Pay heed to local knowledge
As we hear more reports on the news of missing climbers and hill-walkers, I cannot help but wonder what lure the craggy mountain tops with Arctic winds gusting at up to 90 mph across unstable snow clad slopes have for a portion of the population. From a personal perspective, I would have to be dragged screaming from beside the hot stove and a variety of creature comforts that include, but not exclusively, a bottle of red wine, nibbles and a really good book. Anyone who has wondered what it would be like to venture into the Scottish mountains in winter would be well advised to read HMS Ulysses by Alistair MacLean. This book is guaranteed to make you shiver under the weight of a 15 tog duvet, whilst clutching a hot water bottle and wearing fleecy pyjamas. Nevertheless, there are those whose remarkable spirit of adventure and huge optimism makes them venture forth to tackle the most formidable Munros in the most inclement weather conditions. A good number of our guests have sallied forth gaily after breakfast prepared to take on the biggest mountain they can find, dressed in costly clothing bought in a store near Hyde Park; their regular walking spot. The rigours of beating their way down Oxford Street apparently more than sufficient to prepare them for our region, affectionately referred to as "The Last Great Wilderness of Europe".
One such couple, cheerfully greeted me at 10:45 in the morning and announced they were off to tackle a particularly vicious and infamous local mountain. Having never climbed before it seemed an odd choice to me. I remonstrated with them about the dangers they would face, particularly in the light of their total lack of experience. I pointed out that it was late October and that if they made it up the mountain in daylight, they would certainly be descending in darkness. All my concerns were brushed aside, or rather flapped away by the ancient leaflet on "Walking in the Highlands" that was firmly clutched in the gentleman's hand. "See you at dinner" they boomed. "I think not",I retorted. "In good weather and with plenty of light you would need ten hours and that doesn't include the drive to get there". Undaunted, the leaflet was once again flapped. "It says say eight hours in here" was the response. "Must have been the SAS that wrote it" I replied. That did at least make them laugh and they were still chortling as they closed the door and crossed the car park.
As dinner time approached, we realised that, with no sign of them, they would at the very least be late for their meal. More time passed and the other guests were seated in the dining room to commence. Candles were lit, wine was poured, starters served and the conversation flowed. Just prior to the arrival of the main course, the telephone rang. At first it was hard to hear clearly what the caller was saying. In part due to the wind causing interference and in the main because the caller sounded traumatised. We quickly established that they were still trying to make their way down the mountain in complete darkness and with only the light from their mobile phone torch to guide them. It didn't help that it was rutting season and the bellowing stags were terrifying them. It was at this point that the lady chose to announce that her husband had recently undergone heart surgery and that she was asthmatic.
An urgent call was made to the local mountain rescue team who set out, probably abandoning their dinner, to retrieve the pair. In the meantime, we tried to keep them calm by talking to them on the phone. Having made it to the bottom but with still a long walk back together car in the pitch black, she was rapidly becoming hysterical and beginning to make poor choices. "I think I see a light in the distance" she screeched. "We could make it if we cross the river". "Under no circumstances must you do that", I pleaded. "The rescue team are on the way, besides, it's a wide,fast-flowing, freezing cold river. Attempting to cross it would not end well. You must stick to the path. Can you see any landmarks that might help me to ascertain where you are?" There was a moment's silence followed by what sounded like a panic attack. "A graveyard" she screamed. "Out here in the middle of nowhere". Trying to sound delighted at this news, I assured her that I now knew exactly where they were and that they were on the right track heading directly for the mountain rescue team". This fortunately, turned out to be the case and several hours later, they were assisted across the threshold where a couple of large brandies were awaiting them. Neither of them could face food until the following morning.
And the moral of the story is pay heed to local knowledge, even when it is delivered by a couch potato that has never attempted even a Corbett.