The Curious Case of the Plummeting Vole.

30th January 2024

It was quite a cloudy day. I headed up Beinn a Chrulaiste, a hill which despite being quite modest in height (853m) has one of the best views in Glen Coe. Fortunately I did manage to get some nice views on the way up as the cloud level dropped through the day, and by the time I reached the summit visibility was about 50m.

The view down the Glen Coe. The higher tops were already in the cloud by this point.

Buachaille Etive Mor standing proud (taken with quite a wide angle lens). This was about as clear as it got.

Patterns in the ice. The past couple of days have been quite cool and at higher levels the surface of things (puddles, the snowpack and to some extent the ground) tends to be quite well frozen.

A vole I spotted on the way up. It is not unusual to see one of these hardy wee creatures, but normally they scamper away and disappear very quickly, well before I can get the camera out. This one hung around and seemed quite relaxed about my presence (maybe it assumed it had not been spotted).

Today’s spotting on a vole and subsequent pondering of a vole’s life made me think of an unusual incident that occurred to me a few years ago (coincidently also on the 30th of January). I was not working, and as conditions in Glen were pretty good I was out climbing. I was leading the second or third pitch of Number 6 Gully (a classic grade IV ice route on the West Face of Aonach Dudh). I was on easy snowy section of the route, and when looking up at the next steep icy section I saw something small and dark falling down the gully towards me. At first I thought it was a rock or blob of turf knocked off by a team up ahead. However, as it approached I saw there was something odd about it. My hand eye coordination is not the greatest, but in this case was able to catch this thing, which turned out to be a vole, as it bounced past.  What caused it to be falling down the gully, I am not sure, I assume that it had just slipped when scurrying about higher up. Is it this a one off, or do many voles live on Scottish winter routes (I have also seen one which did not fall off on Number Three Gully Buttress on Ben Nevis). Does anyone else have a similar experience?

More generally how many creatures come to grief in the mountains from hazards that also affect humans such as hypothermia, slips, falls, being hit by falling rock or ice, and of course avalanches. This is something I have not seen much evidence about, although I heard a few anecdotes. One impressive piece of footage (not from Scotland) of a hare surviving escaping an avalanche can be found at  (I am not entirely convinced about the commentary, but the footage is good).

Caught! A vole caught falling down Number 6 Gully a few years ago.

Another vole photo, taken on a cold day early season. In this case the vole took refuge on my colleague’s boot presumably as it was warmer than the snowpack. Voles often have a network of tunnels at the base of the snowpack (their tracks can often be seen then the snow melts), but in this photo being early in the season, these presumably had not be created yet, and hence this wee creature scampering about in the cold on the surface of the snow.

Comments on this post

  • Mark Raistrick
    30th January 2024 7:35 pm

    Great story, it is the combination of technical and stories that I love about the avalanche blogs. I need to know – did the vole on Number 6 Gully survive?

    • glencoeadmin
      30th January 2024 8:44 pm

      Glad you enjoy the blogs Mark. Unfortunately that particular plummeting vole did not survive, although I am sure there are some other stories of falling voles that have a happier ending.

  • Scott Whitehead
    31st January 2024 8:05 pm

    During a descent from Bidean Nam Bian I managed to walk into a bit of a cul de sac, the cliffs growing ever higher. On seeing a dead vole at the foot of one I decided to turn back and descend a safer route, figuring the rodent had also taken a wrong turn. As I looked up at the sheer cliffs about 40 minutes afterward it turns out to have been one of my best decisions.

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