Saturday, 10 March 2018

How I wish I had listened better.....

Whenever I have the opportunity to climb on the cliffs of Beinn Udlaidh, I always think of Geordie Skelton, my late friend and in fact my early mentor when I first arrived in Scotland. Geordie was in the Scottish climbing scene (although I doubt there was such a thing as a 'scene' in the 70's and 80's - you were simply unknown or well kent: Geordie being in the latter category) and one of his very enjoyable venues was the ice crags West of Bridge Of Orchy which he was instrumental in developing.
So, this week, whilst hauling myself up the relentlessly steep forest track to the corrie, I tried to remember some of Geordie's stories of the unfolding history to this winter ring of ice (well, 'ice' has usually not been quite accurate for most recent winters). 

Tam Low, Ian Duckworth, Pete Bilsborough, Frank Jack and many of his contemporaries regularly piled into the corrie from a base in Crianlarich as they were members of the Ochils MC and had members rights over free accommodation in their village-based hut. The key to whether ice was forming on the cliffs was a wee waterfall on the northern flanks of Cruach Ardrain which could be viewed from the hut's door. Water flowing - probably not worth the effort: icefall - they were off!

The problem for me, now, is that many of Geordie's stories were told, re-told and re-re-told amongst the warmth, beer (well, rum and coke for oor Geordie) and banter of The Rod and Reel and The Benmore and, thankfully, no one had to drive (not could they after theses sessions), so the ring of "last orders" was inevitably heard before retreating to the cottage for yet more badinage and the rest.... 

You get the drift: alcohol + alcohol + tiredness = not much chance of remembering and with this equation as a lame excuse for failing to recall much of the detail, and my growing exhaustion on the track, fuelled by not even remembering who 'Junior' was on his step-cutting  jaunt out of Central Gully nor the 'Doctor' or what his dilemma was, I stumbled to the kitting-up stone somewhat out of kilt with myself.

I'm not kidding about the detail of the climbers and their routes, because each route name derived from a story amongst the first ascentionists: and the only one I have the vaguest memory of is that 'Captain Hook' was so named because one of the pitches was climbed with only one axe......but even then, those who listened without drowning in their beer, might still correct me.

Connor heads up the 1st pitch of 65*cruddy ice
As for my climb on this day. Well, a very poor effort from me following a fabulous lead from Connor on the first pitch, combined with our late start and that there were three on the rope, meant that with the incoming mists, swirling spindrift and very cold legs from the standing around, a tail-between-our-legs retreat via an abseil was the better choice to end our day. 

I'm sure Geordie would have laughed at our ineptitude but would have regaled us with a story or two of mis-hap, mis-fortune and first ascents, having bought us the first pints. I must search out Geordie's diaries from one of his closest friends and re-light my memory, without any excuse of being tippled out of my box!

Leaving the abseil set-up for the corrie floor