18th January

The Decision

They stopped at the bealach* to share a bar of chocolate, and tea from the flask.

‘I don’t like the look of that,’ he said, nodding westward. ‘That’s an awful lot of snow up there.’

They both considered the thickening sky. Behind them the broad white shoulder of the ridge they had just descended hid the first summit from view. The ridge looked much steeper from below. The thought of climbing back up was not appealing.

‘What are you thinking?’ she asked.

It was still only one o’clock. Neither of them was keen to retreat.

‘In distance it’s almost as far to go back as it is to go on,’ he said. ‘But there’s another three hundred metres of ascent if we carry on. Won’t be much fun if the snow gets really bad.’

The sensible thing would be to err on the side of caution. Come back another day for the second peak. But they were both fit, experienced hill- walkers, and they had all the right gear. They were not reckless people.

They had seen nobody behind them. Whichever way they went, they’d be the last ones off the mountain.

‘You know what will happen,’ she said. ‘If we turn back the sun will come out and it’ll be blue skies all the way to the car.’

‘Whereas if we go on there’ll be a blizzard and we’ll get lost, and the mountain rescue boys will say we were bloody idiots, and it will be very embarrassing. Assuming we don’t die.’

‘Let’s not do that,’ she said. ‘Not yet.’

They watched the western sky a minute or two longer. ‘More tea?’ she asked. ‘No, thanks,’ he said, and she shook out the lid, stuck the flask in her rucksack and loaded up.

‘There’s certainly no point in hanging about here,’ she said. ‘The light’s good for another three hours, but it’s a long walk out.’

A few snowflakes were falling. ‘Well,’ he said. ‘It’s decision time.’

‘What the hell,’ she said. ‘When are we going to be here again? Not for years.’

He thought how good they would feel if they completed the route. They smiled at each other.

‘Let’s do it,’ she said.

* mountain pass (Gaelic)

Reader: Kate Molleson
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
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