THE number three often gets a bad rap. You know, three’s a crowd, bad things happen in threes, the Bee Gees and so on.
Literature is littered with the perils of three. No surprise that Shakespeare didn’t go with two witches, for instance. Even poor Goldilocks had to contend with three bears, despite statistical evidence pointing to this being being an unusual family make-up in those days.
It’s all nonsense, of course, but the seed has remained planted in the human psyche for eons. However, there is a case to be made for three being the worst number of personnel for mountain expeditions. On two occasions (better be careful, there should be another one along soon) I have been involved in near things that happened basically because we were a trio.
The first misadventure was during a winter traverse from the lonely rail station Corrour across the mountains on the fringe of Rannoch Moor.
We had descended from the ice-sheathed summit of Carn Dearg to the Mam Ban. The intention was then to carry on to the top of Sgor Gaibhre, the second Munro, but by the time we reached the col, the youngest member of our party started complaining about knee trouble and indicated another peak was not an option.
My other walking partner had been hoping for two Munro ticks. We had a dilemma, but eventually it was decided I would head down with the injured party while my other friend continued on to summit Sgor Gaibhre, and we would meet further down the corrie. It seemed so simple but a series of little mistakes along with deteriorating visibility conspired to give us a big problem. I got down okay with the injured party, but our friend never appeared.
We weren’t too worried at first because Coire Eigheach covers a huge area and it would be easy for a lone figure to remain invisible to the naked eye for a long time. But a couple of hours later, and still with no sighting, we grew more concerned.
Everything turned out well in the end, even if it did involve a mountain rescue call-out. The missing party did the right thing and sat tight after weighing up the problem. There was much embarrassment but no disaster.
A second mishap was narrowly averted during a long, cold winter trek over Creag Meagaidh. The snow was deep, the chill biting down hard and the wind was muffling every sound. Talking was not an option but we were moving at a brisk pace. I was in the middle, turning round every so often to see that we were still a three.
Then the backmarker stopped for a toilet break and to put on another layer, but the front man kept going. I suddenly became piggy in the middle. Within seconds I had lost sight of both. I hung back a bit but then thought it better to try and catch the leader. Unfortunately, he then started to go off line, looking for a temporary shelter spot.
As I caught up, I looked back to notice the third member now disappearing into the mist trying to find us on the original line. Our shouts were lost in the wind and he continued away from our position, so I set off to catch him before he vanished.
On both occasions, three had proved problematical. Had we been a twosome, it’s more likely we’d have stuck together, four or more and the options would have been better for a safer division.
On the flip side, three is regarded as the minimum number permitted by my mountain club for winter treks, the wisdom being that if one person is injured another can go for help while one stays with the stricken party.
There’s no such thing as an unlucky number, so maybe it’s just coincidence that I’ve had a couple of bad experiences with threesomes (insert your own giggity here).
Remember - it worked for the Musketeers. All for one and one for oneself just doesn’t have the same feeling of togetherness now, does it?