Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Rich here...
Started running again in the New Year, being very wary of the dodgy achilles tendon in my right ankle. Felt a bit stiff (must be my age!) as the miles built up but as our first trip away got closer, the number of runs decreased as the distance increased. With a week or two to go, a hilly 8 miles was taking an hour and felt pretty good - although my ankle is a definite concern!

Also started to review gear - I need two of everything, so started borrowing as much as I can from mates (thanks Julian!) and buying things that I think I'll end up reusing. Getting a bit fed up with Ebay as people keep out bidding me but http://www.theoutdoorshop.com/ ends up being just as cheap for brand new gear a lot of the time! Not sure how they do that but they seem to be really cheap. Had a problem with helmets but found a great place at http://www.expedition-logistics.co.uk/ where I could hire some very cheaply. Good stuff.

A trip to Glencoe was planned and travel ended up being nicely complicated. A lift to East Midlands airport with a friend and his wife, fly to Edinburgh, hire a car, wait for Karl to arrive from Paris with his wife and son, squash everyone and everything into the car (thanks goodness we got an upgrade - thanks http://www.1car1.com/), drop them off at Falkirk and drive to the Bridge of Orchy (via legendary fish and chip shop in Callendar, complete with Hungarian waitresses). Packing climbing gear for a flight is always a challenge, especially on the budget airlines. 20kg and 1 bag in the hold proved impossible, so paid to have 2 bags in the hold and put anything that was heavy but blunt in my carry-on luggage (and put my mountain boots on!). Ended up spot on 20kg in the hold but was nearly thwarted as Nick tried to take his crampons through security and onto the plane. They said no.

The weather as we drove up the A82 was grim - windy and squally showers, which in the dark on unfamiliar roads in a hire car is always fun. 'Nevermind' on the CD player though and we made it alive, despite my driving. The Bridge of Orchy Hotel (http://www.bridgeoforchy.co.uk/) has an excellent bunk house next to it, complete with drying room and is in the middle of nowhere. A good choice, as the next morning we were on the hill for 8:30am, heading east up to the col between Beinn Dorain and Beinn an Dothaidh in the driving rain and gusting winds, pausing only to haul a stranded sheep out of a bog.

Once in the lee slightly south of the col, we found a decent patch of snow on which to practice ice axe arrests. Before going anywhere serious or steep, I had to have confidence that Karl could get himself out of trouble as quickly and easily as he could get himself into trouble! Once you overcome the initial alien feeling of deliberately throwing yourself down a snow slope, it is actually fairly easy - you just have to keep a cool head. Karl got it no problem, although found out why so many winter climbers wear salopettes as his topped filled up with snow! A quick look at crampons and two things became obvious - firstly, Karl needed a decent pair of boots and second, he needed to get step in crampons. Other than that, our first piece of learning was a success. Being thoroughly wet from the rain, we returned to the hotel, pausing only to watch me fall in a small but surprisingly fast flowing river. What a nimble footed mountain goat I am.

In the afternoon, we drove up to Kinlochleven to the indoor climbing centre The Ice Factor (http://www.ice-factor.co.uk/). A well equipped shop solved Karl's boot problem, the harnesses came out and we got on the walls. Being able to put on a harness, tie in safely and belay well is mandatory for Karl so we practiced for a few hours, which also allowed Karl to discover the muscles on the inside of the forearms, just below the elbow. Not ones non-climbers use very often, so to find them aching suddenly was a bit of a shock. Luckily it didn't affect his ability to hold a pint while we watched Ireland beat Scotland in the 6 Nations in the bar.

A return to the hotel and another cold one was waiting for us while we ordered haggis and mash and settled in to watch the France - England match. Weirdly enough the bar filled with Frenchmen and as the best haggis I have ever had disappeared, it became clear they were on a canoing trip. Fortunately the English pack wore the French down and a late try from the new scrum half Wigglesworth sealed the victory. Phew. An early-ish night and a night of unheard snoring followed...

Up and on the road for 8:30 on Sunday morning and the wind seemed to have dropped a bit, the lashing rain had eased and the temperature had dropped - all good signs. We parked next to the helipad in Glencoe and started up the steep pull into Coire nan Lochan. Karl's new boots didn't seem to be causing any problems, but his lungs did - a pack full of climbing gear and a steep path is guaranteed to get you puffing. An hour and 40 minutes later and we were on level ground at the head of the Coire.

From there we had a great view of the summit crags of Stob Coire nan Lochan, the day's objective. We found a small buttress and set up a fixed rope so the boys could get used to the feeling of climbing wearing all their winter gear over rocks covered in snow, ice, dirt and heather - a bit different from the nice colour-coordinated holds of the indoor centre! A quick abseil with a prusik safety ensured that if things got gnarly on the steeper ground, we could back off in relative safety.

Then we had a bite to eat and set off for the bottom of one of the gullies that leads to the summit. The ground got steeper, the snow turned to some great nevee and we roped up by a small rock outcrop. Having seen the discomfort moving on rock had caused, I picked a line that stayed on the snow and ran out a couple of rope lengths. Karl belayed admirably and Nick followed on, clearly enjoying himself. As we approached the summit we were hit by some fairly nasty swirling winds, but they only lasted a few minutes and after four pitches (including one unpleasant belay off two axe placements when the rope wasn't long enough to reach a rock outcrop) we pulled over the steep (about 70 degrees) top of the gully and looked back at the journey we had made. It was a little after 4pm, we had the place virtually to ourselves and the view was something else.

Moving East, we descended over broken ground, taking great care over our foot placements as most accidents happen on the descent, until we could turn North and rapidly descend the long and easy snow slopes that took us back the Corie floor, which we reached around 5pm. Stowing the climbing gear, we slipped our headtorches into our pockets (just in case) and stomped off to the valley, reaching the car at 6pm, just as the light started to fail. A drive back to Falkirk to drop Karl off and a night in a Premier Inn saw us dropping the hire car off early the next day and a delayed flight back to East Midlands. My wife picked us up and I was at my desk working away before I knew what was happening. Blimey.

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