Sunday, 25 April 2010

ANGEL'S RIDGE - 24th April '10

I'd been wondering for days what to do at the weekend, whether to go for a long, scrambly day or to head away cragging for the weekend.
I fancied a day in the mountains however, but the conditions didn't really seem great for mountain routes and I'm short on keen partners for the mountains, so I decided on going for Angel's Ridge in the Cairngorms as it's a route I'd always fancied.
I wasn't entirely sure whether it would be in winter garb or summer garb but having been told a foot of new snow had fallen on Cairngorm, it convinced me that crampons and axe might be best, thinking the route might be in Alpinesque condition.
D wasn't sure he wanted to go when he realised I only intended to go for a day trip, I forget that other folk arn't as keen as I am to travel and walk miles for an objective and to explore new areas.  D decided to come along in the end and we were up at 5am and setting off from Derry Lodge near 8.30am.  D was off in a shot on the bike and I was lagging as usual, but I managed to cycle all the way to the Lodge without stopping to push, which is an improvement on last time.  Once we were at the point where you cross the Luibeg Burn, we decided to take the quicker option and ford the river rather than the long option of the bridge.  I mistook how fast the river was flowing and it pushed against my foot as I took a step, knocking me off balance and splash! into the river!  Foot soaked and leg soaked from foot to hip!  Och well, if the forecast sun came out then it would dry off.  As it was, it drizzled and rained all the way from the carpark until the point where the path meets with the Lairig Ghru. 
D wasn't enjoying the walk in at all and looked pretty demotivated.  I asked if he wanted to wait for me at Corrour but he said he would continue.  I was going well though.  My hill fitness felt good, my legs fast and my lungs open.  It was all pretty much flat ground though, so the going was really easy and I was as happy as larry to be out and about in the hills.  We decided to cut off the Lairg Ghru at the point where the Allt na Lairig Ghru and the Allt a Gharbh choire join to become the River Dee.  It meant we had to cross 2 rivers but we reckoned the crossing would be easier there, than crossing the Dee.  We managed across the Ghru just fine and the Gharbh was just a dry stream bed surprisingly so that was fine too.  Then it was a long slog off path, up to the Garbh Choire 'bothy'
We were on the hunt out for the Lochan Uaine and upon seeing a bowl shape to the west of the bothy I was really puzzled as the map showed the lochan being pretty much due south of the bothy.  It took a moment, but D realised that the lochan was actually really high up and consulting the map, he was correct.
Then it was time to figure out the best way up there.  We had the choice of following steep rubble and rocky steps to the right of the waterfall falling from the lochan, or heading up either further right, up snowy ramps broken by rocky bluffs.  We decided on the later option as I wasn't keen on ascending steep boulder fields and I reckoned the rocky bluffs were steeper than they looked.  Whereas if the snow was good enough, we could just romp up.
As it was, the snow wasn't that great at all.  There was avalanche debris in many places, lots of fracture lines and really iffy looking sections.  On occasion, I had to cross first, getting D to watch my back, lest I go for a ride.  I felt extremely naked without my helmet and decided that I would always carry a helmet in winter regardless of how easy the scramble I was doing.  I decided to cross a patch of loose stone to reach a snow ramp and that bit was precarious but safe from the dodgy snow.  Once on the snow ramp it was a case of threading up between rocky bits where the snow would be more anchored to the slope.  Some places were less rocky and at one point D set off a small avalanche behind him, which was a bit freaky!  We got to an impasse where the only option was to traverse rightwards for a few steps to a rocky patch, but crossing above a section of recently avalanched ground.  The fracture line was really deep and the snow above didn't look stable at all.  I perched on a rock, looking at it, unable to decide whether to cross or to take the other option of going directly upwards, up an open snow field.  The snow field was only around 20 metres long, but if that went, it would spell trouble, just as much trouble as the snow on the other choice going.  It was only the 1st 5m that was steep enough to pose a problem but I couldn't decide whether traversing a few steps was better than exposing myself for 5 metres.
A discussion followed and in the end we both decided that neither of us were happy to traverse those few steps but D was happy to try going upwards.  I asked him to go up as far as the 1st rocky section on the skyline and I'd watch him.  Then he could watch me coming up.  As it was, the snow was a bit soft to start off with and I could feel it slide under my feet a little, but once we were higher, the snow seemed more bonded and better consolidated.  Don't think I've flew up grade I snow plod ground as fast before!
