Published 17th April 2018, 17:15

    I WAS supposed to be in the mountains last Sunday but the latest eastern blast persuaded us to give it a miss.

    The first plan had been for a night expedition in Glen Doll with comedian Ed Byrne for a feature for The Great Outdoors magazine, starting around 2am. 

    The forecast was for temperatures of -8 and that wasn't factoring in the wind chill. There was also no chance of a moon. Heavy snow showers were likely.

    Ed is a keen mountaineer, but I reckon he would have thought I was the comedian if we had pressed ahead in those conditions. Our enthusiasm waned so we did what all good Celts do in times of doubt – we went for a drink.

    I then decided I would rise early next day and head for the calmer west coast, but as I listened to the wind howl and watched the snow drive through overnight, more waning took place. 

    So instead I woke at 11.30. Yes, that's right, I slept until nearly lunchtime. How can someone go from being prepared to rise at 5am to staying in bed for the whole morning?

    I realise that a working life of long, irregular hours has driven my body clock cuckoo, but it still seems extraordinary to be able to switch in a split second from an enthusiastic early rise to spending most of the day unconscious.

    I don't think it's a bad thing. I spent enough years unable to get a proper sleep, and that's where the therapy of wandering the mountains at night started. Sleep always came easier after an eight-hour nocturnal stravaig.

    I often describe myself as lazy, a comment which sometimes invites incredulity. How can you be lazy if you are doing huge mountain days?

    Hazel Strachan, nine Munro rounds and counting, describes herself the same way. And I recently heard an Olympic gold medal cyclist telling how she spends her time outside of competition and training lazing around on the couch, doing as little as possible. She doesn't even walk to the shops.

    Male lions spend around 20 hours a day sleeping, but even Usain Bolt couldn't outrun one. It's about preserving energy for when it is needed most. The same goes for any long walk, especially in winter conditions. Breaking trail in deep snow is exhausting so it makes sense when walking in a group that the burden is shared, each member taking a turn at the front.

    Everything is heavier, from the extra layers you wear to the amount carried on your back. It's also harder to keep an even step through differing depths, little chance of building a consistent rhythm. The result is tired legs.

    Despite all those years of winter walking, I still have a goldfish-like memory when it comes to moments of struggle. The last big outing, a 20km traverse in deep, soft snow over the Glenshee hills, was typical. About two hours into the walk, on the push up to An Socach, I started to toil. I couldn't lift my legs, couldn't put one foot in front of the other. Every step was tough.

    It only lasted about 20 minutes, but for those 20 minutes all sorts of thoughts were racing through my mind. This was it, the end of my mountain walking days. Time had caught up with me. I had some sort of incurable illness. It was all downhill from here (metaphorically speaking, of course: there was still a lot of uphill to do).

    Then we reached the ridge and I got a second wind. The rest of the day was no problem but there was still a nagging doubt that all wasn't well. After all, everyone else seemed fine. Well, as it turned out, they weren't. There were complaints of stiff muscles, exhaustion, and tales of struggle worse than my own. 

    Meanwhile, I was fine, no after-effects at all. It seemed I had survived better than the rest despite my worries to the contrary. This was a form of mountain schadenfreude and my spirits were lifted.

    Walking in winter is hard but rewarding. You have to temper your ambitions and be prepared to be disappointed at times, but you emerge in spring stronger. I just have to remember to tell myself this every year.