I wasn't going to climb this weekend. Andy and his partner John were climbing something too hard for me and I'd been so busy during the week with study and homework, that I hadn't organised another climbing partner. So, I decided to go bag some more munros and if Andy and John were going to Torridon, then I'd jump in the car too and do a traverse of Beinn Alligin or something similar.
In the end, decided to go to Beinn Eighe as I hadn't done the 2 munros there, nor had I ever walked into Coire Mhic Fhearchair and Andy reckoned that if I walked up to the col between Sail Mhor and Coinneach, then I'd get a wee scramble up near to the top of Fuselage Wall round from the West Buttress. He had never been up the hill that way so didn't know for sure exactly what it was like, but reckoned that if I stayed right, rather than left, then it shouldn't be too difficult.
We were up at 5ish, arriving at the car park about, or just before 8 and Andy and John set off up hill, whilst I set off round the back. As the view to the NW opened up, I stopped a fair bit to oooh and aaah and take photos, and sauntering onwards realised I had taken the wrong branch of the path and was now heading away from Beinn Eighe and past the Lochans Choire Dhuibh. Rats!! I could see the correct path against the hillside, so should I turn back, or just go direct, through the boggy hillock bits. The boggy hillock bits beckoned, though I'm not sure it was any quicker!
On the right path at last, it was no time at all before I entered the coire and the cliffs of Sail Mhor came into view. I stopped for a while to look at Ling, Lawson and Glover's Route before walking round the loch and heading off up to the col, keeping an ear and eye open for Andy and John on the way.It was steep, and not the most pleasant going up to the col and I couldn't decide whether the powder over the grass or the powder over the loose rock was easier going! But eventually I made it up and could see John bringing Andy up, on what looked like pitch 2 of their route, jeez they were moving quick I thought! I got up onto the crest of the ridge, scrambling over blocks and boulders when I was stopped by a steep wall. GULP! Was this really the 'wee' scramble? From my perspective it looked a bloody terrifying prospect going up there without a rope attached! Certainly not the sort of ground I was used to soloing! I remembered Andy saying about going right, so I dropped down off the crest and moved around the difficulty. Only problem was that I couldn't see another way to get back up. The walls were steeper here and most def impassable to me without a rope, and if I was to carry on rightwards, I would be going down OFF the hill and onto steep grass and scree, gouged out by gorges where water flowed down. Hmmm, that prospect didn't seem so great either and I stopped for a wee rethink and got out my map for a look. Well, if I carried on the way I was going, I would eventually come to the Bealach Gorm and going that way seemed to defeat the purpose of what I had originally planned. I decided to go back to the ridge crest where I started and have a proper look at the steep bit, it probably wasn't as hard as it looked and it was more than likely that I was just being a bit of a wimp. The nearer I got to the crest, the harder I could hear my heart beating in my chest. I was getting pretty damn nervous! The start of the wall didn't look *too* difficult, but what if I climbed up there and it *did* get harder and I couldn't get back down? What would I do? All these thoughts of, 'oh you've got yourself into a bit off a mess here!' were going through my head, and it did cross my mind to turn about and head back the way I came, facing self humiliation and loathing. But, for sure, was this not a wee puzzle I could solve by just having a wee try to see what it felt like. Aye. There was a choice between a chimney or a slab and I looked at the slab first but it looked to be hold less (for feet) and had alot of snow on it. The chimney option looked better to me so I stood on a block and reached up to feel about. But the next foot hold was chest high and the hand holds throwing my off balance, so back down I went. I decided I'd best put my crampons on, there was no verglass but I had seen the rocks all hoared up higher up and felt it might be too slippy with just boots. I didn't bother with axes though and just put on my Dachstein mitts for grip, the lack of turf and blocky nature of the rock, feeling quite foreign to me. I tried that chimney a few times, but in the end went to look at the slab instead.
There was a good enough ledge to stand on at the bottom of it, and good hand holds at the top, but it looked blank to me in between. I brushed the snow away with my mitt, looking for anything that I could use as a foothold and eventually found a wee ledgy bit and moved up, my heart beating louder and louder and my blood pressure rising! Managed to get my foot quite high and rock over and that was me past the slab, phew! But I was committed now, not sure that I could reverse those moves if need be. Thankfully the next section was a breeze and just more like that scramble I thought it would be! And at the top was another awkward chimney which took a bit of figuring! There was a wee foothold inside the chimney and a knee was put to good use half way up, until I managed to pull over, and a few more blocky moves and I was at the top. Phew! That was exciting!!
I stopped to take loads of photos of Andy and John, and noticed another team over to the right on Fight or Flight. But I was getting too cold hanging about with my mitts off and once Andy brought John up to his stance, they only had one pitch left to climb, so I thought I'd better get my skates on and make a move! I decided that there was no way I was going to have time to do both munros so deliberated for moment on which one to go for. If I did Ruadh-stac Mor then came back and met the guys, then I'd have to go down that horrid slope back to the car, whereas if I went on further to do Spidean Coire nan Clach then I could go down the path. That was the deciding factor really.
It was simply beautiful up there, it was freezing cold but the wind had gone and there were no other walkers to be seen, just me and the hills and views for miles and miles. I stopped at the col at the bottom of Coinneach Mor, for a bit to eat and then zoomed off up to the next top, trying to stay as close to the crest as possible on the wee scramble up to the proper summit of Spidean. The light was changing now, and I thought that unless I got a move on, Andy and John would get down well before me and be waiting knackered in the car for ages. So, rather than following the nice path down, I went off down the right side of Coire nan Clach instead. It was pretty steep and horrible in places but there was a path of sorts here and there and where snow had drifted in, the going was much more soft and pleasant.
My legs were like jelly by the time I was nearing the bottom and the traverse down and across to the Allt a' Choire Dhuibh Mhoir seemed to take forever and by the time I crossed the river it was dusk and dark by the time I reached the car. Andy and John were no where to be seen however, damn all that rushing for nothing! I was thinking like a gradeIII climber, thinking that cos they were on the 2nd last pitch, they would be up in no time at all and back to the car well before me. I had no idea really how long it takes to climb harder stuff. But I didn't have to wait long, with a lass that had been part of the other team knocking on the car (where I was sat huddled in a big down bag reading Mick Fowler's Vertical Pleasure) to let me know that Andy and John weren't far behind them. It was very inspiring to see a woman climbing hard in winter, not something I see very often.
Andy and John got down about half an hour after me, John snuggled down and dozed in the back whilst a knackered Andy drove home with me gripping onto the sides of my seats in fear of my life by Andy's 'extreme' driving :o)