I thought I’d do a full-moon lit hike up to the local mini mountain to film the sunrise. So at 4 o’clock I was already zipping my way up the deserted road with a panting dog in the boot. As I drove I kept passing over snow melt running across the road so confidently predicted it was going to be slushy going when I got my snowshoes on. Fortunately though as it turned out, the snow was rock hard and icy and cold.
It had been a bit breezy as I left the house but once I was on the snow it got quite windy but not enough to warrant an about turn. The snow was a bit too hard for snowshoes but the spikes underneath did their job enough for me not to slip around too much. So all went well until about a third of a way up just below a convenient outcrop of rock when there was suddenly a vicious gust of wind that slammed into me and ripped my legs from beneath me dumping me heavily on the ground. And from that precise gust all the other gusts followed suit to such an extent that it was impossible to walk. So I lay there for a moment watching the dog trying to race forward but instead being shifted rapidly sideways towards the steep hillside but unable to do much about it at all. I wasn’t particularly worried about the dog because it was all so surreal, I mean we don’t get wind here, but upon reflection probably I should have been at least concerned. I feel a bit guilty now. Even simply trying to stand up was a waste of time and as I didn’t fancy a swift wind-driven decent over the icy snow I crawled the 10 yards between me and the outcrop and found an exposed but reasonably comfortable ledge to shelter on.
I sat there for a while but after I had got myself comfy on my sit-mat the wind suddenly dropped (typical) so, eager to get to the top, I confidently hoisted the rucksack onto my back and set off again, took twenty odd paces, and found my feet being skidded across the snow again and my face battered by piercing bits of white. I’m not quite sure why my legs and feet got ripped from under me because of course my jacketed and rucksacked torso presents much more wind resistance but legs it was all three times. I was apparently a blizzard virgin until today and though I’ve been in snowstorms and thought I’d been in a blizzard now I know different. I was prepared for not seeing anything but I didn’t realise that you really can’t breathe either and after flailing about on the ground discovered you lose all sense of direction too. And the noise was incredible. If it hadn’t been so much fun (I mean, I wasn’t on the edge of a cliff or anything) it would have been frightening. After picking myself up again I had to navigate (a big word for 20 paces but pretty apt) using the wind and the enjoyment factor did momentarily plummet to zero. But I pulled my buff (thank god for buffs) right over my face which didn’t stop the stinging by did enable me to breathe in the biting ice dust and still see the ground in the light of the head torch. So presumably looking like a faceless shop dummy I thus jerked my way back to my seat and prepared to sit it out. The thermometer said a miserly –5°C but heaven knows what the wind chill was. Can you have a wind chill of bloody-freezing°C? The dog was shaking like a leaf and as far as is possible to tell had a worried look on her face as she cringed on the ledge beside me. I put an extra fleece on and then promptly took it off again to give to the dog; my generosity knows no bounds. I tried to put it on her, front legs in sleeves, but she was having none of that so I just put it under her and we sat there cuddled together like young lovers. I thought at one point I might get my shovel out and dig a snow hole but then, thinking that I can’t have been higher than about 1500m and thus only a 40 minute walk from the refuge, had visions of me falling asleep in it feet in rucksack body wrapped in poncho and being found later that day by a party of giggling school children snowshoeing past me in t-shirts so decided to man it out which I did for about an hour and a half.
I always carry emergency gear and have very rarely used any of it but this time I used the lot. I just bought a down jacket from Alpkit, something you don’t expect to need in April and thank god I did. I must say I am very enthusiastic about it. For £70 quid I was not expecting the warmth it provided with just a t-shirt and a thin fleece underneath. So the experience was actually enjoyable because I kept warm. If I hadn’t had it I would have been perishing cold and might actually have resorted to swearing.
Usually with wind, well here at least, when the sun comes up the wind abates a little and so it proved to be today. Actually it was quite curious as the wind was coming down the hill until the moon disappeared and then it eddied and span around for 10 minutes or so and then reversed its direction as the sun rose and then died more or less completely allowing me to mess around with the video camera. Characteristically, in stark contrast to the predawn chaos, when I got back to the house I was met with an idyllic scene of grazing deer, warm sun and twittering birds.
So what did I learn? Well I learnt that the much despised buff is a very useful tool, that a good pair of ski goggles in the bottom of my pack wouldn’t go amiss, I learnt not to believe the wind forecast or underestimate how much snow hurts, and especially not to worry when people tell me I have too much stuff in my rucksack; a sit mat, padded over trousers a down jacket, poncho and abundant coffee and cake made a potential nightmare quite enjoyable.
Oddly, when I drove back down again, all the melt water on the road had frozen solid again.