Monday, 21 January 2013

Winter Winds

We decided to go for a little winter walk yesterday. There was some snow about, but not a massive amount and the forecast for our chosen area was for snow flurries, winds up to 15mph, -2°C but with wind chill of -15°C, feeling colder. The plan was to leave the car near Dorback Lodge and then make our way up Geal Charn Beag, along the wide open ridge to Geal Charn then carefully fall off the end to meet a track to bring us back to the abandoned steading at Upper Dell then onto the track to return us to the car. Simple.

The car was neatly abandoned and there was some faffing and some nibbles snaffled before we finally broke cover and started on our way. It was a little fresh.

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Getting wrapped up

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Checking for gaps

We made our way passed the old Lodge and kennels, making sure we didn’t make eye contact with gundogs that were baying for our blood. There’s no sneaking around at this place, you can’t avoid attracting attention and making sure there is someone to see your mistakes. I managed to avoid taking the wrong turn I took last time but was momentarily fooled by a well used track leading through an open gate. I was fairly sure it wasn’t what I was after so checked the map, then continued on the path we were on.

We were soon on what I know to be a well made estate track leading to a shooting hut that then makes a sharp turn and steep climb up to the Beag. The track had some bare patches where the wind was blowing the powdery snow along towards us and some drifting in places, but not too bad at this point. At times we were walking into a stiff cold breeze but most of the time we were protected from the wind and made steady progress up this gradually ascending track.

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Behind us

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There is a track

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Some drifting

There were no real issues as we walked in. I’ve done this hill before, so whilst I was quite happy to go up again for a little winter walking experience, I wasn’t fretting about the possibility of having to turn back. I can be a little grumpy in these circumstances usually, but today I was happy. There were one or two little fords which were made a little more interesting with the ice and snow cover, but some careful prodding and sending TTS first (always a good plan) we had no problems or unexpected wet feet.

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Ice and snow

After crossing the burn here, we went up a short sharp incline with an interesting amount of drifted snow. I was working hard up this bit as my little leggies were a shade short for the job.SDC14309

Upwards

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But still smiling!

After a bit more snow we eventually found the shooting hut. Last time it had been locked, but I really hoped that as it’s during the season, the door might be unlocked. To my utter joy, it was. Yey! It was quite interesting inside.

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A walk in freezer!

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Inside drifts

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Hanging from the rafters

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The windowsill on the inside

At first I thought the door had been left open, but there were no footprints and the door was shut when we arrived. It soon became clear the snow had been blown in  through the tiny gaps in the walls and windows and under the rafters by the viscous winds. Quite impressive! Still, the hut provided ample shelter from the freezing winds which, as we’d turned a corner, were now blowing directly at the front of the hut. It did not sound inviting outside as the wind howled around the little wooden building and we were happy to clear some snow from the benches and table so we could snuggle up and have a picnic and a warm coffee from the flask David had sensibly popped into his pack.

Soon it was time to move on and as the going so far had been fine, we decided to continue. We knew we would only briefly be walking into the teeth of the wind and then we’d turn sharply uphill to reach the plateau. The wind would then be behind us and although freezing cold, it wasn’t going to buffet us or cause any problems with mobility. Just as we were leaving the little hut haven, the thought crossed my mind that perhaps now would be a good idea to pop some hand warmers into my mitts, but the thought didn’t pause long enough and we were soon outside again.

I was aware that this part of the track is quite deep between the high heathery banks on either side, but it never occurred to me the effect this would have on the snow drifts. All of a sudden, we were tackling short but deep drifts, possibly six foot tall. They weren’t too difficult to get over, but it was slow and time consuming. I was working hard and quite warm, but I wasn’t moving quickly enough to keep this warmth surging around my body. My hands were constantly out in front of me as I used my poles to heave myself over each obstacle. I soon realised that I was losing the feeling in my hands and was in trouble. Uh oh, not the time or place for a Raynaud's attack. David was a little way ahead of me and although he paused to check I was still floundering around behind him, each time he turned away and carried on before I caught my breath and could indicate my situation.

I made a surge to catch up and managed to say “Can’t do this, I need to stop,” before turning my back to the wind and sinking to my knees to rest, fortunately on a patch of track with no snow cover. “You can’t stop there!” “I know, it’ll only be a minute, can’t feel my hands. Feel sick.” “Where are your hand warmers?” “Pack front pocket.” He quickly got the packet out, ripped it open and helped me put one into each mitt.

“Is it working?” “Don’t know, can’t feel anything, I’ll let you know.” “You need to get up.” “I can’t! I feel sick. I’ll faint. I’ll be fine in a minute.”

