The Road goes ever on and on; Down from the door where it began;
Now far ahead the Road has gone; And I must follow, if I can;
Pursuing it with eager feet; Until it joins some larger way;
Where many paths and errands met; And whither then? I cannot say.

[JRR Tolkien, Lord of the Rings]

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Challenge 2012 Weather

So many people who we met complained of horrendous weather. The number of drop-outs was the highest ever seen (53 out of just over 300). Yet our experience was different.

Was it purely a matter of perception? We didn't think so - the complaints of heavy rain and strong headwinds were too consistent, including amongst seasoned Challengers.

Could it really be that we had exhausted our bad luck with the weather on the Wales trip? We did wonder if it was just a comparative thing; whether the weather just didn't seem that bad to us because we were comparing it to what we had for the two weeks we were in Wales.

But, except for the temperature comparison (Scotland felt warm compared to the weather we'd had in Wales), on more detailed thought we had to conclude that we had enjoyed far better weather than most people we talked to. How can that be when we were so close to each other?

I think much of it was to do with altitude and timing.

On Day 1 we did wear our rain pants (sorry, but I'm going to come over all American and call them rain pants in this post because it's a lot easier than repeatedly typing "waterproof overtrousers" on a small keyboard!), but only because it was raining when we left Shiel Bridge. By 500m we were being snowed on and thus were no longer getting wet. As for temperature (and bear in mind that I really feel the cold) even being up high for a good chunk of the day, I was wearing just a baselayer and my lightweight Paramo.

Most people had good weather on day 2, as did we, although there was a shower which had us reach for our rain pants. They didn't stay on long. Perhaps it was the effort of the climb, but until just before the summit of Mam Sodhail I was wearing just a baselayer and thin windshirt. I did then add my shell, until we got back down to the Glen.
Everyone had a wet Day 3, and our rainpants stayed on the whole time we were walking - but whereas those further south of us apparently had heavy rain all day, for us the morning rain was light. It definitely would have been miserable if we'd been walking in the afternoon (as well as the rain, the wind absolutely howled between about 2pm until 7pm, when it suddenly died completely), so I'm glad we weren't!

Day 4 was one of those faffy days when the showers are heavy enough to need rain pants and jacket, but the dry spells warm enough to need to take them off - but as there were only a couple of showers (plus one that we sat out in a conveniently located shelter in the forest), it could have been a whole lot more faffy!

Incredibly, on Days 5, 6 and 7 we only had our rain pants on twice - once for 20 minutes on the approach to the Red Shed and for the final 2 hours on Day 7. At all other times the showers were of the type of snow that doesn't get you wet (the pre-Red Shed shower was heavy, wet snow). Thanks to the lack of wind, I didn't need my fleece on even at the top of the Lairig Ghru.

Day 8 - it rained. The rain pants stayed on all day, which for us was under 2 hours. The weather deteriorated as the day went on, and we sat by the fire watching it do so!

Day 9 - didn't get rained on once!

And then the final four days were hot and dry without any hint of a threatening cloud.

So, it is neither poetic licence nor exaggeration to say that we didn't have bad weather on the Challenge this year, but equally easy to understand that others walking lower down were being rained on when we were dry in the snow, or that those walking in the afternoons when we were sitting around drinking tea got rain that we missed.

I'd happily take the same weather experience again next year!

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange


  1. How interesting. Last year. First night walk and rain. Next day heavy rain. Next day really heavy and thigh deep stream crossings.

    Next day nice start then rain. Day after nice morning and rain. Day after showers, hail and cold. Next day morning snow and then nice. Day after short walk and showers. Next day strong winds and showers. Day after hurricane winds and rain and trees blowing down.

    Next day I legged it to coast with gusty winds and odd shower.

    Well done on this year and thanks for sharing.

  2. It was primarily illness that did for me. Stomach bug. However, the forecast of three days wet weather with temperatures just above freezing persuaded me that sitting out a day and then making up time, while ill, was not feasible.

    Stormy Sunday was not too bad for me as I walked for three hours, had an early lunch, then took a taxi to my hotel, returning the next day to pick up where I left off.

    For the six days I walked, apart from the Sunday, the weather wasn't too bad, although a bit cold.

    If I'd not been ill, I think I would have made it. It will have to wait for another time. Well done to all that completed the Challenge!

  3. Martin - Likewise, we had rain every day last year (except the walk into Northwater Bridge, when it didn't rain until after we'd arrived). In 2009 we had four stunningly sunny days, and 9 days of rain; it could be a defective memory, but I recall far heavier and more persistent rain in 2009 than we had last year or this. Maybe next year (if we get places!) will be a dry one...

    Robin - With the marvel of modern technology (and favourable phone signals) we saw your blog posts as they appeared, so saw what fate had befallen you.

  4. It was wet and Sunday was tough.
    It was also cold, but overall we did not have that much rain either.
    The heat at the end was very tiring though.
    Maybe not everyone modified their route to suit the weather.
    I was surprised by the number of dropouts.
    I did not think the weather we had warranted that many, so I reckon they will need to look into the reasons for the withdrawals.

  5. Agreed Gayle. This year we had light rain on days 7 and 8, an early shower on day 4, and rain on day 3, but not heavy enough to make us stash our cameras or penetrate our waterproofs or boots. I think that like you we must have been away from the weather (too far south in our case).
    The last few days in the sunshine were great.