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Let one go to find the meaning of life

Let one go to find the meaning of life

Postby NBrooks » Fri Nov 15, 2019 11:49 am

Route description: A'Chralaig and Mullach Fraoch-choire

Munros included on this walk: A' Chralaig, Mullach Fraoch-choire

Date walked: 15/11/2019

Time taken: 8 hours

Distance: 13 km

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This is one of those reports where it is more about what I learned. Every walk I do, I seem to learn something new. Last walk I did was really in May as I have been busy with other things. So I waited until there was deep snow and freezing temperatures. Seems a good plan. I set off in the camper on Tuesday afternoon with dire warnings being issued from my wife about safety and so on which were all met with reassurances that I would be fine as I had all gear; personal locater beacon, bivvy bag, two person shelter, spare food, foil blanket, head torch, hand warmers. And so on. I was confident.
It was a slog up to A'Chralaig, as the snow was just hard enough to have a crust then break through when I put my weight on it. I must be unfit as it took me ages. Putting on crampons then taking them off again was a pain. It was a combination of the spikes hitting the edge of a rock and tipping my foot over but too slippy not to have them on. Once at the top, it didn't look too bad to carry on after a rest and a bite to eat. But then it started to get scary and I wanted to be off the mountain. Squeezing between two boulders, I slipped and pitched forward. The ice axe spun round and the cutting edge hit the ground with my hand still around it. The pointy bit stuck into my chest and prodded me. Luckily the boulders arrested any further falling or this could have been a different story. Impaled on my own ice axe - it would have made the papers!
It's a very sharp ridge and the snow had piled up. I was at times traversing on deep snow at any angle which seemed like 60 degrees. At one point some snow gave way and slid down the hill. Oh my god, I was in a fair panic. Looking ahead to the next one I thought it's only a small amount more and it would be a shame to miss it after coming so far. Then I got closer and realised it looked like some nightmarish version of the crazy pinnacles but covered in deep snow. I decided not to do it. I felt comforted that I was being wise. So, how to get down? The bealach leading down to Coire a Ghlas Thuil looked a possibility but when I got closer I decided it was too steep a descent and to push on to the descent on the WH route. My legs had started to cramp up and I had to stop every so often to ease them off. At the start of this final ridge I could not believe how steep it was and narrow. It took me all my nerve and progressing at a snails pace to get down it. The descent off to the left looked impossibly steep and I began to wonder how I was going to get off. By now, my legs were having regular spasms. I contemplated going back the way I had come but I had no energy left to do that reverse route. I sat down in the snow and decided this is the time to admit defeat and call mountain rescue. I was exhausted, in a state of fear and could see no way to get down. I thought of my wife and my children and how they would feel if I didn't make it. Once last check of the map and I realised the descent was about another 20m further on from where I was, But I couldn't see that far as there was another lump of rock covered in snow and with a tiny sliver of a possible path to the right that had a tremendously steep side. I decided to try it and take my time. Ice axe in at a slight backward angle, test it's security, heave one leg forward and bear through the cramping sensation and plant it firmly in the snow making sure it was stable. Repeat for next foot. I had moved about half a metre and it had taken half a minute. Eventually, I made it round and saw that the descent angle was maybe just possible. Still very steep and scary. I was descending and my right crampon became loose and skittered away from me by about two metres. I had to retrieve it very slowly and putting it back on was no fun. I looked towards the snow line and wished I was there. Eventually I did get down and I reflected on how close I had come to giving in and calling for help and how close I had come to possible death or serious injury.
At this point, the tears began to flow. I have so much to live for - stuff I had taken for granted. Even writing this, I feel emotional. It's given me a scare. I'm not going to do such serious walking by myself again in such conditions. I also need to up my fitness levels for walks like this.
Back at the camper, there was a string of messages from my wife, She was worried as I was later calling in than I said, but not yet late enough to initiate our back up plan. I leave her with my route and timings so she knows when I'm off. Curiously, she was at work and at the time I was having my most scary moments, she was overcome with a feeling of anxiety about me.
I stayed the night in the camper, but the heater stopped working so I was freezing - or at least not as cozy as I had planned to be. It seemed a trivial worry after the day's events. Then I saw a mouse. Then another mouse. Oh jc, they looked so cute, I fed them a bit of my biscuit. But was kept awake all night with them running around. Now that I am home, there will be mouse traps deployed.
This is a slightly sorry tale, but it was actually boosted my joy for life. Maybe facing a potentially life threatening situation has given me a reminder of all that there is to be joyful for. It was worth letting one go for that. After all, it will still be there and I will still be here to go back and get it.
Not so may pics but one of the pinnacles looking impassible - at least for me. Know thine own limits. I found mine
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Re: Let one go to find the meaning of life

Postby jmarkb » Fri Nov 15, 2019 1:01 pm

Good report! A salutary lesson indeed: but you aren't the first person to have been caught out by this one in winter! The ridge onto Mullach Fraoch-choire is quite hard and serious in soft snow conditions - maybe even worth Grade II as a winter climb - as the summer bypass line on the E side is not an option unless the snow is well consolidated.

