Many who love the mountains and wild places go for the views a times we cannot believe that what we have seen and enjoyed and that we should never take any of it for granted. As we get older a few of us suffer from an ageing and a gradual loss of sharp eyesight and many of us now wear glasses. Imagine being blind or partially sighted and coping with a day on the hills like the group The Milton Mountaineers.
1988 On Ben Nevis with the RAF teams..
The Milton Mountaineers is a charity group of blind and partially sighted hill walkers and sighted friends/relations who meet in different parts of the UK to climb hills or mountains in the area.
Membership is free, but participants pay for their own travel to the venue and for accommodation. The charity subsidises one trip a year by paying for the services of a walks leader if necessary, transport to and from each day’s walk and drinks at the last evening meal.
Participants should be fit and active enough in order to walk for up to around 6 hours a day for 3 days or more in hilly and sometimes rough terrain.
Contact the organiser to obtain joining information.
Address:5 Shelwick Grove, Dorridge, Solihull, West Midlands, B93 8UH
Tel:01564 779 233
Over the years I was involved with the RAF Mountain Rescue Teams in Wales at RAF Valley and with RAF Kinloss & RAF Leuchars MRT in Scotland helping the Milton Mountaineers up various hills. These were from the Carnedds in Wales to Ben Lawyers and Ben Nevis.
1980 North Wales with the Valley MRT.
These were very hard undertakings and we learned lots from each other. It was especially interesting to see how the young boys and girls in the team coped with long days some over 8 -12 hours of guiding up a mountain a partly sighted person or blind. It was a big change from a hill day or a big call out.
The communication skills of having to build a trust in each other and explaining the ground and what we can see during the day. It took time to adjust but so rewarding.
These were huge learning curbs for all but what benefits to us all helping each other and learning how difficult and how lucky we are to be fit and sighted. It was a slow process getting the right blend with each companion and guide and amazing how the trust builds as the day goes on. These were huge learning days for us all.
It was always harder coming down when all were a bit tired and yet we coped with it and how exhausted we were at the end, both mentally and physically. In my mind these were as hard as any call – outs but what a great result in the faces of those who took part and how humble we felt after such days.
These were great days with great people.
It makes a lot of folk more aware of the limitation’s of poor or no eyesight and though in no way comparable many older mountaineers are now learning to cope with walking/ climbing with glasses.
At the Clachaig after my Mountain Safety Chat 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 it happens to us all. 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.
2001 specs in the hills
My answer “when it gets that bad I would rather not see where I am”
Many of us older mountaineers now wear glasses I have worn them since 4 years old! I 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.
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 60 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. I always carry a spare pair on the hill a top tip.
At last I now I get some compassion into my short- sightedness after so many years.
Misting up and in the rain and snow tricky.
A few tips
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. With poorer eyesight with age it gets harder add in darkness and using a head torch it get tricky .
Make sure you carry your specs, they are no use in the car or at home. Some of us are so vain and will not wear them forget that and carry and wear them.
A bigger scale map – It is 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.
In heavy snow/ rain it is not easy with glasses on so get used to it!
Carry a spare pair of glasses with you.
If struggling ask for help get your mates to check your bearings etc. Now you may have some compassion to those who struggle with poor eyesight on the hill?
Recently I had problems with Cataracts it came very quickly and ended up with me having to go Private to get them done. I spent last winter being unable to drive in the dark and after a fall in the Cairngorms in failing light the winter holds were out this season. Hopefully they are now sorted and my vision is back!
It’s great to see things again clearly I just have to wait a while before I go out on the hills. Everything is clearer and the colours so clear I am so lucky to be able to see Springtime and the new flowers more clearly.
Never take your eyesight for granted.