Sad End to the Day

Went for a walk in the Cairngorms yesterday afternoon. After a quick drive down the A9 I got to the Cairngorm Ski Car Park at about 11.30am. The snow had begun to fall and it was bitterly cold. My original plan was to walk up to the summit of Cairngorm, a mountain I've climbed many, many times. Mainly because it's quick and easy! But yesterday I felt pulled towards the Northern Corries, in particular Coire an t-sneachda. This Corrie and Coire an Lochan next door to it are popular venues for winter climbing, they are one of the first places in the UK to get snow and are relatively easy to get to, only being about and hours walk from the carpark.

It was one of those unusual days for the Cairngorms, not a breath of wind! I've walked into the corries many, many times and have rarely encountered conditions like that in winter. It was absolutely still, all around me I could hear Ptarmigan calls echoing around the corrie. Their call is something akin to a 2-stroke engine, if I closed my eyes I could almost imagine a group of Mods buzzing around the Corrie on their Vespas!

There was a good layer of crisp snow underfoot which made for easy and straightforward walking. The visibility wasn't too good with the cloud base sitting at around the 700m mark. As I walked deeper into the Corrie I started to hear the noise of climbers on the corrie headwall. The clink of gear rattling on harnesses and the steady 'thunk, thunk' of ice axes biting into the ice reverberated across the corrie basin. Interspersed with climbers calling out 'safe', 'climb when ready' and not a few curses! As I got closer the cloud started to lift to reveal the buttresses of Coire an t-sneachda. Conditions were lean, but there seemed to be a reasonable build up of ice on the buttresses. The gullies had a decent amount of snow in them and the trident gullies in particular were picking up quite a bit of attention. I made my way to the Mountain Rescue box and stopped to grab a bite to eat. The cloud moved on, revealing blue skies and a fantastic view of the cliffs. There were about 10 different teams of climbers in the main area and I could hear at least another couple of parties over on the Fiacaill buttress.

As I was sat having a bite to eat I was accosted by a group of about 10
Snow Bunting . Are these birds the Neds of the Cairngorms? The gathered around me in a group chirruping away in what I guess is Bunting for 'Gies a peck of yer sarnie ye dobber'. They're very brave little birds and come very close to you. A couple went as far as to sit on the toe of my boots and belligerently puff themselves up! Once they'd mugged me for the last bits of sandwich they'd move on to the next group of climbers who'd stopped for something to eat, where they'd repeat the process before flitting on to the next likely group.

My appetite sated (not mention those of the Snow Buntings) I packed my stuff and started to move off and make my way back home. I meandered my way through the boulder field, occasionally turning back to take another look at the cliffs and the people climbing. Realising that time was getting on I started to pick up my pace. A loud noise and a panicked shout made me turn round and to my horror I saw a figure somersault over one of the buttresses and crash into the ground below. I turned and ran towards where he lay, someone else had managed to get there sooner, my heart sank as he checked the guy over and then took a few steps back from him. The fact that he wasn't trying to do anything did not bode well. I got closer and asked if there was anything I could do. The reply was short and crushing. 'He's Dead'. Nothing to be done.

Out of respect to his friends and family I'll not speculate as to the whys and wherefores of what happened. Suffice it to say that it was a tragic accident. We sat with the chap till the mountain rescue chopper came and uplifted him. The funny thing was whilst we were sat with him, the Snow Buntings returned en masse and seemed very curious about the dead climber. After a short period they all took off and left. Part of me likes to think that they were escorting his spirit on to the next world.

The people he was climbing with had come to a halt in the gully they were climbing and were obviously scared and shocked. Fortunately the Mountain Rescue Team were quickly on site to assist them out of the gully. Myself and the others who were on scene carried his kit back to the Ranger lodge at the carpark where we were met by some of his friends.

I'm still a bit shocked by it all and didn't really sleep last night. I spent most of the night replaying events in my head and wondering what his poor family and friends must be going through. I didn't find out his name, but he'll not be out of my thoughts.

Rest in Peace mate.


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