(For what it's worth, and for other readers, descending west then south-west from Stob Coire na Craileag is a reasonable option. Even in summer, this is a good alternative to the WH route as you can avoid most of the bog by crossing the Allt Choire a' Ghlas Thuill at about the 600m contour and heading for the end of the decent part of the track in An Caorann Mor.)

NBrooks wrote:After all, it will still be there and I will still be here to go back and get it.

Wise words: exactly the right attitude to take.
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Re: Let one go to find the meaning of life

Postby kaiserstein » Fri Nov 15, 2019 1:46 pm

Thanks for your report. I also bailed on this hill in winter but probably much sooner and only because I was with a more experienced head who advised me it was time to head off. I remember skirting round a steep edged drop when slabs of snow started sliding off under me. Never got near the pinnacles but it definitely seems to be a serious outing in winter conditions
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Re: Let one go to find the meaning of life

Postby Dunblane Bagger » Fri Nov 15, 2019 7:00 pm

What a sobering story.

We bailed at the same point last winter. It appears to be such a benign mountain in the summer but looks like she turns into a Munro eater in the winter !

First winter walk always takes you by surprise with the extra time, much more energy burned, and the extra gear you need to wear/carry.

I only recently completed my first winter solo and would also still recommend going with a party.

A great lesson learned though and you are still here to tell the tale so right decision made in making your retreat when you did.
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Re: Let one go to find the meaning of life

Postby gld73 » Sun Nov 17, 2019 4:33 pm

Winter conditions can make the usually-nicest of mountains complete and utter sods! I've had to turn back near the top of Schiehallion once in total white-out conditions as I was knee deep in snow, could barely see my hand in front of me and had completely lost the path so wanted to follow my quickly-filling footsteps back to safety. And I had my worst winter mountain experience on Moruisg, a usually benign lump of a mountain, when I stepped on ice on a steep section in a bid to get down out of strong winds, and had a descent so fast, I'd gone 50m before I even registered what had happened. When I came to a halt, far too near the edge of a gully for comfort, I was a jibbering mess and so descended the rest of the hill on my bum using my ice axe as a permanent brake.

So if 2 mountains which usually feature in lists of "easiest munros to do" can do that, I've no doubt ridges in Kintail can give winter heart-in-mouth moments!! Glad you got back to your campervan safely :D
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Re: Let one go to find the meaning of life

Postby Bungo » Tue Dec 03, 2019 7:39 am

So fortunately that's one less person the extraordinary lads and lasses have to go and rescue!

Maybe I'm a wuss, but come the Winter months I let the hills have their peace and I know exactly why.
When I first started driving my city was hit by a really large freezing snow storm - driving back at a snail's pace uphill whilst most of the traffic was not finding purchase and sliding back downhill towards us, was not my idea of fun.
Another time, thought I'd do Water of Saughs in December - really large snowstorm the day before . . but clearing. I'll be alright I thought, it's nice and flattish. The roads had been ploughed, but when some of these drifts were heading to the 12 foot mark and the road was getting narrower and narrower and also freezing over, I bailed out and took the road up to the Caterthuns as I couldn't actually do a three point and turn the car around. The road had been ploughed but had also frozen - it's quite steep, and my wee Micra inched up to the top where I parked and waited for some sunlight to start thawing things . . . it was really quite something. Exhilarating because I'd made it to the top and could stomp around the Caterthuns in thigh deep snow at sunrise, but also deeply terrifying - the risk of an accident to me and my small vehicle was incredibly high and it really was sobering.
Final point about getting oneself into bad situations . . . when I was about 11 or 12 I climbed around halfway up the Grey Mare's Tail by Moffat, in a pair of Rucanor tennis shoes. Seemed like a good idea at the time, but when it started to get crumbly and slippy, I stopped, panicked and thought I'd cross the hillside and descend to the path. Hit scree. Started sliding. Was only stopped by some weird crabby movement across the scree and managing to grab onto solid turf. The sheep were laughing, I crapped myself and swore never to put myself in such a stupid situation again. If I'd carried on with the scree I'd have been flicked over into the gorge. Lesson learned. God knows what my Mum and Dad would have thought had they known.

Always remember in Winter, if your skills fail (and they can and probably will - the old US Army saying "Fail to prepare, prepare to fail" is a good one) someone else has to put their life in danger to come and get you - well they don't have to.
They volunteer.
Discretion is the better part of valour.

Be sensible; be a chicken if you want. The Munro Police aren't going to get you in trouble.
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Re: Let one go to find the meaning of life

Postby mariannepritchard » Wed Dec 04, 2019 10:21 am

Fantastic report !! It was a really good read! We did this walk on Saturday the 16th of November and I think maybe followed in your footsteps along the ridge and perhaps even parked up beside you in the layby of the walk on the Friday. It was really tough going, stunningly beautiful but very sobering walking.
Ossian hitches a lift coming down Mullach Fraoch-Choire
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Re: Let one go to find the meaning of life

Postby mariannepritchard » Thu Dec 05, 2019 9:35 pm

Whoops sorry wrong picture :lol: here's Ossian hitching a lift
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