Winter sun in the Lakes

This is a tale by Jim Convery of a winter trip to the Bowder Stone Hut in the Lake District in the early 1990’s. The photo is of Pillar.

When I first came to Inverness in the late 1980’s and joined the IMC the possibility of a private enterprise trip to Lakes in November was discussed. Luckily at that time, we had a member of the Northumberland Mountaineering Club in our midst, Alison Robertson, who went on become our first female President.  The Northumberland Club leased from the National Trust the Bowderstone Hut and as it was little used during the weeks in winter, we were able to use it as our base. The YHA at Eskdale provided our weekend accommodation as the hut was full.

Armed with the hut key, a set of directions and instructions a small team comprising Ewen, Colin and myself set off down the A9 in November 1990 for our first winter sun trip to the Lakes.  The Bowder Stone is a big rock, six times the height of a person and balanced improbably on its edge. It sits in the jaws of Borrowdale and is an easy 15-minute walk from the National Trust Bowder Stone car park.

The Bowder Stone is a tourist attraction established by the eccentric Joseph Pocklington in 1798. He had a house built on Derwent Island and created the tradition of an armed invasion as part of the Annual Derwent Water Regatta. Furthermore, he built a cottage at the Bowder Stone where he installed an old woman whose duty was to lend atmosphere to his visitor attraction.  The old lady has long gone, with the cottage reverting to use as a mountaineering club hut.

Regrettably, the Northumberland Club had eventually to give up their lease due to structural issues with the roof sinking, resulting in pressure on the walls. The good news is that the cottage has been refurbished and is now a private hostel. It sleeps up to 12 people and its sole use can be secured for £100 a night. Just in case this article inspires a future club visit.

Our first morning in the Lakes saw us drive the short distance to Seathwaite to begin the long walk up to Esk Hause and over Great End and Ill Crag to England’s highest summit, Scafell Pike.  From there we descended via Styhead Tarn & Gill back to the car at Seathwaite.  A good day out with autumn colours on the hills and snow on the high tops.

Next morning heading for the car I noticed from a short distance that the driver’s door was slightly ajar. The local criminals from Maryport had had a night out in the Lakes and burgled all cars in the National Trust car park. Fortunately, they did not realise the value in mountaineering equipment; ice axes, crampons and a tent remained intact. However, they did get away with my bank cards stupidly left in the glove box of the car. This resulted in a wasted day contacting the Police, bank and credit card providers and finding an auto glazer to repair the broken quarter light through which they had accessed my vehicle.

The National Trust car park is a well-known place for car break ins and thefts, but I didn’t know that before this event. To prevent a re-occurrence on our future trips we parked at a small layby just off the road on a corner. It’s a shorter walk to the hut and less easy for an opportunistic car thief to break in.

For our last day in the Lakes we drove from YHA Eskdale to Wasdale Head. From there we walked up to the top of Black Sail Pass and did Pillar, Steeple and Red Pike. When we reached Dore Head a quick discussion was held as to whether to continue to Yewbarrow or descend quickly to the Wasdale Head Inn for a pint. There was a danger that the pub would close at 2:30 and at that time Scotland was a real ale desert. No choice then, it had to be the pub!

Rock and Ice transgressions

Thanks to Dougie Borthwick for this tale of two climbing styles. The photo is of the first ascent of the Great Prow of Blaven on Skye.

It was a good combination, the aspiring rock ape and the cool ice man.  Neither was completely comfortable in the other’s domain but both recognised the other’s flair for leading in his favoured discipline, thus creating a good partnership for indulging in some additional training outwith the normal sphere that each encountered in the pursuit of their preferred game. 

The rock ape had tried emulating the other’s confident use of the ice tools. Training included acquiring a Terrordactyl and the solo pursuit of some low hanging ice, a couple of hundred feet above the road. The gently sloping ice gully then progressed to a short vertical. Repeated thumps of the axe into an unflinching patch of ice resulted in the adze with its advertised ‘light metal steel as used on spacecraft’ slowly bending so that its tip was pointing backwards. With Glencoe’s carpark being entertained at the sound of profanities that each thump of the axe induced, the ape wondered on space-craft technology, with the ‘light metal steel’ being easily bent from the frantic thumps of attempted re-entry. The icy gully had then revealed an escape route, with a corner stalactite being approached. The bent adze now pointing 180 degrees out and back into the eyes of its holder found gainful employment in placings at the rear of the icicle. With the exit moves accomplished, the aspiring ape swore never again to transgress further than beyond the reach of his own solid dependable, stubby wee digits. The itch though soon returned and with it, a new Terrordactyl, crampons and head torch, delicately front-pointing, torquing and traversing the sandstone cliffs at Cummingston in preparation for winter’s call. The required winter training programme involved gruelling daily cold showers, only adding to the psychological impact that a dark, cold and gloomy winter tends to instil. 

