Not going into the mountains

This weekend I was planning my first night out of the season, somewhere on the plateau of Beinn Heasgarnich after having already climbed Creag Mhor, or by the lochan at the bealach between the two. But then the weather turned shite. So I am a bit grumpy and disappointed. At the same time though I must simply accept that the weather is one of the major reasons why it is shite being Scottish, that I must thole it and make alternative plans. The mountains are not going to go away. There will be other weekends with better weather.

Last week a young woman wearing only shorts, a tee shirt and track shoes was assisted down from Ben Nevis in a state of advanced hypothermia by a group of climbers. She was apparently mountain biking in the area and though she could walk up the tourist path to the summit without thinking about taking with her anything in the way of equipment but a selfie-stick. She has been soundly ticked off by the Lochaber Mountain Rescue for her irresponsible stupidity and she has apologised. So that’s alright then …. she’s sorry.

Her story has of course made it into social media where it has been the subject of heated discussion. The level of her antisocial, irresponsible stupidity has touched a raw nerve. She did not only not understand that the weather at the top of the mountain might be too much for her attire, she did not even understand to wonder whether it might be. She apparently climbed the mountain, to where the snow is and then carried on without thinking that it might not be such a good idea to wade through it to get to the summit. This is a special kind of stupid. The most compassionate commentators forgive her, pointing out that we all make mistakes, that none of us can say we have not been a thoughtless dick. More extreme opinion tries to attach her bewildering arrogance to the fact she is from England – a reaction that is as moronic as it is prejudiced and illogical.

The level of anger at this event is evidently high. For it is not an isolated incident. Far too often people are assisted from the mountains because they have not adequately equipped themselves against what the mountains can become. Not only is this landscape staggeringly beautiful, it is deadly – even if you are highly experienced and in possession of the best quality stuff, you can die in the mountains. At the beginning of last week the bodies of a young couple emerged from the melting snow in the corrie of Ben Nevis. They had been missing, presumed lost, for a few weeks. They were experienced climbers. Everybody with any degree of common sense should know what the mountains mean. That there are those who do not is almost an affront to reason; it must surely mean there is something wrong with our society if it allows its individuals so much individual choice that they are unable to perceive the circumstances of their existence, nor judge whether their choices will have consequences for their own and others’ well-being and safety.

Of course, we all must learn. When I look back at my very first expedition into the mountains, I was poorly equipped and became overwhelmed by weather. If I had belligerently followed my plan, I would probably have inconvenienced others. I did not however succumb, either to the weather or my youthful arrogance, I had the wherewithal to change my plan and to protect myself, I had enough stuff with me to survive, enough food to eat, a warm sleeping bag and a Force Ten tent.

I do not know how to prevent idiots from doing stupid things in the mountains. I do not really know what to do with idiots who have nearly killed themselves in the mountains with their stupidity. And I have feelings of real disdain towards all those who think they will not be affected by the mountains, those whose attitude to life and their fellow beings is so disconnected from reality that they believe they could climb Ben Nevis in winter wearing only summer jogging clothes. I hope such people will continue to be severely vilified and castigated for their irresponsibility, and I hope they might learn to make more sensible choices in the future. But I know it will make no difference. They will persist. There will always be idiots doing stupid things in the mountains and putting others’ lives in danger. They are just one of these things we have to thole, like the weather, just another reason why it is shite being Scottish.


Author: Duncan Spence

Mountaineer, retired bicycle messenger, philosopher, wordsmith, proofreader, Dutch translator.

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