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Carn Mor Dearg - lessons learned
by Riverman » Wed Jan 15, 2014 12:26 am
Munros included on this walk: Carn Mor Dearg
Date walked: 13/01/2014
Time taken: 6.15 hours
Distance: 9.17 km
Ascent: 970m11 people think this report is great. Register or Login free to be able to rate and comment on reports (as well as access 1:25000 mapping).
Last Friday I sneaked out of the office at 4pm and jumped on the Docklands Light Railway to head for City Airport. From my office desk to the check in desk took all of 25 minutes. Soon I was in the air and bound for Glasgow where a taxi whisked me from the airport to Luss in about 40 minutes. By 8.30 I was tucking into a hearty dinner beside an open log fire. London already felt a million miles away.
Next morning I jumped on the Fort William bus, meeting my friend Tyler who had flown up from London that morning and had made a frantic dash from airport to bus station. We passed amazing scenery beside Loch Lomond. Seeing the hills around Arrochar and Crianlarich I was already thinking about a possible trip to explore that area in February. In the winter sunshine the landscape looked beautiful. We arrived in Fort William at lunchtime and met our friend Dave who had travelled up on the sleeper train. We grabbed a quick bite to eat before heading to the Nevis Sport cafe to meet our guide for the weekend, Davie Scott of Ben Nevis Mountain Guides.
Together we talked through our plans for the weekend, discussed the weather forecasts and avalanche dangers. Our plan was to spend Sunday near the CIC hut practicing our winter skills and then on Monday to climb Ben Nevis via the CMD arete. I was totally focused on the Ben. Early in 2013 I had suffered a knee injury (torn meniscus) requiring an arthroscopy and a course of physiotherapy. After a recovery I had taken to the hills again in June and within the space of 5 months made it up the highest mountains in each of Ireland, Wales, England and Northern Ireland. The highlight of my summer had undoubtedly been the Snowdon Horseshoe, completed on the hottest day of the year, which had really whet my appetite for the CMD arete.
Despite some great days in the hills since the operation, knee pain had occasionally still dogged me in 2013. First in May on the Malverns and then most recently on a Boxing Day outing in the Shropshire hills I had descended Caer Caradoc rather uncomfortably - with classic symptoms of anterior knee pain. Shortly before this Ben Nevis trip both the doctor and physiotherapist had recommended I try a neoprene knee support. I duly acquired one but had some trepidation about the trip. I knew that if I made it round the CMD arete but descended in pain I would not feel completely satisfied. I am relatively new to hill walking (about 3 years experience) and over the last 18 months knee problems have been a constant source of anxiety that interferes with my enjoyment of the hills.
Bright and early on Sunday Davie Scott led us up to the CIC hut. We practiced ice axe arrest, walking in crampons and learned a tremendous amount from Davie about avalanche danger and different types of snow. We looked at terrain traps, inspected avalanche debris and dug pits to examine weak layers in the snow. During the day it was very windy. Whilst admiring fantastic views of the North face of the Ben we also noticed tons of sprindrift being whipped off the top of the arete. All agreed that we were glad not to be up there today. As light faded we headed back down to the North face car park.
North face of Ben Nevis
North face of Ben Nevis
North face of Ben Nevis
Tyler and Davie Scott (Ben Nevis Mountain Guides)
Later that evening I heard from Davie that he had hurt his knee and would be unable to guide us on Monday but that Max Hunter of Hunter Mountaineering was able to step in. I spoke with Max about the plans for Monday. The weather forecast was good, suggesting lower winds although quite a lot of cloud. We agreed that speed and efficiency of movement were to be imperative to complete the arete and both summits and descend in as much daylight as possible. To give us the best chance we agreed to meet at 7am at the Nevis Range car park and then take Max's vehicle up to the top car park to shave off the first couple of hundred metres.
At 6am I received a call from Tyler. He had woken on Monday with considerable knee pain and, not wishing to push his luck or jeopardize our chances of making the route, had decided to pull out. So by 7.30am, Max, Dave and I were on the move. We were glad to have been spared the steep trudge from the North face car park. With head torches on we progressed across increasingly boggy ground. Occasionally sinking into the mire up to our ankles, lifting the boot from the bog required substantial effort. The slop steepened and the ground mercifully dried out a little. By 9.30am we were above the snowline and putting our crampons on.
Max Hunter (Hunter Mountaineering) and Dave
As we moved up towards Carn Mor Dearg I noticed that Dave was moving a bit more slowly than me and Max. Being a veteran of knee problems myself, I became concerned that Dave was finding the going difficult and was perhaps nursing an injury. We stopped to speak as a group and Dave told us that he did have some pain and that on the lower slopes, had twisted his leg while yanking his foot from a boggy patch. Dave took some ibuprofen and we advanced the remaining distance to the summit of Carn Mor Dearg, reaching the cairn around 10.30.
