Sunday, 7 March 2010

Fright of the Navigator

As anticipated, Friday saw 3 of us head out to recover the argocat. The plan was simple;- drive out to it with the snowtrac, tie a strop onto it and tow it home. Better still, we didn't feel like we were losing a day either. A wind was blowing and the day was heavily overcast with the threat of rain on the air. Poor conditions for foxing.
The journey out took a little longer than expected. The grey light meant that reading the contours of the snow was virtually impossible. And it got worse the farther out and higher we got. The last mile was in whiteout conditions.
For those of you who have never experienced a whiteout, I can only descibe it as like wearing goggles with tracing paper for lenses. The snow-covered ground is the same colour as the sky, and as featureless. It's alarming just how disorientating it is.
We would never have found the argo if it hadn't been for one thing- it broke down right on top of a hill. Once we were on that hill all we had to do was keep going up.
By the time we got to it, it was blowing a gale, snowing heavily, and a whiteout with visibility down to 30 yards. We decided not to hang about...
We got the strop attached and were very relieved to find that the snowtrac was up to the job of pulling the argo in the soft snow. But, with our fresh tracks indiscernable, how to find our way back down??
Fortunately for all present, I have 15 years of experience on this bit of ground and this, coupled with a decent sense of direction saw me taking the procession off in the direction of home.
My greatest concern was there are two or three deep hollows in the face of the hill we were heading down. Just to be sure we missed the steeps leading into them, I had the third member of the crew walk in front for a while.It's amazing how deceptive conditions like these are, we seemed to be dropping our height for a long, long time.
Suddenly Alan, our guide, stopped and started peering about. As I looked, the mist lifted slightly. It turns out I HAD missed the hollows- by about half a mile! I'd been taking us down off the hill at about 90 degrees from the direction we should have been heading in. Oops!
Just where we could have ended up doesn't bear thinking about. As it was, we hadn't lost so much height that we couldn't angle out of that face, and back onto the right course. Luckily.
After that little detour, there was little excitement- well for me anyway. Dave, who was in the argo, reported that every time we came to a downhill the argo (with a centrifugal clutch and, therefore, no engine braking)would take off towards the back of the snowtrac. And when he applied the brakes the thing would slide 'like a petrol station plastic sledge'.
Suffice to say, we were all delighted to get back off the hill safe and sound. And it only took us 6 hours..........

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