Comeback Hill

Wot, no Craig?

 Beinn a’Chrulaiste is often overlooked by those who are out bagging. It is also unfortunately nicknamed by some as “hangover hill”, suggesting it is only worth doing if you crawl out your tent at 2:00 pm feeling like you have Brian Blessed shouting at a deaf elephant performing a tap dance in your head as Lemmy does the background music (maybe I’ll send that one to Jim’ll paint it).

we're not worthy!

Heading on up


This however is unfair, as it has the best views in the area and has plenty of other things to offer, like the first time I climbed it via the pink rib route in a blizzard with Craig. We were not expecting such conditions, so we only had bendy boots, no crampons and one Ice axe each. As we got higher and the climbing got steeper, we were finding it tougher. The bendy boots were giving little purchase on the poorly consolidated snow. The worst parts involved very steep heather that lay in wait for you between the short rock pitches. Our boots just sloughed off the branches. There was nowhere stable to put our feet. On a few occasions I thought about climbing back down, only to vividly see myself losing my footing and falling, bouncing and my head cracking open on the rocks on the way down . Down climbing is when most accidents occur and the thought of a climber who had been found dead the previous day was going through both our minds at this time. I vividly remember one bit where Craig was stuck in a funnel. It was only about 10 feet high and about 8 feet wide and he was stuck for about 20 minutes. He would try and move his feet and there would be nothing to hold on to – it was like he had wheel spin, and the snow above would not take his axe. I remember climbing up to him and offering my shoulders as foot holds. This got him through the funnel, but there was no way I was trying it as there was no way he could safely help me up. Craig later told me he had vivid images of his mother crying at his graveside flitting though his head at this point. Anyway, I thought I would try the steeper rocks to the left. I climbed about 15 feet and hit an impasse. I had to decide whether to continue up the steepening rock (which was inclined at about 75 degrees) or to try and find another way. I cleaned the snow off the next block and tried it for size, but the first foot hold was in a concave recess and at the limit of my stretch. If I went for it and had to come back down, the hold would be hidden and there may not be enough purchase to take my foot. The result would be a crippling or fatal slip over the edge. Breathing heavily, I took a moment to compose myself and assess the situation. I noticed that I was grasping my axe so hard that my arm was going into cramp. I worked my way down a sloping grass and heather ledge. It was about a foot wide and sloping downhill. To make matters worse my feet would occasionally slip as the snow covering the thick heather branches failed under pressure. After about 20-30 feet, I had gained safer ground and after a short ascent, met up with Craig again. We both continued up for about 150 feet and then hit an impenetrable rock band. Looking at it, I physically felt myself fill with dread from the feet up. Our only option was to find a breach, so we turned left and came to the top of a broad gully. We down climbed the short wall onto the hard packed snow filling its base – if only all the snow had been that good. Now how to get out of it? I looked around and decided that a vertical 15 foot rock step on the other wall was the best option, although a fall would mean that I would shoot down the gully and probably land on the road 900 ft below to invent the new sport of bus-surfing. Because of this, Craig thought he would explore for a bit to see if there was an easier way. When I got to the top, I noticed that the ground was safe and shouted “Hallelujah”- which Craig heard and a few minutes later, he popped over the step too, to be met by a big grin. “I’m happy now” I said, grinning and happy just to be alive. Just then, Craig’s Jaw dropped and said “look – look behind you!” The blizzard had gone and the cloud was clearing. We hadn’t even noticed when it had stopped snowing. For the last hour and a half, our entire universe consisted of only that which was in our immediate vicinity. All that was important to us was that which was within your immediate reach and whether you could grab it, plunge your axe in it or if it could take your weight. Our heightened attention to detail made the view all the more stunning. Ahhh, memories 🙂

Long time no summit

You can make out a track to the summit from the ntop of North buttress

You can make out a track to the summit from the ntop of North buttress

Anyway, this time the point of the hill was to reintrodu ce me to hillwalking after a partial menisectomy 14 months ago. The original damage possibly being initiated by my knee twisting under me as a bit of turf disintegrated below me seconds before reaching the ski centre car park at the end of doing the Clachlet traverse. This was much less adventurous than previous comeback hills; Seanna Braigh on the 2nd of January, starting out at 11:00 am*, The Aonach Eagach and Sgurr na Ciche, which Craig wrote about here, but the last hill I had climbed was Schiehallion some two and a half years ago. Needless to say, I wasn’t looking forward to what might be, and wondered if I might suddenly breakdown, or post hole through the snow and hear a grating crunch as my the ends of my tibia and femur grind past each other as I collapse in pain

. Dave - not Craig :-)

Dave picked the hill and fortunately the day went without a hitch. It’s hard to believe it has been over 3 years since I last walked with Dave, as he was one of my main bagging partners as I worked through the munros, but things settled into a familiar pattern of jokes and banter and I was also reacquainting myself with sugary powder, neve, slushy nastiness, wind sculpted footprints, hands that don’t warm up again when ungloved, rime formations, cameras needing warmed up, bum-sliding and stunning views of my favourite hill; The Buachaille. I secretly wanted to climb it, but kept quiet about it in case we did and I really broke down. As much as I love climbing on The Buachaille, a summit I’ve stood on 20 times, with only two days lacking expansive views, it is sometimes just as good to gawp, and take in some mountain porn. When the inevitable post-holing did occur on the decent, I just bounced back. So far so good! I do still have a faint hope of doing a 10 munro walk this summer, but I’ll take it slowly and see how it goes. In the meantime, my priority is to get in shape for our summer trip to Fontainebleau for some boulder pulling (2 months and counting).

No, it's not a bacon roll

I dedicate this post to Craig who for some inexplicable reason was somewhere flat. However, the views were better the day I did it with Craig, when Dave was doing things with cheeseboards and bubblegum.

*The weekend fix pp 78-80.


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One Response to Comeback Hill

  1. Craig W says:

    Hey the Borders aren’t flat, they’re gently rolling, with even occasional steep bits. Anyway who says you can’t have fun on the flat?!

    Glad to see you back in the saddle, hopefully more trips soon!

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