By this stage the sky was clearing and we enjoyed simply spectacular views of the arete and the Ben. I felt super strong: my neoprene knee support seemed to be working wonders and I looked ahead at the arete that lay before me so invitingly. Already though, I knew that today would not be the day. It was obvious that Dave was in some pain and was not going to be able to make it round the arete. We spoke again as a group. Everyone knew that to progress onto the ridge was a commitment. If we went, we would have to go all the way. I doubted that Dave would make it and he confirmed that he could not progress. I could see the look of disappointment on his face. I admired his courage. He knew how much we both wanted to bag the route but he also recognised that it would not be safe or sensible to advance.
View from Carn Mor Dearg summit (1220m)
I felt sorely disappointed. I had come along way from my knee surgery last February. I was raring to go and was so close to crossing the arete and climbing the Ben in near perfect winter conditions. Would I get another chance as good as this? Of course I will - but in a haze of selfishness and disappointment I couldn't imagine it at that moment. For an instant I felt as if everything was lost. Slowly though, reason took hold. My friend was in pain and we needed to get him down the mountain. The ridge and the Ben were not going anywhere and both will bask in glorious conditions again, if not this winter, then next. Besides, we had already bagged the ninth highest munro and had been privileged to enjoy stunning views from its summit.
So, we turned around and headed for the top car park, taking as slow and as easy a line of descent as we could to minimize Dave's discomfort. Eventually, we reached Max's vehicle at around 1.30pm and headed home. By this stage, the cloud that had been forecast had closed in and we were driving home in rain. I realized that if we had completed the route, our descent from Ben Nevis would have been quite miserable and cloudy.
Tyler had already returned to London, so on Monday evening, Dave and I enjoyed a hearty supper at the Spice Tandoori and a decent pint at the Grog and Gruel. This morning we enjoyed a stunning vista of Aonach Mor, Carn Mor Dearg and Ben Nevis from the B&B in Torcastle, before heading into Fort William to start the journey back to London.
Whilst this weekend was tinged with disappointment it also taught me a great deal. The day spent with Davie Scott was highly instructive and will undoubtedly help towards my goal of becoming as autonomous a hillwalker in winter as I am becoming in summer. Likewise, the guiding provided by Max was great. Talking to him on our route day I learned a lot about planning and pacing and recognising dangers on a winter route. I would recommend both guides very highly.
Above all, the route day on Carn Mor Dearg reminded me of a few things that all hill walkers and mountaineers know but which are easy for us to forget.
1. We must know when to stop and turn around;
2. We go up as a group; we come down as a group. Think of others before ourselves;
3. The mountain ain't going anywhere. If we don't get it this time, it will most assuredly still be there waiting for us next time!
All in all it was a fantastic weekend. We're a lucky lot in the UK to have so many wonderful and dramatically different landscapes on this little island of ours. We should enjoy them as much as possible.
Aonach Mor, Carn Mor Dearg and Ben Nevis
by The Rodmiester » Wed Jan 15, 2014 10:46 am
by Mountainlove » Wed Jan 15, 2014 11:50 am
by mrssanta » Wed Jan 15, 2014 7:48 pm
But when you do finally complete the challenge it will feel so good!
by GillC » Wed Jan 15, 2014 9:34 pm
You WILL make it back.
by Bod » Wed Jan 15, 2014 10:11 pm
by Tomsie » Thu Jan 16, 2014 7:47 pm
by riverlodge » Fri Jan 17, 2014 10:12 am
a bit like you, nowadays i have to capture all my hills from 'deep' down south and it can be really difficult sometimes to accept that the weather window / conditions etc dont recognise that you have travelled for a day just to get to the layby at the start of the walk.
one other thing in your report, sounds like your guides did absolutely the right thing all along in communicating / assessing the group capability - so well done to them too by the sounds of it. when up at hogmanay i learned (in a very positive way, as i'm largely used to solo walking) just how good a guide can be - in that instance it was geting success when i know i would not have done it on my own.
by Riverman » Sun Jan 19, 2014 1:00 pm
by Sheepy » Wed Feb 05, 2014 3:46 pm
Just on the knee thing. I had complete ACL reconstruction several years ago and have found that by building muscle strength in the legs helps. Try treadmill, cross trainer and stepper at the gym. This has less impact on the knee and builds good muscle strength. We did the Ben via the CMD Arete in 2012 from the Glen Nevis visitor centre. I can honestly say that both my kness were hurting on the last stretch down from the halfway lochan. Walking poles a definite benefit.
by basscadet » Wed Feb 05, 2014 4:20 pm
Reminded of my experience of the arete - did it the other way from nevis in a blizzard, fell and did my knee in on the way down to it.. Made it to CMD and on to the bealach beyond in terrible conditions.. I pitched my tent, my walking 'buddy' decided it was too wild for him to stay out. I was too sore to walk more that day so he walked out without me Despite this, it was a braw trip