In 1982 after 10 years constant mountaineering out over (45 weekends a year) I thought that I was now I was an experienced mountaineer and was a bit cocky as we all can be. The Cairngorms take no prisoners and I was climbing early on in the first week of our Annual Winter Course which was held in the Northern Corries and then down to Ben Nevis for the second week. The weather had been very poor but with every day we tried to get a route in no matter what, a bit of ego was involved in these days! The course was to train newer members from the then 6 RAF teams in the UK many with limited experience in winter mountaineering. We left our bags in the Corrie below the route, after the short walk in this was unusual then as we always carried our bags on the route, but my partner was tired and it would be an easy climb, The Mirror was the route which is a grand climb with a Mountaineering feel about it. We hoped to climb up the short 500 foot route fairly quickly. My young pupil had been on the go for 5 days, he was very tired but up for it and was not put off by the forecast. I always left the dog with the bags and he was happy to roam about the Corrie but would always come back to the bags, or even come on to the route! If feeling brave! The weather came in as it does and soon we were having an epic, this easy route Aladdin’s Mirror, but it wanders all over the face, by now a blizzard was in. My partner was not enjoying it but there was no way but up. He lost a glove so I gave him my spare, and then lost his goggles at the belay. By now the winds were in excess of 70 mph; it was white out when we reached the top. There was no chance of uncoiling the ropes as they had frozen, we drapped them round me and then my map blew away. My partner did not have his it was in his bag at the bottom of the climb. No fear I knew the plateau well, so I thought and followed my nose. After some time I knew we had gone the wrong way, my poor partner had enough by now, I was heading out into the incredible wind on the plateau and soon we were fighting for our lives.The wind was wild and my poor companion was out of it now. It is an awful feeling being out alone in such a place but you have to keep control and sort it out. I put the rope on and started to try to work my way back to the Corrie rim using my compass and feel my way around by the cornices and eventually I managed to find the top of the Alladins Couloir. God was I happy but it was no over yet and then in the gale work my way past other climbs Jacobs Ladder and I found Windy Gap. I descended out of the blizzard, this is a very steep icy path, which can avalanche in the right conditions. Thank God we got down it was now dark, torches were in our bags. I shouted in the Coire and saw a torch-light in a break in the blizzard, then Teallach (my dog) came bounding to us and brought us back to the bags and to Don Shanks a great friend who had waited for us. There were no mobile phones in these days, we were on our own our radio was in the bag!
A bit of food and we were off my companion was all but done in but we still had an epic in the deep powder snow on the way out. As you can imagine we were late for tea by several hours! In the best traditions of Mountain Rescue I had to tell the waiting course that had been ready to come and get us, the mistakes I had made. The walk of shame is never easy.
Some of the errors made were
“My ego, overconfidence, over familiarity of the area, pushing my partner too far, no spare maps a must in winter, no torches, and leaving the bags and dog at the bottom of the route in a poor climbing day. Not having a map each and not using the compass and many more. It could have ended up much worse as the weather was so bad that night the ski road was closed all the next day.
We would have been on our own and the plateau in weather like that takes no prisoners! I learnt so many lessons about winter mountaineering from that! I was at my peak fitness and had just completed a three week winter traverse of the Scottish Mountains from South to North it was a real reminder what nature and cockiness can do.
It was what I needed a reminder of my modest knowledge of the mountains and how fortunate I was fit and strong enough to get out of that adventure safely.
Many others have not been so lucky and I have seen the tragedy of a serious of errors. I will speak to the RAF MRT Annual Winter Course next week and will tell them the odd story so they do not make the same mistakes. Do you have any that may help other? Please get in touch.