Winter Tips/ learning 2022. “Caught out in the fading light“ a slip that could have been a lot more serious on a short walk in the Cairngorms.

This will be a series of blogs on some of my adventures/ mistakes made in the mountains. Sadly no hills for a while due to Health problems and awaiting various results. Many will be glad to hear I lose my voice weekly! A not nosy “ Heavy” just now.

If you have no torch this is your view commenting off the hill in the dark. Check that torch – top tip carry a spare.

This is the time of year when many get caught out by the changes in light at the end of the day. Sadly folk forget torches and if the have them they may have been unused since last winter. Top tip – It’s always worth checking your torch and batteries. Especially in winter each time you go out and carry extra batteries.

A wee tale – About 10 years ago I was recovering from 3 bowel ops over a few years. It was an awful time and would not heal. The big thing that is often forgotten about being I’ll is it’s effect on your mental health. My saving grace was to get out despite the pain and walk every day. I would also get a wander into the hills once a month. The mountains are not far from where I live. The Cairngorms are only just over an hour away.

I could not wander far but went from the Ciste car park very slowly in Late morning. It’s a place I love a bit away from the main car park and there is a great wee cliff that overlooks Strathnethy. There is a lot a winter climbs here and in early season you can have a great day. The cliff is called Creagan Cha-no and is a lovely place to watch the winter climbers.

Creagan Coire Cha-no is an attractive little granite cliff tucked under the east flank of the Cha-no spur on Cairngorm overlooking Strath Nethy. The cliff faces east so it is best considered an early to mid season venue. It strips quickly when the sun rises high in the sky in March and April.

Cha-no is not a major crag, but it does have the distinction of being the most accessible winter cliff in the Cairngorms. It lies less than 2km away from the Coire na Ciste car park and the approach from the plateau via Recovery Gully (NJ017063) takes just over an hour. The cornice can normally be avoided on the left (looking down). The return is even quicker at about 45 minutes.

The crag

The crag is 70 metres high at its highest point, and sports 15 two-pitch routes, ranging from Grade II to VII. Most of the major features have been climbed, but there is potential for several shorter lines. With a cliff base of 950m, the routes come into condition early. Later in the season the cliff catches the sun, and some routes may bank out and have cornice difficulties. Cha-no provides a welcome alternative to the Northern Corries, with, a beautiful view and and a fun place to climb.

Even the wee walk in when your not well is hard going the snow was drifting in places blown by a silent wind. Yet just to be out there in the winter after weeks of being stuck at home is liberating. To feel the wind and cold on your body and clear your mind is better than any pills. I headed for 1028 and made my way across to the climbs. I was lucky as I met a group of three finishing their climb. Their joy was heart warming and they spoke a bit of their climb then headed off. Even though I had done little the sense of being on the hills again was wonderful.

Time is moving on it’s dark in December by 1700 and I had a hot drink some food and headed of. The wind had got a bit stronger and the snow drifting as I crossed the plateau near Coire Laogh Mhor. There had been a lot of frozen ground where the ground has a wee burn and wet ground that was frozen solid. I headed well above the Corrie rim headed into a wind.

As the snow was blowing my footsteps were covered there was no need for crampons as there was lots of deep snow. The light was failing as it does and I did not see the ice. I had my torch on but as I hit the ground it headed of on the ice. I could not believe I had slipped and was on my back the angle was not steep but the ice smooth. Add to that the wind and I was heading for the edge of Coire Laogh Mor.

The only way to stop as my axe was on my bag! Was to steer into a big granite Boulder with my hands on the ice otherwise it would have been a big fall into the corrie.

I hit the Boulder with my chest but at least I had stopped. It was some force but I was ok. I gave myself a few minutes to get my head together and picked a line of safety onto easy ground. The blow on my chest was hurting (later I found I had broken ribs) I knew the way of well but with no torch it was tricky underfoot.

I got back to the car texted I was off the hill and headed home. Even driving was hard going.

The things you do when you look back on what was a simple day.

Lessons learned:!

Always carry a spare torch (that day I did not.)

I should have had my axe out instead of my walking poles.

Get off the hill before dark and try to be on safe ground.

Never underestimate the day no matter how short.I had done that walk so many times as a introduction to winter and as a navigation exercise. Familiarity brew’s competent.

When I was young I would have stopped myself before I hit the ice. You slow down as age catches up and your reactions are never as fast.

Always tell someone where your going and message them if you change your plans.

Eyesight – I was on the waiting list for Cataracts in fading light my eyes sight was poor. In the months that followed I had to go private to get my eyes done.

Comments welcome !

About heavywhalley.MBE

Mountain Rescue Specialist. Environmentalist. Spent 37 years with RAF Mountain Rescue and 3 years with a civilian Team . Still an active Mountaineer when body slows, loves the wild places.
This entry was posted in Articles, Enviroment, Friends, Health, Mountain rescue, mountain safety, Mountaineering, People, Scottish winter climbing., Views Mountaineering, Weather, Well being, Wildlife. Bookmark the permalink.

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