Sunday 14 April was a sad day – the SAIS announced the end of its daily avalanche reports (at least until next season, and weekend forecasts will continue for a little while yet). For me, this unofficially signalled the end of winter and the need to move on. Trad climbing, scrambling and summer hillwalking beckon.


Elsewhere on the internet, writers, such as Heavy Whalley, took the opportunity to point out that although the daily reports have finished, those venturing into the hills still need to make judgements based on sound information and reasoning. Snow and ice still linger, and spring conditions are more than capable of producing avalanches.


However, you may have have noticed my own flawed logic above – that the end of the SAIS forecast season equals the end of winter. I exaggerate to make a point, but wager that I am not the only person who entertained the thought. Perhaps we are institutionalised by official services these days, but the wrapping up of SAIS for another year is certainly not the cue to throw caution to the wind when venturing out on to the hillside.


It interested me that the post above quoted Tacitus, ‘Truth is confirmed by inspection and delay; falsehood by haste and uncertainty’.  I was interested to know where the quote originated in the Latin, so after quite a roundabout and frustrating search, discovered it is from Annals 2, 39, ‘veritas visu et mora, falsa festinatione et incertis valescunt‘. The passage relates to the slave of the historical figure Postumus Agrippa, who was adopted into the Roman imperial family, but later executed as a result of political intrigue in the first century AD. According to Tacitus, Agrippa’s slave impersonated his master after his death and caused rumours to circulate to testify to the fact.


This first successful search then led me on to attempt to find the source, which had long eluded me, of a favourite quote of mine, attributed to Cicero, ‘Live as brave men; and if fortune is adverse, front its blows with brave hearts‘. Surprisingly, they are not the words of the famous rhetorician Cicero, but belong to a peasant called Orfellus from the poet Horace’s Satire II.ii, ‘quocirca vivite fortes / fortiaque adversis opponite pectora rebus‘. This is quite a dramatic misquote, presumably as a result of quotation bots’ indiscriminatory cutting, pasting and harvesting. Somehow too the words lose a little power on the lips of a farmer, as opposed to a great public speaker.


So then, in relation to the avalanche forecast, a few principles are clear: information wielded well is powerful and helpful; but also it is easy to lift the same information out of context and apply it according to one’s own needs. Indeed, everyone enjoys a rousing quote or a sunny weather forecast to lift the soul. However, in the case of the avalanche forecast, ignorance or wrong interpretation could be damaging in the extreme. Weather forecasts suggest that winter may well cling to the Highlands of Scotland for a while longer whereas elsewhere spring will be in full flow. If you are heading into the Cairngorms, for example, where snow cover remains extensive above 900m, take care that you are making good judgement calls rather than assuming the best or trying to ‘make things fit’.

Categories: Blog, Conditions, Simon, Winter
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