Tuesday 27 May 2003
Our First attempt on the Ridge starting from beneath Gars Bheinn
We arise from our sleepless wildcamp at 3.30 am. It is just starting to come light. Out on the sea, fishing boats with lights are floating, so we don’t feel so lonely. Frost has embellished the rough foliage all around and our breath obliterates the view of our cups of tea seen through the beam of headtorches. It is a magical feeling being so isolated in such a tough environment. Being mindful of getting our equipment in the right bags, we now stow all the overnight stuff we no longer need in a large grey waterproof bag behind a large rock and try to memorise the position of this rock for when we need to retrieve the gear. We then walk straight up the frosty flank of Ghars Bheinn finding it very steep and rough. At the summit we rapidly celebrate before hurrying on. Our first Ridge Peak is in the bag but plenty more where that came from.
We move along the ridge, running wherever we can. Sgurr Choire Bhig, Sgurr Nan Eag, pass beneath our scrambling feet, and the terrain of this part is the easiest of the whole ridge lulling you into a sense that you are making good time. For this traverse we are wearing Walsh fell running shoes as our idea is to travel fast. At the Bealach a Garbh Choire, we have wonderful views down into Coir’ a Ghrunnda with the early morning sun illuminating parts of the golden rock. I noticed that although so often the ridge appears black, on this day, the rock is gold and pale.
After a while we have to slow down as Jim’s knee is starting to bother him – too much heavy load carrying on the walk in has not helped it. I bandage it up and he takes Neurofen and we continue, although without the running now.
The weather is the most beautiful you could imagine and we feel so lucky to be up on the ridge, seeing no-one else. The sky is blue, and the sun shining without a cloud in sight and in the far distance lies a pretty white strip of mist far, far away. The sun is actually hot as soon as it rises.
We miss nothing out, we make the detour to the two Dubhs and scramble to the top of both of them. We are finding route finding quite challenging at this stage and cannot quite believe how complicated the terrain is. We scramble up to the edge or the Thearlich Dubh Gap and Jim abseils down into the abyss leaving me to timidly sort my own abseil out. All goes well and soon I am belayed near the big scary chockstone in the dark and now windy bottom of the Gap, from where Jim ascends the TD Gap climb at Severe, quite a stiff undertaking, with a really difficult section that is very polished near the top. As Gordon Stainforth in his wonderful book, ‘The Cuillin’ puts it, “It has sufficient holds except where it most matters and is the most difficult climb on the Ridge”
While Jim is climbing, a very dramatic change comes over the weather, – the white stripe far away in the blue sunny sky has now blown here on a strong gale, bringing rain and freezing cold conditions. Within minutes everything has changed. I am freezing, wet through and cannot begin to imagine how I would climb the slippery Gap. Pulling on my lightweight Pertex trousers hardly makes any difference against the onslaught. I shout up against the gale that I don’t want to carry on, I have to bellow into the wind and of course it is not what Jim wants to hear, but on this occasion is certainly the voice of reason. So he has to abseil back down his hard-earned climb while I stand helplessly numbing at the foot of it.
In order to retreat we now have to descend the very steep gully that is wet, whipped by wind and very muddy and friable, probably the most dangerous thing we have done so far today. We downclimb slowly and carefully, waiting for each other, and trying to concentrate until we are out on the screes. The mist and rain shroud us as we make our way by compass to Coir a Ghrunnda, from where it is another 3 hour walk and scramble back down to Glen Brittle in which no mental or physical relaxation was possible as the terrain is so rough, the way so difficult to find in order to exit the corrie. You always forget how hard it is to access and leave the Ridge.
At Glen Brittle, still in the rain we have the traditional ice cream and coffee from the campsite shop before catching the bus back to Sligachan to greet our wet misty tent.