School of hard Cnocs - a cautionary tale

Grahams: Cnoc Coinnich

Date walked: 16/01/2015

Time taken: 3 hours

Distance: 7km

Ascent: 500m

I never thought I'd be writing such a piece. Indeed, for a while today I wondered whether to do so but I write this in order for those to perhaps digest and take care on the hill in Winter, no matter how experienced. 2.5 weeks ago I became a dad to a wonderful wee girl called Martha. It's been a blur and sleep deprivation is top of the agenda at the moment. However, I had been working extra hard in the house and at being a dad, as well as supporting my wife. As such, my wife suggested a wee hill would be good for my soul. Bonzer! I had earmarked today and the evening forecast looked good. Lesson 1 - if the weather is worse than forecast, consider whether it's still a good idea. As I drove along the Loch Lomond road, the snow was really dinging it doon. It had been 2 months since a quick pad up Geallaig and I was really missing the solitude and peace of the hill which perhaps meant I wasn't thinking straight. That coupled with sleep deprivation meant that decision-making would be challenged.

As I drove along the Ardgartan road, a tree had fallen across but the branches were small enough, that I could break and continue. A sign? I set off in the snow and started the trek up from Coilessan Glen. Sign 2 - another much larger tree was obstructing the land rover track but I diverted and continued. The higher I climbed, the better I felt and once on to the plateau between Cnoc Coinnich and the Brack, the views opened up. Error of the day - the book says continue on until past the crags before double backing SW and heading up the broad ridge - as the snow was quite deep by now, I decided I would make for a small crag, which appeared to have a straightforward enough climb. The snow here was firm and made for good going but as I climbed up the crag, the snow had hardened to the point where kicking steps was having less of an effect. With ice axe in hand I was ensuring what I thought was a good support but as I turned around to see the way down, my feet gave way and no matter how I flailed and cursed and attempted to apply an ice axe arrest, I was sliding down the slope uncontrollably. I was in fresh air and landed on my arse and face at the same time (is that even possible?) about 10 feet over a lip. I stopped a few feet further down. The impact was quite sore but I was conscious and gingerly stood up feeling no bones broken. 'F***ing Idiot' I shouted. I looked back and estimated a fall of about 30 feet from the initial slip. My nose felt sore and I had a cut above my eye.

I sat down and considered what had just happened. Had I slid a couple of feet to the right, I would have careered down another ledge, most likely adding another 30-40 ft to my fall. I doubt I would have been so lucky. I think I'm probably more use to my wife and newborn, alive than injured or dead and with that I decided today was enough. Indeed, I promised my wife when I returned home that I wouldn't step on the hill until April (no guarantees of a winter's end then of course).

The whole experience was chastening. I consider myself quite experienced and have been out numerous times in such conditions. However, I was guilty of being too complacent and made a poor decision. You learn more from failures than successes and in that respect, I hope this is of some help to others. I don't expect positive responses but I do hope it goes to show that it's not just the Munros where hill-sense is paramount. When I got home, I realised how blessed I was although one's hooter has swollen to the point where I'm nae such a good-looking loon.
Fallen tree en route
looking west over to Lochgoilhead hills
The Brack

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Comments: 19

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Attachment(s) Sub 2000s: Meall an Fheadain
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User avatar
Location: Glasgow
Occupation: Epidemiologist
Interests: The hills.....
Activity: Mountain Walker
Pub: The Anderson
Mountain: Ben Avon
Place: Torridon
Gear: Icebreaker underwear
Ideal day out: Anything epic and airy with good company
Ambition: Cremation

Munros: 245
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Grahams: 55
Donalds: 42
Wainwrights: 2
Sub 2000: 9


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Joined: Jan 15, 2009
Last visited: Feb 01, 2016
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