The fisrt day of our week in Fort William was accompanied by the finest weather of the week as demonstrated in the photographs below. It was also by far the coldest day, and although there were times when crampons probably should have been worn, this was only on the plateau.
We emerged from our beds at the Colluna centre in Fort William, which must be fully recommended, with the objective of walking from Polldubh prior to 9am. This we managed, the sky still rather dull as the walk-in commenced. The climb through the gorge was rather impressive, only surpassed by the view on entering the plains above surrounded by the Mamores and Nevis ranges with the waterfall at Steall in the foreground.
The track across the valley bottom came to a point near the ruins at Steall where a large wooden footbridge crossed the burn. We would cross back over this bridge later in the day, but at this point we turned left (north) to ascend alongside the stream, heading for the high bealach joinging the aonachs to Carn Mor Dearg. Again after climbing through a rather steep gorge, we emerged at the foot of a high level valley, with the bealach always visible in front of us. Eventually we climbed steeply up to the bealach where we paused for lunch.
Obviously at this time of the year daylight hours are a major consideration, more so in Scotland, and I had been concerned on the drive up to notice that it was dark at approximately 4pm. It was with this in mind that we had set out so early, and set a relentless pace throughout, having to catch up after each photograph!
From the bealach we set immediately upon the climb up on to the Aonach Ridge. The climb is very steep, and this occasion large areas were covered in ice. Due to the mixed nature of the terrain it was impractical to wear crampons, and thus we simply had to avoid the ice. A few problems overcome we emerged upon the ridge well ahead of the time within which we needed to do so. It was at this point that we knew the traverse was on.
The walk from here to Aonach Mor is rather benign, and we enjoyed a gentle stroll up to it, whilst at the same time I was struggling to make the camera work. It was intensely cold on the summit, and thus we turned almost immediately in the direction of Aonach Beag.
The climb up to Aonach Beag was slightly steeper, and it was probably here where crampons should have been worn, but even then the requirement was marginal. Again it was very cold on top (it being sub zero at ground level) and so we began to descend almost immediately.
It was not very long before we were below the snow line, but agian the terrain was horrendously mixed, crossing a variety of frozen streams. I think that with retrospect I would be putting crampons on to cross these!!! As we crossed one frozen stream, at quite a low altitude (maybe 800m ish, I slipped and fell over. Lay prone on the ice I was unable to grab anything to impede the eventual slide downstream. Getting faster all the time I was trying to roll on the ice in the hope that I could roll off it. This proved to no avail, and I was starting to move quite quickly by this point. I could see quite clearly where the stream dived a rather long way over a cliff! Becoming despondent, a large mound of earth emerged behind me, and as I crossed this I made a concerted attempt to hold onto it, which slowed the slide, but I could not maintain my position. I started to slide past the mound of earth and the clif was far too close for comfort by now, I thought that this was it. In a last attempt to salvage something I rammed the front of my boots into the ice. Fortunately they broke through the surface of the ice, simply leaving the writer stood in a step.
Mr. Eadon didn’t take too kindly to the barrage of expletives that emerged from my mouth, enquiring as to what on earth was the matter. Where was I last time you saw me? “Up there” he responded, to which I replied and where am I now? “Oh…..Stop playing in the stream silly boy”!!!!!!!!
Arriving back on solid ground, I took my time somewhat in descent, and was rather shaken though unhurt. I took to doing the longjump over the remaining froxzen streams in full winter gear, which probably explains why my thighs felt like they had been put through a sausage machine the next day.
Not too long after this we came to a point where the descent is very steep (however there is a less steep way down involving a diversion deeper into the glen), and we split as a group. Geoff and I chose one gully, John and Chris t’other.
On arriving at the bottom we could see no sign of John and Chris either on the slope, or in the valley below, and decided that they wouldn’t have gone beyond this point without us, and must have turned back up the hill for a better descent route, as their gully looked horrendous.
After half an hour, the couple we had watched descend in the belief that it was them arrived with us, and of course it was a completely different couple. With only 45 minutes of daylight left we had to get down at least into Glen Nevis before dark or risk finding ourselves benighted, as the descent would have been distinctly unpleasant in the dark.
With the light fading all the time, our descent became faster and more furious. It was starting to darken when we reached the Glen, and I wanted to get through the gorge before it became fully dark. We raced through the gorge, the verglas forming on the rocks causing us to slide about on more than one occasion, but we arrived back at Polldubh before the use of torches became necessary. When we got back to the car, the boys we sat in it drinking warm raspberry juice. A traumatic day was not eased by a patch of ice on the bridge at Polldubh, on which we narrowly avoided a collision with the bridge. In turn this was superseded only by my cooking a meal the folowing evening, despite my protestation that we should eat in the pub and that I would pay….nice try?