Helvellyn 6th June 2015
Thu 11th June 2015
Helvellyn 6th June 2015
Some years ago I travelled to the north west of Scotland to take part in a mountaineering training week run by the mountain guide Martin Moran. Gathering on the first evening expecting a slide show or being entertained with romantic stories of mountaineering feats my bubble was burst when in strode Mr Moran and without any preamable he gave us instructions to read chapters 3 and 4 of his book Scotlandís Winter Mountains – The Challenge and the Skills because we were going to be tested in half an hour!
The subject of chapter 3 and 4? - Weather and, in this case, specifically weather in mountain environments, which, for those of us who spend time in Britainís highland places, often bears little resemblance to the general weather forecasts . His title for chapter 4 is The Infernal Conditions and how apt this title was for those of us gathered in the car park on Saturday 6th June ready to enjoy a day in the Lakeland fells.
A few weeks ago I had a group of determined walkers on Skiddaw in less than ideal conditions and once again a small group set off to climb Helvellyn in some of the strongest winds I have experienced in my 35 years of mountain travel. I must have remembered something from my impromptu weather lesson because I knew that as you climb higher the weather, whatever it is often gets worse. The temperature drops, wind becomes stronger and rain becomes more intense. I suppose we should be thankful that on this day we had no rain! Just the wind and what a wind it was - strong in the car park, wickedly powerful as we climbed up to Browncove Crags. Unusually as we climbed the people we met on the route were mostly descending. They had one message for us – the wind is too strong – we didnít want to risk it. We struggled on until it started to become clear that the wind was gusting to the extent that it was difficult to stand up let alone communicate.
At around 750m in height I decided that I would ask the group what they wanted to do. We had to lie down on the path to talk to each other but a consensus was quickly reached – it was not sensible to carry on and in any case it wasnít much fun. We descended, disappointed but safe and with everyone in one piece.
Alan Hinkes, the highly experienced mountaineer and guide talks about making proper mountaineering decisions. His contention is that no mountain is worth injuring yourself and making the right decision at the right time about whether to carry on or return another day can often be the hardest decision of all. On Helvellyn this Saturday morning the decision wasnít, in the end, that difficult but it was the right decision. What we experienced was annoying and disappointing but thatís mountains and their occasional infernal conditions.
Thank you to John and Julie for helping out – your expertise, support and good humour is invaluable.