or knowing when to quit….
I went for a run on Saturday. I parked up at Loch Turret Dam and ran up the side of the Loch with the intention of running up Ben Chonzie.
Ben Chonzie has a reputation as the most boring Munro in Scotland, however from this approach it is quite runable, and with some snow on the tops it would make for a good run which was also relatively safe in the conditions.
There is an undulating 4 mile run on a rough track to the start of the climb. There were a number of small rivers and waterfalls which crossed the path, which in dry weather could either be avoided or crossed on stepping stones. With all the recent rain and the quick melting snow there was a good volume of water swelling the burns which meant there was no option but to get your feet wet.
I don’t mind wet feet and when you are moving they drain pretty quickly and stay warm.
The path peters out and then the main climb begins across open moorland. I had last climbed this hill more than 20 years ago and I had vague recollections of this section being boggy. With all the melting snow this turned into a half mile uphill trudge through deep bog and running water until I finally made it to the snow line.
Despite being a relatively mild day, there was a cutting wind blowing, and I became aware that my soaked feet were becoming increasingly cold and sore. A few more minutes climbing and the snow was knee deep and my feet were turning to blocks of ice.
Another ten minutes climbing and I would have made it on to the wide ridge which leads up to the summit and a nice run back over some tops to the starting point at the head of the loch.
Instead I took the decision to turn back. There wasn’t any drama and I was in no immediate danger, but I just wasn’t comfortable with where I was and how I was feeling at that particular moment in time. My feet had turned into blocks of ice. The repeated soakings followed by plunging into snow had made them in my mind dangerously cold, and more importantly they were distracting me and impacting on my judgement and awareness. On another day I might just have ploughed on. I was after all, well equipped. I had my Kahtoolas and poles which was plenty for the conditions. I had a rucksack full of good gear (plus a foil blanket and a plastic emergency bag). If I was feeling energetic and robust I would probably have pushed on. However I was feeling far from energetic. It had been a hard week at work and a hard training week and my energy levels were low. With company, I might have pushed on, but I was solo.
I could claim that I weighed up all of those risks and with no reason to have to push to the top made the sensible decision. Maybe subconsciously I did. All I knew was I wasn’t comfortable, and if you are not comfortable in the mountains in winter then the best thing to do is get out of there.
Did I chicken out? did I fail in what I set out to do? Probably. It wasn’t the toughest of climbs or the toughest of conditions and by the time I was safely back on the track and running again my feet came back to life.
I made it back in one piece, no damage done and most importantly no-one had to come and find me. Pride slightly dented but equally happy that on that day I made the right decision for me.
There is a fine line between brave and stupid and on that day I didn’t have the energy to be brave so chose not to be stupid.