The Angry Corrie 5: Jan-Feb 1992

How to fall gracefully and survive:
a cautionary tale

words: Bill Cook
pic: Craig Smillie

Munro-bagging is an insidious obsession that creeps up on you unawares. You do a few, interspersed with some rock-climbing because that's the macho thing, but after falling once or twice, after spending hours at the bottom of a small waterfall which somehow manages to find its way down your sleeve and thence to other parts which you didn't think could be reached, the idea begins to pall. After a while you find that you've done 40 or 50, and you think that 100 would be a nice round figure. I remember having a nice wee celebration on the top of a flattish bump in the middle of a rainstorm, and felt a sense of achievement. This was followed by a letter of congratulation from Prince Phillip; or at least pretending to be from him. The fact that the crest was photocopied took the gloss away somehow. The suspected culprit never did own up.

By that time, of course, it was too late. What's the point of stopping at a hundred when there's only another 177 to go? After a while of happily plodding away, with still about a hundred to do, I realised that in five year's time I would be forty. What a perfect way to postpone my mid-life crisis! Having just moved to the central Highlands, I was in the ideal spot to get most hills in a day trip; an important factor when one is ageing and more appreciative of home comforts. Working in Inverness with occasional journeys to Skye and Fort William even meant I could commute a few Munros on the way home.

Come early 1990 I was on schedule, but still having to cram them in before the deadline in May. I had decided on polishing off the last two left in Glencoe in one day. The first, Creise, was omitted some years previously when, on a crossover walk from Inveroran to Kingshouse, swopping car keys en route, we had decided not to bother as it wasn't in the book - it would have taken about five minutes....yes, we were working hard that day! Of course snug in the bar later on I looked at the small print to that Creise and Clach Leathad had been swopped. (Expletive deleted - prudish Ed.) The other hill was to be Buchaille Etive Beag. I had arranged to meet the erudite editor of this rag in the Kingshouse at lunchtime to do BEB, having knocked off Creise in a couple of hours.

Well, it was a snowy day in March and I was delayed by poor road conditions. It was pretty cold, but clear, and the wind was gusting to gale force.

The skiers were out enjoying the good snow as I made good progress, not stopping to put on crampons although it had been slippy here and there. The wind was a bit of a problem, but not too bad. I was up Meall a'Bhuiridh in good time, down and up the ridge, and up to the summit of Creise by 12.20. I was going to be late, but not too bad. Squalls drove in every so often, but visibility was clear on top, and it didn't take long to move back along the plateau to within sight of the projecting top of the ridge which led back to Meall a'Bhuiridh. With great timing, a nasty squall swept in, reducing visibility to a few yards. I decided to sit it out, and after ten minutes or so when it cleared a bit, I carried on to the start of the ridge. I had gone down a few feet of steep icy snow, and was just beginning to think that it didn't look quite right, when I found myself sliding. I turned towards the snow and tried to get my iceaxe in but nothing worked. I slid faster and faster, until I was out of control, and then the iceaxe flew out of my hand. At this point, strangely, I relaxed. There was nothing I could do, and I thought.....this is it. No past life flashing in front of me, just hoping it was all over quickly. Then, crash, I came to a juddering halt in a tumble of rocks, at a slight angle down from the main sheet of ice which swept down for about another 1000 feet further. Amazingly, no broken bones, and I had been falling feet first. In fact the only piece of my anatomy which has any flesh on it at all was, luckily, the main point of contact with the rock.

Another piece of luck - my iceaxe was lying among rocks about fifty feet above. The main ridge was only fifty yards away, across the steep ice slope, and after trying to get across without crampons (I was really thinking well!), I put them on and got across in about ten seconds flat. On the way up I was knocked flat by a gust of wind, but no further mishaps occurred on the descent. It was strange seeing the skiers enjoying themselves. I wanted to shout at them "Hey, I was nearly killed back there!", but I don't suppose they would have been interested.

Your editor was ordering up a pint at the Kingshouse as I walked in. He claims he had just asked for the number of the Mountain Rescue, but I think he was just winding me up. (Aye, just like Prince Philip - Ed.) Anyway, the appeal of another hill somehow didn't look so good, and by then the rain was on in earnest.

The next day we took an early taxi - is that another way of doing the Munros, I wonder? - to Achlean and walked 24 miles vie Glen Feshie to An Sgarsoch and Carn Ealar. The bruises were starting to show now, but the confidence would take a lot longer to return....

Well, the Munros were completed on time, with a party on the Cairnwell, but apart from the obvious mistakes (of which I've lost count), the moral of this story is - READ THE SMALL PRINT.

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