Thursday, 7 March 2013

A dark day on the Buachaille

Once I had clambered up the steep head wall and out of Coire Na Tulaich , the rest of the walk to the summit was very easy easy. The views across the rest of the Glencoe hill range opening up to the north was dominated by the huge mound of Stob na Doire, which is still part of the main Buachaille Etive Mor ridge.

There was hardly a breath of wind but I was still very aware of how cold it was on the summit ridge. My breath started to form beads of ice on my beard. The snow underfoot was ice hard and frost formed deep patterns on bare rocks.

As I made my way to the summit cairn, I thought back to my last climb into Crowberry Gully, to rescue three other climbers who became crag fast just below the crux of the route. I recalled the feeling then that I was climbing in a huge deep freeze. The look of both fear and relief on faces when I reached the young climbers. I could hear the helicopter's rotors again, shattering the icy silence of the gully as the down draft threw painful ice chips high into the air. I could almost smell the stench of their dead companion whom I left 1000ft below.

Lost in dark memories..I suddenly awoke to realize I was almost at the summit cairn of the Buachaille.

Once I reached the summit, I looked over towards the Rannoch moor and thought of the people who will never see that view again, and also of the unfortunate people who never saw that view.

Perhaps this might be seen to some as a morbid post and perhaps it is.

But my recent day on the Buachaille reminded me just how precious life is and also how worthwhile it is to reach our goals, but only if it is within our ability to do so.

The unfortunate "climbers" that I have mentioned had never been on a mountain in winter condition before and had mistakenly climbed into Crowberry Gully thinking it was an easy route to the top.

An easy mistake to do.. but they paid a very high price for that mistake.

I walked in silence back to the bealach to begin my steep decent back down the mountain. I could see my avalanch indicator making his way there too.

As I approached the bealach, another two walkers appeared out the coire to add some scale to the huge barren mountainscape.

As I made my way slowly back down the steep icy head wall, I remembered climbing back down Crowberry Gully. The helicopter was full of the rescued party and I was left to descent by my own steam. It was not a pleasant decent that day, passing blood and hair remains on the way down.

I gave up serious winter climbing after that incident. I guess I lost my "bottle" that day too.

As I descended the headwall, I decided that this would be my last time on top of the Buachaille too.

There are plenty other hills in Scotland.. some easier and some harder ..but none of them hold such dark memories for me.


Ian said...

I think you've gone a long way down the road to dealing with the memories Donny. From what Douglas has said it must have been terrible; and going back must have been very difficult. I can only admire your fortitude in doing so.

Carpe every single Diem?.....

Kind regards


Anonymous said...

I notice you didn't tell everyone about the shirt you donated to a charity shop - the one which was your best disco shirt, which you had used to try to keep the guys head together. Remember, even after washing in the stream on the way back, it was still purple instead of blue.
Despite this accident, we had some great times on the mountains in Scotland, and I am very grateful to you for dragging me around, cos I was too young to even drive then . Some of my best memories are of the times we were in the mountains.

Douglas Wilcox said...

Hi Donald, I am really glad you revisited the Buachaille and I am sure you will go on to climb many other fine mountains.

As you know I carried on climbing until my knees packed in in 2004. I did visit the Buachaille many times summer and winter over those years but always that dark day came to mind.

I remember standing on top of Crowberry Tower after a winter ascent of Curved Ridge and thinking how sad it was for those boys. I have always erred on the side of caution in the outdoors and I think much of that stems from that day.

blueskyscotland said...

I did the Buachaille a couple of years go in summer and was surprised at how steep and eroded it is now at the top of the coire. Hardly an inch of scree left.Also what a tough descent it was on the knees.
Sounds like you laid a few memories of that other day to rest Donny. Sometimes its the people watching events that are left with deep impressions as well as the folk they are actually occurring to.

Donny Wilcox said...

Thanks for your comments guys.

It was a sobering day for me and also for my brother Alistair Annonymous.

But as Douglas has made us all the more careful in future outings to the hills and the seas.

It made us all realize just how vulnerable we all are. It is unfortunate that it came at the cost of someone else's life though :(