Every year for the last 18 years myself and a group of mates have headed for a bunk house for a weekend in January or February and climbed hills.
Over that whole time we have never had a really decent weather day! ‘Okay’ has been about the best we’ve experienced.
The February 2017 trip was no different and when we woke on Saturday morning the rain was battering off the skylight window. However, bluffs were called and a small group decided to attempt Sgor na h-Ulaidh in Glencoe, from Achnacon. The other guys sensibly decided it was a day for the pub.
The weather did turn out to be truly miserable. The wind, rain, sleet and snow were relentless and after getting to 800m we were forced to abandon with the wind speeds driving us back down as we neared Corr na Beinne.
Winding on 12 months the forecast was looking pretty bleak for the weekend again so we were pleasantly surprised when things improved late on and we awoke on Saturday this time to an ‘okay’ day. Cloud was holding on to the tops but conditions were benign.
Our group split in two with one party climbing the Corbett Meall Lighiche while four of us aimed for Sgor na h-Ulaidh again. The snow was quite deep but we made good progress and donned crampons and swapped poles for ice axes as we passed the point we’d been beaten back the previous year. As we got on to the summit ridge we were more exposed to stronger winds, thick cloud and very limited visibility. Despite this we made our way to the summit and then had a satisfying but brief lunch stop hunkered down near the top.
We hoped to carry on north east along the ridge for an alternative route back to the car however after descending approximately 150m we were too nervous about the lack of visibility and poor snow conditions to continue. Avalanche warnings had been issued for north facing slopes so we had little hesitation in retracing our steps even though we knew the steepness, snow and ice on the west slope would make for a tricky descent – but at least we knew what we were up against.
My ‘incident’ occurred on the steepest section when a large section of snow slipped away under my feet and I was instantly on the deck and sliding out of control. I managed to get on my front but initially in my confusion I was trying to arrest with the pick of my ice axe before I was able to flip it over to use the adze. It was at this point I fell over a 5 foot rock drop off and was very luckily able to plant my crampons and stop my fall with no more than a bruised elbow to show for it.
I don’t want to over dramatize the incident; I probably only slid for 10m but it certainly highlighted the need to be able to ice axe arrest quickly and effectively. There was 400m of steep rocky slope below me if my fall had generated more momentum I might have been in trouble. As it was, we descended safely and I used the opportunity to practise my arrests on large but less steep snow fields lower down the mountain.
We’ve already booked a bunkhouse for 1 – 3 February 2019 so my advice to Walk Fife readers is to stay indoors that weekend. You’ll get no better than ‘okay’ weather!