May Bank Holiday North of the border

by Nick Gardiner

The semi-annual OMC jaunt to Scotland once again made its indelible mark on a group of both seasoned and new mountain travellers alike. An extended weekend in Glencoe beckoned for those willing to brave the journey northwards, and a posse of 16 enthusiastic mountaineers managed to pour into the roomy and surprisingly comfortable Alex McIntyre memorial hut – well, at least when they all eventually arrived.

The Big Bad Ben
The Big Bad Ben.

Alas, the early part of the trip was peppered with a succession of OMC travel disasters and blunders; new kiwi member Kim believed the smart way north was the overnight sleeper, but alas made the elementary mistake of dozing in the 'Aberdeen' rather than the 'Fort William' section of the train; when it split at Glasgow he found himself waking to the cry of North Sea Gannets. The intrepid Plater group trusted their passage to the marvels of the silver bird, which backfired spectacularly when the evening flight was delayed till near midnight, and after an eventful journey north lost the hut, spending nearly an hour scouring the A82 and only happening upon it when the sun started to rise the next morning.

Saturday saw the groups try for various peaks. Being Scotland, and being Lochaber, the Big Bad Ben was in the sights. The principle objective of tackling Tower Ridge led to plans being drawn up for Castle Ridge, also on the North Face, as a 'warm up'. Several parties made their way to the North face, but by competing routes, either from Glen Nevis or from the North Face car park. Plater-Cooke, Gardiner-White and ‘G’-Cranley tackled Castle Ridge, enjoying the easy scrambling with some trickier sections in between. They waved hello to James, Celeste et al from near the start, who were planning on tackling the Carn Mor Dearg arête to the top.

Aonach Mor
Guillaume on Aonach Mor

The summit of the Ben was snow-covered, as were many north facing gullies and most teams elected to opt for discretion and take the rather knee-jarring descent, rather than the valorous summit route, back to the foot. Unfortunately the Plater curse again fell as the route back to the North Face car park proved tricky to navigate in the twilight; after an attempted river crossing where one un-named OMC secretary throw her boots into rather than across the rapids, the path descended into thick forest. The Glen Nevis group were home and dry and cooking sausages and mash long before our latter heroes returned

Julie enjoying a good scramble.

Saturday evening saw the group graced by the presence of none other than OMC alumni and John Hunt contemporary Douglas Mills – after whom the most notable feature on the Ben's North face is named. For those of you who don't know Mills (and do they exist?) he is a revered and venerable club member with wild tales and a fine line in cravats (and if his fees are modest, and lets face it the OMC can't get Bonners, we hope for an evening of anecdotes at the annual dinner). Another old member joining us for the trip was Ralph Crouch, whose energy in tackling peaks hasn't diminished with his relocation to the North.

Aonach Mor
Guillaume on Aonach Mor again

Sunday dawned fine again – the best weather in the UK being centred on the West of Scotland, and some, including the Stibbards, elected for a succession of munro and summit bags across the sea loch. An easily reached but adventurous jaunt brought a succession of peaks to hand. Another party, including Kim on his first trip to Scotland, and Charlotte on nearly hers, decided to tackle the Aonach Eagach ridge in glorious conditions, negotiating the pinnacles as deftly as a ballet dancer in Coppelia's finest moments. As the evening clouds rolled in and the midges started to bite, the mooted BBQ was ditched on Sunday night for an ad-hoc pasta meal (never a bad thing of course) but courtesy of the Glencoe Spar it did not quite match up to Carluccio's finest.

Perhaps at this stage one should mention the very fine gastronomic efforts from certain members of the party to provide us with a delicious variant of Haggis, neeps and tatties, concocted by a combination of French-Swedish-South African chefs. Evenings were spent in the hut, the company being excellent, and, as tradition requires, a variety of whisky flowing liberally most nights (helping especially to lubricate Mills' memory).

Monday was again a fine day, and another party, tottered along the Aonach Eagach ridge, although this time being intermittently blasted with hail storms on the crux sections; alas the storms rolled in on the Tuesday but, bar some indoor ice climbing, most groups started their way homeward. All parties returned in one piece, physically at least!