The almost Munro…
Head down and holding tightly on to the G-Force we push up the Munro, Bynack More. With constant 70mph winds driving across the mountain, I struggle to stay upright and have already been forced to my knees and flat on the ground several times. But there is a determination inside me that keeps me walking onwards. If I hold on to a loop (meant for climbing carabiners) on the G-Force’s rucksack and he holds on to the strap of my own rucksack we can safely move forward as if one person.
What keeps me going is several thoughts: 1) I have come this far, and so I want to bag this Munro summit 2) If we can keep moving together and even if we’re really slow we will finally reach the top because we do have time on our side 3) Perhaps just over this knoll or around this part of the mountain the wind will drop again, just as it has done several times lower down the slopes.
But then comes the sleet. A flurry of snow has turned into a full-on snow storm and very quickly we are walking through a white out. It seems unbelievable that just minutes before the skies were clear-ish and the views were pretty awesome.
The battle to carry on while freezing cold
Now I am battling almost constant 70mph winds and driving sleet that seems detemrined to hurt me in whichever way it can. First I try to cover as much of my face as possible so as to stop the snow pricking and buffeting my skin. I pull my neck scarf up to my nose and my hat and hood down to the top of my glasses. But it’s the glasses that are now causing the biggest problem. As I turn to whimper in the G-Force’s direction he tells me to stop. Now.
It’s not that he’s about to chastise me for being a wimp. It’s just that he’s noticed that my specs have iced over. No wonder I was struggling to see anything. No wonder the whole world looked like a total white-out! Removing my specs and wiping them as free of ice and snow as possible the G-Force then decides to take out more gloves and his ski goggles from his rucksack. But as I wait for him to do this, I become colder and colder.
Very quickly my Raynauds‘ prone hands have turned to ice (despite two thick pairs of gloves) and my feet feel like blocks of ice. We have found some cover behind a rock but the wind and snow are still whistling around us and I just can’t sem to get warm again.
I hope that when we move off again that I will generate body heat and my hands will thaw. But as we head higher, and we’re now only around 150m from the summit of Bynack More, the wind increases and the snow comes down ever thicker. We are both tired, partly because of the walking into a head wind but also because we have been forced to support each other for much of the last hour of the walk. While the G-Force could have walked solo I would have been blown sideways every few minutes.
Should we go on or go back?
I shout in the G-Force’s direction that my hands are frozen and I’m feeling extremely cold. I now feel scared and emotional. I start to weep and whimper loudly. This is not like me as I am usually so determined to overcome a difficult situation.
The G-Force asked me later if he should have urged me onwards and upwards, instead of suggesting that it might be safer to turn around. He knew at that point that we only had around another 100m of ascent, and a total of about 800m of walking to reach the summit. He was confident of his navigating and he has walked in a white out many times. But he knew that I could become cold very quickly and he felt responsible for my well-being so he decided to suggest that we turn around.
At the time I didn’t care about the top and only wanted to feel warm, safe and out of the wind and snow again. I am not intent on ticking off every Munro by a set date and so I knew I could happily return, hopefully in good weather.
But later, as we found lower ground and the winds dropped and pushed us down the hill I felt like I might have let myself down. Could I have reached the summit? Should I have braved it? Could I have found a warmer pair of gloves?
Having thought about it for a while and discussed it with the G-Force over a lovely meal and a few drinks at the extremely welcoming Boat Hotel, Boat of Garten (thanks to the G-Force’s brother and wife for gifting him two nights at the hotel for his 40th birthday), we decided that we made the right decision for the circumstances.
Decisions made at the time, not later
It’s only at the time that you can make these decisions and it’s all too easy to reflect and wonder if it really was as bad as all that. It definitely was and I will be quite content to return to the Munro in better weather, even if it is a long walk in from the car park near Cairngorm.
We also both agreed that we had enjoyed our adventure on the mountain despite not reaching the top. It was a challenging experience and at some points rather frightening but the overall day was one of good spirits, great chat, lovely views and the sense of being away from the general hubbub of everyday life.