It’s typical of the fickle nature of winter in the Scottish hills that, just when you really need it to be plastered in snow from early November onwards, it decides to be fashionably late and not put in an appearance until the middle of December. With my Winter ML assessment looming, I’ve been really keen to rack up as much time plodding about in the snow as possible, preferably in situations where you can barely see in front of your face and it’s hard to decide where the snow ends and the clouds begin, in other words, what the Mountain Training Association euphemistically refer to as a Quality Mountain Day. To the average hillgoer, that probably conjures up images of crisp frosty mornings and the windless, clear blue skies of stable high pressure, but such things are anathema to the trainee ML, requiring little of the misery, suffering and desperate attempts to relocate that satiate the hungry maw of DLOG.
Hyperbole aside, I’ve had a couple of false starts at getting out in decent winter conditions, so can’t describe the relief on arriving near the final summit slope of the Ptarmigan Ridge on Ben Lomond on Monday afternoon and discovering a mess of iced up rock and grass covered in unconsolidated snow that fully justified getting my crampons out of the bag and onto my feet. As an added bonus, a delayed start to the day meant that it was getting dim when I reached the trig point, and needed to make use of my shiney new Lenser H14.2 head torch on the way back down the hill. The H14.2 is a bit of a beast, chucking out 350 lumens on full power, with the capability of giving short bursts of 850 lumens. The downside is that physically, it’s a throwback to the old Petzl Zoom, with a weighty headlamp at the front and a bulky battery box at the back, but it throws a massive beam even without the ‘burst’ mode, and should be a massive benefit to route finding and night navigation practice sessions over the next couple of months.
Even at night, heading down the ‘tourist’ track back to Rowardennan is a fairly straightforward process in anything other than utterly minging conditions and the dogs and I made good time back to the car. Despite having spent a large chunk of the summer out on multi-day DofE trips and the like, wearing a pair of heavy winter boots on for the first time this year left me pretty footsore by the time we made it back to the car park, and I was also aware of being incredibly thirsty; a reminder that I hadn’t followed my usual routine of drinking a litre of water on the way to the hill in winter. It’s remarkably easy to end up mildly dehydrated during a day’s hillwalking in winter and, given it can be a contributing factor in the development of hypothermia, it’s worth finding ways of keeping up your fluid intake during the day. I find drinking cold water fairly off-putting, but I’ve discovered that adding some pressed apple juice to my water bottle gives it a sweetness that makes it more palatable. Even better is some hot apple juice, mixed with a little cinnamon, in a flask – a warm drink on a cold day is a real morale booster.
So, the duck is broken, and we’re off and running on the mission of gathering a good number of winter QMDs before my assessment in February – “bring the ming”!