It looked like the Lairds weekend would be the last chance I had to get up to Scotland this season so I was keen to make the most of it. My last trip up to the Cairngorms with Keith, although an enjoyable one had not been very successful ended up in Corrie an Lochain floundering around in deep snow. Dave Owen and Ann were out for a week so he was keen to get out with the lads for the weekend and agreed to a day out with me, with Hells Lumb the chosen destination over in the Loch Avon basin. Saturday morning I was surprised when Dave crawled out of bed a 5am without a hint of disapproval, as he's not the best of risers at that time.
By 6am we where driving up a snow laden road to the Cairngorm ski area, we weren’t too worried about the road up as Dave had his secret weapon with him, a set of snow chains. Best laid plans and all that had not accounted for the barrier (First there) to be down on the approach road up and an armed guard on the frontier border not willing to let us through, snow chains or no snow chains. "8.30 we’ll be opening and that's my orders", so much for the early start. We considered walking up the road but that would add an hour to our day plus the walking back to the car, I could see that Dave had cast his vote as he snuggled down to sit it out, and catch up on some lost sleep.
9.40am, and the blockade was finally open, but by this time every man and his snowboard were in the queue, including the rest of the crew (to there great amusement) who had opted for a more leisurely start. Although we got walking first we were soon overtaken by a young university group heading for Corrie an t’Sneachda, as were a few more teams. With the mist down and again in deep snow we filed in line for the usual plod up, the normally well marked path, taking our turn to break trail. It had seemed a long time to get to the Corrie and I hadn’t remembered those big boulders on a previous walk in to Sneachda, but I knew if you kept the Fiacaill ridge on you right you couldn’t go wrong. By this time climbers had started to spread out heading in different directions, four lads in front consulted their GPS and confirmed that we had actually ended up in Corrie an Lochain, and at once the penny dropped and we realised the error of our ways. Four climbers in front decided to head up the slope to find a route; Dave and I opted to sit it out for a while to see whether the cloud would clear as forecasted, and have a lunch stop.
Eventually we decided to head up to pick the Fiacailll ridge up and drop down in to Sneachda, not wanting another performance like my last trip with Keith. As we made our way up the lower slope we could hear shouts from above next thing there’s an avalanche coming down towards us, quick side step and its passing us by, with me not thinking to much about it, until I look down to see a lad half buried at the bottom only 50m below us. As we descended down to them another one broke surface frantically trying to excavate himself from the snow, frightened and confused. As we assessed the situation it was very difficult to find out what injuries they had with both suffering from shock. The backs of their jackets were in tatters, as they must have tumbled down together over rocks with axes and crampons flying everywhere. Luckily the next lad on the scene had been in the RAF mountain rescue and knew all the drill, taking charge of the situation, phoning the rescue team, and sorting out the casualties. I had tried to probe for one lad’s lost sack to dig out his spare kit, to be told that he had none, I advised the lads above to make their way down the path of the slide to avoid any more slips. Soon a large party had gathered and spare kit was handed over to make the casualties comfy and sheltered from the elements. We tried to put one in my bivy bag but couldn’t move him due to his suspected pelvic injury; fortunately a two-man shelter was at hand helping the situation. Mean while the area was made safe and ledges dug ready for the MRT. We could hear a helicopter above but knew with the visibility they would have to be dropped off below the cloud line and come in on foot. Fortunately the weather was kind or it would have been a different kettle of fish, with a lot of very cold people stood around. It took about two hours for the Tayside RT (who were at Glenmore Lodge on an exercise weekend) to get to us with the doctor coming up first, assessing the casualties and giving oxygen, soon followed by the rest of the team. It took another hour to get the first casualty on the stretcher and down to the corrie floor with helpers holding ropes at the rear. At the bottom we were met by the Glenmore RT who were making ready to go up with the second stretcher and give the first team a well earned rest. I was glad to see the cloud lifting by this time and the helicopter coming in, saving a very long hard carry out to the car park. With plenty of other lads on hand we decide to take our leave and head off back, as we looked back up at the slope we could see the large slide had funnelled below the Vent where the lads had come down passed us.
It was a very sobering thought that Keith and myself had walked across that very spot only three weeks before!
That week a package arrived with my bivy bag in it and a note to say that the lads had been discharge from hospital the next day badly bruised but none the worse, but it could have been so different with so many people on that slope, us included!
‘Learn off other people’s mistake as you won’t learn them all yourself.”
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