Friday afternoon myself, Ian, Colin and Pete did a little scramble (grade 3 with 2 stars) at the back of the hut on a buttress to the right of the descent path on the Buchaille. Lovely grippy rock and although it was wet it was a fantastic warm up for the rest of the weekend. Only an hour to complete it, but then the weather came in bad and it was hail-stoning hard. Then 10 minutes later glorious sunshine, so we sweat our way back down to the hut to wait for the rest to arrive. Theron and Debs turned up with Rabbit pie for tea... yummy!
Saturday morning we were all packed and ready to go, Dave Will and Jordan set off first and were just leaving the north face car park as we were arriving. The 6 of us set off from the car park at 8am and all made it to the CIC hut within 2 hours. It was damp but we were expecting that, and Ian being ever the optimist was convinced that we would be lucky with the '50% chance of a cloud free summit' from the MWIS forecast. We scrambled up the Douglas gap and then geared up. We set off as 3 teams, myself and Ian, Colin and Pete with Theron and Debs bringing up the rear. Above the first chimney we hit the snow line, much earlier than anticipated! We then moved together for a while and then caught up with Dave, Will and Jordan who had been stuck in a queue. The going under foot was very slippy in the fresh snow and it was now steeper so we decided to pitch every section, Dave took Ians rope up behind him and then we discovered that Pete and Colin only had one 30m rope between them when we thought they had 2! so I had to climb with Ian with a couple of metres of rope between us. It was then a chain of people, each bringing up the next and working well together. Will was doing a sterling job of leading at this point. We hit another bottle neck at the end of the eastern traverse heading up the cave pitch, very thrutchy and not very elegant but we got up it. Will was a bit frazzled and decided he didn't want to lead any more as the pitch above was awkward and threw you off balance, Jordan and Dave also didn't want to lead, so Ian was pushed to the front whether he wanted to or not!
So with some juggling of ropes, Ian continued onwards with some swearing from me over the awkward bits. We learned later that Theron and Debs took a bit of a slip on this pitch but although Debs got a few bruises she remained calm and with a little support from Pete and Colin they both got up safely. There had been a lot of standing around by this point and the weather wasn't fantastic, everyone was getting cold and moral was quite low, time was ticking on and we knew we would be finishing in the dark.
Ian and myself headed down to Tower Gap, we were aware of the chance to escape by abseil off to the left so had to make the decision whether to attempt this or continue onwards. The pitch ahead looked impossible due to the ice and snow but the visibility was poor and to ab off into the unknown with 9 people looked like a bad idea, so upwards was the only option. I knew that it was easier going after this pitch so if we could just get above the gap we could drag up anyone struggling if necessary so we could get to the top. Ian was having his wibble of the day at this point and so I decided that since I was tied onto the middle of the 60m rope and Dave still me had on belay from above and Ian would have me on belay from the gap it made more sense for me to lead up from the gap, since if I fell there would be 2 of them to haul me back up. I seem to remember aswell thinking for a moment that if I fell and hurt myself at least them we could phone mountain rescue and the helicopter would come and get us! I stepped across the gap and headed upwards and seemed to be making good progress but then my foot slipped off the hold and I flew down Glovers chimney - shit! Both Ian and Dave had me though and although I hit my head (knew I should have worn my helmet!) I wasn't injured and with a bit of wedging and hauling from Ian and Dave I got back up to the gap. Ian was extremely frazzled at this point and was feeling guilty that he let me go but I convinced him it was the right decision cos if he had gone and fallen I would have struggled to haul him back up! So now I had to go again, the thought of the rest of the group shivering on the ridge and waiting on me getting up spurred me on. 2nd time was better, the sling I had partly got in place over a spike the first time I got straight and clipped in to it so I knew I wouldn't be off down the chimney again! after that it was a pull up onto an icy ledge and then a couple of moves, I over protected it with a couple of nuts but I didn't care at that point, I was determined not to be down that bloody chimney again! I reached the belay and cheered. Pete later said that when he heard that he thought we'd reached the top - ha ha, a few more hours to go yet!
Ian's morale then kicked back in and he led the rest of the pitches. Things then started to move again and we got into a great rhythm again like a caterpillar inching its way up the mountain. We worked out the next day that we had 270m of rope with us, so there was a quarter of a kilometre stretching out up the mountain. It had gone dark by now and we had head torches on it was quite an impressive sight to see the line of lights stretching along the ridge. The final pitch was a snow plod but there was no gear until right near the top, thankfully the snow condition had improved and kicking steps was possible instead of the slippy new snow we'd experienced earlier, Ian kept his head (and thankfully didn't fall) and led to the summit, where we put on the rest of clothes we had in our sacks and then waited for everyone else to make their way to the summit. We could occasionally hear shouting and relaxed once we could tell everyone was safely over the gap.
Once the whole team made it to the summit at about 1am, Dave and Ian navigated us off and we trudged off down the tourist path to the Half Way Lochan and then cut off across country to meet the Allt a'Mhuilinn which we crossed at the deer fence and then plodded our way back through the woods to the north face car park.
On return to the hut we were met by some concerned people and Derek phoned Mountain rescue back to let them know we had arrived back safe and sound. He had reported a concern at 2am. In our determination to get finished none of us had thought to let the chaps back at the hut know we were OK! There were no serious injuries just scrapes and bruises (and a bit of a black eye for me) but everyone has a little bit of frost bite in the ends of our fingers, although I suspect Jordan's may be a little more serious as he had no gloves all day.
It was a difficult day and we didn't beat Rick, Geoff and Julies record, so much for a summer ascent this was full winter conditions and poor ones at that. We did all work well together as a team. We each had our
moments of despair and doubt but were pulled through these by the
others, as we also each had our moments of strength. Without the
outstanding team work we wouldn't have got 9 people safely up and down. Thanks to each of you for a day I will never forget (and would prefer not to repeat!).
The plan of doing Aonach Eagach the following day went out of the window and instead we slept and then had a welcome pint or three and and a meal in the Clachaig.
Lets hope next years hut meet here is just as enjoyable but less eventful :)
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