Last week a friend and i got a chance to escape the Peak District and head to the Cairngorm national park in Scotland. We had the all clear for our families to head north. The weather conditions were looking promising, we had analysed over a period of days the SAIS avalanche reports, we booked the accommodation and were off. Adventure in Scottish winter here we come after a six hour drive to Newtonmore of course.
Once arrived and settled into Newtonmore we both took time to look and talk about our aspirations for the next few days. SAIS avalanche reports, weather forecasts, and what people were saying verbally and on the internet about conditions on the hill were considered as usual. We decided to go and have a look at a crag which fitted within the safety parameters and aspirations above Strath Nethy at around 1000 meters of height. We had done all our “homework” and research, we had ticked the boxes and we were not pushing ourselves too far mentally or physically.
The next day we parked he car and headed up to the crag. We knew that a few abseils down into the crag and we could work together setting up belays and enjoy some winter climbing. We even saw a group from Glenmore lodge abseiling into the crag as well as other people, this justified our decision. We were on track for a good day. Its all coming together we thought.
We arrived and simply were not happy. Unconsolidated snow (uphill swimming not ice/winter climbing) and a limited choice of abseil anchors were making this very unlikely now. We were communicating with some guys on a belay ledge, 30 feet down the crag in high winds and it didn’t look or sound great.
Myself and my climbing partner decided to weigh up the entire situation and get back together to make a plan in ten minutes. We assessed everything, anchors, weather conditions, time of day, crag conditions, etc… and then we looked extensively at the consequences of abseiling down the crag and committing ourselves to the climb. We got the map out again and looked at other options nearby.
One strong cup of thermos coffee later and much conversation we both decided it was too much risk to abseil into the crag and attempt to climb. We had travelled so far, spend so much money and used up so much precious time away from our families. Getting a pass out to play from the family isn’t easy.
We decided to run away and head back to the Newtonmore. It would have been foolish, unwise and dangerous to for us to proceed. Failure? No victory. Our experience and education in the mountains especially Scottish winter had paid dividends. We marched down Coire na Ciste, after practicing navigation around Cairngorm summit, back to the car and Newtonmore.
Back in the Peak District now, a few days ago i read a blog by Heavy Whalley titled “Health is wealth.” From the title alone i wondered what he meant by this. Looking back now I will remember Heavy’s title for future reference. Thanks Heavy.