I’ve always had a willingness to turn on a dime and do that instead of this if it looked like a) it would be fun and b) I would get away with it. How many customers have heard “Ah, I need a #3 plato fumtertron, I’ll nip into Glasgow and try and get the last one at the suppliers” followed by spinning truck wheels heading north the A82?
I have of course never left anyone in the lurch, in fact it’s just the opposite which is why I’ve had many of my customers for 35 years and they know me well. Unfortunately a lot of them now know exactly where to find me on the internet so I just say, oh the weather’s looking nice and they know, oh yes, they know.
These old photies of older prints took a while to tie down but I can now place myself right there, right now. But then, right?
Winter, late afternoon, mid 90’s high on Ptarmigan Ridge on Ben Lomond. No idea who they other two are, but they’re perfectly placed, so I thank you from across the years and I hope you are well.
It was a midweek escape and it was a dash for either Arrochar of the Ben, it usually was. I used to take Ptarmigan because it was quieter, it’s not so quiet these days, but it’s still a better ascent so I’ll still chose it first. Besides the tourist route is a fine saunter back down in the dark, a time when it’s definitely quiet.
I’ve had a lot of time on Ben Lomond at night, either in the passing or in a tent. It’s a very different place then, it grows upwards and outwards, the well worn paths and familiar features change shape and fade and it becomes exactly what it still is at its core, thousands of feet of ancient highland rock. Makes my heart sing does that.
It brings me its share of the unusual too. Walking a Chilean women with just an umbrella for weather protection down to the carpark, walking two tourists in street clothes down to the carpark in heavy winter snow, sending an already lost group the totally wrong way when they followed me miles of the track in deep fresh snow because they followed my footsteps to where I was trying to get a pee in peace.
There’s another one that I still think about. I was unusually going up the tourist track in the near dark when I met an old boy coming down and I saw straight away he’d taken a tumble. He had a bruise on his cheek and a fat, bleeding lip and I stopped to check on him and chat. He was lucid and had a lot of mixed emotions. He was angry at himself because he’d taken his crampons off too early and had slipped and he was more than a little rattled.
He rested as we chatted and my thoughts raced from one side to another. I was on no special mission, just another after work dash up the Ben, coming straight back down with the old boy was no problem at all. But, and this is where I’ll never know if I did the right thing, if I took him down, would he see it as hand holding, would he think he’d been rescued? Would that affect his confidence and keep him at home the next time he thought about the hills? I would have hated to do that to him.
He was well up there in years, he had old and well used but quality gear, he obviously knew his stuff and had been there and done it over the years. I was so torn by it.
I was straight up with him, I’ll walk you down I said. He protested, I asked again, he protested again but I wanted to to know he’d be okay. no no he’d be fine he insisted. I let him go and I still don’t know if my head or heart won with that decision.
I sat on a rock and watched him all the way down to the tree line, including him catching up to a couple I’d seen earlier, so he was moving okay. I knew he’d be safe, but would he be okay? I didn’t know then and I never will.
If I’m honest with myself looking back now I know my choice was made with the best of intentions but I think I got it wrong. I should have walked him down and made light of it with banter and whatnot. I should have done more.
Maybe he shrugged it off, another spill like so many he had before, maybe he hung up his ice axe. I think of it sometimes and that experience has informed some of my decisions since.
Every hill has its ghosts, some are its own, some are the ones you bring yourself.
Getting it right tomorrow? Maybe you have to screw up yesterday.