We arrived in light spirits after a night camping at the Kingshouse, my ice hammer a £3.50 loan from Glencoe Mountain Sports as I'd forgotten to pack my axe. The primroses were out and birds singing in the forest at Strontian, but it was still winter on the summits. Spring is my favourite time of year. Snow, sunshine, long hours of daylight - and no midges!
Sgurr Dhomnuill from below:
On exiting the forest a north wind hit us hard, but as we climbed higher the views improved - Garbh Bheinn, Beinn Resipol, Ben More on Mull; and east, Glencoe, Cruachan and Lochaber - an unaccustomed aspect for most people, the quick ferry ride at Corran being enough to ensure Ardgour is little frequented.
Ascending in high sprits:
The summit was uncomfortably windy, and as we had come up a bit of mixed snow/rock scrambling, we decided not to return the same way. We headed down virgin snow to make a circuit of the hill, our route ending at a cliff face. Dave went round it, the snow disturbed - presumably someone else had already come this way. This was of some comfort. A fierce gust of wind pinned us down, crouching and grasping the hired axe for dear life. When I was able to look up again, Dave had disappeared. The snow seemed less stable now. Hard to tell where the feet were going with a face full of spindrift and ears full of screaming wind, and as far as I could tell, the slope I was standing on ended in nothing. I didn't want to slip. But where had Dave gone? My nerves tingled. I suddenly realised the disturbed snow wasn't footprints. It was avalanche debris! Billy came into view behind me.
"I'm shitting myself," I shouted.
I wasn't going to go on, but where was Dave? "Dave!" shouted Billy. He had spotted him. A second later I saw his axe battering at the edge of the precipice, and he hove slowly into view. 'Back up?' I pointed. 'Back to the top,' Dave signed.
Billy led the way, making sure of each slow step. Much of the snow was sugary, and would provide no purchase for arrest in the event of a fall. Once on higher, safer ground, Billy and I laughed in relief. Dave had cramp, and didn’t feel like laughing.
"It was icy, sheer rock. Terraced cliffs. I was slipping... not a good descent route."
We descended the way we had come up - which was easy, nothing compared to what we had just foolishly attempted.
Once safely back in the forest our spirits revived, though we were humbled by the lesson a mere Corbett had taught us. Despite our combined experience, we were still capable of finding our boundaries suddenly and uncomfortably stretched. Respect your mountain, whatever its height.
"Well Craig," said Billy, "at least we know what your life is worth!"
"Three pounds fifty!" he said, remembering my hired ice axe.
Dark shapes of deer flitted silently through the trees.