“By definition, you have to live until you die. Better to make that life as complete and enjoyable an experience as possible, in case death is shite, which I suspect it will be.” Irving Welsh: Trainspotting
It’s like Trainspotting already. And I haven’t even left Birmingham yet.
Setting off on a 15 hour coach journey full of a cold I haven’t been able to shake yet the adventure begins! And somehow I’ve already gained the unwanted company of a dude who’s clearly on a massive heroin comedown. He briefly tries to start a random conversation about the ticket prices while sweating rivers from his forehead before commencing twisting his body all over the place writhing like a worm on a fisherman’s hook while barking at the other people on the coach. After half an hour with my headphones in trying to not make any eye contact I finally fall asleep.
About 15 hours later I get into Aviemore and get a taxi up to Glenmore lodge. After checking in I decide to make my first mistake of the week and go out for a trail run. I’m so happy to be here out in the wilderness and not at work I’m barely concentrating as I run towards An Lochan Uaine (The Green Loch). As I run alongside paying more attention to the dreamlike loch’s emerald waters I go over on my ankle and hear the pop and crunch as I sprain my ankle and tear ligaments. A young family look up from chilling near the late in surprise as I let out a little scream like a wounded badger. I’ve only got a mile before getting injured…not much good for an ultramarathon runner! For some reason I decide to try and run it off. Just as I get the Ryvoan bothy I decide it’s time to stop doing myself damage and limp back. I stand briefly An Lochan Uaine’s other-worldly waters and banks, and text my mate Andy who’s driving up to do the Winter Walking course. He can’t believe I’ve been here an hour and I’m injured already. I contemplate how/if I’m going to be able to climb straight up the side of a mountain with a bust ankle for a moment before limping back to Glenmore lodge.
Doctor Tom it just so happens isn’t a podiatrist.
Limping straight to the bar I order a double whisky and a bag of ice. Which I have to explain to the barmaid is actually for my foot not my drink. She seems concerned which is all good because she has a lovely Scottish accent. After twenty minutes sitting with a bag of ice on my now bruised black foot I head back to the room. I’m sitting there reading a book when Tom who will be my roommate for the course arrives to see me looking injured. Perfect timing just before we head out to do dangerous activities. After a brief conversation it turns out Tom is a doctor! And he rapidly see’s the happiness on my face drain away as he explains he actually an anaesthesiologist and not a podiatrist. I’m almost tempted to ask if he’s brought any anaesthetics with him though……
Day One Winter Mountaineering…looking for snow ❄
We get together after breakfast and meet our instructor Raphel or ‘Raffa’ who in his Basque accent explains there’s a distinct lack of snow available. He also explains how mountaineering is just like mountain walking but generally faster and more challenging. Pretty much ‘we don’t take the path we go right up the side’. I’m sold already as this is totally what I’m into. We spend most of the morning learning clove hitches, italian hitches, South African abseils and a load of cool stuff before we head out into the hills and find one of the few gullies full of snow to practice. We dig snow bollards, we bury ice axes as anchors and dig bucket seats. Then we head back to Glenmore for cake coffee, dinner and our avalanche awareness lecture.
I could stay awake, just to heeear you breathing!
After a few drinks we all retire back to our rooms and not too much later I find out, apparently I snore, I hadn’t realised! However Tom informed me many times during the night and I only realised I wasn’t dreaming the voice when I stayed awake long enough to realise it was saying in an angry Scottish accent ‘you’ve been snoring for 8 hours! stop!’
You can cut the room tension with a knife when we have to get ready to go out in the mountains. I make a mental note 1: Don’t let Tom belay me (for anybody that doesn’t climb a belayer is the person holding the rope so you don’t die if you fall) 2: This is probably one of the reasons I don’t hold onto ladies very long. Apart from seeming like I have a death wish.
The Corrie Of The Snows and Point 5
It’s day two and we benefit from Raffa’s excellent knowledge of the area as he finds one of the most popular mountaineering routes in the area ‘Point 5’ is still full of snow all the way to the top of Coire an T-Sneachda (which mean’s ‘corrie of the snows in gaelic’). I feel a bit bad for keeping Tom up all night but I’ve done huge run’s and climbed mountains before with no sleep before and a bit of adrenaline and coffee tends to sort it.
Heading into the corrie we are all relive to see there’s still some snow to climb and though in perspective it doesn’t look so high it’s only when Raffa points out the tiny black dots on the Point 5 route are actually mountaineers we suddenly get hit with an idea of the height. After a slog up to the route a quick bite to eat and some nervous crampon fiddling from my end we set off up the side.
Usually at this point I’d be nervous as I’ve never been great with heights. But the anxiety treatment the doc’s got me on seems to be keeping it under control. Yup I’m doing something this risky with an anxiety issue, I guess it’s always been my way of dealing with it. Just I had no idea until about two months ago! Anyway off we go to literally hang off the side of the mountain….
We are not using ropes, literally soloing up the side which is pretty impressive for a group that’s doing this for the very first time. It seems to give us an element of speed over the other mountaineers. But this isn’t a race you really need to make sure you are putting your feet in the right place and your axe…
I have to admit I’m getting a huge buzz off this. And as we stop about half way up in a huge bucket seat someone has dug I make what could be classed as a mistake and turn round and look down. My heartrate definitely tops out as I look down the way we came.On the flipside the gopro gets an amazing view and captures Tom and Scott climbing up behind us. We stop and Raffa talks us through a few things, though I’m trying not to imagine the mess I’ll make if I slip now and bounce down the side. But I do anyway and I wonder how far the bits of me would spread…..for some reason this makes me laugh.
Wiping the last thought from my mind just in time we set off and within thirty seconds Raffa’s crampon comes off…which really isn’t a good thing. He tells us the main thing is ‘not to panic’ before laughing nervously and luckily he gets it back, I’m kinda relieved he’s ok and that it didn’t happen to me….because in my head I was expecting it to be me having that kind of luck!
It’s not far to the summit now and when I finally top out it’s a great feeling. Not bad for a panicky dude with a bust ankle…..