Ben Nevis (anyone call a helicopter?)

18 03 2010

The Ben in "normal" Scottish winter conditions c/w helicopter rescue!

Sunday 14th March 2010 

“Shang a lang” or “We’re shite and we know we are”? that was the question pondered over on the drive up to The Ben. Having decided that it was time to ditch Flower of Scotland as the national anthem, a suitable alternative was discussed between Pete and me as we meandered up the lochside road. “Lets face it, the only time we hear it is at football or rugby matches” I pointed out to a rather bored looking Pete – he wasnt taking this seriously I thought – “therefore, we need something stirring, fun and sing alongy, Shang a Lang would be perfect!”. “We’re shite and we know we are” offered Pete. Point taken. 

Normal service had resumed to the Scottish winter climbing experience as we arrived at Achintee car park. Clagged in and threatening drizzle all day, we got ready hoping the other would suggest we bin the idea and head to Tiso’s cafe in the Fort for some soup. How our expectations have risen this season, unless it looks like the alps we’re pissed off! Neither had the sense to bail out so off we set up the path into the gloom. 

Some nice avalanche debris on the way up had strayed onto the tourist path. It had uprooted trees and took a poor sheep by surprise on its way down. Arriving at the half way lochan, we got a look over towards Anaoch Mor, and it looked a bit better than where we had come from. The clag seemed to be lifting – albeit slowly, very slowly! 

We dropped down and round towards the CIC, taking a look at Castle Gully on the way. The intended route, The Moat was stripped bare and a no goer. A thundering rip echoed from above Castle. We thought better of it and headed to the ice falls at the CIC. A wee bit of bouldering, some practice for Pete on some ice and wee bit of mountain skills was our preferred option for the day. Just above the CIC, we stopped for lunch and had a look at the fabulous surroundings we were in. North East Buttress looked magnificent, Tower Ridge fabulous, the clag dropping and lifting intermittently to reveal ever changing views of this wonderful, wonderful mountain. “There’s a couple of guys in that gully” said Pete, pointing to the wide mouth of number four gully. “Yeah, they’re no moving very quickly tho are they?”. Five minutes later, they were still there. At which point, we heard the roar of the chopper blades getting louder as it came round Titans Wall. Straight up the crag it headed towards the dots in the distance. It hovered long enough to drop one guy off then headed back down towards the CIC and looked for a landing spot. 

Surely you can't park that there??

Hero’s or what? How do they manage to park something this size here. Hats off guys it was an incredible sight! and ever better to the guys who had fallen I’ve no doubt! Turns out the casualty was climbing in Number Two Gully, decided to ab off for some reason and his abseil pinged (more later!). Two broken arms apparently. Hope he’s ok! 

Better get something done then Pete eh? Off we headed to a small icefall which looked like a bit of fun to play on. As we arrived at the small gully which held the ice ramp, a party of three were just finishing up and left us to it. We got geared up for a wee play and I headed up the easy angled ice to find a place for a belay to allow Pete to try some of the steeper stuff on the side wall. Having spotted a bit of tat anchored in the rock, I found a crack for a friend and backed it up. I took Pete up and going by the Cheshire Cat grin, he liked it. I lowered him off and decided to use the in situ tat as a belay. Not good practice I know, but if I fell, I was only going about ten feet into powder. I gave it all my weight waiting for it to ping. It held, off I went over the top and down to the gully floor. “Right Pete, on ye go!”. Pete tied in and went up the more vertical section like a lizard scaling a vertical cliff face (he bribed me to say that). Once done and at the belay, I shouted for him to lean back and I’ll lower him off. 

Now, whether it was the fact that he opted for the less vertical descent which I took or the fact that he has a fondness of pies which I, as a vegetarian, don’t, we’ll never know. The in situ tat popped. Like a marlin released from the hook, my tight rope went suddenly limp, and hurtling towards me from above, was not Pete, but the nut and carabiner swivelling on my now redundant rope. The fact that the rope did not suddenly tighten again as Pete plummeted down the slope told me that “the eagle had landed”. Well maybe not so much landed as bellyflopped onto the soft snow ledge above. A wee head peered over the ledge just as I was about to scramble up. “Thank God for that” I thought “You ok?” I shouted. “What?” says Pete, unable to hear me over the noise of the helicopter blades further down the crag – the irony not lost on either of us at this point!. “YOU OK!?” I shout. “AYE” shouts Pete back, and then bursts out laughing. 

“How am I gonny get down?” he says. “Hold on and I’ll come up and find another bit of insitu tat for you” I thought but didn’t say. “I’ll climb up and past you and set up a belay at the top”. Fair play to you Pete, you dusted yourself down and followed me up the rest of the crag when a lesser mortal might have called a time out on the day and packed up. 

As I headed down the gully I met some of the MRT guys coming in for the casualty who had left earlier in the helicopter. “What are you guys going to do now then?” I asked, “Probably just head up one of the gullies and get some mountain skill training, enjoy your day!” and off they went. How lucky are we to have these guys who will probably spend four or five hours on the Ben due to a call out, get nowhere near the casualty and get no thanks for their efforts? And no pay either! Take a bow lads. 

On an aside, lesson learned, don’t rely on in situ tat, even if it does hold you on an abseil and the fall potential isn’t severe. 

Heading back to the car and looking forward to a pint in the Ben Nevis Inn at Achintee, I was pestered by the feeling that I had forgotten something. Pete was behind me and still within sight of me as the sky darkened. I skipped down the zigzag path to the junction of the Youth Hostel path. “Shit!” I thought “Forgot to not get to the top!”

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One response

18 03 2010
Peter Polis

“Stonking belay”, well placed personal protection equipment designed to keep the leader safe as he brings on the second.

“Tat”, old personal protection equipment left in the hill and not to be trusted.

“Who ate all the pies”, fat man masquerading as a a novice climber being trained by the twat who trusted the “tat.”

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