IT was supposed to be a simple day out, a stroll round the northern corries and peaks of Lochnagar via a superb network of tracks and paths.
Little did I suspect that I was heading for the annual starring role in my own version of Lost. Yes, it happens about once every year. What should be a dawdle ends up in confusion and frustration as everything seems to go awry.
It’s like a giant boot in the backside to remind you that this is not a pursuit to be taken lightly, especially at this time of year when daylight is limited.
Just five days after a stunning mountain day in deep snow and blazing sunshine normal service had been resumed: the weather in the west was dreich, the east not that much better but at least dry.
A short drive to Royal Deeside and a five-hour leg-stretcher with some simple navigation around the superb network of tracks and paths in the Balmoral Estate seemed just about right.
The first mistake was relying on the paths rather than good, old-fashioned map and compass work. The choice is bewildering, especially when most of my maps are about ten years behind reality.
I missed a turn then, after realising my error and deciding on a Plan B, I missed another one. A quick reverse got me back on the right road, and there were no further missteps as I trailed up the glen past The Prince’s Stone and over the quartet of minor summits I had set out to climb.
The wind was ruining the experience however, battering me sideways and slicing right through every layer of clothing straight to my bones, and all I wanted now was to get down.
I got the first part right, crossing a river and heading for a track which led into the forest and supposedly the home stretch. I should have skirted the trees and kept it simple. Unfortunately, in a bid to save time and with the light starting to fade, an over-confidence bordering on stupidity led me into a landscape of fallen trees, deep foliage and hidden hollows.
When I reached the next river the light had gone completely. I was now in a deep and wide rock-strewn gully. The sensible thing was to follow the now invisible water down until I located a path.
But all sorts of booby traps lay in wait, and I had to cross the river back and forth, backtracking at times to avoid a tumble from the steep banks into the waters below.
Even with the head torch the darkness appeared absolute. It was slow going, but the main thing was not to panic. I decided to take a break, a five-minute sitdown for a hot drink, a fresh look at the map and to regain my composure.
The path had to be close. One careful step at a time, I would get there. It took around 40 minutes (it seemed much longer) but I finally found a path and a potential route out. But there was one final twist.
Paths crossing tracks crossing paths led to more confusion and I ended up taking one more wrong turn. I was a blind man in a maze.
Eventually I emerged at a cabin in the woods. It was locked up, in darkness, but at least it gave me a clue how to get out. I had no trail of breadcrumbs to follow but the compass led me home, three hours later than I should have been.
All ended well but it could have been much worse. It was a timely reminder of how easy it can be to get into serious trouble.
(First published Daily Record, November 28, 2013)