Bad Day on Beinn Eighe

By Glasgow John, a very active and enthusiastic member of the club in the 80’s and 90’s. The classic picture above was taken in more benign conditions than John describes!

February 1981 found Jack Macdougall and I at the Ling Hut, on an IMC meet. The conditions that week were good underfoot; on Saturday morning at about 5am we were ready for the off. At the door stood Peter Moffatt; he enquired about our intentions for the day, to which I mumbled something about going up Beinn Eighe. Peter asked me about crampons, to which I replied that we had none. I thought I saw a dark look cross his face, but anyway it didn’t matter to me, because I knew best, despite being a mere novice to the game!

Away we went to the slopes of the hill, and started plodding upwards. All was well for a couple of hours; we stopped for a break, and Jack asked me about some nagging doubts he had concerning crampons, maps, compasses and torches, etc! I replied “We don’t need all that stuff; don’t worry about it, enjoy yourself!”

It should be said that Jack, like me, had very little knowledge of winter mountaineering, but he had some faith in me, which was not a good thing! As we gained height the snow hardened and became icy in places, and the angle of the slope steepened up. We had both borrowed ice axes from the club; pity we didn’t know how to use them. About this time Jack started talking about retreat as he felt unsafe. “Come on, Jack,” I said, “Don’t give up; let me go ahead and start cutting steps.”

Which I did, and these snow steps saw us right up to the ridge, where there was a strong wind and a lot of mist. I was tired because of the step cutting, and it was by now late in the afternoon, so we did not linger as we started to descend. I could not find the steps in the mist, and by now Jack was looking very worried. Inside my own stupid head I could feel the onset of panic which I tried to hide saying “Don’t worry, we’ll get down OK.”

Walking a little way along the ridge, I searched for soft snow or more easily angled ground; in vain, for these were hard conditions, with long icy slopes of snow and boulders below us. I started hacking away at the ice, but to my despair it was like rubber. We made slow progress by criss-crossing the slopes; eventually I spied a large flat boulder some distance below, and made for that. My legs were shaking with tiredness and fear; Jack followed, not speaking by now.

I pulled onto the boulder; how good it was to get off the ice slope! Both of us sat there in a sea of ice and I peeled a hard-boiled egg, thinking how easily it breaks. I asked Jack how he was, and he replied, almost in tears, “We‘re in big trouble, aren’t we?” I had to admit that we were, as it was getting dark to boot! I got a lot of Jack’s anger as he nearly fell getting away from the boulder. I could not help a bit of laughter, at which he exploded with many swear words. I was definitely a c**t for bringing him up here! At this my temper snapped, and I said “Keep your ice pick stuck in, for f***s sake.”

That cleared the air, and on we went. My toes were very sore with kicking down the icy terrain, and by the time we got to the road I was crippled with pain, at which we both rocked with laughter. Back at the Ling, to add insult to injury, Jim Teesdale was singing “John and Jack won’t come back no more!” I remember being embarrassed; Peter and Nick had been thinking about a search party, as it was 10pm. We were very lucky chappies indeed to come out of it alive!

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