End of the winter…………..

End of the winter…………..

Well that’s the end of the winter and what a send off its had this year, kicked right back into touch by 20+ degrees temperatures and long sun soaked days… Cold, wet and windy weather get back in your box! I don’t want to see you again until October!

Looking out over the Highlands

I used to love the winter, it meant Kayaking for the wettest of it and Ice Climbing for the coldest , whatever the weather there was always something to push me , I love the extra Ante’ the winter adds to everything , the danger of anything going wrong is far worse than in the summer , the conditions you face all factor in and make  it far more serious thank most realise , everything must be checked and double checked.The daylight hours are short and its normally very cold so you need to be in and out with little fuss or you could be in trouble. Unfortunately since my shoulder injury I have been unable to climb or kayak, only my fight to become a better runner has kept me busy but c’est la vie I’m getting to old anyway !! 😉  … Feeling a little Melancholy the other night I started flicking through some old climbing books and found a newspaper clipping stuck between two pages, it was marking a climb on Stob Coire Nam Beith … It is very unusual for me to have done something like this because much to my regret, back in my ignorant youth I didn’t keep anything to remember the glory days, my halcyon years are lost to memory for the most part , and too much smoking of weed back then lost me a few of those to !!! 🙂   Magazine articles, paper clippings, photos and even friendships have been lost over time and now I truly regret not even attempting to keep something , maybe now in the digital age we forget the effort required to store and keep safe memories , life beyond a hard drive seems way more complicated …… although my mum allegedly has a hidden stash intended for my daughter to read when she’s older.

The clipping was from what now seems a life time ago , when as a fledgling Ice Climber I undertook a 3 star classic gully on the famous GlenCoe mountain of Stob Coire Nam Beith. My 3 companions Jim, Jock and Tam …. wow!  that sounds like a warm up to a joke 🙂  and I had headed off from the Scottish Borders at 4.30am on the long journey to Glencoe fully expecting a tough day out but not in the way any of us expected…

Here is my recollection of that day……

We arrived at first light, and looking up at Stob Coire Nam Beith from the car park below I saw a behemoth of a Snow covered mountain towering above me, full of steep Icy gullies and long fang like icefalls, was I really going to climb that? Was I ready? Although already pushing well into the E-grades on rock I had very little experience on ice that morning; this was soon to be rectified!!

Typical Winters climbing rack

Jim and I sat behind the car sorting out all our equipment , lots of it for Ice climbing , checked and double checked, there was no way I was humping a rucksack that heavy up a mountain to forget a vital piece of equipment and have to come back down empty-handed , no way !  Finally we were ready , crampons on and off we went, walking the 1800 feet up the icy mountain paths and through the slippery rock gardens to find the traverse that would bring us out at the bottom of Central Gully, this was the route we had chosen to undertake that morning, a 3 star classic  and one that given our relative lack of experience would definitely be a test of our skill, nerve and character. It’s hard to remember how I felt in those early years , I think I was to stupid or at least seriously naïve to the dangers back then , now a days I am quite rightly a quivering wreck .. 😉

Stob Coire Nam Beith

I was to lead the route, Jim was belaying so nervously I prepared to climb. Standing below the route I eyed my foe for a few minutes … Fuck it time for battle !!!Off I went , slowly picking a route up the Neve’ and Ice . Eventually I hit a difficult Ice step, maybe 30 feet of 90 degree steepness before a step over a ledge and into a gully above, I headed up and after maybe 20 minutes of slow deliberate climbing I took a rest in a handy nook before making the move to go above…. all of a sudden snow came down, lots of it, an avalanche!!!  I sucked close to the wall, pulling my body as far into the recess as I could, holding on for my life as I was blasted from above by snow for what seemed like an eternity, but in reality was probably only seconds, once it eased I lifted my head and looked below to check the lads were still there, they had dived for cover and thankfully they were ok but they were shouting up at me , Mark !!! Mark!!  There was a body!! …..