The ice man’s affinity for enduring the deep freeze, in addition to showers from melting ice and torrents of spindrift,  was well known.  A strange affliction that the blue-toned flavours of 1000′ icicles was very much forefront in his dreams, yet would gently morph into retirement when winter once again absconded; the gentler hues, warm rock and fifty shades of lush green were not quite to his liking. With diverse playgrounds but similar aptitudes, each enjoyed a tolerance for entering the other’s domain, the transgressions preferably being done when the conditions were absolutely spot on.

‘Cheeky’ Sinclair on Cascade

Glen Brittle Farm and its hayloft had seen extended occupancy, with the ridge lost under a dark heavy deluge, the late autumn depriving both of their favoured grounds. That Saturday’s chasing of red partans skittering sideways amongst the rocks along the foreshore had brought small relief in addition to some tasty topped toasties. Next day’s wet and gloomy tops had the duo heading east to Blaven in the hope of something less dreich. Three hours of driving and walking revealed a rather damp Great Prow. Ice-man was simply not impressed, as admittedly the conditions seemed to be dire. Broadford’s chippy was foremost in the argument yet the pent up energies meant that a try could at least be entertained. PA’s were donned, useful kit re-racked and wishful thinking of warmer climes surrendered. Finely cut wee holds offset the damp walls and assisted in bridging the overhanging crack and the steep slabs. Ice man’s steadfast reluctance allowed the rock ape to lead on, with the offers of following through at each stance being politely turned down. Dank conditions prevailed but the gabbro’s qualities shone through, and the three stunning pitches finally succumbed. Compliments on nice leads were warmly and confidently given and with a Cheeky grin, a wry smile, then ‘It will soon be winter’ was cheerfully dropped.

A bitterly cold morning dawned in Aviemore, courtesy of the katabatic wind moving the dense cold air from up high, down the slopes to smother the surrounding valley.  The stunning early aurora lit up the hills whilst in the back of the Landie, gear was being sorted in a digit numbing, tear-jerking minus 27C. Loch Avon’s Stag Rocks were deemed worthy of a visit.  On arrival, Cascade, sat in the shade below the descending rays of the late dawn sun, was looking quite regal. A low shelf was attained and the start of the route protected by two hanging axes. The vertical wall of deep blue was slowly threaded with the hollow screws, making confident placements which fed the tendrils that kept the ice-man secure during his delicate steps upwards. A euphoria had set in with the near perfect conditions of multiple blues that halted progress whilst cold noses were unceremoniously wiped cleaned and some cheerful poses captured.  Seconding saw the progression from the lower wall’s shaded epithermal blues to a slightly more mushy and warmer white where the sun’s rays had done their work, effecting a reversal in the ape’s pleasure, his earlier delight at anything sun-kissed, now being tempered by the sun’s transformation of the wall above from solid dependable into something far more fearful, aka slush. The axe, having worked magically on vertical dry blue, was now having to be earnestly launched to enable its pick to gain any traction through the overhanging rapidly thickening slush. The  digits now slowly losing feeling from being contained in freezing wet dachsteins led to one last furious flaying, surmounting the overhanging ice prior to writhing from digits that were slain. Ice Man quickly removed the rock ape’s sodden layers and started rubbing furiously one frozen hand at a time, then simply popped the off-white digits into his mouth till feeling once again returned. ‘Oh heck, that was rather brutal’ assessed the aspiring ape.

A relaxed Ice man sat with legs splayed around an enormous icicle, and with a hearty, Cheeky grin,  laughed  ‘it will soon be summer’.

Dear Santa

This is a sad story about an incident near Cummingston the day after an IMC barbecue, when Ewen and two “friends” went for a nice easy bike ride along a railway embankment that, it turned out, had been eroded by the sea. As imagined by former member Pete Collin.

My First Bothy Trip

By Otis Lennox, a four-legged former member of the IMC. His first bothy was Strabeg, pictured above.

After a long journey in the boot, the car pulled up – at last. I was dying to get out and cock my leg -stretch my legs. However, the walk to the bothy was great with lots of soggy heather and puddles to jump in. The others were already at the bothy with a roaring fire going. It was great for warming your paws and was much needed as I didn’t even get offered a cup of tea.

Saturday started promisingly with a romp through more puddles and peat bogs, but deteriorated rapidly when I was left in the car while the occupants disappeared on a boat to an island called Handa. They were off birdwatching! What is the attraction in that? Looking back I’d have been better to go up Cranstackie with the other group. Saturday evening was better and saw the food and wine flowing freely, although not much flowed in my direction.

