This weekend I was out giving some pointers to some of my mountaineering club about night navigation. As always a few spoke about how they find it hard to cope with using glasses on the hill especially at night or in bad conditions. Taking bearings reading a map can be difficult add in darkness and poor weather it can be hard. I have never sadly had good eyesight but looking back how did I cope. At times it was a nightmare until I got my eyes sorted out a few years ago. This was highlighted after I had developed cataracts in both eyes . I notice a lot of my pals are now wearing glasses and they ask “How did I cope all these years wearing them?” This is what I wrote a few years ago on this subject.
“It makes a lot of folk more aware of the limitations that many older mountaineers are now learning to cope with walking/ climbing with glasses. Too many it’s hard to accept. At the Clachaig Inn after my Mountain Safety Chat many years ago 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 strange 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 coped 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” 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 ones and have had to 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 carried 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.
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. I notice that some of us are so vain and will not wear them on the hill or forget them on a day out.Tip : 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 you have to 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. I had to go private to get my cataracts done. I could not wait the delays at that time on the NHS were massive. If I were not to get both eyes done could have meant no hills for 3 years.
It came to a crisis when as darkness fell I was coming of from A crag in winter in the Cairngorms. The snow was getting heavy and drifting I did not see the ice and off I went back n my back. I was heading for a steep Coire the ground was flattish but I still could not stop. The only way I stopped was by steering into a Boulder and cracking a few ribs.I struggled of the hill and felt so daft. I was lucky I never expected ice to be hidden under the snow and just had my walking poles out. It took seconds to pick up speed I was lucky.
That was the end of my winter experiences that year. The operation on my eyes was costly but so worthwhile and to not wear glasses after 55 years on the hill is wonderful what a difference in the rain and snow. I still carry a pair of reading glasses but my vision is so much better. So please accept that you may need glasses on the hill forget the vanity and carry glasses with you if you need them to read your map or get off the hill safely.