I’m a firm believer in there being no substitute for first-hand experiences.
Sofie and I were visiting friends in Oban, on the west coast of Scotland, and the weather had been fairly atrocious over the weekend. Our intention had been to get a quality mountain day or two in, but the 40-60mph summit winds, accompanied by heavy snow and thus poor visibility had meant we opted for shorter outings on/ near the coast instead. Now the urge to get into the hills was near bursting point.
More poor weather forecast
Luckily for us we still had one more day to play with before needing to return to Edinburgh. Unfortunately the weather gods didn’t weren’t on our side (or at least didn’t appear to be based on the forecast).
So it didn’t look great. But I could see some cause for hope - the % chance of precipitation wasn’t 100% after all, and the worded information spoke of “snow showers”, “merging AT TIMES”, and “variable cloud bases”. There was still a chance that we could get lucky and have a nice window.
Battling against instinct
So with the above rosy outlook in place, we got up early and headed to Ballachulish for the start of our route, Schoolhouse Ridge. For the entirety of the drive we got hammered by heavy rain and sleet; we chatted and tried to take our minds off it, but the reality was that we were both doubting whether it would be a good idea to head out. Luckily conditions improved as we approached Ballachulish, with the Pap of Glencoe lifting his white head above the clouds for a period, and the rain lightening.
We set off from the car, packed and ready for a full day out. Whilst our actions may have signalled our intent at a full mountain day, our brains were screaming at us to turn around and retreat to the safe comfortable environment of the car.
As we walked in and gained elevation, the rain turned to sleet and then snow. The snow got heavier. The wind picked up. As we got onto the start of the ridge, the wind must have been a consistent 20mph, gusting 30 or so, transporting hoards of snowflakes down our jackets with every gust. It was a type of precipitation we become well acquainted with in Scotland, horizontal and fierce, altogether rather unpleasant.
We kept going for an hour, the whole time fighting the inner demons telling us to turn back. It’s amazing how the mind can conjure up any number of reasons for not doing something, justifying the decision to retreat to the point whereby it almost seems idiotic to continue.
After a good hour of battling the inner demon, we reached a point where enough was enough. With our view up the ridge now obscured by the heavy snow, the wind speed increasing as we climbed, and no sign of brighter conditions on the horizon, we decided to retreat.
But at least we gave it a shot. It might have cleared up. It could have been better than the forecast predicted. Maybe we could have found a lucky break in the weather for an hour or two, giving us enough time to tackle the ridge enjoyably.
Unfortunately that didn’t happen, but maybe next time it will. I’ll always be happier to know for sure, first hand, what it’s actually like (at the same time willing to be flexible and change plan according to conditions on the day) than sitting inside feeling dejected and stifled by the forecasts.