DRIVING down the A9 last Sunday morning I saw a bizarre and mesmerising sight.
On the eastern side of the road, the sun’s rays were reflecting off the light frosting of snow on the mountain tops, and the brisk breeze was bending the trees and grass in synchronised perfection.
But just a few hundred metres away, on the western side of the artery, the cloud was rendering the hills all but invisible and the rain was being driven along by fierce winds.
Full credit to the Mountain Weather Information Service (MWIS) because that was exactly what they had forecast. And forgive me for not believing that would be the case.
I was greeted by this unusual set of weather conditions while on my way home from the annual Munro Society dinner, held this year at the Grant Arms in Grantown-on-Spey.
The plan had been to attend the do on the Saturday night and then meet with friends at Spean Bridge the following morning for a day climbing the two Munros known as the Easains.
But on Thursday, when I saw the Sunday forecast of heavy rain, 50mph-plus winds and zero chance of any view, I suggested, and it was agreed, that we should probably give it a miss.
It’s a massive decision that always involves a great deal of agonising. So just when do you make that call to abandon the walk?
The advantage with an early shout is that it saves anyone making a long journey for nothing and gives them time to make alternative arrangements. The disadvantage is that the weather forecast often changes dramatically between the time you cancel and the time you were due to walk.
I groaned inwardly on the Sunday morning when I opened the curtains of my hotel bedroom window and saw the Cromdale ridge bathed in sunshine. I would have much rather have woken to rain battering on the glass. Now I was lumbered with self-imposed doubt and recrimination.
Some Munro Society members were going on the president’s walk up Meall a’ Bhuachaille. The higher Cairngorms would present problems with the strong, icy wind but at this lower height it would be bracing and short-lived, a perfect autumnal day. I had to give it a miss because after the call-off I had made other plans for a family day.
My weekend up north had consisted of listening to talks from long-distance walker Chris Townsend and mountain rescue legend David ‘Heavy’ Whalley, and enjoying the chance to meet and chat with so many other mountaineers. I even learned that you can make Mars Bar soup for ten if you are trapped by the weather for hours on end. All very interesting, but no actual hills. Had I jumped the gun with the call-off?
Maybe it’s a symptom of going solo so often. If the forecast is bad, I just switch my day. I never have to discuss it with anyone or agonise over that decision. And if I’m on a hill and want to turn back, there’s no need for a debate or a vote. I just do it.
But when there is a group involved, I go through agonies for days before and after. A date has been set and you have to stand or fall by that. There’s little chance that everyone can be flexible enough to change at a moment’s notice to a different time or day.
Now, no one complained about the decision - in fact, they all agreed it was the right call - and if they had wanted to go ahead they could have easily done their own thing. But I still take bad weather personally.
If we go out and the conditions are awful, I feel it’s somehow my fault. And if I make an early call and get it wrong, then that’s my fault as well. I suppose what it basically comes down to is that I see everything, from someone forgetting their map to sandwiches getting wet, as my fault.
So from now on, I will leave the decision to everyone else. I am calling it quits.