Sunday was a most peculiar day. After one person left to go back to work, my mistress and her close companion loaded their ‘sacks with gear, walked to the bottom of Creag Shomhairle, and then turned round and walked straight back to the bothy. It might have had something to do with the rain starting, but that meant more puddles to splash around in. Brilliant. I heard later in the pub (The Crask Inn) that the others had spent a far more constructive day on Ben Loyal. However, I did enjoy my first bothy trip and hope I can attend another one sometime.

PS. On Saturday night I was trying to keep warm beside my mistress. She had a sleeping bag. But once she was asleep I managed to roll her off her karrimat and stretch myself out properly for a very comfortable night’s sleep. I did get a bit of a row in the morning though, when she woke up…..

IMC Presidents list

50-51Donnie Cattanach85-86Peter Reynolds
51-52John Frew86-87John Burns
52-53John Frew87-88Ewen Macniven
53-54John Frew88-89Ewen Macniven
54-55Ian Forbes89-90Rob Atkinson
55-56Ian Forbes90-91Neil Robertson
56-57Bill Cooper91-92Neil Robertson
57-58Bill Cooper92-93Ian Douglas
58-59John Aird93-94Ian Douglas
59-60John Aird94-95Colin Simpson
60-61John Aird95-96Alison Robertson
61-62Gil Ward96-97Alison Robertson
62-63Gil Ward97-98Ian Meek
63-64Gil Ward98-99Colin Simpson
64-65Cam Macleay99-00Colin Simpson
65-66Willie Proudfoot00-01Colin Simpson
66-67Con Young01-02Alastair Kinghorn
67-68Con Young02-03Alastair Kinghorn
68-69Con Young03-04Peter Biggar
69-70Phil Larder04-05Jo Kinghorn
70-71Bill Webster05-06Jo Kinghorn
71-72Stef Brown06-07Andreas Heinzl
72-73Jim Teesdale07-08Robin Forrest
73-74Peter Christie08-09Robin Forrest
74-75Jim Teesdale09-10Robin Forrest
75-76Steve Carroll10-11Albert Higginbottom
76-77Peter Moffatt11-12Albert Higginbottom
77-78Les Creasey12-13Albert Higginbottom
78-79Alec Sutherland13-14Sherine Deakin
79-80Michael Garrett14-15Sherine Deakin
80-81Gerry Smith15-16Richard Hartland
81-82Peter Moffatt16-17Richard Hartland
82-83Peter Moffatt17-18Andreas Heinzl
83-84Nick Hamilton18-19Robin Forrest
84-85Peter Reynolds19-20Ewen Macniven

This list has been slightly amended from the version published in the 50th Anniversary Journal, which was wrong in some respects. Subsequent Presidents have been added on; there have been 38 in total over the 70 year life of the club to date. The picture was taken on the 60th Anniversary meet in April 2010, and includes four former Presidents; Robin Forrest, Nick Hamilton, Peter Moffatt and Michael Garrett.

Key To The Door

Peter Moffatt is one of the longest-standing members of the IMC, and was made an honorary member at the club’s 50th Anniversary. This article is the result of many years’ experience of meets – and sometimes things go wrong. The picture above is of the Ling hut, the scene of one of the misadventures.

It is generally accepted that one of the major benefits of belonging to a mountaineering club is convenient access from time to time to huts belonging to other clubs sufficiently prosperous or organised to own them. In the nature of things, club huts have to be secure and so have locks, and locks have keys – and funny things can happen to keys.

Sometimes they don‘t arrive. Years ago I had arranged to get a key for a weekend at the CIC, and duly received a brown envelope split down the side and very empty. I entertained thoughts of dirty deeds of sabotage and hijack – a disgruntled would-be member of the SMC whose application was rejected? – and concluded that accident and an insufficiently strong envelope were more probably the explanation. Luckily, a phone call to the Inverness sorting office revealed that the key had been found there – bursting from the envelope as it passed through a franking machine was the official explanation – and the weekend was saved.

One of the contributory factors in that accident was the weight and bulk of the envelope’s contents, since to get into the CIC you not only have to have a key for the lock, but also a fairly substantial hexagon Allen key to unscrew the bolts securing the steel plate which covers the keyhole, and more recently the outer grille intended to protect the door from the use of a gas cylinder as battering ram! Fine-threaded bolts in an exposed environment have a tendency to rust and seize up, as members of an IMC meet once found to their cost. One of the bolts on the grille refused to budge. “What’s needed” pronounced Neil, “is more torque”, whereupon he fitted the hole in the end of his ice axe to the arm of the Allen key and applied what most of us would describe as considerable leverage – with the unfortunate effect of shearing the Allen key rather than turning the bolt. Fortunately someone noticed that the bottom of the grille was a foot or so clear of the ground and the more submissive bolts on the keyhole plate had either been opened in advance or yielded to the stump of the Allen key, so the disaster of being denied access was replaced by the indignity of the entire party having to go in and out of the hut for the rest of the weekend by wriggling under the grille – which must have been an entertaining sight for those who didn’t have to do it.

