• AMo

24

I guess it always happens fast, otherwise it wouldn't happen.


I haven't crashed a car before, not properly, at speed. It reminded me a lot of Colin McRae Rally on the PC.


Wet black night in Nether Lochaber. My mind is racing ahead of the following day, when I have to walk out in a blizzard and deliver a quality day of teaching winter climbing for my MIC assessment. Was my foot on the pedal racing with my mind? I don't even know. I must have been speeding a little, but I only think so because not every vehicle hits that corner and suddenly whips into oversteer, drifts across the road and ploughs up the verge, to be stopped from flipping only by collision with a 40mph repeater sign.


Surprise, the world is the right way up. I'm not hurt. Am I really not hurt?


"Fuck me. I don't believe this!"


Rewind.


For a few years after becoming a WML and MIA, I was not in a rush to become an MIC. I was happy with the work I could do with those awards, and thought that although it would be cool to take people winter climbing now and then, I didn't need to put myself through another assessment in any hurry. As usual though, once you get your teeth into something, you want to chew and swallow it.


Last winter I went for MIC assessment. The first three days went well, but on the fourth the wheels came off. I was tired and sloppy, and was rightly deferred. I felt at the time that if I had had the chance to come back fresh three days later, I could have passed, but that counts for nothing. I would have to wait until the following year, and take as a positive the incentive to sharpen up some aspects of my teaching practice.


The unusually long and unusually warm spell of late February this year was a killer for a lot of people booked on WML and MIC courses. For a while it looked unlikely that my day would go ahead. You could put the remaining snow in a wheelbarrow, and we were going rock climbing in t-shirts. Some people were set to lose out worse than me - I particularly felt for Ollie Mentz, who committed a lot of time and money to be away from his family to try and pass his assessment this winter. Even so, I was frustrated that everything was likely to be set back another year - I felt ready. My ear-worm early in the winter was Anarchy in the UK. "Cos I...wanna beeee...an MIC." I admitted this to no one, until now. You're welcome.


Then, last weekend, the snow came back. Winter climbing conditions would, at best, only have time to develop to the extent they usually do in November, meaning that sensible route options would be limited. I only got final confirmation that the day would go ahead on Tuesday morning. It had not been the ideal preparation period, but I got a couple of routes done early in the week, with Anné in the Cairngorms and then Pete and Amy on the Ben. I'm very grateful to both for allowing me to practice with them.


I met with Dave Rudkin and my mock student, Iona, on Wednesday evening at Alltshellach. It was a relief that Iona came across as an experienced and resilient mountaineer, because the conditions for Thursday looked full-on. I was feeling stressed about making the best decision, but I drove away with one that Dave approved of, to head for the Cairngorms - where the weather was worse, but I ought to have more reliable route options.


And two minutes later, my mind full of spindrift, and how to teach what, and getting safely onto suitable climbs in a whiteout, my tyres breached contract with the A82.


Out of the vehicle and away, away in case an articulated lorry comes around the corner and repeats my stunt. People stop, ask if I'm OK. They talk A82 upgrades, say I am the third vehicle to crash recently in this same exact spot. What the hell? I gabble on the phone to breakdown, to insurance, to Dave, to Ferdia. My clothes are wet. My hands and feet are cold. I haven't eaten. Through the cortisol hum I stumble on a course of action, to get towed and then sleep at the garage, then get picked up the next morning en route to the Cairngorms. The van situation can bloody wait.




Sleep does not come easily, and I'm awake again by 4, head full of thoughts and ache.


It's raining heavily as we drive through Glenmore. It is hard to imagine it will have turned to snow by the car park.


Sleet hardens on our backs as we walk uphill, and slush underfoot begins to firm. Just as well I have been in Coire an t-Sneachda plenty this winter, and have a good feel for its layout. The crags are invisible.


I don't have Anarchy in the UK in my head any more. I have a track by Max Cooper called Impermanence, which comes in around 26 minutes in this mix. It feels apt.



Short-roping up into the whiteness, the rimed armadillo plates of the Mess of Pottage appear. The all-too-familiar stress of being assessed is rising in me, and with it my tendency to feel rushed when anything I do dips below maximum efficiency. At the first belay of The Haston Line, I have to put on goggles in order to see what I'm doing through the upblown spindrift. The stress and sleep deprivation of the previous night is weighing in, and at this moment I do not want to be here. When Dave reaches the belay he gives me some positive words, and I take them on like a hit of glucose.


Hooked pinch points on chockstones. Scritch of crampons on yellowed granite. Crust, and crud beneath. Punctured, a trove of feathery black moss dances a disintegrating reel, everything pummelled upwards as if vacuumed by the plutonic mass of the Cairngorm plateau. Us included. I throw out advice on pegs and torquing, hoping it's enough. Hidden Chimney is the funnel through which we are sucked.

I know the stagger to 1141, and the Cas ridge descent to the ski area well enough to lead us out through this broken washing machine without pausing.


Back at the car park, Dave reviews the day with me - and thank goodness, doesn't keep me waiting. The words I've wanted to hear release the stress of the last 24 hours in an involuntary sigh: "Congratulations, you're an MIC."


Iona was a superstar of a student, full of positive energy and questions, and unfazed by conditions that would have splintered most inexperienced winter climbers.


As we drive back to the West, I get a call from Malcy.

"Did ya pass?"

"Yes, I passed."

"Nice one! I'm making some haggis and tatties, do you want some?"


F'kin' right I do.



January 2007 (before selfies were selfies), Cairn Gorm summit. My first ever day of Scottish winter.