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Two little Welsh boys bite off more than they could chew

Two little Welsh boys bite off more than they could chew


Postby huwthomas » Tue Jul 14, 2015 6:30 pm

Route description: Bla Bheinn (Blaven)

Munros included on this walk: Bla Bheinn

Date walked: 10/08/2009

Time taken: 6 hours

Distance: 13 km

Ascent: 1200m

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Bla Bheinn – even now the name evokes a shudder. 6 years ago, it was the spot where I almost came unstuck.

It could have all been so different. A week’s holiday in the Hebrides was in prospect; I had just completed the Welsh 14 peaks challenge in a respectable sub-18 hours time and was well on my way to knocking off the Welsh Nuttalls. Chay, my long-time friend and walking companion had recently ran two marathons. We were both as fit as a fiddle, and ready for a Scottish challenge.

I’d been to Skye the previous Autumn with some work colleagues. The intention then had been to climb the In Pinn, and explore the Cuillin Ridge. Weather conditions meant that having achieved reached the ridge on two separate days, we’d turned back after only a single summit (Banachdich on the first try, Bruch na Frithe on the second). This time it would be different!

The plan was simple. Park in Torrin, climb over Blabhein, then continue to Loch Coruisk and establish a camp on its shores, complete the Cuillin Ridge over two days, then walk out to Sligachan, and return to the car by taxi – simple!

Our failure to find accommodation on the night before (meaning we slept in the car – my mum’s trusty Volvo estate) should have been a warning of things to come. Nevertheless, spirits were high as we set off on the morning of August the 10th (my 24th birthday!) – not even around 15kg of kit each could weigh us down. The weather was fine, and we made good progress climbing up along the Allt na Dunaiche.
1936909_663540922122_1875074_n.jpg
Ascending from Torin


We passed Loch Fionna-Choire after about an hour, and then peered excitedly down towards Camasunary. It was at this point however that I made my first mistake. Chay suggested dropping the bags, popping up to the summit, then returning Abhainn nan Leac. I demurred – a plan was starting to coalesce in my mind to try and descend off the West or North West face of Blaven; partly for the excitement, and partly, legitimately to practice our escaping down steep ground ahead of (what I thought was) the far tougher Cuillin Ridge tomorrow, where use of escape routes might be a real necessity. So we continued up the South-East flank of Blaven, on a defined path, with glorious views out to sea.
Out to sea.jpg
View southwards from the slope of Blaven

By the time we gained the spot height of 926m we were in the cloud, but the navigation to the trig point was straightforward, and we ate lunch there. In-between the two summits, the scree slopes descending Westwards (approximately at grid ref. 528217) had caught my attention. Last Autumn, we’d ran down scree slopes coming off Bruch na Frithe, and I had loved it, so jumped at the chance to do it again. Yes, those contour lines were close together, but not impossible and besides, the shortest route between A and B is a straight line, right? Chay wasn’t overly convinced, but he deferred to my mountain knowledge – that was his first mistake!

At first, the going was good, and sliding down the loose scree was tremendous fun.
Scree slope.jpg
Running down the scree

Gradually however, the ground got steeper, and the gully narrower, until it dropped off completely as a vertical drop. Continuing was clearly impossible, and neither of us much fancied re-ascending 300m of scree. This was the one point, in my 10 years of mountain walking, that I contemplated calling Mountain Rescue. The only other option was to climb out of the gully, and continue down on the breast of the hillside. I eventually succeeded in doing this, and, in turning to help Chay, I made my second, most catastrophic mistake – I took off my rucksack, and laid it on the ground.

Before I could react, the 15kg rucksack took a slow roll, then a faster one, then tumbled uncontrollably until it disappeared off the cliff edge, beyond any hope of rescue. All of my clothes, my sleeping bag, all our food, our tent poles, my wallet, glasses, contact lens solution and work Blackberry; all disappeared before my very eyes. Worst of all, after an initial bout of swearing, I had to turn to Chay, still down in the gully, and explain what had happened. He was not amused, it would be fair to say. We continued to descend, and established that the rucksack was irretrievable, stuck presumably on a ledge below the cliff edge, and above a 10 meter waterfall when approached from below.
minus rucksack.jpg
Searching from underneath for the rucksack - futile!


And the drama was not yet over either. We were still descending on very steep ground, but the distance between us had increased, as understandably, tempers flared. This brought added danger however, and a shout from above alerted me to the fact that Chay had accidentally loosened a melon-sized boulder that was careering down directly towards my heads. With just a second to react I used my hand as cricket bat, diverting the momentum of the boulder over my head. It worked, and I lived to tell the tale, but the scar on my hand remains, nearly 6 years later!
Cuillin.jpg
Views across to the Cuillins from our predicament


All thoughts of wild camping disappeared with my kit, and so we walked out via Camasunary, and across the low Southern shoulder of Blaven. We were fortunate to be able to hitch a lift down the road back to the car, and it was another small mercy that my car keys had been in my trouser pocket when the rucksack fell. That might have been the last straw!

