Trying to Tip Toe in Torridon – The Sixth Frostbite Report…

A-Chioch-Ridge

The end of 2015 brought miserable weather to much of the UK.  A time of supposed frosts, snow and ice had produced nothing but rain, and I was concerned about conditions on the mountains of the NW Highlands.  As it turned out, they were as challenging as ever…

The long train journey north began on a sunny and frosty morning in Derby.  As usual, the train came back through my hometown of Belper, something I’ve never understood, but I’m not here to write national rail policy.  The eastward skies were mottled with reddening clouds, tingeing yellow as the sun opened its eyes westward. It was going to be a beautiful day.  I had hoped to be better rested for the week ahead, but a conglomeration of speaking, media interviews, work and a brush with the fire services had caught up on me. Not that I’m complaining, at least I’ll never suffer boredom..!

The bright midday sun faded as I crossed the Forth, and as the Cairngorms passed, their white peaks stood silhouetted against darkening skies.  By the time the train entered Strathcarron Station, darkness had fallen, but a clear sky allowed the stars to shine.

I’d come this far north to climb with Martin Moran and his team of guides. You may ask why I decide to use a guide once in a while. I’ve climbed for many years, but I needed to get some of my edge back and this seemed the way to go. I’m serious about my mountaineering, so working with a guide is no different from anyone in business who has a coach or is part of a mastermind group.

Martin and his guides helped me return to the mountains after I suffered frostbite in 1999. Over the years we’ve climbed together in both Scotland, Norway and The Alps. They’ve understood my injuries, helped me adapt both myself and my equipment and taken me out on some challenging days. At times my confidence wavers, but I still head upward, into the deep snows and bare ice the mountains embrace.

I’m neither a Cool or a Kirkpatrick, a Houlding or a Honnold, and I never will be. I’m not as technically gifted or as daring as they are, but that’s ok. You should never live your life trying to be someone else, it’s too destructive. Be you, be the best that you can be, and you’ve achieved something in your life.

I was fortunate enough to climb with guide Robin Thomas and here’s a breakdown of our routes and the conditions…

Kintail – Ben Fhada – Started on LH Gully (III **), broke into Summit Central Buttress (III *) and ended on RH Gully (II). Quite a day in waist deep powder and wet turf, which pushed all grading up by two points. We topped off as darkness fell and coiled up the rope as the most beautiful evening engulfed us. Moonlight reflected off the loch below and there wasn’t a breath of wind. Huge bumslide coming down, well until my backside hit the first rock. Ouch..! Didn’t see a soul all day…

Skye – Blaven – East Ridge (II/III), challenging route finding in deep powder, with hair-raising traverses above huge gully’s. All the Red Cuillin was white-topped and sunlit, but we were stuck in the clouds. Another dark descent, but all worth it as I hadn’t been on Skye in far too long. No people today either…

Meall Gorm – Turquoise Gully (III **), a brittle ice, pouring water, soaking legs, crampon scraping spectacular. Basically we decimated the route, but it will reform. I think we need to put another grade on this one, because of the lean and daring conditions. Bumped into John Lyall (from last years Norway Trip) on the summit.

Beinn Bhan – The Traverse of ‘a’ Chioch (II ***), at last some frozen turf, but still testing conditions with tricky moves on powder covered slabs. Wonderful sunset as we descended. A classic Jo Brown and Tom Patey route. Phrase of the day was ‘Smack the turf – dooiinngg..!!!’ Saw two people in the far distance.

Sgurr A’ Chaorachain – High Domain (IV/6), we descended into the easy gully to attain this tremendous route. Pouring rain, sticky snow, and debatable turf made an exciting adventure, with lots of gardening. We came off covered in mud. Climbing past the huge chockstone was as bum clenching as I’ve had in a long time..! Again – nobody on the hill.

If nothing else, I think the details above show one very obvious fact – the honeypots of Aviemore and Fort William still have a huge draw as the entire ranges of Torridon, The Cuillin and Kintail were almost empty. It was wonderful…

Robin was what all guides should be – not afraid to challenge and test, but also thoughtful and patient. My thanks to him for his expertise and understanding, and to Martin Moran for his organisation and continued support.

The excellent weather we enjoyed broke as I headed south, back to my native Derbyshire. I noticed that high winds had blasted the Cairngorms, but its got time to recover before I head up in a months time. More time in the hills awaits…

Sustained front pointing isn’t easy these days. When you’ve no toes and balance is hard enough, standing on your crampon tips which are miles in front of whats left of your feet is, putting it plainly, damn painful. The fact that my heels start rising from my boots doesn’t help either. Well, that s a part of life I’ve have to accept, but I still wander and climb in the hills. It’s one of the few places I can imagine, think and reflect. It’s allowed me to take some important decisions in my life and some of them will involve risks. As climbers, mountaineers, adventurers, and whatever other title we go under, risk is part of our lives. I just pray I’ve taken the right decisions.

Well, life is an adventure in forgiveness, isn’t it..?

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