ONE of the great advantages of going out on hills solo so often is that I long ago learned to trust my own judgment.
Never rely on anyone else. Always do your homework. Know how to get out of trouble. And, most important, always know when to turn back.
I’ve said it before, but the number of people wandering about the hills who don’t know where they are or what they are doing is frightening. One example was when I was on my way to Bruach na Frithe in Skye’s Black Cuillin. I intended climbing the Munro Top of Sgurr a’ Fionn Choire on the way back.
The walk in from Sligachan via the magnificent Coire a’ Bhasteir and Bhasteir Gorge always gets the heart racing. Sgurr nan Gillean’s Pinnacle Ridge soars up on the left while straight ahead is Am Basteir itself, a fearsome-looking lump of rock.
But for those wishing a gentler day, a push up on a path through scree takes you under the seeping, black cliff and across to easier ground leading to Bruach na Frithe.
As I made my way along this section of the path past my second target for the day, I met a guy coming the other way. I asked him if he was planning doing Sgurr a’ Fionn Choire as well. Suddenly, he appeared nervous.
“I was, but a guy up there, ” he said pointing back to Bruach na Frithe, “said there was a technical climb across a 20-foot gap. Don’t fancy that.”
“Are you sure?” I didn’t remember seeing anything about dodgy climbing pitches on this peak."
“He seemed sure. I’ll take a look but if there’s any doubt I’m not going up.”
As I headed for the final push up to Bruach na Frithe, I saw him looking pensively up into a rocky gully for a few minutes, then turning tail and heading down.
He had managed to plant a seed of doubt in my mind, but I took a closer look anyway. The gully he had been looking up was certainly a non-starter, but a slanting ledge to the right, and then a series of easy rock ladders had me on the summit with the minimum of fuss in a matter of minutes.
I wondered what this other guy had been on about. And then it clicked. He had been talking about Am Basteir. There’s a section on its narrow summit ridge which requires a rope but even then there are ways round it on rocky ledges further down.
But the main point is that one person who didn’t know what he was talking about - turns out he was Norwegian - passed on his lack of knowledge to another guy who wasn’t sure about what he was doing, and the result was his day was spoiled by a lack of knowledge and preparation.
Skye’s mountains are not the place to wander around blindly. They can be challenging enough for the best prepared mountaineers. For the unwitting amateur, they can be deadly.
Now, the plus point in all this was that the guy who turned his back on the ascent did the right thing. If you are in any doubt at all, turn back. But he should have done his homework before venturing up into terrain like this in the first place.
(First published Daily Record, July 24, 2014)