Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Dodgy weather and dodgy knees

As my national bard said more eloquently than I, "The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men
Gang aft agley"!

So it was for my Scottish winter mountain training expedition on the weekend of 5th Feb.

First of all the sleeper was late into Glasgow, the weather forecast had been grim all week in the run up so maximising time on the hill in reasonable weather was a priority. So after throwing down some breakfast we went to collect the hire car only to find it wasn't going to be available for another hour. So what should have been an 8am departure from Glasgow turned into a 10am one. That will be the last time I use Sixt I have to say.

As we drove north it became clear that our initial plan of climbing Beinn Narnain and Beinn Ime was simply not possible, especially in the dire weather. So after a reassessment we decided to head straight for Glencoe and do a reconnaissance on our ultimate target of Stob Coire nan Lochan. The idea was to walk up into the corrie bowl and have a look at conditions ahead of Saturday's assault.

The snow level was a lot higher than last year and it was clear that conditions in the crags higher up were, as one climber we met put it, "thin".

However, the forecast for Saturday was for colder weather and further snowfall so all was not lost yet, so we returned to the car grateful at least to have got out albeit we were pretty soggy and windswept by the time we checked in at The Clachaig.

There followed a very pleasant evening spent with a Paris based couple who were touring the area, one originally from the Black Isle and the other an American where we enjoyed a few of the numerous beers on offer.

So off we set on Saturday in reasonable weather with it forecast to deteriorate. The first thing that struck me arriving at the car park was how busy it was - we got the last space and it wasn't even 9am! All tooled up, with ropes and other gear we set off passing a few people on the way and seeing climbers well into the distance. After an hour or so it was clear to me that Guy was struggling, despite making better time than the day before. As I caught up with a group who were putting on their crampons and harnesses I took the opportunity of the last bit of shelter from the biting wind to wait for Guy. When he arrived my suspicions were well founded and we agreed to tackle the final slope before the corrie bowl to assess what we might do. On arrival it was the mountain equivalent of Piccadilly Circus!

Guy declared that he couldn't do any climbing at that point, a mixture of pain and loss of confidence faced with the crags and the clear deterioration in the weather conditions, and said he would make his way down on his own. I couldn't let him do that after what happened to Jim last summer so the decision was taken to abort for the day.

The forecast for Sunday was atrocious with gusts of wind at the summit in excess of 80mph and heavy snow. When we awoke the wind was definitely stronger, and sure enough snow was coming down in the Glen. We agreed to head south and revisit our Friday objectives. As we headed across Rannoch Moor the snow started getting very heavy and several times I nearly lost the car despite doing very modest speeds. (grainy pic taken by passenger Guy!)

In all honesty I was grateful to get to Bridge of Orchy without leaving the road. By then the snow had turned to rain but it was hosing down, so we stopped at a nice cafe in Inveruglas and assess the situation. The wind was getting stronger and the Met Office hourly forecast indicated no improvement until 4pm, so we abandoned all thoughts of mountain activity and instead spent the afternoon "date-style" at the Glasgow Modern Art Museum, followed by the rather brilliant, if harrowing Spotlight followed by a curry in the rather marvellous Koh-I-Noor restaurant, before heading back to catch the sleeper back south.

My abiding principle in all my expeditions is that a key element of success is getting home safely and it hit us profoundly as we discovered in the dining car, enjoying a Laphroig, that there had been an avalanche that day, but thankfully no one was seriously hurt!

All in all somewhat disappointing as far as training and practice goes, however, I still feel confident that I am on schedule to reach the summit of The Matterhorn in August.

Fundraising has now started in earnest and details of how to sponsor me can be found on www.MainsersMatterhorn.com

Thanks for your support


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