SANDISON'S SCOTLAND; IN A BLIZZARD HALF WAY UP A BEN..I MUST BE INSANE NOT TO BE IN THE PUB.
Idon't really know how I found myself one December day in a blizzard tramping through deep Perthshire snow on Ben Vorlich and trying to keep up with Bruce Reynolds, my disgustingly fit cousin.
Even worse, Bruce was chatting, unconcerned by the elements, as though we were strolling down Sauchiehall Street on a summer evening - which I wished we were.
Earlier that morning, Bruce had roused me from a warm bed with a cup of tea in one hand and an ice axe in the other. "I think we might need these," he said.
Minutes later, I found myself shivering out into a grey dawn, Vorlich-bound before I could invent even the smallest glimmer of an excuse.
We parked by Loch Earn at Ardvorlich near the Coire Buidhe burn and were greeted by a bad-tempered wind, glowering clouds and soul-dispiriting, nagging drizzle.
The summit of Ben Vorlich, The Hill of the Bay, which rises southwards from Loch Earn in a slow shoulder of grassy slopes and jagged outcrops to a ridge, had disappeared in the blizzard.
At the summit, this ridge is joined by three others, crossing to form a plateau, trigpoint-pricked north and grandly cairned south.
I had often seen these features from the tops of other hills - from West Lomond near Kinross, Tarmangie Hill in the gentle Ochils and from the Pentlands and Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh.
They looked inviting from a distance and I reminded myself of this as I struggled through the deepening snow now falling in thick flakes from mist-grey heavens.
Panting like a pensioned carthorse, I snatched a quick breath from the wind and managed to gasp to my companion: "I suppose you are used to this? Just one of life's little tribulations?" On a reasonable day, Vorlich is easy to climb and one of Scotland's most popular Munros.
However, in bad weather, when icy blasts bustle down the glen, things are very different.
Glancing at the ice axe strapped to Bruce's pack, I wondered where the rope was hidden, thinking of the actor Vincent Price, who remarked: "I once took a climbing expedition and found the real reason those mountain climbers rope themselves together. It's to stop the sensible ones from going home."
Out of the storm, two figures appeared, heading downhill. "Not much fun up there," they called.
Hiding gloom-laden forebodings, I suggested that perhaps discretion was the better part of valour and that our quickest descent was urgently required.
"Thank goodness," said Bruce, "I was beginning to think that I was climbing with a lunatic."
As we beat a hasty retreat, Bruce asked, "What about doing Inverarnan instead?" I was momentarily speechless.
Gathering my courage in both frozen hands, I inquired, tentatively: "How high is that, Bruce?" He snorted: "Don't be daft, it's a pub at the north end of Loch Lomond."
Shortly thereafter, we parked at the Drovers Inn by Ardlui. There was a huge open fire blazing in the hearth of the stone-floored bar, peopled by other walkers and climbers who had come to the same conclusion as we had, that discretion was indeed the better part of valour.
VORLICH Not much fun to climb in inclement weather