Back when I was doing this mountaineering stuff alot the CIC hut was a mysterious place to me. I had been brought up on the rougher side of climbing, the wild bivi under some boulder or tenting on the side of a high ridge. Well times move on and here was the opportunity to spend a couple of nights in this revered place, the Charles Ingles Clark hut. This was my second club meet and one I was also really looking forward to.
It was freezing and wet waiting for someone with the keys, it got so bad I began searching under every rock convinced there must be a place with a hidden spare …. just in case. Well no, not that I could find. There are a couple of half doors in the front of the hut behind which is what can best be described as an alcove, a recess in the outside wall with just enough room to stand upright or crouch down whichever you prefer. The half doors looked so old that Charles himself might have been involved in their making and that’s where I stayed. The rain and wind seeped through as I looked down the glen through cracks in the wood hoping someone would come soon.
An hour or so passed when on the horizon, almost simultaneously, I saw a dark figure on the path coming down from the half way lochan and then down on the right, on the other path, two figures appeared following closely the Alt a’ Mhuilinn. When they eventually arrived, I was so glad to see them, unknown faces to me, I put out my hand said hello and introduced myself. They looked me up and down with a look of slight suspicion. That was Martin and Oli, they had their own keys they informed me, they seemed to know there way around the hut. Click, click clicking of the ignitors on the gas fires to start the heating process, first the drying room then the sleeping area and finally the kitchen and dining area. …. the hut quickly warmed up and so did I.
Eventually everyone else turned up at the hut, delayed by a car accident near Fort William, the one that I had happened upon myself earlier that evening. Bunk places were claimed, stuff put away and arrangements made for the next day’s adventures. Me and Lyle were to do the infamous North East Buttress with Its “Mantrap” approached via Raeburn’s arête. Martin and Oli, Minus One Direct, Lisa, Guy, Karin and Catriona were doing the CMD, Tom, Flo and Cameron, Tower Ridge. There was much discussion about the various routes, tactics and of course the weather.
Though not brilliant, the weather was forecast to be dry, misty and cold, very cold.
The next day dawned cold and overcast Lyle and I set off towards the North East Buttress. The rock felt damp, so we decided to leave out Raeburn’s arete and just do the ridge itself. As we neared the end of the buttress we met a couple coming the other way, they claimed they couldn’t find the start so were doing Tower Ridge instead; that was a little off putting I must admit. We found the start without any problem, reaching it at the end of a large and obvious grassy ledge.
I almost immediately lost the route and proceeded to find and climb every chossy gully and grove on the mountain. Swapping leads we eventually reached the main ridge, as the ridge narrowed and became steeper we came to the infamous Mantrap. Intimidating, steeped in history, polished and scratched, a bulging piece of rock that has crushed many a climbing dream; oh, the stories it could tell. Moves harder than VD for sure dispatched with ease by Lyle. Great lead!
The next and last crux loomed ahead, the 40foot corner. My lead this time and started up the route which I found surprisingly easy with loads of gear placements. The top part looked hard but was a simple step onto the right wall then up; easy compared to the Mantrap.
Moving on towards the end of the ridge, now covered in grey gloom, I could make out some people standing on the edge looking down at us. As I climbed nearer I heard a shout and was surprised to find Flo, Tom and Cameron waiting for us. They were frozen and had been waiting around for over an hour for other members to appear so that we could toast Russ. With no sign of anyone else appearing, Flo produced a fine bottle of Jura whisky with which to his memory. “To RUSS” we said, each of us in turn swigging down the golden liquid. (That’s the last we saw of that bottle by the way!!).
After a bit of chat and debate as to which decent to take, Lyle and I decided to go down via the Corie Leis headwall, just before the CMD arete. Lyle had to leave for Glasgow that evening so this was the fastest way down; just a little awkward near the bottom and then navigating through a short boulder field. The others descended ledge route, a popular alternative descent and ascent route of the Ben.
Once Lyle and I were back at the CIC hut it was locked up; we were first back. We could see the others on coming down ledge route and eagerly waited for them to arrive with the key, then warmth, then food.
I could see that Cammy was running ahead of the others eventually joining us at the hut and opened it up for us. No sooner had he arrived he was off again for a cold shower in the Alt a’ Mhuilinn river, this certainly didn’t make him smell any better! If you happened to be slaking your thirst downstream you have my sympathies. He does have a nice pair of boots though!
The others slowly arrived with tales of their own adventures. I had thought that doing anything harder in the cold and damp conditions would prove to be futile, Martin and Oli proved that assumption wrong having completed their objective of the Orion face direct, an HVS no less, followed by our own route the North east buttress to the summit.
As people arrived and settled down dinner was prepared using the excellent cooking facilities, I brought out my wine as did others and so the night began!!
I am a contrarian and I make no apology for this I like to think of the alternatives the opposite side of a story, while everyone else doesn’t question… I do. I hope it makes people think. Sometimes going against current thinking is not what people want to hear, well it certainly makes for an entertaining discussion for sure and so it proved in our evenings debate. Our arguments swung from Trump to the environment to whisky to skiing to climbing adventures in Greenland, to fighting with blunt medieval weapons, (yes really!!) ask Flo and Tom (I can visualise Flo now dressed up in medieval costume brandishing a large axe ….hmmmmm). The most heated debate was reserved for the suggestion that it was perhaps time to use bolts in the mountains; what an uproar!!
The next day, seriously hung over I legged it back to Fort William and it has taken a while for the flashbacks to subside, I’m looking forward to the next meet, new adventures, new people perhaps and good chats and fun.