I SPENT last weekend sitting looking forlornly out of the window. Similar to what most of my mountain pals were doing I suppose.
I hadn’t managed to make a move for the great outdoors for nearly a week in fact, but with hurricane-force winds wreaking havoc around the country it seemed sensible to keep feet firmly on the ground. Had I had any hatches I would have battened them down.
It was frustrating viewing, but occasionally a garden shed would fly past the window just to break the monotony.
There is an upside with spells of weather like this though. This is the time to pore over plans for the year, to study the maps and get excited about what lies ahead. Forget the howling demon outside, just think nice thoughts and it will all soon be over.
And when the worst has blown over, the stampede for the mountains will be something akin to the start of the Gold Rush, every mountain prospector tying every bit of gear to every form of transport in the race to get back out for their hill fix as quickly as possible.
The quote that has inspired the US Postal Service all these years could have been written for Scottish hillgoers: Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds. But 100mph winds? Different story.
There’s no fun to be had in battling to stay upright or being lifted off your feet and blown around like a rag doll. That’s why I find it surprising and disappointing that rescue teams have been called out so often in the Cairngorms during this spell.
It has been suggested that curiosity is a factor, the need to get and see what nature can do when she’s in a bad mood. I know from my own experience that seeing a landscape after a storm or flood has passed is awe-inspiring and humbling. It’s almost impossible to align the eerie silence with the devastation laid out in front of your eyes.
I have long wanted to witness the waters of the Abhainn Chosaidh in the Rough Bounds of Knoydart in full spate, thundering down the narrow channel between towering mountainsides to explode into Loch Quoich. The sheer power of this child of snow melt and heavy rains would keep you transfixed for hours. Just don’t try crossing it in these conditions.
There’s also that feeling of challenge, the need to test yourself against the worst the elements can throw at you. Billions of people around the world suffer terribly in life-changing weather events. They would see a certain madness in anyone hunting it down for the purpose of pleasure.
I’m all for people having the right to go out whenever they want. It’s our right to roam. But with rights come responsibilities. Storm-force winds are the worst conditions you can face on the mountains and I just don’t feel it’s very responsible to venture out when every mountain expert advises against it.
Most experienced walkers use weather windows, when a pattern of storms is often broken with spells of calm. Sometimes you can get caught out. That’s just the nature of the beast. If you do your homework, these moments will be few and far between.
But you don’t set out in the wildest of conditions when you know there’s no hope of it getting any better. There’s no excuse these days - weather forecasts are much more accurate over a much longer period. You can see what’s heading your way days in advance.
A lot of winter walking is common sense: Avoid climbing slopes where the avalanche risk is high, don’t take routes that involve crossing swollen rivers - and don’t head out in 100mph winds.
If you ignore these signs then not only are you likely to land yourself into trouble, you may also endanger the lives of the rescue teams who have to come looking for you. It’s not a price worth paying.