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Hollt.jpg
We pretty much descended through this chasm. Unbelievable!

As it was, we still managed a fairly successful holiday – using money borrowed from Chay, I reequipped some more vital items, and we had a pleasant few days on the Outer Hebrides, including walk up Clisham. The final straw did come however, when, returning via Fort William, a combination of wet road, old brakes, and inattention led me to write off my Mum’s Volvo. It certainly was an epic of a holiday!
car.jpg
The last straw


When I eventually returned home, I advised Mountain Rescue about my rucksack (so if discovered, they wouldn’t scramble to search for a body) and then vowed never to leave Wales again! Chay and I are still fast friends, and I have broken that vow, though it did take 4 years before I climbed another Munro. Having bagged all 190 Welsh Nuttalls, and a fair few English ones, the call of the North is coming again. I am certainly wiser for the experience, and it must be said that online information about possible routes is much better than it was 6 years ago.

As for the rucksack, as far as I know, it remains in situ, and will stay there until the next iceage!
huwthomas
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Re: Two little Welsh boys bite off more than they could chew

Postby Collaciotach » Thu Jul 16, 2015 8:43 pm

Ha bha sinn sgeulachd rabhachd ..... a cautionary tale , I mind coming off Blath Bheinn and seeing thon gully while thinking I would not like to come down that by mistake :shock:

I wonder where the rucksack is now !
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Re: Two little Welsh boys bite off more than they could chew

Postby dav2930 » Thu Jul 16, 2015 9:00 pm

Yikes! A rather costly trip by the sound of it - and that scar will never let you forget it :shock:! At least you both lived to tell the tale (miraculously!). :crazy:
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Re: Two little Welsh boys bite off more than they could chew

Postby SAVAGEALICE » Thu Jul 16, 2015 9:06 pm

Cripes!! :shock: ... glad you got back in one piece!
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Re: Two little Welsh boys bite off more than they could chew

Postby teaandpies » Thu Jul 16, 2015 11:03 pm

Welcome to Scotland
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Re: Two little Welsh boys bite off more than they could chew

Postby bootsandpaddles » Fri Jul 17, 2015 3:16 pm

Let us know when you are coming up to Scotland again and we will put the emergency services on stand-by!
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Re: Two little Welsh boys bite off more than they could chew

Postby Alteknacker » Fri Jul 17, 2015 8:29 pm

Wow, some adventure! :shock: I guess a good few of us have had such moments, or "there by the grace of God" type moments. You were just so lucky with that boulder! I had similar experience the first time I did the Cuillin Ridge, dislodging a big boulder that almost hit my nephew 20 m below. Very very sobering :thumbdown:

The concept of your trip was really excellent - it's a real pity that it didn't come off.

As for writing off your Mum's car, there are also a good few of us who've committed that crime (including yours truly). I was fully expecting my kinds to visit pain on my motor in their teens and early 20s, but for some reason they weren't like their father in that regard.

This is a brilliant report, though, and thanks for making the effort to write it up after such a time! :clap: :clap: :clap:
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Re: Two little Welsh boys bite off more than they could chew

Postby dogplodder » Sat Jul 18, 2015 1:39 pm

Sounds a hairy descent and good to hear you got down unaided. Wonder if this will inspire anyone to go looking for the lost rucksack! 8)
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Re: Two little Welsh boys bite off more than they could chew

Postby huwthomas » Sun Jul 19, 2015 12:01 pm

Thanks for all the comments (mostly!). I am up in Scotland for 2 weeks at the start of August, and have been reading this site extensively in preparation. My hope is to add a few reports on here in due course, but I didn't think I could do that until I'd got this trip 'out of my system'! :roll:

At some point in the future, I will go back to Blaven, with proper equipment and have a search for the bag. Watch this space!
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Re: Two little Welsh boys bite off more than they could chew

Postby Petr Dakota » Sun Jul 19, 2015 3:54 pm

huwthomas wrote:Thanks for all the comments (mostly!). I am up in Scotland for 2 weeks at the start of August, and have been reading this site extensively in preparation. My hope is to add a few reports on here in due course, but I didn't think I could do that until I'd got this trip 'out of my system'! :roll:

At some point in the future, I will go back to Blaven, with proper equipment and have a search for the bag. Watch this space!


Have a safe trip then :wink: Hope you will get back your bag some day... :roll: :)
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