I LOVE the hills in winter condition but sometimes it takes a lot of effort to swing into action.
The forecast was good for the Friday, so the plan was to head west of Tyndrum. However a busy and late Thursday knocked that on the head so the focus switched to the weekend.
Saturday was going to be wet and wild but Sunday drier and more benign, so that was Plan B. Then the forecasters couldn’t make up their minds and the Sunday outlook became debatable.
Now if the mountains were on my doorstep that wouldn’t phase me one bit - it’s the driving I hate. The idea of travelling for up to three hours in poor conditions and then facing a six-hour soaking with the wind ripping the skin off my face just didn’t appeal.
That was the reason my night walks took place mainly from April to October. Nothing to do with the shorter days, it was down to the fact I quickly took a sickener to long, lonely car journeys after midnight in uncertain conditions. If I could have been teleported Star Trek style to the foot of a mountain then no problem.
Maybe it’s my age, maybe it’s the fact I can go out virtually any time I choose so I can wait for a sure weather bet. Or maybe I was a bear in a previous life and still feel the need to hibernate for a couple of months.
Whatever, I always find November and December a tough couple of months for going out on the hills. Unless the high pressure is in and the sun is splitting the sky I struggle to move very far. By the time we hit January I’m raring to go again but the last two months of the year are always a challenge.
So for a couple of months I tend to stay local, visiting old favourites in the likes of Glen Doll, Glen Esk, Glenshee and the Cairngorms.
Mount Keen is a good example. It’s not a mountain that gets the heart racing, but it is a simple walk on a good track and it only takes around an hour or so to get to the starting point. It also meant a longer lie-in than any venture west, and I do love my bed.
And it was probably just as well. The first walk for ages in heavier gear carrying ice axe, crampons and all the extra equipment necessary for winter walking seemed much harder than usual. There was no difference in the time taken - it just felt tougher.
I started off from the empty car park in brilliant sunshine but it wasn’t long before threatening cloud moved in to hide the day’s early promise and the cold wind started to make its presence felt. At least it stayed dry, but the feeling of nature going into shutdown was evident everywhere. A few mountain hares were in the transitional stage, patches of white showing through their summer coats.
Compared to the distant snow-covered Cairngorms and Lochnagar peaks, Mount Keen’s head had merely a sprinkling of dandruff. But the cairn and summit rocks were ice-blasted and the eastern slopes did hold more snow.
But although it was thigh-deep at times, it was short-lived as I headed over to take in its smaller brother, Braid Cairn. I was back to the car in the fading light in under five hours, even if it did feel a lot longer.
(First published Daily Record, November 14, 2013)