I don’t normally include foreign climbing trips in this blog, but no outdoor blogger can resist writing a post about last weekend: warmer than many a summer day, and it only March yet!
And I wasn’t in the Cairngorms at all, but following up a rumour that there were hills in the west of Scotland somewhere. So I went to have a look and did, indeed, find one: a bit of a road crash of hills in fact, all caught out tailgating when the one at the front stopped suddenly. The crumple zone created is called, I’m told, Aonach Eagach, and a jolly little hill it was too, even if it was a bit on the pointy side.
Okay, I’m kidding. I first did Aonach Eagach, oh, more than quarter a century ago and, in the years since, must have done it over a dozen but maybe not quite the length of 20 times, summer, winter and various times in between. This, for all it was March, definitely counted as a summer ascent: there was no snow on the ridge, the rock was dry and – above all – it was warm! (Nor, to voice a minor moan, was the sky very wintry, with a definite summer haze fading the longer views one might normally expect from crystal clear March skies.)
Dave Knowles and myself decided on the trip as a wee holiday from the ‘Gorms and met up down Glen Etive on Friday night, where we pitched tents.
Saturday was a little cloudier than expected, but it soon showed signs of lifting and we packed up and arranged cars at either end before starting off up Am Bodach.
It must be about eight or nine years since I last did the ridge, but I don’t believe my memory is that bad: someone has definitely added a bit onto the ascent up Am Bodach, and without doubt the descent to start the ridge proper is both longer and steeper than it used to be. Quite a few extra wee scrambly bits have been added along the ridge too, and I’m sure I counted one more pinnacle than used to be there. Dave suggested it was maybe added years rather than added pinnacles, but they’re unchancy hills these western ranges – can’t trust them an inch, soon as your back is turned for a year or two.
Before we reached the pinnacles we were passed at the gallop by a couple of young lads who obviously had a bus to catch or something. It was only slight consolation to see them following some other folk down the path which avoids the pinnacles on the northern side of the ridge. This path looks insanely loose and exposed and, giving in to softer feelings, I shouted to them that the route lay on the crest. They climbed back up to the pinnacles and took them regulation fashion, waving a thanks to us as they disappeared into the distance. Nice to know an old fart can still come in useful now and then.
After descending we recovered both vehicles and set off for Duror Bothy. It was the first time I’d been there, but Dave had no excuse for taking two turn-offs before finding the right one. Nice bothy, though, if a little out of the road, and we enjoyed a pleasantly tired evening in the company of two couples from Edinburgh, who had resorted to the bothy to cook a gourmet meal on the stove there, an unlikely feat which they seemed to manage with some aplomb.
Sunday dawned even fairer. Dave and I sat at a table outside the bothy at 7 a.m. (8 a.m. new time) enjoying the warm breeze before cooking breakfast and heading off down the road. Dave was for home, but I stopped in the Coe and had a wander up into the Lost Valley.
Just about to enter the open flats, I bumped into a friend, Bothy Dave, onen of his sons and some friends, who were bound for Stob Choire Sgreamach and maybe Bidean. With my legs feeling yesterday’s efforts I declined a chance to join them, although I wasn’t too inclined to anyway, as I had no ice axe with me, and the headwall route they had planned was still full of snow.
Wishing them well, I found myself a quiet spot just up the side of Gearr Aonach a bit and laid down for a nap in the sunshine. And what a day! I lay for over an hour, dozing off now and then and idly scanning the headwall snowfield to see the odd black speck or two inching up. I didn’t relish much the gallus approach of some of Dave’s companions, who were also sans ice axe, but heard later that they’d all made it anyway and enjoyed a great day on the tops.
As for me, after lazing about for a bit I headed off home. Glen Coe isn’t the Cairngorms, but, really, it’s not all that bad.