THERE’S no such thing as an ideal weight for hill walking. In certain conditions it pays to be on the lighter side, while in others a little extra bulk is an advantage.
You always tend to walk heavier in winter conditions anyway, bigger boots, bulkier clothes and more of them in the rucksack plus all the ironmongery like crampons and ice axes.
In deep snow any uphill push can be a struggle. When spring arrives and the snow melts away you shed a lot of gear and can be bouncing up that same hill in half the time.
Last week, I was walking in the Trossachs with a female friend. A forestry track took us up the first part of the trek and as soon as we emerged from the treeline at around 800 feet, we hit deep, soft snow.
Now I’m not overweight, somewhere around twelve and a half stones, about right for my height. My walking partner, however, is just a slip of a lass, just north of eight stones. So as we headed up the first steep slope, she was walking well, leaving only light footprints on the snow like a mountain hare.
But I was struggling. Every undulation was a major obstacle, every second step I took saw me sink up to mid-calf in the snow. There was no way to get any rhythm going, any kind of momentum. It was slow going. The four-plus stones differential was having a huge effect. It also meant that snow was getting into my boots at an alarming rate. Soaking wet feet were not far away.
My friend would get up so far then have to wait for me to catch up. But within seconds of starting off together again she would open up a gap while I just sank and then struggled on at a snail’s pace. At first, she had a lot of sympathy for my plight. Then, a few minutes later, she changed her mind.
She said: “You know, I was feeling sorry for you but then I thought back to that time last year when we were out in high winds and the roles were reversed. This is just payback.”
She had a point. When we did the circuit of Beinn a’ Chaorainn and Beinn Teallach near Spean Bridge last May she was struggling to keep up with me as our party was battered by gale force winds.
The four-plus stones differential worked in my favour on that occasion. While I was able to stay on my feet and make fast progress across the Beinn a’ Chaorainn summit ridge, she was being knocked sideways by the blasts, sometimes being blown off her feet. She found the whole situation somewhat alarming.
When something blew off into the dark skies, I was relieved to see that it was just my rucksack cover that had been torn loose and sent flying towards Fort William and not my walking partner.
And when we swung round on to Beinn Teallach and climbed into the full force of the wind, she found that sometimes the only way to make progress was on all fours while I charged on ahead. She spent a lot of time crouched behind rocks on the upward path.
Even the descent was difficult. So, yes, I could understand why sympathy was in short supply. In this case, revenge was definitely a dish served cold.
(First published Daily Record, February 20, 2014)