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Monday, 18 December 2017

Hudderstone–How To Decide To Abandon A Walk

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Sometimes the fates are against a successful conclusion to a  walk. On this occasion it was an innaccurate judgement that the snow wasn’t deep enough for snowshoes, the unnoticed loss of a flask of hot coffee behind the spare wheel in the boot and the march of time. and the carrying of a Garmin GPS which, a bit like Marvin the Robot, began giving passive-aggressive estimates concerning the time we might arrive at the summit of Hudderstone at this rate. The final one being sometime on New Years Eve.
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We began well enough with a navigation error which was fairly quickly noticed and an alternative approach to Hudderstone  developed quickly into A Plan. (This, we will call Plan B for the purposes of absolute clarity) Plan A (the “other” plan) involved climbing the steep slopes of Ward Law (482m), traversing Woodycleuch Dodd (538m) and going on to Hudderstone (626m), descending by the lovely Cowgill Rigg track. Instead, (Plan B), we would follow the road to Coulter Reservoir and clib the ridge next to Snow Gill and follow the ridge over the three hills in the opposite direction to Plan A. If we ran out of time or energy we could descend to the valley at one side or the other, whichever was best at the time.
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The road-walk was easy and soon we were at the foot of the Snow Gill Ridge but soon ran into difficulties. The snow was lying on deep heather and/or tussocks and/or juncus and the effort of uphill movement soon began to get really slow and quite tough. GPS said we’d be at the top by 13:30. Then, after completing all of 50 yards, it said “Actually what I meant was 13:45”. Then, a hundred yards later, it announced that we should certainly arrive by 14:00. Clearly, Things were not going well. And, had we continued, not only would we have exhausted ourselves and our dogs but also there would  have been an issue with daylight and our access to a joint of roast lamb back at Castle Greytowers.
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So we abandoned. I doubt if snowshoes would have made it any easier anyway. The snow was soft and deep and unconsolidated and a spell cast on it overnight, in a fit of merlot-fuelled pique made all the snow melt away overnight, just leaving a thick layer of watery ice.
So, we walked the three and a half miles back to Culter Allers where the car boot was still cuddling my feckin coffee. Happily, Tesco in Lanark has a fine selection of Hogmanay refreshments to cheer-up the disappointed.
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As a consolation prize, we went to the foot of Quothquan Law – a fine green cone by the River Clyde with a hill-fort on the top and a superb view extending to some high and snowy mountains to the North and across to Tinto which had developed a cloudy cap as the sun went down. Quothquan is a much nicer, friendlier hill than Hudderstone. Hudderstone, though, as it happens, on 14 July 2000, was the final hill in my 1990’s quest to climb all the New Donalds and the tops and the deleted ones. I have an entry in an SMC list about it. New Donalds are the modernised version of a list of 2000-foot tops in Scotland South of the Highland line by one Percy Donald.
Quothquan Law has a sign at the bottom announcing the existence of a footpath to the top. However, the stile is inside a hawthorn hedge, defended by barbed wire and the sign blocks the way anyway. Further up the field, the stile is tipped over and there’s a sign warning of cattle, but not of the electric fence. I expect that all this was originally designed to put off the march of Agricola’s legions during his attempted conquest of Caledonia back in the day. Probably very effective, I shouldn’t wonder.
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On the Sunday, on the way home, me and LTD also bagged Craighead Hill (429m), in the drizzle and the hill-fog with only the sound of the M74 rumbling away far below. (Not all that far below, really)
Sometimes, you just have to give up your expedition as a Bad Job. The stars being not right. The list of small things going a bit wrong. The sinking feeling………. Hudderstone is very slow-moving, progressing only at the speed of current continental drift and even my driving will be able to keep pace, so I might have another go sometime. Although Culter Fell itself looked quite a bit more appealing…

3 comments:

Dawn Linney said...

That looks a difficult day out Mike. You all did the right thing, it happens sometimes, conditions just conspiring against you. You still managed to take some cracking photos though!

Bangkok.Ian said...

Having lived in Hamilton in Lanarkshire for a number of years I know these hills quite well. I can confirm that Culter Fell is a far nicer hill than Hudderstone, the lower ramparts of which have turned my ankle on two seperate occasions. Something about the spacing of the tussocks of grass makes the hill worse than the tussocky hell of Rannoch Moor in my opinion. My last ascent took longer than the nearby, considerably higher Tinto Hill.
Sometimes turning back is the most sensible option and the hill will still (some poetic symmetry there for you) be there for another day.
The area also serves to remind us that although of modest altitude, Scottish hills are sometimes every bit as dangerous as their more lofty Alpine or even Himalayan cousins. During the 90s I used to phone my mum every evening in order to let her know that I had arrived safely off the hill of the day. One winter, probably 1994 I think, was a bad year for avalanches and accidents on the bigger more craggy Munros on the West coast. One weekend 2 or 3 people lost their lives in Glencoe on the BEM, near where I had been climbing and the following weekend a walker died on Ben Nevis, also while I was near, on Aonoch Mor the next big hill along from the Ben. The following weekend in an attempt to calm down my mum's nerves I decided to climb White Coombe (a fairly benign looking Corbett above the White Mares's Tail waterfall, I'm sure you'll have climbed it) As bad luck would have it a man slipped and plunged to his death while walking on an unstable snow field on the hill. I stayed at home the next weekend as requested by my mother, knowing that better weather would soon be with us and the hills remain.
Best wishes for Christmas and many more wonderful outings for you and the dog next year.

Mike Knipe said...

Thanks Dawn -
Ian - We camped at Loch Skeen fairly recently. I used to do quite a bit of walking in these hills at one time (bagging Donalds). I should do more. Its planning time now anyway, so I'm working on new plans to include all the bits between Hawick, Biggar, Peebles and Moffat. (Maybe not all of it, but more of it anyway)
Happy Hogmanay!!