I would make a rubbish polar explorer. For starters, I can’t even grow a convincing beard. But worse than that, I feel the cold acutely, particularly my hands. And yesterday on Ben Wyvis, the closest Munro to Inverness, was the worst I have experienced.
The vile conditions on the plateau – horizontal snow showers, swirling winds and biting cold – on what was a relatively pleasant mid-May day at the bottom of the hill sums up the often ruthless conditions on Scotland’s highest mountains.
I was poorly prepared, for the wind cut through my only pair of flimsy gloves, freezing – strangely, but as always – the ring and little fingers on my right hand.
I wasn’t alone on the climb. With me was Anna, my girlfriend of only a month-and-a-bit, climbing her second Munro, and Emma, one of her work colleagues who had a dozen 3,000ft mountains to her credit. After reaching An Cabar, still 2km from the summit of Ben Wyvis, in the wrath of a snowstorm, I’d have happily turned for home. They wanted to continue.
I realised for someone climbing their second Munro, this environment was totally alien: wading through snowfields, poor visibility, trotting across uneven tracks, battling furious winds. This is not the way most women would choose to spend a Saturday afternoon.
Yet it was me who was suffering. My fingers were painfully cold. Nothing would warm them up. Clapping them together, whirling my arms around or ramming fists into armpits; all failed. After a while, I simply accepted the discomfort, reassuring myself that it would soon be over. We stopped briefly at the summit, posed for a picture, before following the hill runner’s track that traverses An Cabar.
As we lost height, the rewarming of my hands was accompanied by a burning sensation in the two worst affected fingers – something that has never happened before. For the umpteenth time, I told myself that next time I’ll be better prepared.
As for Anna? She’s spent much of today in bed, with an unidentified illness, which could be mountain weariness. At lunchtime, she announced that she wasn’t ‘coming out to play today’. Hopefully, I haven’t put her off the mountains for life.