Monday, 21 December 2009

Thunderstorms in the NW - 20th Dec '09

After much deliberation and worry as to whether I'd get snowed in up North or Andy would get snowed out if he came down here, we decided that I should drive up to Andy's on Saturday to go climbing on Sunday.  All plans of another new route on my CragX, or Andy's CragX, or possibly somewhere else were out the window.
I left for Boat of Garton around 2.30, driving via Kirriemuir, Blairgowrie and Dunkeld with all these roads being perfectly fine.  The A9 only got snowy around Pitlochry/Blair Atholl and was perfectly fine for driving.
The Grantown road was a bit more snowy with some annoyingly cautious driver feeling that he/she had to drive at 20mph causing a bit of a tail back.

Forecast was for showers of snow in the NW, coastal at first but moving inland as the day progressed, 40-50mph winds with gusts of 70mph and also the risk of lightning.  Now I've never paid much heed to forecast lightning as MWIS often forecasts it and it never materialises.   I was convinced it *was* going to snow however, though Andy was more optimistic than I, but I was willing to gamble that it wouldn't be as windy as forecast.
We were off to the NW around 7ish and there was a wee bit of a white out on the A9 over the Slochd but it passed, or we drove though it and into Inverness.  The roads up Torridon way were progressivly worse and it took us around 2 and half hours to get to Fuar Tholl carpark, a journey which would normally take around 1hr to 1 and half hours!
As we approached we could see the tops shrouded in grey, heralding snow.  And right enough as we pulled in to park it was snowing.  I was highly dubious about being here.  I hadn't slept well the night before, worrying about being snowed in up there, worrying about avalanche conditions and worrying about the epics I seem to have every time I come to this part of the country.

My feelings of foreboding didn't improve as we ascended the hill.  It was cold and snowing non stop and as we approached the cliffs, it was hard to see the routes as they were shrouded in cloud.  After wading our way though knee deep snow, some bits thigh deep where we broke through drainage channels, I was feeling knackered and I hadn't even been breaking trail!
Dunno if it was lack of sleep making me tired or just general unfitness but I was finding the going really tough.  Well, wading though snow is always tough, but I found it tougher than normal!  I kept remembering how knackered I felt after my 11 hour day up here last year and how I was so much fitter last winter.  I kept thinking of the forecast high winds and the prospect of freezing my ass off on belays in the snow and grim conditions.  I feel I have been spoilt of late as I've climbed so much last year, and this year in utterly perfect winter weather, that I've become a bit of a wimp when it comes to a bit of wind and snow!  I've forgotten that this is actually what normal winter conditions are like!
Regardless, I didn't feel fit and I was worried an epic might find me lacking.   Don't think Andy was feeling that motivated either.  He's been out a fair bit recently, in fairly good conditions so didn't feel the driving need to get something done.
Eating a sandwhich, both of us quickly getting cold, we deliberated on whether to climb a nearby route on the cliffs we could see looming in and out of the cloud, or just to bail and head back to the car.  I looked up at the route.  The start looked pretty steep and hard, and the route long and committing.  I really don't think I had it in me, not today.  I told myself that when I needed to argue with myself about whether to climb or not, when I was so full of doubts and when I knew the route might be tough, long and committing and the weather pretty foul, then there was a reason not to battle on regardless.  We could have done the route, but whether I'd have enjoyed it is a different matter.  And whether my tired and unmotivated self could have coped with an epic battle, I'm not too sure I wanted to test.

So, we turned around.  And within 2 minutes of walking back down there was a bright flash, we both stopped and stared and within a couple of seconds, BOOM, CRASH!  Thunder!  Think I squealed like a girl!  Got really spooked!  Oh my god!  Andy thought I'd been taking a photo as the flash was so nearby.  Weird though cos I've been out before in electrical activity and felt the hair on my neck prickle but saw no lightning or heard no thunder, yet today I felt no warning at all.
I was trying to imagine myself up on that cliff face.  Standing on a lonely belay ledge, cowering down underneath surrounding claps of thunder, terrified of the lightning, feeling all alone and frightened, some part of me wanted to be up there experiencing the terror and the exhilaration of it.  I'm not sure if these feelings are entirely foolish, but I'll never know now, having bailed.
Back at the car, the roads were fine, the snow falling was wet and sleety and served to melt some of the snow.  Cars were still being over cautious though and it took ages to get back, stopping off at a wee cafe for a cuppy and cake on the way.  Can't beat a chocolate muffin to soak up the feelings of dismal failure!

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