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Monday, 29 August 2016

The 2016 Challenge, day 5: Killin to Fortingall (15)

The path led me down a steep hillside, and I could seldom see very far ahead. But as I dropped the clouds began to clear, so at least I had visibility. And then ... the path was obscured by a snow field. It was easy enough to divert round that one on the grassy slope; but as the path twisted and turned its way through some rocky outcrops, I came upon a second snow field. And this time there was no diversion. To my left was a sheer rock face; and ahead and to my right was a snow field which sloped down away from me and off to my right at an alarming angle.

I was snookered. I couldn't retreat back up the hill. That would merely leave me back at the foot of An Stuc, with the same issues as before, but considerably more fatigued and with an hour less daylight in which to solve them. I couldn't go left because of the rock face; and I couldn't go right because of the snow field. So what was I to do?

As I studied the problem and considered my options, I noticed that the snowfield had been melting, and retreating at the edges; and that, in fact, there was a narrow gap between the edge of the snowfield and the rock face. The snow field was deep enough that this narrow gap was like a chimney; and I realized that, by wedging my boot in this narrow gap between the snow field and the rock face, I should actually be able to descent the few metres to where I could see the path emerging again from the snow field. And so this is what I did, and it worked a treat. Until ...

... as I got towards the bottom of the snow field, it thinned out considerably, and it was no longer deep enough to wedge my boot. So now, with no wedging, I was on a steep, wet grass slope. Far too steep to maintain the necessary friction to stay upright - and all at once my feet slid away from me in a grass glissade.

The slope was at such an angle that my grass glissade quickly became a snow glissade; and in the blink of an eye I was hurtling down across the snowfield with no means of arresting myself. I was near the bottom of the snowfield in the direction I had been descending; but in the angle of travel there was plenty more snow beyond the line of the path, and I should shortly be pitched over the immediate horizon into who knew what?

The only hope I had of arresting this glissade was the path itself. The snow was not very thick and I could see a slight dip where it lay over the path. I was approaching this feet-first, and so I dug my heels in hard and bent my knees as I reached it ... and it worked! I managed to arrest the glissade, and now I could safely stand and walk a few metres along the line of the path to where it emerged from beneath the snow.

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