Its a long way down ………….

Shit!!  a body ?  I looked below and saw blood and what appeared to be a lot of it, it was smeared down the gully below and continued out of sight… Adrenaline shot through me , I remember shaking , I got myself together and quickly I started to reverse my route. After a while I had made it back to my companions. A body had come down with the avalanche and disappeared below, was he alive? We had to find out !   Tam had the flares so he set off a rescue flare high in the air; we desperately needed the Mountain rescue there as soon as possible. I started to set up a series of abseils and followed the gully to way below where we had joined it, following the snow and blood splattering as far as we could until it appeared to go very rocky and disappeared off into a sheer cliff face . I could see a body and it was caught precariously just above a chute which looked to drop right off the cliff face…Adrenalin was pumping again and I felt very nervous looking down at the body stuck between the rocks. We had to find out if he was dead or alive, if he moved and fell down the chute he was certainly dead!!   I set up a last abseil and took my equipment down , I headed just right of him for fear of dislodging anything that could hit him, at first I couldn’t see his face for blood, his hair was long and blood soaked to, at first I thought head injury but later discovered his nose to be severely broken and responsible for most of the blood, he was jammed into some rocks , he looked like he had several possible breaks or dislocations, I couldn’t move him for fear of back or neck injuries so I secured him to the rocks he was snagged on, this way at least he couldn’t fall any further. My companions set off another rescue flare and we waited on the arrival of the Mountain rescue who seemed to be on the scene with no delay at all!! The Lochaber squad don’t mess around and are the number 1 mountain rescue squad in the U.K. , they get plenty practice for sure. I had a flask of hot orange and as the man regained consciousness I let him sip some  to stave off any hypothermia and shock that was certainly setting in.  We didn’t talk much as he was not able but I think he was better for me being there while we waited.

Scottish Mountain rescue at work …

Eventually the rescue boys were on the scene , a ground crew arrived first, they assessed the situation and radioed for help , soon a helicopter was swirling over our heads.  That was the first time I witnessed a mountain rescue and soon the injured climber was whisked high above to a huge Sea King helicopter that nearly blew us to our feet with its downdraft. The sense of relief seeing him head to safety was very emotional and as the adrenalin died down we began to chat about what had happened and just how crazy the day had been, welcome to Scottish Winter Climbing …  No doubting that it was a horrible day to have been part of but thankfully one that spurred me on to learn, practice and practice even more the mountain rescue techniques which would later pay me back in full for the effort back then.

Sea King flys overhead

I read in the paper a few days later that his name was Andrew Porter and he was a climber from East Kilbride, he was in the Glasgow Royal infirmary and would recover fully from his injuries, he had fallen near the top of the gully and slid 400 feet down the front of the mountain before being jammed in the rocks just 20 feet from a sheer 500 foot drop.. As much as he was unlucky, he was VERY lucky…  If anyone reading this knows Andrew , say Hi from me 🙂

It’s amazing the memories that a clipping can bring back….. If you’re out there now pushing yourself and having the time of your life, keep some memoirs, it’s totally worth it !!!!

Id like to thank Jim, Tam and Jock for being there that day ,and James Roddie for the use of some of his excellent photos … thanks James , they are a beautiful portrayal of Stob Coire Nam Beith ..

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2 Responses to End of the winter…………..

  1. Ryan notman says:

    Just got your blog thing working on my iphone rss app thingy. Was having a read through some of them and this one stood out, very nice! Its great thinking back on memorys, helps spur you on when you need it tho! Didnt realise jim was a climber? I was at college with him.

  2. al says:

    Hey Mark – i now remember this news clip – i’m now showing my age as i used to play rugby against Jock (but he was about 20 years older 🙂 and i was was suprised to see he was climbing when news clip came out – however what a story and you are right memories of time are so important to relate too
    And this experience set you in good stead for another life threatening situation

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