Tuesday, July 14, 2015

A stark learning experience

As an enthusiastic squash coach I try and encourage any players to learn from the losses. You learn more from a defeat than you do from a victory and this weekend in the Mamores was a classic example.

I have already stated the aim in an earlier blog post, a traverse of The Mamore ridge which takes in 10 Munros. At very late notice Guy and I had a passenger in the shape of an old rugby friend of mine Jim. From the off he had no expectations of being able to tackle the ridge, and was acutely aware that we couldn’t hang around waiting for him once we got going.

The journey through to Fort William went pretty much to plan, however, my first inkling that things may not quite go as planned happened as early as the shopping trip in Morrisions for getting provisions on the hill including our night out. I had to make a longer than expected pit stop and when I returned found that as I queued to pay for mine, the others had already finished and I raised an eyebrow that Guy had not bought anything that needed the stove (I had gone for pasta and a sauce we could have shared – high carb). Being an adult that was his decision but I knew I would want a hot meal when it was late at night and the forecast wind and rain arrived.

So on down into Glen Nevis and conditions were excellent, setting off at 11:20 on schedule and we picked up the initial path very easily until we joined the forestry track, where everything disappeared under an explosion of bark and general forestry waste. We ploughed on slowly until we spotted a style at the other side of the burn, however, that could only be accessed by climbing a fence.  I went first, then Guy, when the post gave way and snapped, challenging Jim to get over. Once over I spotted someone on the ridge and we realised we would have to take on a very steep ascent to get there albeit on decent enough ground. Jim took the sensible decision to part the ways.

Guy and I plodded to the ridge where we met a fellow walker who felt the path up which we had been given was fictitious!!!! So on we went to the first summit, Mullach nan Coirean, passing some snow on the way.

 Back on the gps line I was beginning to feel a bit more confident we could at least knock a hole in the route that evening, albeit I was already very pessimistic that we could make the bealach after Binnein Mor where we had planned to camp.

The way to Stob Ban was uneventful and my theory shared with Jim that he could have made that in leisurely time and then escaped onto the West Highland Way into Kinlochleven was vindicated. It was then that Jim called from A&E telling us that he had slipped and broken his ankle in 3 places!!!!

Next on the list was Sgurr an lubhair, which is described as an ex-Munro having been relegated from that elite status. Here there was a fabulous lochan which allowed us to top up our water supplies. At this point it was clear Guy was struggling and as Sgurr a’Mhaim was a peak captured and then returned by the same route I suggested that I walk for about an hour and a half, bagging Am Bodach and pitching the tent on the other side and getting the pan on so that tea would be ready when he arrived, if not hot food!

The view from the summit of Sgurr a’Mhaim was the highlight of the day. For virtually the whole day Ben Nevis was shrouded in cloud, however, by 8pm it showed its grandeur – absolutely stunning. 

The ridge along to Sgurr a’Mhairm is airy in places and a few years ago I would have been tiptoeing across full of fear, but thanks to NLP that has long ceased to be an issue.

So on to Am Bodach and the prospect of dinner. For the third time that day I met a team doing a Ramsay Round – now that’s a serious challenge. By now the forecast cloud was beginning to come in and the rain started. The route down into the bealach where I spotted a suitable spot to camp for the evening was a bit steep and a bit unstable underfoot and I was glad to reach the bottom. It was the last time I would be pleased for some time.

I went to my rucksack to pull out the tent and I wouldn’t be surprised if some readers heard my profane and industrial language from there. It was not the tent that Guy and I had invested in for just such trips. It later transpired that Guy had chosen it because it was lighter…..I had no idea how to put the thing together (I am crap at that kind of thing at the best of times and had practised with the other tent several times to perfect an expedient pitch) so I had to wait for Guy. The sweat had taken its toll on my new t-shirt so I quickly changed and got the stove going and enjoyed my pasta with relish, all the while keeping an eye out for Guy. An hour later and I was starting to get seriously worried as the clag closed in. (I found out later that Guy couldn’t find the way off the summit so sat things out for 20 minutes whilst he waited for a break in the cloud) Eventually he heard my calls and joined me and after a fashion got the tent up.

Normally that would be a cause for celebration; however, this tent would barely have fitted two pygmies far less two adult men with rucksacks. In conditions where we could barely move sleep was a foreign entity. Around 2.30 am Guy stated, “We’ll laugh about this one day…just not now” as the wind and rain howled and managed to penetrate the tent. He is of course correct, but we could have died from exposure up there as there was no way we could get down in the dark in the circumstances.
Guy was “done”, and I couldn’t leave him to make his own way down so the decision was taken at 5.30 to break camp and follow what looked to be a reasonable escape route to get us back to the car and abandon the expedition.

I would love to say the escape was uneventful, but it wasn’t as we slid down shiny slippery rocks braking to ensure we didn’t fall into the gorge below, then having to pick a route down a precipitous face using trees to arrest us as we went, then having to ford a river before completing the job by crossing the Steal Bridge.

We managed to get hold of Jim and he met us in the car park with the help of a taxi driver and agreed lunch at The Clachaig Inn was in order. A rather fantastic curry was had in Glasgow that evening as we bumped into lots of AC/DC fans on their way to their gig at Hampden before dumping the hire car and binning the wholly inadequate tent.

Lessons learned

Make sure you take the right equipment – double check it if you are relying on someone else taking it.

Make sure navigation skills are up to being able to cope with zero visibility.

I am already well down the road of planning another go at tackling the full Mamore ridge, but I doubt Guy will.

Next up is a couple of weeks in Assynt at the lovely Clachtoll Beach where I aim to get some climbing as well as hiking done - just hoping for better weather than last years family holiday in that neck of the woods!

Finally, I post this on the 150th anniversary of the first successful ascent of The Matterhorn and leave with this rather lovely picture of the route up.

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