THE rain was incessant, the rivers raging. Even crossing the smallest burn was difficult.
Yet here we were, three men and a dog, attempting to find a way over the foaming Allt a' Mhuillinn at the back of Ben Nevis in a bid to reach the slopes of Carn Mor Dearg.
It looked impossible. But we had (relative) youth and stupidity on our side, and we were going to get the CMD round done no matter what.
One overhanging ledge looked promising for a running leap, but the more we looked at the landing shelf some six feet below, the more it seemed something only the likes of Spider-man could achieve. We wasted nearly an hour trying to find a way across. We should have called it a day and retreated. We would now.
Then Fergus spotted a rock poking up in the midst of the boiling white water. Without any discussion he leapt over, managed to balance precariously on it for a second or two, and then leapt again to the far bank. Malcolm followed, but he stayed on that wobbling, waterlogged perch, and then delivered the classic line: Pick up the dog and throw him to me.
I had never thrown a collie any distance before but Malcolm's logic was that was the only safe way the dog could make it across. “If he tries to follow me over, he'll be swept away. Throw him to me.”
I grabbed Scoop by the collar and his rear end and hurled him over. Incredibly, Malcolm managed to catch him and then quickly throw him over the last stretch before he lost his balance.
That incident now seems like some hallucinogenic dream, especially when considering the sheer power of a river in spate. One slip, one wrong step, and it's all over. The only sensible course of action is to turn back.
That's what we had to do when I was attempting to 'compleat' my second Munro round on Aonach Beag in the Alders. We were staying at a cottage at the head of Loch Ossian, and the party was all arranged. I hadn't seen Malcolm for years but he had even flown in from the US to take part.
The rain had been falling for days but we set off anyway. We lasted less than an hour. The main river was thrashing around but at least we had the bridge. We weren't so lucky with all the smaller tributaries. The first was a struggle, the second a major diversion. We were heading further away from the hill and it was slow going. In the end it was decided this was madness, and we retreated.
It didn't spoil the party – we still had the Champers and cake as Malcolm had to fly home. I finished the round two days later and sent him a postcard. It was the next best thing.
Our club is heading out to the Ben Lui group this weekend and we had a meeting last night to make contingency route plans. The country has taken a battering, and there's more to come in the next couple of days. Although the forecast for Sunday is looking much better, it's likely some roads could be badly affected by flood water or fallen trees, and the rivers will be roaring.
Those hoping to access Beinn a' Chleibh and Ben Lui from Glen Lochy have had to think again; the river here rises high and runs fast, and any attempted crossing would be highly dangerous.
Anyway, the path up through the forest from this direction is a major squelch at the best of times, never mind after days of heavy rain. The Dalrigh option is always going to be better.
Planning is the key. You have to factor in the potential for river problems. It's one of the biggest considerations when I am going out alone. What was an easy crossing at the start of the day could be a raging torrent on the return. It only needs an hour or two of torrential rain. Bridges can be washed away, the landscape can dramatically alter. You may be faced with a long diversion, and as the days grow shorter, that can mean trying to negotiate tricky and dangerous conditions in the dark.
Don't take chances: Be prepared to turn back at the first sign of trouble, have a back-up plan, and in the worst case, dig in for the night if necessary.