Monday, 25 February 2013

Avalanche Indicator on the Buachaille

The forecast for sunny sky and little wind, was partly true. There was no wind but there was considerable cloud cover just above the mountain tops. The still freezing temperatures gave me confidence that the snow on the head wall would still be consolidated and hard frozen. I crossed the River Coupall by the bridge and admired the view towards the Lairig Gartain.

The view into the Glencoe valley wasn't bad either. The Aonach Eagach looked particularly inviting ..perhaps another day's outing once the snow goes ? It is many years since I last traversed its narrow ridge.

When I reached the snow line in Coire na Tulaich, I turned to take this photo and noticed another lone climber not to far behind me. He was young, fit and travelling fast.

Rather that try to keep ahead of him, I decided it was a good time to rest a little and let him past. We exchanged pleasantries while we both put on our crampons. Then he was off. I smiled quietly to myself as he drew ahead.

We were approaching the steep head wall which is a notorious avalanche spot. I had checked the forecast before deciding on this route and was reasonably confident that the snow was in good condition... but with my years of experience in snow climbing ... I have found the best avalanche indicator is to watch someone else climb the steep stuff first. Yup.. I guess Im a selfish old bugger when it comes to my own safety. I watched as the young climber started out on the slippery slopes.

He seemed to hesitate about a quarter of the way up and I wondered if he was now wishing he had let me go first ? Then he struck out for the top. He managed without any further problems. I was now very confident that the snow was in condition.

I started my way up the snow bound head wall and I didn't hesitate at the quarter way mark. The snow was solid. It took the front points of my crampons easily but was hard enough to resist my boot breaking its surface. I enjoyed climbing the slope and forgot about the long distant memories of blood and hair in Crowberry Gully. I stopped and looked back as the slope eased near the top.

Looking back down the steep slope..I realized that a slip could easily had me speeding down the hard slippery surface for quite some distance before the rock walls at the bottom would abruptly stopped my fall.

I then remembered a young climber who fell 1000 ft down Crowberry Gully, tumbling head over heels on the steep abrasive snow and ice until he came to an abrupt stop, six feet from where I was standing.

I remembered the blood from his head wounds turning the white snow red, around my feet as I tried to stem the flow with my spare shirt. I remembered how utterly alone and helpless I felt as I tried to comfort him while my young brother ran down the mountain to raise the alarm.

As I waited with him while his life drained away into the snow, I heard faint cries for help.. far up in the gully.. one of the hardest winter gully climbs on the Buachaille. Yet this young man was wearing trainers and there was no sign of climbing equipment ?

I shook those sad and bloody images from my mind and was very glad that I had made it to the top of this head wall without incident.

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