I have just finished a series of talks for the Charity Mountain Aid about “Stepping out for Winter” I find that November can be an interesting time on the hills. Over many years I have experienced so many changes in the weather in November. I have winter climbed in October and got sun burnt in the late November sun. I have also battled in full winter conditions, the weather is ever-changing. One thing that does not change is the daylight and its getting dark by 4 pm now. I was on the hill this weekend it was a lovely day no snow but a bit windy that was not forecast. I had not been out for a while so was away early trying to get as much as possible out of the short November daylight.
The summer days are gone and despite the sunshine on the hill it was cold at times and it is amazing how light many travel on the hills now. Unfortunately if you have a small problem on the hill and have to hang about worse if someone is hurt you need to have some kit with you to keep you and maybe your pal warm. I advise carrying a spare jacket a wee duvet is ideal they are reasonable priced if you look around. It’s well worth getting a bothy bag they are a life saver and not as costly as that posh jacket or other gear you may have.
A torch is essentials make sure it works and gloves, map and compass, plan your day to ensure you have time to complete the route in a short November day. When the snow comes paths are buried so navigation is essential this is the time to sharpen up your skills before you need to use them for real.
I was looking at my diary and a day we did in early winter late November when we went into Ben MacDui in the Cairngorms to climb in the remote Coire Sputan Dearg.
“This high, remote cliff on Ben Macdui holds a lot
of snow until late in the season,
Gives the superb Crystal Ridge (Diff, III) Grey Slab (HS) and
Amethyst Pillar (HVS).
It is a high Corrie that gets the early blasts of winter and you if your lucky can get a winter climb in. I was very fit and at what we call the invincible phase, we always wanted to get the first winter route of the season in it was a thing we did? We set off in the dark about 0600 from the Cairngorm Car park and across the plateau as daybreak came dropping into the remote Corrie. We climbed the classic Crystal ridge far harder than we were expecting at the time, with more snow falling as we climbed. It is only a short route 120 metres and a classic 4 star climb in summer on great rock. This was winter and a lot different and the arête at the top in the wind was exciting. It was hard with 3 on a rope and taking a lot of time clearing the snow from the holds we got on the top by 4pm. It was dark and an awful wind blasting us, typical Cairngorms weather. Then we had to get back, normally about 2 hours hard graft.
We struggled across the plateau the snow was drifting and one of the troops was struggling by now, his torch failed and he dropped his glove in the darkness. When you’re in bad weather like that googles on and in the wind, hood up, its hard to see whats going on in your group. We had been aware of him struggling, were watching him but in our own worlds. We shared the navigation and kept as well as we could close together with him in the middle to ensure he was okay. With hindsight it could all have gone so wrong. Luckily we were fit and strong and we had spare gloves but had to battle to get back to the car park The snow was so deep in places thigh deep and navigation was essential. This was before GPS and mobile phones. You think you know this place but it was hard work and eventually, we got back pretty late of the hill after a 13 hour day. I had a few radio calls to keep the rest of the team informed. We had a system in place that nobody went to the pub until all were off the hill safely. We had to take most of his gear of him on the way back and he had said he had not eaten as we left early and did not feel like it.
You learn from days like this but it was at the time a great adventure and those who climb in these remoter corries in early winter will understand.
There were lots of lessons learned that day about early winter. How many can you recognise?