CCCC in Scotland
|Date: 16th Sept 2007
Submitted by: Anthony Feeney
The Colm Cille Climbers Club Clique (say that 10 times fast, can't can you?), hereafter known as the CCCC and consisting of George, PJ, Pete, Sandra and myself met up for another Scottish trip with Ben Nevis firmly in our sights. This time we travelled in my trusty Touran to avoid the bum numb of our previous trip in PJ's Audi. We got the usual midnight ferry and drove through the night to Fort William, pulling up near the Buachaille Etive Mor at 5.30 am to "assess the situation". This consisted of a general moaning and groaning from everyone except George who enthusiastically stepped out of the car bathing us all in light. We got our revenge by driving on to the Calluna apartments and having George wake up Sue Kimber to ask if we could sleep in the rooms we'd booked. One polite but firm berating later he slunk back to the car and we headed to MacDonalds for something to wake us up.
By 9am we were reasonably well fed and hurtling towards the Rannoch Wall, Pete setting a monstrous pace as he took off like a scalded cat as usual. We'd slowed considerably by the time we passed under the water slab and just made the base of Agag's Groove ahead of an English pair (Oxford alumni no less and nice fellows) who also wanted to do this classic 100m V. Diff. route. The weather was very overcast, though supposed to clear, and the rock was terribly wet so George and I skipped the VSs and decided on the 80m January Jigsaw (S) to avoid route congestion. One heavy shower later we'd done the first 2 pitches, were wet, cold and not at all inclined to do the second 2. We queued instead for the remainder of Agag's Groove, and laughed at the "screaming bitches" trying to get Pete to use the 2-way radio properly. "Push the f***ing button!"
The rain held off until I'd climbed through and led the airy final pitch, throughly enjoying myself in some brief sunshine, enough to even wave 2-handed at the others as they descended Curved Ridge and took photos. One final dump of rain led to a miserable George finishing the route in the wet. Of course the sun came out just then and shone strongly as we delicately picked our way over to the ridge and down to the car. The Kimbers let us into our rooms without mentioning our earlier misdemeanour and we were all in bed by 10pm after watching Shrek 2 with a chinese.
Up at 7am next morning we were on route to Tower Ridge by 8am, praying for the weather to hold off, which it did until we got to the CIC hut. We'd discussed the Douglas Boulder V.Diff start to the ridge and even brought rock shoes but in the steady rain it didn't seem advisable. We waved goodbye to a second group bound for the Carn Mor Dearg arete and headed up the scree to the start of the ridge. In the wet I was double checking every handhold and foothold before fully trusting them. The mist kept the views down the gullys from being appreciated but you could sense the huge drops, especially on one early corner that felt very exposed and had me on hands and knees. We roped up for a tricky looking scramble and PJ belayed Pete up, then we followed at 5m intervals on the end. This turned out to be a long cold wait so we divided into the usual pairings of Pete and the girls and George and me, roping up Alpine style and feeling like proper mountaineers. George and I sniggered at the free lessons we were getting that the others had undoubtedly paid for.
Pete's route finding soon got us to the traverse which was much lower than in winter as the banked snow here would force you higher, according to Sandra. We also got to use a chimney on the other side that's normally blocked with snow, instead of an airy scramble out to the left, thank God. I ignored Pete's jibes about my traditional huge pack size not getting through and squeezed up. We were placing gear a bit more often now as the scrambles got more exposed. When we got to Tower Gap I waited for George to cross the 4 foot wide bridge, thinking (as Pete later put it) "If he falls into Italy, I'm jumping into France". Some eejit decided to phone me at that point but I ignored it and crossed over when George had belayed the girls down to the stance below the bridge.
I had listened trepidly to PJ's squeals, wondering just what the hell lay down there but it was an easy enough down climb with the in situ tat. The ascent up the other side was slightly more difficult and the HUGE drops behind you made gear placement essential. The other 3 had skirted round to the left side but we took the direct route up the steps. Another scramble had us on the summit and congratulations were passed round quickly in the strong wind, before we scooted off down the tourist track.
