Unprepared

Been talking on the Trail forums about common sense, experience and the like.

Last winter I went for a wee jaunt up Ben Lomond, mid week, late in the day. Bloody cold, clear, good snow under foot.

Just before the steep pull up from Ptarmigan to the summit, I found myself a sheltered corner, got on my Haglofs Barrier Hoody and sat down to have a cuppa and bit of beef jerky.

These two blokes sauntered up, red of cheek, a bit wide eyed, keen to stop and chat. Turns out they were visiting relatives and though they would have a go at “Glasgow’s mountain”. Indeed.

They weren’t totally unprepared, they had some good kit on, borrowed as it turns out, but perfectly functional. They had left their pals behind, were sure they’d turned back and wondered what to do now as the sun was sinking pretty low.

“I’m going to the summit and down the easy path to the carpark, you’re welcome to join me”. Much relief was evident. It’s a steep wee pull up, especially when the snow is fresh and there’s no path to follow. I let them go ahead, luckily all was well.

They were so happy to reach their first summit, smiles, photographs and handshakes all round.

It was getting dark now and we had to descend. I had the only headtorch.

Try illuminating the path for three people on typical snow and then wet muddy mountain terrain, when the two in front are panic-walking. You know, that fast stride with a fixed downward gaze and no talking, strong deliberate and slow breaths, faces pure white. I feared for a mishap all the way down and was never so happy before or since to see that muddy Rowardennan carpark.

Numbers exchange for photies, thanks expressed unconditionally, nervous laughter, brave words after a bit of a scrape. We went our separate ways.

Should I have told them to retrace their steps? Did I take responsibility for them when they came with me?

Doesn’t matter now. But maybe it might have.

2 thoughts on “Unprepared

  1. It’s impossible to be sure with things like that but I reckon you probably made the right call from a practical point of view. Even if they were out a little longer with you than if they’d headed back on their own, they at least were heading to the car park eventually with little chance of wandering off route and really getting into trouble.

    From my limited knowledge of Duty Of Care law (which I believe operates broadly the same in Scotland as the rest of the UK) you did take some measure of responsibility by saying they were welcome to tag along. Not perhaps the same measure as if you were officially guiding them but I’m sure there was some. I was at a seminar at Play Y Brenin by a lawyer a few years back. He said that in the UK you can leave a person alone, prone on the hillside and not break the law. As soon as you go and try to help them, you have a duty of care to follow that through (not the same in France for example where you must help once you’re aware of them)

    However, since they were out under their own steam, and could easily have chosen to retrace their steps just as much as follow you I wouldn’t have thought you were getting yourself too deeply in a legal mire.

    Overall I think most people with any sense would have done the same in your shoes.

    It reminds me of something a couple of years back – my girlfriend and I were planning to drop down a short scramble that runs into Llanberis pass between the junction of Crib Goch and the Tourist Track. It was thick fog and as we broke from the track four people in long coats and ordinary shoes about a hundred meters behind followed…

    I dropped back to them and asked them chattily if they were sure they were heading to Crib Goch – oh yes! They were quite sure and quite dismissive.

    I pushed on ahead and as we set a bearing off the ridge to pick up the top of the descent they blew past and disappeared in the fog, heading for Crib Goch.

    I hesitated…

    And ran after them. Apologised for being nosy but did they know that Crib Goch was a Grade 1 Scramble?

    You don’t know what a Grade 1 Scramble is? Right – look I’m sorry but I think you’re off the path – oh – you’re parked in Llanberis? Right…

    They were all very sheepish and thankful with a few withering glances at the member of the party that had obviously tried to get them all killed.

    My point? Sometimes even if people don’t want help it might be best to be pretty insistent. Especially, in light of what I said above, if you’ve already made contact with them ;)

  2. I like that Crib Goch story, it’s called “Intervetionism” what you did there. A trait I wholeheartedly support.

    If you’re in the hills a lot you do end up in these situations. I brought a woman from Chile down from the summit of Ben Lomond when I found her sheltering under an umbrella in horrendous weather.
    On Ben Chonzie we met a pair of chancers on Hogmany a few years back, Caterpillar boots and jeans. It was well below freezing all day with a strong wind. One of them was hardy and took it well. The other, his brother-in-law-to-be (I think be may have been actually trying to lose him) was in a hellish state. Cold, frightened, out of his depth.
    We got him dressed up a bit with spare gloves (no gloves!) and a hat, and got him moving. The descent was partly across a gently sloping plateau, covered in hare burrows, nest, sets? Anyway, this poor sod kept putting his foot down them and by the time we had cleared the area his jeans had been pushed up so many times by these falls they had frozen in position just uder his knees.
    All ended well, bloody close though.

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