Climbing in the Mountains – Read this please Tip, Tap Test?

Image of cliff with Fingers Ridge marked thanks Andy Nisbet. He does mention the the SMC Guide for the  Cairngorms ” care must be taken with the blocky rock  in the upper section”

Unfortunately there has been a couple of bad accidents in the Cairngorms over the weekend one involving a pal Ron Walker who was hurt when a loose block came away. Ron has given his permission to repeat his tale and hopefully pass on some tips when rock  climbing in the mountains.    It was a great effort to help Ron off the cliff by Cairngorm MRT and the Helicopter, something we should never take for granted. Next day they had another incident on the same cliff.  The mountain weather, the dry May and heavy rain in June will not have helped the natural erosion in this area so be careful out there. The picture below was one I used to advise on our training whilst with RAF Mountain Rescue where many had limited knowledge of the cliffs. It was advice that we passed on. Fingers Ridge was my second rock climb in the Team in 1972 and I did it fairly often afterwards mainly in Summer. Tap and Test sounds good to me.  Please share with other climber and walker s and be aware!

Fingers Ridge a mountain route where care must be taken.

“Unfortunately loose rock and rubble is normal on mountain routes and is to be expected even on the most solid and well travelled line, treat every handhold and foothold as if it were loose because many are or will be in the future – so take care. Tip, Tap and Test with your hands and feet as you climb, remember the three T’s!”

The Cliffs of Coire an t’sneachta

Ron Walker –  “After warning everyone about the loose blocks on Fingers Ridge last week, I went back up to make sure it was the right loose blocks that Andy had managed to removed following my concerns. It was also a good opportunity to clear any remaining loose debris from the lower pitches as Andrew (not Andy!) and I climbed, making the the route and the Goat Track path below that much safer. I was quite pleased with the amount of dangerous rubble we managed to clear from the first two pitches. However at the top of the slabby corner of pitch three, just past the optional loose block belay on the left and after about a metre or two on the loose arete, a large area of slab just slid off with me on it! I fell backwards with the slabby guillotine like blocks following me in flight until the one wire runner placed at the start of the arete came tight. I’d really thought I’d had it as the large flakes would have taken my head and arms off. However by some miracle the fall held after about five metres and left hanging upside down on the damaged rope. Amazingly I’d only got hit by one block as it bounced by hitting and crushing my right arm. As the blocks whizzed by my head and body they cut the main anchor sling at the foot of the pitch. This was between Andrew and the spike belay and the one other thread runner and Andrew’s trousers we’re cut too. This meant that one of the blocks must have just missed him by a mm or so as it sliced through the runner and the belay sling! Fortunately the rope wasn’t cut through but nicked and my lucky offset No 3 wire had held. If it hadn’t held all the other slings had been cut by the falling flakes and I wouldn’t be typing this and likely a double fatality!! Spotting the severed sling Andrew managed to place another sling before I was lowered in agony onto the belay ledge. Once we were all secured again, Andrew phoned the rescue services and we prepared for the wait by wearing our extra warm layers, bivi and group shelters. It was just after 10.00 hrs and very wet and windy. It was a long wait until the team arrived as the chopper couldn’t just lift us off as hoped for, due to the poor viz and gusty winds. We needed to be lowered off by Cairngorm Mountain Rescue team which took a lot longer as the teams members had to be called out and kit had to be carried in. Eventually a complicated lower from the plateau was set up to avoid more rockfall. It was about 16.00 hrs before we’d been lowered off the climb and at least 17.00 -20.00 before being choppered in to A & E and knowing how bad the injuries were likely to be. The big concern at the hospital was that they could not find any pulse on the cold damaged arm and at one point it looked like I would need surgery to repair the arteries or worse. However various tests and an angiogram were carried out. I explained that over 40 years ago I’d severed the wrist damaging the tendons, nerves and artery. Since then I’ve had impaired hand function and unknown to me or anyone else not had a normal arterial pulse! So at around 22.00 hrs the good news was that nothing was badly broken, just crushed a bit and I still had circulation with the prognosis that I should make a full recovery over the next month or so!!!
A big thanks to Cairngorm MRT and in particular John Lyall and Duncan Scott (Doctor ) for risking there necks in a particularly tricky and dangerously loose rescue and to Andrew (Doctor!) my second climber for remaining calm and supportive, in miserable weather three pitches up, for the six or more hours following the accident before being lowered off. And a big thanks obviously goes to the SAR helicopter crew, para medics, doctors and Raigmore hospital, nursing staff.”Ron Walker – thanks for sharing with us.

From Mountaineering Scotland/ Glenmore Lodge.

Events last weekend in Coire an’t Sneachda in the Northern Corries of the Cairngorms have highlighted the need for all hill-walkers and climbers to be vigilant when climbing on or passing below mountain crags.

Two separate teams over the weekend were injured by rock fall. On Saturday a team on a route known as Fingers Ridge had a very lucky escape when a large slab of rock gave way.  Ironically they were clearing loose rock from the route when the accident happened. (Read Ron Walker’s own account of his accident.)

And on Sunday a team were injured on Pygmy Ridge, in the same Corrie.

Walkers and climbers are familiar with the shattered, loose rock around the crags and corries of Scottish Mountains. The process of freezing and thawing through the winter season continues to dislodge and shatter rock faces, and natural erosion processes continue as they have since the mountains were created.

Shaun Roberts, Principal at Glenmore Lodge, said: “I do believe that the nature of winters over the last decade, along with the generally more intense precipitation has had an impact on Coire an t-Sneachda.

“We have experienced a number of winters with very deep snow packs, including snow laying at depth on the steep broken ground of the Coire.  Over a season and under the influence of gravity this snowpack will displace, but often not dislodge, blocks and boulders of significant size, leaving behind a significant challenge for the summer climber.

“And this year we enjoyed a super dry May but then received almost our monthly quota of rainfall on one day in June.

“I suspect these weather patterns are having an impact on the stability of some areas and we continue to approach climbing in Coire an t-Sneachda with a more heightened sense of the objective dangers.”

Heather Morning, Mountain Safety Advisor with Mountaineering Scotland said: “Hillwalkers, scramblers and climbers should be extra vigilant when journeying either below or approaching scrambles and climbs – particularly if there are other parties above or there has been heavy rainfall in the previous few days.

The Goat Track path be careful as there is some loose rock above especially when climbers are on the cliff. From the Rescue box

“Specifically, hillwalkers should be particularly cautious when ascending or descending the Goat Track in Corie an’t Sneachda when there are climbers above them.”

About heavywhalley.MBE

After dinner speaker Lecturer and Mountain Rescue Specialist. Environmentalist. Spent 36 years with RAF Mountain Rescue and 4 years with a civilian Team . Still an active Mountaineer and loves the wild places.
This entry was posted in Articles, Enviroment, Equipment, Friends, Gear, Mountain rescue, mountain safety, Mountaineering, Views Mountaineering, Weather. Bookmark the permalink.

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