Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Glencoe and some bitter / sweet memories

I stood on the top of all the Glencoe summits around the early 1980’s but following an accident on Buachaille Etive Mor in 1984, I gave up mountaineering until just a few years ago.

I was scrambling en route for Curved Ridge when a teenager fell almost 1000ft and landed only six feet from where I was. I waited with him for almost an hour while my young brother ran back down the mountain to call out the rescue team. There were no mobile phones in those days. He was bleeding badly from a hole in his skull, I was very glad he never recovered consciousness while I waited. I have never felt so alone or helpless in my life as I waited by his side on the cold lonely mountain, until another two climbers arrived. All the time, I could hear very faint cries coming from near the top of Crowberry Gully.

I then set off with one of the climbers to ascend the Gully. It was in full winter condition. We found three terrified teenagers near the top of the gully. They were stuck just below the icy crux of this VS winter climb, without crampons, ice axe or ropes. In fact this was their first outing on a mountain. They were wearing nothing more than trainers. I guess they were lucky because they survived. The lad that landed by my feet had died. I admit I was a bit afraid climbing the steep snow and ice pitches of the gully. The blood and hair on the snow over 1000ft. was a constant reminder of where I would end if I fell, and the condition I would be in.

Three years ago I returned to hill walking and decided to walk up Stob Coire nan Lochan. I was surprised to see a stone stepped path almost all the way to the top. In my earlier days, it was a loose gravel path. I suppose it was built to prevent erosion but it did take away some of the feeling of "mountaineering in the wilderness." I was also a bit surprised at how steep the mountain now seemed. I never noticed that in my earlier days but suspect that is because of my age now rather than the slopes getting steeper.

The stone staircase to the Coire nan Lochan. I was alone but there were plenty of people doing the same walk, so I was not concerned about walking on my own. I also had my mobile phone .. had I lost my spirit of adventure ?

Looking back down the path, I was surprised that it was steeper than I remembered from years ago.

Just as the path enters the coire, the snow and ice started.

I was not prepared. It was solid ice. Even on gentle gradients, it was too hard to kick the slightest toe hold into the snow. I had no crampons or ice axe.

I continued for a while, jumping from rock to rock but soon everything turned slippery white. I remembered that fateful day on the Buachaille and decided to turn back.

Before I went down again, I remembered other days climbing the mountains of Scotland. I remembered the first time I stood on the top of Stob Coire nan Lochan. I ascended it via broad gully with my brothers and my father. At that time, he was my age now. I shall return to climb some of those gullies again. Circled in red is two people starting broad gully on Stob Coire nan Lochan.

As youngsters, my brother and I thought nothing of scrambling up ice pitches without ropes but we did use ice axes, and crampons. Perhaps we were lucky to survive too. This photo was on a frozen waterfall somewhere on Craig Meaghaidh. It was known as Scotlands killer mountain then.. I wonder why ?


Anonymous said...

Like the photo of the ice pitch.I,d always use a rope on something that steep though even if the protection was poor it does give you a bit of extra mental bravery.

Donny Wilcox said...

Hi anonymous :-D

Yup I know what you mean and I wouldn't do it now. I guess it was silly at the time.. but at that age.. I was like most youngsters and thought I was invincible and would last as long as the mountains themselves.

Age soon shows us the reality of how vulnerable we really are :-0