Thursday, 6 March 2008

Karl here...

Not been into much exercise since I hung up my rugby boots as Ireland had overlooked me for selection, but given the impending challenge I’d been jogging a few times every week since Christmas so was pretty sure I’d cope ok during the first of 2 planned training weekends prior to attempting Mont Blanc. 22nd Feb I flew in from Paris and met Rich and his friend Nick before heading up to Bridge of Orchy, where we were staying in a bunk-house.

After a very interrupted night’s sleep, between the frog-chorus snoring and the rain on the window, then a huge Scottish fry-up, we got our gear on and headed out into the horizontal rain. We hadn’t gone very far on the very wet, boggy ground before it became clear my boots had lost whatever waterproofness they ever had – to be honest they looked more like trainers next to Rich and Nicks’ professional kit. The low cloud meant we couldn’t see to far ahead but Rich had his map out and led us up to Coire an Dothaidh. We were aiming for the summit of Beinn Dorain but the weather was awful so we decided to head over the saddle in search of some snow for some winter-skills training.

We saw some deer and an arctic hare on the way up, plus Nick rescued a sheep which was stuck in a bog; all grateful distractions from the rain constantly hitting your face. We found a slope with some snow and spent some time practicing stopping with the ice axe if you fall, and walking in crampons, before heading back down over the saddle and down towards the valley floor. The highlight of the morning for me was watching Rich demonstrating how to jump a stream and ending up in the fast flowing water to his waist; shame I didn’t have a video camera as Jeremy Beadle would have loved it…

We then headed to the climbing wall in Kinlochleven where Rich taught us some basic climbing skills, after which we watched Ireland beat Scotland in the Six Nations. Headed back to Bridge of Orchy for a massive serving of haggis whilst watching England beat France (in a bar full of Frenchmen…)

After another night of snoring, this time enhanced by some pretty strange aromas in the room, and another big fry-up we headed north to Glencoe and started walking up towards Coire nan Lochan on The Three Sisters. The rain had stopped and I was finding that my new mountain boots purchased in Kinlochleven were a great investment. As we reached the Coire, above the snowline, the cloud came in and snow started swirling around. We found a bit of cliff and Rich set-up some ropes for Nick and I to do some climbing – scrambling might be a better name for it.

After some food we got the crampons and ice-axes out and headed up a gully just to the east of the summit of Stob Coire nan Lochan. When the angle got to about 45 degrees, Rich got the ropes out and we roped up, belaying each other up the rest of the gully. It took 4 belays to reach the summit ridge, the gully getting steeper up to about 70 degrees just below the summit. I’m glad we were doing this now in Feb rather than closer to July when we go to Mont Blanc as after some of the belay ascents, where you’re moving each hand and foot in turn to try to stay secure on the steep snow and ice, I was pretty knackered.

The rate that the weather can change up there is amazing, one minute it’s clear enough to see all the way to Ben Nevis, the next it’s a complete blizzard. It was 4pm when we were on the summit ridge at 1080m and we needed to get off the hill before dark. We headed down the ridge and across a snowfield back down to the Coire. We made good time heading down the track back towards the road, pausing to appreciate the amazing scenery and beautiful evening glow on the rocks across the valley, and were back in the car for 6pm, tired and smelly but very happy with a good day’s work.

All in all, I felt really good at the end of it, with a few creaky joints and knowledge that I need to get fitter. Bring on our next trip to North Wales in April!

Couple of 5 mile runs last weekend were pretty hard work, and I’m struggling to find time during the week. Might have to get a personal trainer…

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