There was more rustling behind me, “Keep talking to me,” I’m fine. I’m going to be fine,” then my pack was lifted off and David helped me into his Torres gilet. I was now wearing five layers. We both knew that at this time my core body temperature was fine, but I was hunched on a frozen track in the icy wind and in the early stages of shock, obviously it wouldn’t take long to get into more serious difficulties. David put my thin foam foiled sit mat on the track for me to crawl onto for insulation. I knew it wouldn’t take long for me to recover, but David wasn’t sure how long this would be, so he sensibly swung into action.

“I’m going to take the packs to the hut. I’ll be back.”

And he was gone.

I huddled for a while longer and very soon could feel my hands a bit more. Strangely, they seemed to feel damp, but I think that was just the sensation of warmth spreading. I started to feel less sick and didn’t feel dizzy when I moved my head. I looked up and could see the hut and David, although I can’t actually remember which way he was headed at the time. I could see we had come a disappointingly short distance considering the amount of effort it had taken! I knew that I was feeling well enough to make another huge effort and get moving. Gingerly, I stood up. No whirling world, just the bitterly cold wind almost urging me on now, to head back. David hadn’t been able to manage all our kit, I picked up my sit mat and managed to fold it small enough to fit into the chest pocket of David’s gilet. I picked up a pair of walking poles in each hand and started to make my rather unwieldy way back towards the hut. And there was my hero, powering his way towards me.

He’d taken a different route back to me, having clambered up the heathery bank, he was romping along the top. When he reached me (I hadn’t got far) he helped me up too and we started to make our way back to the haven of the hut. It was quite rough going and very slow progress, but soon we were able to cut the corner across the tufty heather to the hut and fall inside.

I took a seat. We discussed changing gloves, but I knew that my merino flap flap mitts coupled with my Tuff Bag mitts were the best option, keeping my fingers together rather than separated. I was convinced my hands were much warmer anyway, but on putting one between his hands David declared they were frozen! They felt better to me. I opted to take the spare gilet off, the going would be easier from there and it would be handy to have another layer to put back on if required.

Soon we were on our way again, this time retracing our footsteps along the track back to Dorback Lodge. As we walked there was not much chatting. I was feeling quite drained by now but I knew I could keep putting one foot in front of the other at steady pace and eventually we’d get there. Another problem arose to impede me, all this ‘snow drift action’ had inflamed my left hip/groin and knee, a problem usually triggered by ‘heather action’. As the drifts we encountered got smaller the knee settled, but the hip/groin remained sore all the way back to the car.

We ran the gauntlet of the blood thirsty hounds, slid about a bit on the track recently polished by gamekeeper going about his business in his Landrover (more dented pride as I slid gracefully into a small drift, but no one was there to see except TTS and he was still more concerned than amused) and then we were back.

Do you know, oddly enough, I really enjoyed the walk! Tackling the snow and ice had been good fun, the snow inside the hut was unexpected and hilarious, the hut haven a treasure. I loved it. The ‘medical emergency’? Well, I suppose I’m used to it. It’s happened a lot over the years since I was a teenager, but not regularly. I know that if I huddle quietly for a short while, I’ll be fine. It must be very unnerving to witness and it makes me feel truly horrid, but David is getting used to it and has the advantage of Mountain First Aid training, so I know I’m safe with him around. Yes, I could have been in grave danger, but didn’t reach tipping point. Next time, the hand warmers go in when it occurs to me!

9.02 miles, 1210ft total ascent, 1.7 mph average, 5 hrs 24 mins total.

6 comments:

Alan R said...

Good job you were not alone. Reads pretty bad. Gloves eh, spare no expense if you can manage it. Just as important as keeping the head insulated. I know that’s stating the obvious but you can loose fingers.

Louise said...

I was wearing two pairs of mitts, but it was the lunch break that did it, always does! I have to take the mitts off you see. I should know better by now though and put the hand warmers in when I thought of it. Numpty.

Laura said...

Dramatic stuff! Glad you're ok! Time you got some snowshoes!

Louise said...

You know me, I like a bit of drama and thank you, I'm fine. Snowshoes are on the (ever-increasing) but I have another little something winging it's way to me at the moment, AND it wasn't me!!

Phreerunner said...

The 'Big Adventure' billing seems appropriate on this occasion. Pleased to see that you got home safely!

Louise said...

Thanks Martin, it was a little exciting!

If I pull my Challenge route off this year, it will live up to the billing, and that's what the Big Adventure was all about in the first place. I am after all still a complete novice to all this backpacking stuff.