Eric Robson and Alfred Wainwright:Not a rain cloud in sight!: Photo Richard Else-Striding Edge
‘There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing’ As mountain related sayings go it has become something of a cliche. Used by outdoor companies in the advertising promotions; quoted ad naseum by outdoor/travel writers, bloggers and just about anyone with an interest in persuading us to endure the masochistic ‘delights’ of undertaking an activity in inclement weather.
The quote is of course usually attribute to Alfred Wainwright although I’ve also seen it attributed to Ranulph Fiennes and described as a ‘Norwegian Saying’. The Wainwright source is given as his Coast to Coast walking guidebook but as I don't have a copy to hand I cannot check this out. However, whether or not this is verifiable doesn’t alter the fact that all the evidence suggests that Wainwright never actually believed this patent tosh. A piece of hokum which sounds more like it emerged after a brainstorming session in a US advertising agency- working no doubt, on behalf of some outdoor apparel giant- rather than being the invention of a north country fellwalker who was noted for his stubborn refusal to embrace technical outdoor clothing.
The contradictory nature of this saying can be clearly evidenced in a UK TV documentary featuring Wainwright and his trusted interviewer and friend, Eric Robson. Sitting in a Borrowdale cafe, the pair looked to the stormy rain battered fells and Wainwright commented ‘ It’s certainly not a day to be out on the fells’. Note; not ‘If only I had my £400 Gore-Tex kag, Event Over trousers and my Seal Skin lined £300 Italian boots I’d be oop on’t fells like a shot’ !
When Eric asked him how he dealt with bad weather in the fells, AW was quite clear in his response. He simply said if the forecast was bad he just changed his plans and went on another day when the weather was more clement. An approach totally at odds with the attributed ‘ No such thing’ quote.
I have to say, this approach is plain common sense to me. If you live in the locale as AW did and can afford to change your plans then why not? Call me a fair-weather outdoor activist if you will but I see absolutely no point in going out climbing, hillwalking or mountain biking if it’s lashing down and a westerly gale is sweeping over. It would be different perhaps, if you had driven 200 miles to get your outdoor fix and had accommodation booked etc. Then I can see how you might find yourself quoting ‘Wainwright’ as you zipped up your kag, hoisted a pack on your back and headed off into the mountains as white torrents tumbled down and the tops were wreathed in clag.
Of course, the best laid plans of mice and men etc, do not always follow the expected trajectory. Being unexpectedly caught out is par for the course if you get out regularly in the great outdoors. On several occasions I’ve been caught out climbing in the rain and on more than one occasion I’ve found myself, to quote Morrissey ‘Shipwrecked on dry land’. That is, when I’ve been hit by a squall in extremis. Trying to remove a gear placement which is suddenly under water is an interesting experience, as is trying to find your rucksack which you secreted in a niche at the foot of the crag except the niche has suddenly disappeared behind a waterfall!
The most terrifying experience of all for any mountain goer is being caught in a thunder and lightning storm. Having just finished Direct Route on Glyder Fach, my partner and I were hit-almost literally- by an explosive storm which saw the sky take on a blue hue and the atmosphere bristling with menace. Running down the mountain side as lightning cracked around us and with our ears ringing with thunderclaps ,was not an experience I’d like to repeat anytime soon.
Captain Ahab unsuitably attired for an outdoor activity. In this case, the first aid ascent of Moby Dick.
There are always of course, the outdoor Captain Ahab’s. Not lashed to the mast in an Atlantic tempest or struggling to overcome 'The Great White', but gaining a perverse pleasure in elemental suffering by undertaking an activity when common sense suggests a day more suited to festering in caffs. Driving back and forth through Snowdonia I see these ‘Ahab’s regularly. Particularly the road bikers. Dressed in nothing but lycra, head down and peddling furiously into the wind and rain funneling down Ogwen Valley, or the perversely enthusiastic hillwalkers, returning like drowned rats from a day on the mountain when you can't see your hand in front of your face or the rain has matched a tropical monsoon in intensity
‘No such thing as bad weather’?....Au contraire mon ami and if Wainwright was still alive I’m sure he’d concur!