and you should be dry and happy at the other side.
Crossing the Abhainn a’ Gharbhrain en route to Am Faochagach means wet feet at any time of year but I’ve been over it three times now and emerged with dry feet. I’ve lost count of the number of times these bags have saved me a long detour when the water is running high.
Of course, if the river is a frothing, raging torrent then it’s common sense not to attempt to cross.
When the likes of the Abhainn Strath na Sealga in the Fisherfield wilderness is in full flow the only option is to turn back and leave it for another day.
The speed with which it expands is breathtaking. A friend told me he once walked in to the Shenavall bothy with the intention of staying there overnight and then crossing the river early in the morning to climb the round of six Munros.
It was starting to rain when he arrived and as he lay in the bothy he could hear it getting heavier by the minute, pounding on the roof. When he emerged next morning, the whole area had been turned into a giant flood plain, and a soggy retreat was the only option.
(First published Daily Record, October 10, 2013)