We'd climbed the whole ridge in about 4 hours (from the CIC hut) without seeing another soul, since most sensible people wouldn't have been out, but we soon found ourselves surrounded by hundreds of walkers doing the last of the 4 Peaks. Indeed the last time I'd descended Ben Nevis this way was when I'd done the 4 Peaks a few years ago. That time I'd lost my boots at the last changeover and climbed the Ben in a pair of borrowed size 9s. I had to descend in a pair of flip flops when the 9s cut the toes off me and took about 5 hours doing so. This time we all descended in just under 2. Despite losing the others initially in the mist I caught up with them on the final section and we were soon supping well deserved pints / wine / coffee in the Achintee Inn. That night Sandra and PJ cooked a hearty supper and the film of choice was Braveheart, appropriately enough. Again we were in bed relatively early.
On the Sunday we rose stiff limbed and discussed slinking off to the climbing wall, but with the Kimber's excellent drying rooms we had no excuse not to hit the hills and George and I bravely decided on the Aonach Eagach ridge. Sandra dropped Pete and PJ off at the start for Sgorr Dhearg and us at the start of the ridge, then went back to the apartment to do some studying. I slogged up behind George about halfway to the first peak before my legs went to jelly and my belly growled at me. One huge feed later I felt able to continue and plodded achingly to the top of Am Bodach, really feeling the tight legs. George was only faring a little better and we were both glad when the long pull was over. At the Chancellor down climb conditions were very slippy and we passed a group turning back, when one of their party had taken a slight fall. We assumed it was the middle aged guy with the arse hanging out of his trousers!
After this section the path was relatively easy up to Meall Dearg and with the mist keeping visibility down to about 50m I commented to George on how tame this ridge was. The scary Aonach Eagach? Pshaw! An hour later I was eating my words as I picked my way through the pinnacles, keeping things low and slow in the gusting wind and wet rock. On a dry summer's day the big drops around you wouldn't matter because there are plenty of holds and big ledges to work with but it paid to be careful in the conditions. After Stob Coire Leith the final slog up to Sgorr nam Fiannaidh left us just wanting to get off the ridge, so a quick photo later we took the obvious path down through the scree from the summit. Luckily the path's direction matched George's bearing on the map and so his "potentially dangerous" navigation skills turned out to be OK.
As usual George got a lead on me on the descent and I decided to make up time by sliding on my arse in the wet grass. I instantly regretted giving myself such a huge push off as I thundered past him in a barely controlled slide, fingers dug into the greenery but with no real purchase. I managed to steer into a rocky patch that stopped me and stood up laughing shakily at George's exclamation of "Duuuuuuude!!" as I'd scooted past. As the ground got steeper we discussed crossing the roaring stream to our right but it looked a little too powerful. Not that wide but one slip and you'd be away, so we stayed put and eventually found a narrow path leading to the road below. Futher down we could see that the stream turned into a huge waterfall so staying away from it was a wise decision. 5 hours after dropping us off, Sandra picked us up and we joined the others at the Clachaig for a pint in damp clothes and squelchy boots.
Pete and PJ had had a fine day on their hill, just one small navigating error by Pete leading them towards a second Munro, Sgorr Dhonuill, instead of back down the path. As they passed a pair heading the other direction they realised their mistake and stopped to "chat" to each other until the pair had disappeared and couldn't catch on that they were on the wrong path. Embarrassing. We had a fine dinner in the Grog and Gruel that night followed by several drinks downstairs and got chatting to an elderly gent who professed to be doing E3s in big boots, 40 years ago before rock shoes were the norm! As we boastfully ticked off the big routes we'd done this year, a slightly sozzled George enthusiastically declared we needed to "move up a gear" (complete with gear-changing action). Did somebody mention the Eiger?
Back at the apartment Pete pulled out his "pick-up-sticks" game and a sober Sandra beat myself and Pete, despite numerous table-nudges, coughs, sneezes and other cheating going on. On route to the ferry next day, a quick stop for photos at the 3 Sisters and the Buachaille in our Climb Fest t-shirts summed up another grand weekend.