Sat 26th Feb - Sun 27th Feb, 2000
Aite Cruinnichidh, Roybridge
Members present: Duncan Lee, Sabina Cosulich, Al Metelko, Joan Stewart, Dave Dillon, Christine Beeston, Andrew Croughton.(meet leader)
Guests: Mark Wiltshire, Lisa Wiltshire & Steve Bowker.
After several interested parties had made their excuses and backed out of the weekends trip to this very popular Scottish meet the remaining ten set out on the Friday night in search of the mysterious white substance called snow and its more mysterious cousin ice. The five star accommodation was still alive with activity at 12 midnight as the first party arrived, shortly followed by two more car loads approaching from opposite directions but arriving in almost precision timed unison, turning into the track to the accommodation at exactly the same time. With the road markings still vivid in the back of their eyes the two keen teams of climbers headed straight for their beds not deterred by the unimpressive weather forecast they had heard on the journey up, and keen to make an early 6am departure from the lodge and start their day with the trek to the C.I.C before the first rays of sunlight had hit the ice covered routes causing them to thaw. The need for such an early start soon became more than apparently unnecessary to at least one group who after realising how mild the conditions were becoming and the discovery of large amounts of soft snow on the hillside decided an easier scrambling climb up one of the snow packed gullies and an early return to the pub to enjoy a pint of Guinness and read the paper was far more acceptable. The second group however spurred on by our very own Al (the mountain man) Metelko carried on regardless heading for Hadrian's Wall Direct a grade V,5** route on Ben Nevis that takes in the large prominent icefall on the right flank of Observatory ridge.
On reaching the bottom of the route slightly behind schedule and now climbing as a group of three on one rope, with two of the party never having climbed to this grade before, they set off on what was to become an extremely long day not summitting until the light had faded and the rain had started to fall in place of snow down in the mild conditions of the valley bellow. By 10pm eyebrows were starting to be raised back at the hut. It had been dark for almost four hours and the rain had become more than a slight shower. By 10.30pm the decision had been made to pay a visit to the car park to check if their car was still there and assess whether or not it was time to start reporting in to the mountain rescue teams. After informing Lisa of our decision to go out in the foul night conditions to search for her missing husband who was on his first winter trip on a grade 5 Scottish ice route, she calmly said fine and seemed pleased that she had decided to eat earlier and not wait for his return. Perhaps we should all have had her relaxed and confident outlook on the situation, as no sooner had we left the track from the hut we were passed by Marks car heading in the opposite direction carrying three very tired and cold climbers who, after reaching the summit of the Ben in the dark had debated on whether or not to seek refuge in the shelter hut for the night or head down the mountain, had spent the last four hours in cold dark and rain tracing their steps back to the car. A day I am sure that none of the people involved will forget and I am sure Al will repeat.
Whilst all this excitement had been taking place through the day, the more less adventurous members of the party who had decided to enjoy a slightly more relaxing and much later start to the morning (myself included) had undertaken the arduous task of trekking into the foot of Creag Meagaidh along the valley in deep drifts of snow and build snowmen and have bum sliding races down the hillside, in two expertly channelled grooves. This is not something I would recommend in fleece pants that allow the snow direct access to your back unless you enjoy being cold and wet for the rest of the day. After several hotly contested heats, that I did not win any of, we headed up across the snow packed hillside to a near by Col where armed with axes and a desire to get out of the howling winds that had nearly carried Christine's rucksack away we set out to dig a snow hole that when completed could only be described as five***** accommodation and took over two hours to construct. Tired and exhausted we headed back down the valley to the hut for tea and an impossible game of pick up stick's that had everybody on tenterhooks even more so than the fact that three members of the group were still out on the hill in driving rain and pitch darkness.
The following morning dawned extremely damp not only on the hills outside but also in the hearts of all those present who after a lazy breakfast headed into Fort William for the customary visit to the Nevisport café before heading back south to sunny Manchester and work on Monday morning. Thanks to all those who supported the meet and I hope that next year there might be a chance of the weather holding out for the hole weekend. (we can only live in hope)
(Editors note: We had a late start, considering how early we got up, leaving the car at 7:00am, we where at the CIC (670m) just after 8:30. I had hoped we would climb as 3 pairs but no one was forthcoming in taking either Joan or Mark off my hands. The temperature was 4 degrees and frost could clearly be seen on the buttresses. We departed the CIC around 9am and started the route a little after 11am (alt ~ 1200m, no sign of any melt water, perfect ice). The first two pitches took around 2hours+ each, technically grade 4, sustained with a few steeper bulges, full rope lengths. Both Joan and Mark climbing well. The next two pitches (technically grade 2/3 ice sustained) where climbed quicker as I brought both Joan and Mark up together. Final two rope lengths was done moving together summiting around 6:45pm (still enough light to find summit trig point). Small debate as to whether to bivi in the shelter. Left the summit a little after 7pm in wild conditions via Tourist Path, return to car around 10pm. Mistakes of the day: not having a watch and thereby being a little surprised when told it was nearly 5pm at the top of pitch 3. Thinking the route was 200m when in fact it is 300m and a reluctance to get the guidebook out.)
WALK, SKI, CLIMB, BAG A FEW MUNROS
Chris has doubled booked this year and has asked me to take over for the weekend whilst he is off skiing in France. The usual five star accommodation has been booked and this year could also offer the luxury of a sauna (as long as building has been completed).
Still one or two places still available for this very popular winter venue, in the heart of the Highlands. £16 will secure you a place for two nights luxury accommodation so book early.