Day 16 – 11/11/77 – Access to the Corrour Youth Hostel achieved , my great friend Tom Rigg (RIP) had not let us down and the key was where he said it would be. There was coal and lots of food so we ate a great meal and toasted Tom with a dram he left us. The fire was on it was a big stove and the gear was soon steaming. The weather was very worrying and I was really struggling with my knee Jim and Terry still going well but the constant pressure of the bad weather was taking a toll. Concentration had to be full on not just on the tops but a walk off the wrong ridge or over a Cornice could be fatal. We were very fit and strong but the reserves were being hit. The rivers were never easy and very full we were crossing many in the dark and getting soaked. I knew what was coming in the next hills and was very wary. These are even more remote mountains and these Beinn Alder Hills are very serious and a long way out if anything goes wrong. The boys wanted to do Beinn Na Lap one of the easiest Munros and then head on for 4 more big mountains to Culra bothy a big day in wild weather. We left the bags and more or less ran up Beinn Na Lap the weather was okay, it was great to be light weight and then pushed on for the 4 Munros in the hinterland between Loch Laggan and Loch Ericht. Beinn Eibhinn. Aonach Beag , Geal Charn and Carn Dearg. I had done these hills before a few times they were new to Jim and Terry there was no way we would not be doing them. It was a bit of journey to the first Munro and getting the bags on again was not easy after being light and free!
It was a plod to Beinn Eibhinn and along the graceful ridge to Aonach Beag, then the weather hit us. We had been away very early but it was after 1500 on this top and we still had two big Munros to do. As the snow hammered down we were back in a white void and tricky navigation got us along the ridge to our third Munro Geal Charn and its big Cornices. This is place I was avalanched of its Southern Spur in 1972 surviving a big fall and walking away from it a bit battered and bruised. We had huge problems locating the Northern Spur which gains access to our final Munro Carn Dearg. The summit plateau of Geal Charn is a featureless plateau and not to be underestimated, as wild as Cairngorm but not so well known. It was three times we went to the point where we were sure that our ridge was but there was just a big Cornice. Jim and Terry great navigators Glenmore Lodge trained Mountain Leaders Winter paced it again and again. In the end time was ticking away, the weather was worse, heavy snow and then someone said (Jim)“ You have been here before you must remember it?” Enough was enough I went over the edge, (I am sure it was me) and we were spot on our ridge and with a huge Cornice falling about and with my background of being avalanched I wanted out of there fast. We reached the beleach it was dark now and yet the boys wanted the last hill Carn Dearg and dragged me along and then an awful descent in wild weather to the wonderful Culra Bothy and safety. Fire on, clothes changed and nerves shattered, along with my battered body it was 2100 and very late! We had really pushed the boat out I felt and all the way I was thinking of the Corrour Tragedy in December 1951 where a group died in the beleach on the way to the bothy. We were lucky and someone I feel was looking after us. I earned a lot that day.
The Corrour tragedy on 29 -31 December 1951. Five members of the Glencoe Mountaineering Club form Glasgow decided to spend New Year at Ben Alder bothy. All were fairly well-known mountaineers at that time. I spoke to Hamish McInnes many years ago about this tragedy and he knew some of them as mountaineering was a small sport then. They had planned to get the train to from Glasgow to Corrour Station near Loch Ossian a lonely but beautiful place to the North of Rannoch Moor. They arrived after the afternoon train and got a lift from a lorry to Corrour Lodge at the end of the loch. After a meal cooked in the woods they set off for Ben Alder Cottage some 11 kilometres away over a high pass at 2030 hours. They were carrying large packs with 3-4 days food as the bothy at Ben Alder Cottage is very basic. After about 4 kilometres the party became tired and 3 decided to bivouac in the lee of a river at about 500 metres. The other 2 pushed on and tried to cross the beleach W.S.W of Ben Alder but due to deep snow they also bivouacked.
They woke at 0600 and with the wind now and a gale blowing behind them tried again to reach the beleach, they turned back and met the others at 0915 near a small lochan. The weather was so bad that they found it difficult to pack their kit. They all then tried to head back to Loch Ossian only a short distance away. The wind was in their faces and weather were extremely wild, winds over 80 -100 mph recorded across Scotland; one by one they succumbed to exposure and died. The only survivor was the wife of one of the fatalities who reached Corrour Lodge where the local keeper and the SMC were staying and mounted a rescue party. Nothing could be done, it was a terrible tragedy and rocked mountaineering in Scotland for many years. They must have had such a hard time dealing with such a tragedy. There is an account of this in the book the Black Cloud (L.D.S. Thomson) and the SMC journal Vol 25 No 143. It must be noted that some of the accounts are taken from the survivor who had lost her husband and will still in a state of shock even a few weeks after the incident. Weather forecast in 1951 was very vague and exposure was unheard of in those days. In the same SMC Journal Doctor Donald Duff a pioneer of Scottish Mountain Rescue wrote an article on Exposure Tragedies, much is still relevant today. Last year 2013 in the same area a solo walker was found after a big search , this is wild country and in winter a hard place to be.
We had one big day before a break at Dalwhinnie all night it snowed even more and the bothy was covered outside in snow in the morning. There was the estate track that in three hours that would take us to Dalwhinnie but that was not the option we headed out into the “White Room” again to Beinn Alder and Beinn Bheoil big hills with very tricky navigation on the summit plateau with huge Cornices.
To be continued !