Well, I got my wish of climbing and scaring myself! Though I think I was suffering more from exhaustion than fear this weekend, and I'm sitting here typing, the day after, still knackered!
I had arranged to climb with Diana again this weekend, original plan was Saturday, but high winds made us change our plans to Sunday. Where to go though, considering that up Aviemore way had seen the biggest dump of snow for years and the NW had just gotten a big dump the day before?
Well, the Torridon Youth Hostel webcam showed that there wasn't *too* much snow pointing up towards Beinn Eighe, so I thought doing something like the Ling, Lawson and Glover route on Sail Mor might be ideal, or had thoughts of Sgorr Ruadh and Academy Ridge or heading across to Glen Shiel to Creag Coire an t-Slugain with the option of Forcan Ridge if the clag was down. Diana was keen on Sgorr Ruadh, with the possibility of doing Post Box Gully if the Northerlies had blown the gully free of powder. I was dubious but happy as always to go have a look and we had plenty of options for buttresses and ridges if the gully was too dodgy.
The roads were a bit hairy coming from Diana's but she made it across to Andy's to pick me up and we arrived at Sgorr Ruadh carpark, leaving the car at 9am. The walk in was tough! Much tougher than I remember it! I must have been going good the day I thought that was an easy walk in. Even with the trail broken for us, my legs were still feeling the effort. Once up at the cairn, where the path splits off for Coire Lair there was no trail and the going got even tougher. It would be not too bad for a bit, then knee deep wading before falling into thigh deep drifts. When Diana was breaking trail, she fell into a boggy bit and the water went over her boots, soaking her feet. Hmmmm, not good!!! She was happy to carry on, thinking that the walk in would warm her feet and as long as we weren't hanging about at belays too long then she thought she'd be ok, hmmmmm.........We carried on though, foolishly!
Approaching Sgorr Ruadh, one passes the South facing cliffs on Beinn Liath Mhor. I had been attracted to one of the wee ridges of rock there and suggested that rather than ploughing on any further, we might go up and have a look at doing a new route instead. Diana was quick to agree! No way was Post Box Gully going to be a good choice in these conditions and it was so hard going that even Academy Ridge was going to be very time consuming with it being 350m long and the other route I'd thought of, Riotous Ridge was away further up the glen.
Now we had a problem of how to get up to the Ridge. The cliffs face South and it had snowed on a North Westerly so the South facing slopes might be a bitty dodgy. There was a fair bit of windslab on SE aspects and evidence of a lot of sloughing but to the right of where we wanted to be the slope was okay with boulders and heather poking through, so we decided to head up that way, checking the snow as we went. As it goes it was fine, not deep and there was no base and plenty of heather and rocks to feel secure. We thought we might get a belay at the base of the cliffs to make it safer to traverse across but reaching the cliffs we thought the bit we were at looked do-able so decided to climb here rather than risk the traverse.
Diana led the 1st pitch up a rocky band, then I had to avoid a deep snowy groove by climbing rocky bands to the right. A steep wall, saw Diana taking a left traverse onto a snowfield. I was attracted to a rib to the right, but it involved getting across a steeping of the snow, and the snow becoming steep and shoulder deep, no f*cking way! I went directly up instead where the slope felt more secure, and rocky. This gave Diana the option of having a belay to cross the dodgy snow or to go up the steep ground above. The steep ground option won and Diana brought me up to a brill looking turfy corner! I struggled with this bit, there was a ledge for your right foot but try as I might I just couldn't reach it and the axe placements didn't feel so great to heave up on. Eventually, I managed to dig out a tiny one point notch for my left foot, just enough to precariously reach up. Reaching up, again the axe placements weren't so good and my foot slipped off and I slithered back down, thankfully not long enough to weight the rope! This was pissing me off now! No way was this corner getting the better of me! My aggressive nature took over and I thugged my way up. Diana found it easier than I did, gggrrrrrrrr! She had unearthed a bommer axe placement, making life easier. I forget to do that when I'm struggling, my relative inexperience coming through, and wack blindly through the snow trying to find something. Much less energy consuming to actually clear the snow and LOOK for something! I think I'll remember that next time though! The corner led up to a rib and then to a delightful gully, with beautiful rock scenery and funky wee turfy and ice steps, then leading back out to the rib. We decided to move together at this point, knowing the angle was lessening and it had gotten dark by this point! My 1st time I've had to climb in the dark due to running out of time! Thankfully the moon was full and it was bright enough that we didn't need head torches. I was knackered by this point and just going on auto pilot, up and up and up, how long did this f-ing rib go on for! A snow slope led to the top and it was a case of 10 steps, puff and pant, 10 steps, take a breather and so on, up to the top. We had to keep moving though, Diana's wet foot was numb and we were worried about frostbite! It was getting cold and everything was freezing up and I couldn't get one of my gloves back on it had frozen solid! And my spares were buried at the bottom of my sack as I never normaly need them. Keep moving though and we warmed back up.
6.35 and the map showed a steep and wide ridge heading off eastwards down to the path. I'd left my crampons on, thinking we'd hit hard snow at some point but the snow was soft so I took them off and sod's law as soon as I took them off we would hit a hard section and the ground was steep enough that it would take forever trying to get down! So we kept to the bouldery edges. Unfortunately, that was taking us towards steeper and steeper ground until it got to the point where it felt too steep to carry on. Looking left, it seemed that there was a snowy ramp we could get down, but crampons had to go back on. The ramp led to more steep ground however, but I went further down to see if I could see away through. I ended up in shoulder high snow again, above a huge drop, feck that for a laugh! I tried to go round and back up but just couldn't wade through that, and with the threat of that drop always on the back of mind, I turned round and went back up the way I'd come down.
There was a huge, deep gully to the left and on the other side of this gully the slope seemed more friendly. What to do? We could either carry on rightwards trying to find a way down the steep ground, or we could go back up the way we had come and cross above the gully and down the less steep ground. It was hard to decide as we were both shattered by this point and eager to be off the hill! The up and across to the less steep ground won in the end, it was very unappealing having to go back up in my knackered state but it seemed a safer option and probably quicker, even though it seemed longer to go back up! It was hell though, my legs were screaming in pain, I was so thirsty and just exhausted. I can fully understand how some people just give up and curl up in the snow unable to go on. Diana agreed and we knew we were really pushing ourselves to carry on!
The ground was steeper than it seemed and we still had to go carefully, but before long we were down off the steep ground, thank god! All that was left was a long slog back to the car, and neither of us was looking forward to ploughing through the deep snow as the path was buried! It wasn't long though before Diana spotted a walker's trail through the snow, HURRAH! That was going to make life MUCH easier! Was still hard going though and I inwardly cursed at every little uphill section! We came to a stream and filled up our bottles, drinking greedily and carried on, each step a torture as both of us get problems with painful toes going downhill.
10.30 we got back to the car, Diana 5mins ahead of me. The last stretch through the woods was scary on my own! I get so spooked in the dark on my own, and add trees and shrubs and bushes, it's a playground for my imagination! Rustling bushes were hiding nasty bushes and mad axe murders ready to drag me off into the bushes to chop me up! Haha, you'd think I was 5yrs old, I can drag myself up cliffs, but still get scared of the dark!
Had to organise RB getting to school the day after so I could stay at Andy's, just couldn't face the drive home and the danger of falling asleep at the wheel. Next day and I'm still tired, an early night calls!