The Angry Corrie 4: Nov-Dec 1991
Winter Climbing Skills No. 1: Getting up in the morning
Well here we are, it's that time of year once again The half-dozen non-coniferous trees in Scotland have dropped their leaves, all the little birdies have twittered off to warmer climes, American Football's on the telly every Sunday evening, and the nights are fair drawing in. So, as the back end of autumn merges seamlessly as ever wfth the front end of winter and as 1992 slouches towards Hogmanay to be born, it's high time for your exclusive TAC refresher course .
You all know the story. Alarmclocked at six a.m., stir into a modicum of wakefulness, lean over to prise apart the curtains, peer out. Dark. Darkdark. Even the sodium glow of the streetlamps is pitch black. And will be for two, maybe three more hours. Perhaps it will never get light. Never ever. Always dark. Yet the day's most important decision is upon you here and now, even though you are still a fully fledged resident of Sleep City, the place where Freudian snakes eat fish suppers in red telephone boxes. To climb or not to climb, that is the question. Whether 'tis nobler in the murk to clamber clumsily out of bed, de-ice the boots and nikwax the car, or to roll back under the blankets, let the curtains slam shut behind you and return to dreams of drains and of leading the joint SAS-Bridge of Weir Expedition to the top of Nanga Parbat for their eleventh 8000-er of the weekend. The choice is yours and yours only: should I stay or should I go? Now.
It was pouring late the night before, but what's it doing now, in the black-hole-like hours before dawn? Hours so wee and small as to almost be eligible for milk tokens, hours when the weather, or at least all civilised means of monitoring it, seems to be in abeyance. Are the streets damp? Has that No. 59 bus got its wipers on? Is that the wind howling eerie forebodings of doom or merely the dodgy plumbing upstairs? Snap on the radio for a forecast. Open University. Module 62B. The sociological and demographic significance of the first post-war census. In Warrington. Just what you need. Snap radio off again. Stagger through to kitchen and grope for so-called Mountainline number pinned to wall. Fumble-phone it. Smugsounding St.Andrews Uni tapeloop tells you all about wind speeds, precipitation levels and occluded fronts for 24 hours up to six p.m. yesterday. Fat lot of bloody good that is. And 36p down the privately industrialised drain.
But there's worse to come: the fact that you are not alone pitches you onto the very Alligin's horns of a dilemma. Two scenarios: your sleeping partner harbours no aspirations of upward mobility, wishing instead to stay serenely mattressed in Slumberland. How to adequately wake yourself and yourself only? Certainly kicking over your iceaxe and stepping barefoot - ouch! - on those crampons doesn't help. Alternatively, s/he had rashly, previous eveningly, expressed the pleasure of your out-of-doors company. This is the trickier of the two options, open to huge dangers: your home, your relationship, your physical and mental wellbeing are all at risk if you fail to keep up the repayments on this one. First to wake him/her soothingly, alluringly. Then, without having even convinced yourself as to the unseen morning's good intentions, you must compile a watertight, Beltramian case to persuade The Other. Yes yes it's lovely and calm and crisp and clear (drizzle dribbles down window). No wind at all (Hurricane Murdo howls menacingly). There's no real rush but the sooner we're moving the better (come on get up you lazy bastard).
At the end of the day - or, rather, at the beginning of it - you're in what the Yanks call 'a no win situation' and what the market gardeners choose to describe as 'onto plums'. Even if you manage to cleverly outsteer the Corrievreckan of early morning domestic whirlpoolery, there's no guarantee of blissful meteorological plain sailing thereafter. Your hillwalk could indeed prove to be a crystalclear cramponcruise along idyllic cloudinverted ridges, but is much more likely to be a snowslush sludgetrudge through a wind-assisted cloudbase. You are left pathetically clutching at the flimsy edifice of weather lore, with its irritating habit of straitjacketing wisdom into rhyming couplets: Red sky at night/shepherd's delight; Bright too soon/rain by noon; Michael Fish/talks a load of pish.
There's really nothing for it but to venture out into the dark and the unknown, to once again do battle with your very own obstinately immobile version of the internal combustion engine - or, if you're a real greengo, to face up to the dieselfume gloom of your local bus or train station. It'll be worth it in the end, you say, pulling on full waterproofs even before stepping out of the doorway. Just as long as you don't get half way up the A9 before realising you've left behind your boots/cagoule/pickle pieces/sanity. Ah, the things we do for love...