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.
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 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9xAOYAeDFCk (I am not entirely convinced about the commentary, but the footage is good).
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