Friday, 4 June 2010

Winter on my mind - Even in May

I always like to go for it in May. Longer days, the start of the better weather (er, sometimes) and two holiday weekends. It's usually a good month for getting up a few hills and this year was certainly good for collecting a few new Corbetts. By the end of the month I'd increased my tally by 4.

For the early May bank holiday we took the Sunday evening train from Rannoch Station to Corrour, camped wild to the west of the railway line then went for an early morning walk around the ridges of Leum Uilleim before taking the lunchtime train back to Rannoch.

In the middle of the month we spent a week in Durness for the Cape Wrath Challenge running festival. 5 races in 6 days provides for an energetic week anyway, but I also managed to get out twice in the sea kayak and got up a couple more Corbetts. We had a very pleasurable walk up Glas Bheinn (east of Quinag) in superb clear conditions, then a more hazy trip up Canisp with dark clouds threatening to burst at any moment. Thankfully they didn't.

Finally, on the last day of May, we headed for Glen Muick to enjoy the warm sunshine and climb Conachcraig. Having secured the Corbett we headed over to Lochnagar - our first Munro of the year. For the first time in the month we were sharing our mountain with a few other walkers. Lochnagar wasn't particularly busy, but after the solitude of the Corbetts, we were more conscious than normal of there being other walkers around us. That is in no way a complaint. Far from it. It was great to see so many people out there enjoying such a fantastic day.

Whilst everyone was well protected from the cold wind on the plateau, it was nice to be out in a short sleeve top on the way up and down the mountain. That's one of the things I like about May. The sense of arrival at the start of the summer season.

The contrast of the hills I climbed in May with the ones from two or three months ago in deepest winter could not be more pronounced. We had an amazing winter, but its over now and the summer season is with us. As much as I'm enjoying being out there in short sleeves again, the real winter that we've just come through has left its mark in that I'm still thinking about it even when the sun is warm and striking a high arc in the sky.

The winter season we've just come through saw a number of fatalities that will show up in the next set of annual figures. Every mountain accident that ends in a fatality is of course very sad, which is why the MCofS is working hard with everyone else involved in mountain safety to provide information and other resources that will lead to a downward trend in the number of fatalities.

Looking around the other walkers on Lochnagar on Monday I wondered how many of them had in some way picked up on the winter safety messages being communicated by the MCofS. The energetic work of Heather Morning (MCofS Mountain Safety Adviser) and Roger Wild (Scottish Student Mountain Safety Officer) is reaching out to hillgoers of all ages and instilling a greater sense of mountain safety awareness. In my view, their work is helping to raise the general level of mountaineering skills and mountain safety knowledge within the people who go to the Scottish hills. It's a fundamental principle of the MCofS's work that we aim to make mountaineers safer by providing educational opportunities rather than attempting to make the mountains safer by providing handrails.

With a view to improving our winter safety initiatives the MCofS officers and directors are working hard to carry the safety message to even more people next winter. Roger's valuable work with student clubs will pick up again later this year and Heather is looking at new venues for the Winter Lecture Series. As an MCofS member you are directly supporting this crucial work and by following our Safety news on the website and in Scottish Mountaineer you are more likely to get involved yourself, and if you get involved you are more likely to be influenced by our safety messages. Why not make a decision now to attend one of our lectures, or perhaps one of our courses during the coming winter season?

The sunshine of late May was perhaps a strange time to be thinking about winter, but for all of us who go to the hills, it is always worth thinking about the winter season and preparing ourselves to be better prepared for the hazards that come with cold weather and short days.

Keep an eye out for news of where next winter's safety lectures will be and click on the "Follow us on YouTube" button from our home page and check out our safety related film clips.

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