It’s a day that sticks in the mind, it was 2001 and we had a perfect day on Ben Cruachan. The snow was deep but consolidated, every bare rock was armoured with ice and the cloud tore around the summit in strips all day but retreated while we stood there and took in a landscape that still lingers in my mind despite so many visits and lost years since.
We came home to the news that the hills were now closed, Foot and Mouth hysteria had descended and we were soon driving through disinfectant tyre baths wherever we went.
The other thing that happened was my hands. I was on the top in my liners and windstopper gloves as usual, and while it was cold it was something I was well used to and didn’t bother putting on other gloves.
My fingers got cold though, very fast, uncomfortably fast and it was sore, something I’d never had before. I pulled out my big insulated gloves and needed help to pull them on, I was fumbling like a wino with a screw top bottle.
The heat returned and there was another new sensation, a burning that would not stop, that escalated until I thought my teeth would break against each other and tears filled my eyes.
The sunrise was just out of sight, but the cloud caught it’s colours and I managed a snap through the window before the school run.
I had a couple of calls to make and they revealed nothing urgent and everything avoidable. Daytime telly was the soundtrack to some packing and there was never any doubt as to where I was going.
It was a fairy tale scene, no, an advent calendar on the way to Drymen. Hard frozen landscape, wisps of mist and blue skies. Stunning, a perfect winter’s day.
I’d used up a lot of daylight so I didn’t stop. I think I might regret that, it was so perfect.
Ach, but then again maybe some things are better as an engram to mull over and decrypt later.
I thought it might be a one off, I was tired or run down, I’d had the wrong breakfast, I’d stood around the summit for too long, I was just getting old?
But no, I noticed a change from then on. Ice axes and meraklon liners was a combo gone forever, poles and powerstretch gloves would only last me so far into the snowline before I’d have to put something warmer on.
Camp was easier to manage, I’d have gloves and mitts everywhere and if I slipped up, I was never far away from layers of down.
And of course, the wait for the burn.
I could see Ptarmigan Ridge but the summit was in a ball of cloud with more cloud loitering to the west. I wasn’t fussed, there was snow all over one of my most favourite places.
The road was just as exciting because it was untreated after Balmaha, I’m getting more used to the truck on this kind of surface this winter and I had a wee bit of fun with it.
Wheeeeeee went the wheels, Aaaaaghhhhh went the music.
Rowardennan was surprisingly busy and there was still blue sky above as I walked past the youth hostel. On the climb up, the bloke doing some path repairs was lying snoozing in the sun and it really was warm enough for that.
It felt like spring, one of those rare days where the sun shines down on you while your crampon spikes dig in as you ascend in shades and a base layer with the sleeves rolled up.
I pushed on, eager to be a part of that mental picture, but somehow I flicked past that page and found myself in cloud. It washed in from over the loch, a bank of blandness to smother my hope and dreams and… Oh wait, I’m through the top of it. Aw, that’s nice.
I had to watch all the time, not just in the hills. At work, or even just heading into town I’d carry gloves on cool days never mind cold days and I’d find myself making excuses for fumbling or asking a colleague to “wait a minute” while my hands heated up while they looked at me like I was an idiot.
It’s really only when you show someone the effects they realise you’re not full of shit. Showing them a white thumb and forefinger on a cherry red hand, and saying “Feel it…”.
“Oh…” They say.
“Aye, I’m going to sit in the truck and have an episode while they heat up, back in 5…”.
The cloud came and went and the sun struggled to maintain a presence. But I was happy enough.
The snow showers were pleasant, heavy but with small flakes and very little wind. It was a silent, almost dreamy ascent.
I stopped at the top of Ptamigan where the sun made it’s last attempt at glamour before giving it up for the day. Pink oozed through the mist and I stood with a hot cuppa and smiled at it all.
I could see familiar crags and a hint of the ridge swinging around the last pull up to the summit. It would dark before I got to the top and that along with the long descent on Sron Aonach just didn’t fit tonight, had to get back for the girl.
This was enough, inside and outside I was happy.
Except I’d got too excited, on the phone, taking photies, pouring cuppas, fannying about, all with one glove on. My right hand went and it went big.
My own stupid fault.
I packed up and started down, hands balled into fists inside my mitts, idiot, idiot, idiot was the mantra.
I had a loose crampon strap, of course it couldn’t have happened on the way up, it had to be now when my mitts were full of pork link sausages instead of fingers.
I fudged it enough to go on but the bending and swearing had upped the blood flow enough that I could feel the circulation coming back. I braced for impact.
I stood in the dark, bent over with my mitted hands crushed between my thighs and calling Ffffuuuuuuuucccccckkkkkkkkkkk into the night as the tears blinded me.
I carried on once the red lights went out and it really was a pleasant descent. My hands nipped and throbbed, but I can tune that part out now. The ache lasts of course, well into the next day this time and my fingers were dark purpley red well into the early hours.
I remember a while back the nurse stretching out my hands and hmm-ing sympathetically “I get this too, it’s terrible isn’t it? It’s called Reynaud’s”.
I suppose in the grand scale of life it’s a minor ailment, but it causes me grief on an almost daily basis at the moment, and I’m pretty sure I’ve never actually said the words on here which is a bit strange.
I suffer from Reynaud’s syndrome, unusual in men but likely passed down on my mothers side of the family and it’s total pain in the arse.