The winter may have arrived so it is definitely worth looking at the weather forecast and seeing what is going on? The early days of winter walking are a reminder of what is to come and even the most experienced learn every winter. I am so looking forward to a winter walk it is so different and after a winter blasting on the face you feel so alive. It will be the usual “faffing” for me dropping a glove putting on kit taking it off, sorting out the rucksack but it is so worth it, to be out there among the mountains. Slowly you get organised and you are back coping with winter. Winter always excites me and I cannot wait to get out just watch that enthusiasm and need to get out on the snow leads to tunnel vision and make sure that you do not get dragged into a climb/ route that is not on due to weather conditions. Here is one example that happened to me in 2001!
Many of us older mountaineers now wear glasses and a few have wondered how I coped over the years with them. I have worn them since 4 years old!
At the Clachaig after my Mountain Safety Chat this year as I was packing up a gentleman came over with his wife and asked me how I cope with Glasses on the hill. It is a question that I am getting asked more and more. One thing about getting old is so do even the great and the good. It is so funny to watch these heroes trying to cope with glasses it is like their invincibility has been tested and found wanting! Various friends asked me for the first time in 40 years how I cope especially when winter climbing in wild weather, heavy rain, mist and blizzard conditions? No one was interested before and I struggled for my whole life with very poor vision..
My answer “when it gets that bad I would rather not see where I am”
I have been wearing glasses since I was 4 years old when I was tested and have tested the awful National Health Specs to destruction over the years. As I young lad I broke so many pairs I was constantly in the opticians it was my second home! I wore specs even when playing football which I loved and was sure I invented a band round the legs to keep them on! I smashed so many pairs but you just have to get on with it and they have been a huge hindrance all my life
Wearing glasses and playing football – I used to get some micky taken out of me.
I used string as well to keep them attached but they still got smashed regularly and also they were held up by Elastoplast and more sellotape. I tried all types but still manage to break even the un – breakable and have had too always carry a spare pair everywhere. I tried contact lenses but no joy my eyes just did not cope so for 55 years I have worn glasses. On the hill I had a few pairs of prescription lenses made for my goggles over the years they were not cheap at all the last pair cost £300! The tale of how I lost one of whilst out climbing alone in the Cairngorm’s.
I was going to Everest in 2001 to Tibet a trip of a lifetime and was really tied up with organising the food and in the planning of a massive 4 month trip. Days on the hills were hard to get done as things got busier and every day out was valued. The weather just before we went away was wild and I saw that one day there may be a break in the weather as was to get worse early in the afternoon so I rushed up to the Cairngorms. The car park was empty and there were few people about even though it was a Sunday. I walked into the Corrie Ant Sneachda very early there was still no one about it was already wild and the weather had come in early. I decided to climb an easy route on the Corrie ” The Slant” it takes a traverse line across the buttress, I put on my helmet and geared up just axe hammer and a sling and a wee bit of gear. The snow was now heavy what I could see of the crag was white due to the heavy snow and spindrift.
The weather was getting wild even for Cairngorm conditions and it was getting worse and still snowing heavy. Half way up the route the wind got up and I took my prescription glasses / goggles off to try to clear them as they had misted up. The next minute I was hit by some a gust of wind and the goggles went flying off into the gloom.
I was so lucky I was not knocked off the cliff but as most people know I am as blind as a bat without my prescription goggles. There was no chance of getting out my glasses that I carry as a spare as they would have been useless in the conditions. I could hardly see anything but manage to pick the line up the route a true epic onto the Cairngorm plateau. The route was really in poor conditions with lots of fresh snow but at least it was sheltered just below the top. On the top the wind was now howling and I could not get my spare glasses out of my bag ( they would have still have been useless ) as it was an incredible wind with now driving snow. It was now a full Cairngorm white out/ blizzard and I was on my own. Goggles are the only things for these conditions and it is very tricky navigating in conditions like these and my goggles were gone. I felt that even though I knew this area pretty well I still must have the map and a bearing to get me to spot height 1141.
It is only about half a mile away but it was so hard. It was so hard trying to read the map and take a bearing bad enough with good eyesight but with my poor eyesight awful. It was very serious on the plateau incredible and very hard for people to understand that this lovely place can become so deadly. Even though I have climbed in this area for 40 years I was struggling , I was in the “White Room” I made it to the Cairn at 1141 and tried to get out of the wind to make matters worse I was now partly snow blind and there is a big Cornice around the top of the plateau. I had to be wary but the wind was now at an incredible force and I needed to get down as quickly as possible. I tried to pick my way down the ridge avoiding the crags and cliffs and things were very nearly out of control. Eventually I got down out of the worst of the wind and realised I had come off into Coire An Sneachda down some steep boulders but into the safety of the corrie. From here I struggled back an awful mile back to the car. I still remember the deep snow drifts me falling, stumbling but getting there and eventually exhausted I got back to car severely chastened. It took over an hour to get my vision back and my frozen balaclava off and drive back, a lucky man.
I was very lucky made a collection of a few basic errors and nearly paid for it.
The forecast was awful none else was about that should have been a clue!
Trying to get a climb / walk in and being pressurised by my own stupid reasons that I had to get out.
Not looking after my kit on the climb and losing my goggles could have been a fatal mistake.
There is no such thing as knowing the mountains like “the back of your hand” in a full winter storm you need everything going for you to get back safely. Navigation is essential even in these days of modern technology.
Worth blowing up the scale of the map for tricky area’s if you have the technology to do this, makes it far easier to see with poor eyesight.
Sometimes experience makes you forget the basics and think you are invincible. Nature always shows you how vulnerable you are.
Hopefully I learned some huge lessons from this crazy day out in a wild day.
Somewhere in the Corrie may be a pair of prescription goggles you will need to have very poor eyesight to see through them.
The hills/climbs will always be there, the secret is to be there with them.
Remember you can always come back another day.
From the Mountain Weather Information Service for the Cairngorms for Friday
Frequent snow and hail
Hail and snow showers and risk thunder.
The showers may be very frequent in
some areas, and significant risk over
several hours of more or less constant
precipitation giving sustained whiteout.
There may be breaks to 900 to 1100m, but
overall extensive cloud above 450 to
700m, although breaks to 1000m southern
summits in Cairngorms NP and west
toward Ben Alder.
Glimpses of sun, if any.
Overall visibility may frequently be
appalling, and near zero where in snow