Sunday, 21 April 2013

The 100m rule

Simon informed me that most tourists only venture a maximum distance of 100m from their car or tourist bus when they are sightseeing.

I pondered this fact as we sat on the wooden bench slurping the remains of the flask of tea and gazing at the little cottage and up at the Coire na Tulaich and the route of our aborted attempt at the Buachaille Etive Mor, more of which later.

The little layby behind us at the foot of the Devil’s Staircase seemed to be permanently full of cars but, on closer inspection, not the same cars as people pulled in and jumped out to take a photo and jumped back in often without bothering to switch off the engine.
The next day was windy and rainy in true Lochaber style so I went off on my scheduled 10 mile trail run from the car park at the Aonach mor ski cable car station. I had considered mountaineering redemption and a crack at another peak after yesterdays failure but I really didn’t fancy tackling the same underfoot conditions and this time in the wind and rain. And alone.  And besides, I was knackered.

Climb it? I can't even see it!
When I got back to the car I decided to re-visit Simon’s theory about tourists while I dried off and slurped more tea from a flask. At this point I was feeling vaguely guilty as it was now lashing with rain and Simon was off on an 80 mile cycle ride with friends based on my forecast for the day…mild, overcast, a bit breezy, dry…. bloody BBC Weather.

Maybe this is what dry and overcast means in Lochaber...?
 Anyway back to the theory. There were approximately 25 cars in the car park and a large tourist coach yet in the space of a 10 mile run I didn’t see another soul. Maybe they were all hard as nails mountain bikers and skiers?  Err…No.  In the space of the 20 minutes or so I was in the car quite a few vehicles came and went but only a fraction of these vehicles seemed to contain “weekend warriors”  - mountain bikers, climbers, skiers and the like. Most got out of their vehicles and headed straight in to the café and vice versa. This was not something I had noticed before but now I was fascinated.

I decided I would go to Castle Stalker visitor centre for lunch. This would be a prime spot for some serious tourist watching! Guess what? The view point for the castle was signposted as being 90m from the gate and 100m from the car! And I didn’t think that this was going to be an exact science.

  Like Kisimul Castle in Barra Castle Stalker stands out on a rock in the sea and has an equally long and bloody history. The visitors centre is everything you would expect – Interpretation Boards to be read? Tick. Coffee and Scones to be scoffed at the café? Tick. Limitless quantities of tat to be purchased at the obligatory shop? Tick. I could really get into being a tourist!  I didn’t have to walk more than 100m from the car although as I watched some of the visitors couldn’t even be arsed walking the 90m to the viewpoint and just stopped at the gate much to my amusement. And it wasn’t even raining.
Castle Stalker
 As we sat on that wooden bench in Glencoe we also ruefully pondered our little adventure.

 That morning we had set off, with no little apprehension on my part, up the path which turned from a rocky trek into a steep climb on a frozen snow slope. Both of us were completely ill equipped for this – Kahtoolas are no substitute for the real deal. It was a gorgeous day and despite the number of parked cars it was obvious that no one else had been up the slope that day. Climbing up that slope was seriously hard work and eventually I tentatively suggested that it may be a bad idea but Sherpa Axon was brimming with confidence so up the frozen slope we crawled.

Already deeply unhappy with the situation my fears were not alleviated any by Simon shooting past head first scrabbling frantically with the ice axe trying to arrest his fall while uttering expletives. Shortly afterwards I sat down in the snow and refused to move. This was just a little too far outside my comfort zone.

Simon went on ahead to take a look but after about 5 minutes he returned saying that the terrain got much steeper and although we could probably get up he had no idea what it was like over the other side and anyway, we probably wouldn’t be able to get back down – at least not in the manner we would wish to. I think it would have been a very silly thing to have done and so I have no real regrets about turning back especially when I later found out that other people in Simon’s group of friends had opted out of various hill expeditions that weekend over fears about the difficulty of the conditions.

On the way back down I felt as though I had started to get to grips with the ice axe and started to feel a lot happier and more secure but I was seriously out of practice having missed yet another winter walking season.  The climbing left me pretty achy and tired. I don’t know about the gym, this hill climbing malarkey is the optimum full body work out!

It has got to be said though when I was hanging on the end of the ice axe with my legs shaking partly from fatigue and partly from fear there was maybe a split second or so when venturing less than 100m from the car seemed like a seriously sensible option….

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