Out of the comfort zone, into the wild north west! Day 3: Ben KlibreckApril 8, 2019
Day three of our trip to the wild north west of Scotland, and the weather looked wild and windy – just as the weather reports had forecast. At least I’d had a good night’s sleep, so I felt refreshed, though still a bit lazy. Maybe it was the grey weather.
I asked my friends if they could get a weather forecast. I was unable to get any wifi signal on my phone.
Two of my friends managed to get connections to the latest weather reports – and they did not look promising. Winds of 55mph, gusting up to 65mph were forecast for the summit of Ben Klibreck.
At one point I said I would just give my friend Karen a lift to the start of the walk, which was only five minutes’ drive away, and then return to the hotel to read a book. The other five people in our group were determined to do the walk, whatever the conditions!
Karen reminded me that the weather can change from minute to minute – especially in the wild north west of Scotland. I thought that I might feel envious if I stayed inside and then it turned out to be a lovely day. So I decided to join them. I could always turn back if the weather got too rough.
Unlike the previous day, when we got out on the hill, I started to feel more energetic – a lot more energetic. It wasn’t long before we were at the first section of the plateau, at 544m altitude – and it was already so windy that it was difficult to stay upright at times! However once we got further onto the plateau, the buffeting subsided, and it felt lovely to be out walking in the fresh air.
Karen walking over the windy plateau.
It was real “sunshine and showers” weather – one minute clear and fresh, and the next, our faces were being lashed with hailstones. As we started to climb higher, towards the main ridge, a ferocious blizzard struck, and we just had to put our heads down and forge our way forward.
Despite the conditions, I was really enjoying it, and I felt grateful that my friends had insisted on going out that day. Wild weather can make you feel really alive – as long as you’re wearing the right gear!
The snowy ridge of Ben Klibreck up ahead.
Once we reached the snowline, the path we were following traversed across the west side of the ridge. The wind was coming from the west, battering us sideways as it powered towards the mountain. The snowy traverse seemed interminable – it was about a kilometre in distance terms before we finally reached the section where the protective hillside above us fell away, leaving the ridge exposed on both sides.
It’s not a particularly steep or narrow ridge, but the wind built up so severely in this corridor that I had trouble holding onto my walking poles – they seemed to want to pivot about like windmills.
I was also aware that there was another 280m of ascent still to climb. If the wind was this strong at an altitude of 688m, what would it be like at the 961m summit?
“I’m not liking this wind!” I shouted – but my voice was carried away.
I shouted again, but no one seemed to hear.
This photo is one I took on a walk about a year ago – it gives some idea of what conditions were like up on Ben Klibreck that day, but the wind was too wild for me to get my camera out.
I paused, turned round, and said the same thing to the two people walking behind me:
“I’m not liking this wind!”
The first person just walked straight past me, almost robotically, determined to get to the summit. I started to wonder if I was being too cautious, and I turned back round to see what effect the wind was having on the people ahead of me. They were all walking steadily in a line, all with a distinct tilt to the east, due to the force of the wind.
I resumed my plodding steps behind them, but it just didn’t feel safe to me. Four of us were women, none of us weighing more than 10 stone, and I felt that a sudden big gust could send any one of us hurtling over the other side.
I decided to turn back.
Sunny’s partner Iain was at the back, steadfastly performing the duty of “back marker”, and he gave me a friendly pat on the shoulder as I walked past.
Karen’s photo of the group on the exposed part of the ridge on the way back down.
Even heading back in the other direction was difficult at first with that powerful wind battering against me, but after about 15 minutes I was able to walk in a straight line again. I was very glad when I finally got back to the car, though I felt quite concerned about the safety of the others.
Yet I still felt I’d really enjoyed being out on the mountain in such dramatic weather conditions. I just knew what my limits were, and the kind of risk I was prepared to take. Knowing that I didn’t achieve my goal of “bagging” Ben Klibreck, and that I’ll have to come back and climb her again, seems no hardship whatsoever. I can’t wait to climb this wonderful mountain again, in calmer weather.
If I didn’t enjoy the actual process of climbing a mountain, regardless of whether I get to the summit, there would be no point in climbing them in the first place!
I was quite anxious waiting in the car for the others to return. They appeared two hours after I’d got back, and I was relieved to see them. They had made it to the top, though the weather had been so wild that Karen’s glasses were whipped off her face and her hat was torn from her head by the wind, lost forever. The force of the wind also snapped part of Sunny’s glasses in two.
Karen’s photo of the summit of Ben Klibreck. It looks silvery and majestic, but it’s difficult to get a full impression of the strength of the wind.
Karen and I returned to Glasgow that evening, but the others stayed to do one more mountain climb the next day: Ben More Assynt and Conival. It seems there was a lot of drinking and merry-making that evening, and the weather on the mountains the next day was wild and wintry again, though the winds were not quite as strong as on the day we climbed Ben Klibreck. From their photos, it certainly looks as if they had a wild time!
While driving back to Glasgow, I said to Karen: “I think you were all crazy to risk going to the summit in those winds.” Karen did not completely disagree!
But I added, “Actually I have a kind of admiration for that. So many people pulled out of this entire trip just because the weather looked bad. But if you never take any risks, you never have adventures.”
I had been on the verge of staying in and reading a book that day – which would have been fine, but by keeping myself warm and comfortable, I would have missed out on a very exhilarating and exciting day out, regardless of whether I’d reached the summit. I had stepped out of my comfort zone once again, and I’d thoroughly enjoyed it!
Even eating my lunch in the car, and drinking hot tea from my flask – it tasted so good after having been on that wild mountain!
Everything involves risk
Everyone has a different level of “risk tolerance” – yet every single one of us takes risks on a day-to-day basis. Crossing the road involves an element of risk, as does driving. If I’m driving on a motorway, and I decide to overtake, I use my indicator and check in my rear view mirror before I move out. Yet there is still a chance that a driver in the inside lane might suddenly pull out without warning. It’s unlikely, but there is always that risk.
And the risk on the roads increases in bad weather too. I often think that driving involves much more risk than climbing mountains.
It’s about the level of risk that you personally are prepared to take – and whether you’re doing that in a thoughtful, prepared way, or just trusting to fate. The two climbers who died on Ben Hope a few months ago had done hundreds of dangerous climbs, but they had the skills and expertise to make themselves relatively safe while climbing.
At the time of their tragic accident, they had actually finished doing the risky climb that they had been testing. They were on their way back down the mountain. One of them survived long enough to make the emergency call.
The vertiginous risky climb they were doing was not the direct cause of their deaths.
So I can’t criticise my friends for forging ahead in conditions that I felt were unsafe. I genuinely admire them for being risk-takers. I feel grateful to them for encouraging me to get out that day.
I have also been called a risk-taker and an adrenaline junkie, but there are always people who take more risks than I am willing to.
The important thing is to know where your own limits lie.
Earlier posts in this series: