EVERYONE has their own pace when climbing a hill.
There are the mountain hares, racing up and cutting hours off average times, and there are those happy to plod away for the whole day to reach their goal.
The majority of walkers fall somewhere in between. But one thing is a constant - you should always take into account the speed of the slowest member of your party.
There’s nothing worse than being the permanent backmarker and feeling that you are toiling to keep up, watching the others get further and further ahead, can be demoralising. It’s important to do all you can to make sure no one is left in this position.
When we walked with big groups, we always had someone experienced bringing up the rear. This human sheepdog would round up the strugglers and keep them moving with a mixture of joking, cajoling and generally taking their mind off being at the back.
It was a big psychological boost and it kept the group better intact. We would also call for regular short breaks to regroup and give everyone the chance to get back on level pegging. Over a full day it may mean losing half an hour or so but we felt it was a small price to pay to make sure every single member of the party enjoyed the outing and got up and down the mountain safely.
The same principle should be followed if you are walking as a pair. But on too many occasions I have seen one person striding on ahead while their partner struggles to keep up. And it is almost exclusively men who behave in this way. I can’t remember ever seeing a woman striding off and leaving their other half toiling. They just don’t do that.
The worst example I came across was a few years ago when myself and a female friend were coming off Ben Starav. Together, I might add.
We had taken advantage of a short weather window of blue skies and light winds and walked up the long north-east ridge. When we hit the summit we could feel the conditions starting to change, the wind picking up and grey, heavy cloud gathering off to the south.
We circuited round the rocky skyline, dropped down to the col and started to make our way back down the corrie by the waters of the Allt nam Meirleach. On the way up was a lone walker. He was American, and he was heading for Beinn nan Aighenan, the peak which sits over the back of the col.
He didn't seem too sure of his whereabouts and asked us how far we thought it was to the top of the mountain. I pointed out there was a bit to go and that a storm was moving in fast, thinking he might take the sensible option and retreat. He thanked us and headed off into towards the threatening horizon. Oh well, I tried.
About ten minutes later we caught up with another walker. This was his partner and she was heavily pregnant. She told us she had been struggling to keep with him and decided to call it a day. But instead of escorting her back down the mountain, he pushed on leaving her to find her own way down.
The route finding wasn’t difficult but the rain was on and the underfoot conditions were getting slippery. We offered to walk down with her but she insisted she was fine. It was with a great deal of reluctance that we did. I think we were still in shock that anyone could just walk off and leave their partner in such a position.
Sometimes though, karma can really kick back. We were coming down the steep slopes of Ciste Dhubh, heading for the three Munros of the North Shiel ridge. Behind us was a party, two male, two female.
One of the guys seemed narked that we had overtaken them on the way up. He kept shouting at the others to get a move on, then running ahead of us, before rolling his eyes and shouting again at the slowcoaches who were ruining his macho day out.
On the way down he did his overtaking manoeuvre again but this time as he turned to berate his mates his brakes failed and he went skidding, falling and tumbling down the steep grass to land in a heap.
We checked he was okay - while stifling our laughter - and got an embarrassed mumble back. He didn’t get much sympathy from the rest of his group either. Strangely enough, we never heard his voice again that day.