I just couldn’t do it. Bobinson and I stood at the open boot and looked at the other boots in there. The snow line was patchy until maybe 600 or 700 metres and walking up the steep grassy slope to tackle the Dalmally Horseshoe in an anticlockwise direction would bring me nothing but heartache in the Scarpa Mirages. The Keen Growlers it was then. We were kitted and away into the sharp wind quickly, adjusting cuffs and pack straps as we eyed the cloud shrouded tops that circled the coire.
The last time I was here I was skinny, had waist length hair and was at an age beginning with a “2”. It’s no surprise then that I missed the bridge, but a backtrack along the riverbank got us over the tumbling water and onto the SMC Munro’s Guide descent route.
It’s on steep grass, and the ground was increasingly frozen, but we got the height out of the way early and were onto the ridge just under the clouds. The wander along the more level part of the ridge saw us slowly absorbed into the cloud cover, the wind was strong, harshly chilling and the ground was was now coated in hard frozen snow. We stopped and got our crampons on and I swapped my poles for an axe and my stormtrooper gloves.
Anyone who says that getting this kit on and setting off doesn’t make them feel like an 8 year old running around the park pretending to be a spaceman/ train driver/ cowboy is a big fat liar.
We walked further into the lightgreyout and as the ridge narrowed to the top of Sron an Isean there was the strange sensation of exposure without any impression of height. The monotone blanket broken up only by the dark ice encased rocks tumbling away on all sides.
The ridge to the summit from here is the best part of the route and it’s the best way to ascend Stob Daimh, I think SMC must be keeping it to themselves. The ridge is narrow with big drops on either side, the crest a wind sculpted fin of frozen snow. It’s a total joy, but this is where experience comes in, there were no signs of anybody else having passed this way, visibility was piss poor and there were cracks where the weight of the cornice to the north side was pulling at even this well consolidated snow pack.
We worked our way across and around and stopped for a breather at the base of the final slope to the summit. Here, for a few seconds the cloud billowed and cleared and showed us the height of our rest spot. That made me laugh out loud as we gazed down into the coire and got our first impression that we’d actually been climbing up something high, and were actually on the edge of something really rather steep.
As the cloud returned, the still visible became the focus. The iceforms on the rocks looked fraglie, but were hard as steel.
As we pushed upwards, the first of a fair few folk passed us going the other way. Everybody had two points to make with which I always agreed; that the wind would cut you in two and that it was a brilliant day to be out.
We didn’t hang about long on the summit, but we noticed how we were both getting iced up. Crystals were growing onto every seam, every fibre and were creeping along every surface. It got so thick it started to look like fake TV snow had been sprayed on us.
We shot the breeze with some folks and headed off, climbing over Stob Garbh and looking a spot to stop for a brew down the ridge. Bobinson did attack a frozen boulder at one point, I felt that he was expressing the primeval angst of man through the medium of interprative dance. He disagreed.
The bloody sun came out. It was glorious, but the views belonged to the others still on the summit. The warm patches of light caused me to blink which in turn made me realise how tight the skin on my face was.
So excited was I that I lost my footing, fell on my back and started to slide. I swung my axe into the snow with my right hand and jerked to a stop much to Bobinsons amusment. My arse was stinging with the unexpected acceleration on a frozen surface and my self arrest technique was too freeform to described fully in public.
We stopped for a brew and a look into the coire. The group we has passed a little earlier were working their way along the skyline on the narrow part of the ridge. I’ll bet they were having a ball.
The temperature rose as we descended and the harsh world above was replaced by an idyllic country scene lit by warm winter sunshine. We walked out on the track of the railway line that served the mine and our thoughts turned to food. My thoughts often turn to food.
We were in the Real Food Cafe in a flash. Ten minutes later the place was heaving and we sat smug at the table with fine tasty fare, burning faces and stingy eyes. Sarah brought over a huge bowl of crumble and custard and the day was done.
I’ve been born again. I’m enjoying revisiting long forgotten peaks, and I’m enjoying day walks again. Climbing Stob Daimh was great fun, it felt fresh and new and it’s a great route on a lovely hill.
I’ve got a world of possibilty opened up close to home.