Good timing, the mist had cleared from the tops and there was our ridge.  The 1st section is just a walk really, with little steps in places that you can make as interesting as you like.  There was so much snow however, that any little steps were pretty much banked out.  Up above we could see a wee steepening at the top.  From the distance it looked like a bit of a snowslope at the very top, topped off with a cornice.  But that was an illusion, there was a small snow slope, broken by a rocky step, but there was no cornice thankfully!
It wasn't long before we were at the steepening.  There was one rocky step that you could go around, but I decided to go up it instead for interest and that got the adrenaline going a bit as it was a bit on the slabby side.  As we neared the top, the ground got more and more exposed.  There was a section where D let me go first and I just trusted myself to the snow, pretty hairy but it worked!  There was evidence of avalanches on either side of the steepening and I was happy to stay off the snow as much as possible.   The last moves at the top though, the step was enough to worry me a little.  I moved up, didn't like the move or the snow condition.  I had to trust my axe in that soft snow and that the snow would bear my weight.
At exactly that point, we heard a loud rumble like thunder.  It was a chilling noise that got my heckles right up and looking across at Garbh Choire Mor, we could see a small avalanche slowly slide downwards.  It seemed to move slowly, hit a point where all hell broke loose, and the whole lot careened down the cliff edge, gathering speed and mass.  WHOAH!!!  I'd always wanted to witness an avalanche and my wish had just been realised.  That was mental to see!  I really didn't like the noise, it was really quite spooky, reminiscant of the time that Andy was trundling rock on Beinn Eighe, cleaning a route for us. 
Back to the route though.  I moved back downwards and tried shuffling under an overhanging bit of rock, but that felt really precarious.  I moved back to my original position, cleared some snow away from a rocky bit to make a good ledge for my foot, cleared snow away from above so I could get a good axe placement, always on the back of my mind that I was knocking snow down onto the snowy slope that I was precariously stood on.  Stepped up some more, grabbed a rounded rock, got my foot on my unburried ledge, sank in my axe, and moved up, praying that the snow would hold my weight.  It did, woohoo, what a rush!  A few more plunges of my axe and kick a few more steps and I'm there.  Think I exclaimed a few more woo's and got my breathe back!  D had decided that he didn't like the look of my way at all, and went round the other side of the bulge.
That was it done, a route and a munro in the bag.  Then it was off to Cairn Toul.  I seemed to tire going up and by the time I was on the summit, I was feeling really quite dizzy.  I had a drink and something to eat and D donated his sandwich of which I ate half.  I then put another layer on to block out the wind.  That didn't seem to help though and heading up Stob Coire an t-Saighdeir, my legs just went all wonky.  I could barely lift them off the ground.  It reminded me of the time when my lower spinal nerve root was being compressed and I had to really think about how to walk as I seemed to lose the automatic funtion of walking.  I had to really concentrate on walking, moving one foot ahead of the other, and my legs seem to respond with a slight shuffling and upward motion.  It was really quite worrying and unbeknown to me, D was worrying too that he was going to have to carry me off the hill.
We decided under the circumstances that going up Devil's Peak wasn't a great idea and we should just get down to the bothy so that I could rest.  Once on the way down though, my legs seemed to recover and I'm not sure in the slightest whether it was anything to do with my myelopathy or whether my legs were just tired from all the walking, adrenaline and lack of food.  We were down at the bothy in no time and had a stop and another bite to eat.  It was hard to get up and carry on once we'd sat for a while but once on the path I just put my head down and kept on going.  D gave me the keys to the van and the bike padlocks as I was moving faster again, all leg weakness passed. 
After crossing over the Luibeg, the path back to the bikes seemed to go on forever and ever and so sure was I that every corner I turned would bring Derry Lodge into view, only to be disappointed.  Into view it did come eventually though and by that point I was slowing enough and D moving faster, that he'd caught up with me.  He shot off on the bike and I didn't get a chance to make him a coffee and have it waiting for him back at the van, but it was the thought that counted.

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