The CIC hut, Ben Nevis

On another occasion the key to the Ling hut was for some strange reason entrusted to a young lady called Elaine, who proposed to cycle there from Inverness on the Friday afternoon. Obviously of less stamina than the current generation of IMC female cyclists, Elaine apparently collapsed exhausted at a B&B in Achnasheen or Kinlochewe, leaving the other members of the meet locked out of the hut. In the end some went home, some later arrivals got in when another party arrived, and Barry Winston slept in his car. Elaine meanwhile presumably enjoyed a good night’s sleep in Achnasheen, and on the Saturday morning, still blissfully unaware of her weighty responsibility as keyholder, reportedly took a train – and the key – back to Inverness.

Sometimes it’s not the key but the keyhole which gets lost. On a meet which some of us remember with a twinge of shame, having preferred the gentler pleasures of Ewen’s barbecue to the rigours of a weekend in Glen Clova, the two members who did attend arrived at the Carn Dearg hut in the dark, inserted their key in a perfectly ordinary-looking keyhole in the normal place near the door handle, and found that it did not turn. A great deal of wiggling and jiggling and pushing and pulling and turning this way and that (and possibly even a little mild cursing) ensued, until the unhappy pair were on the point of concluding that they would have to retreat. In the nick of time a desperate casting around with the torch beam revealed an alternative keyhole in a somewhat unusual position about a foot from the ground. The designers of this ingenious system were no doubt called a variety of names, but at least the key fitted and Bob and Fay enjoyed a good weekend.

On better-attended meets there is always the problem of finding a suitable hiding place for the key, so that whoever is first off the hill can get in to get the fire going and the kettle on. This is a complicated subject and a whole treatise could probably be written on “The theory and practice of concealing and re-locating keys to communally-occupied premises during periods of temporary absence”. The theory is that a commonly acceptable hiding place is agreed on by a representative of each hill party, and that any of them can therefore find the key on their return. The practice can be made more complicated in a number of ways. Members of the “make it hard to find” school of thought are likely not only to put the key under the specified stone, but to bury it there in a pit; or when the hiding place is the ledge above the door inside the outhouse, to push the key a little more so that it drops onto a second lower ledge further back. There is the problem of members arriving on Saturday who naturally have not been present at the concealment conference. Their task is to try and divine where the overnight occupants might have hidden the key, and they are probably best helped by an idea of who was present and a degree in psychology, but in the absence of either of these would be well advised to try turning over every sizeable stone in the vicinity of the hut. Occasionally forethought and psychology are applied on the other side, and the concealers try to imagine where the late arrivals, assuming them to be of average intelligence, would be likely to look. Sadly I have to record that at Mill Cottage, the year before last a key left under the front doormat was not discovered by the Saturday party.

Mill Cottage, Feshiebridge

This failure has a bearing on the great Mill Cottage Key Mystery which unfolded shortly before Christmas last year. The story will be familiar to current active members of the club, but it is a good one and deserves retelling. A moderate snowfall and unpleasant driving conditions on the Friday before the Mill Cottage meet resulted in only three members heading down to the hut that evening. They called at Heatherbrae, where Albert and Elizabeth were installed with the fire going and were offered tea and tempted to stay the night instead of trudging through the snow to open up a cold hut. This was resisted with varying degrees of sternness and reluctance, and the small party duly made their way to the hut, let themselves in and hung the key on a nail beside the electricity meters. A still-fresh carton of milk on the table suggested that there had been a party in during the week.

Saturday dawned bright and clear and the three were eager to get on the hill. Mindful of the fact that other members would be arriving at various times during the day and remembering the poor key detection skills shown the previous year, it was decided to take a very slight risk and leave the hut unlocked and the key on the nail, in the interests of ensuring that anyone who arrived could get in. It later became apparent that several better solutions could have been found, but it seemed a good idea at the time.

We picked up Albert and met Sue along the road, and had a good day on Geal Charn in Glen Feshie. Back at Heatherbrae we were met by a group of the day’s new arrivals demanding the key to the hut. We scoffed at their stupidity and told them it was open, went there straight away to demonstrate the fact and found it firmly locked. Our only key, you will remember, was hanging on a nail inside.

Luckily Heatherbrae not only offered convenient shelter for the waiting members but also  a public telephone box just outside the door, which was a great help in addressing the practical problem of how to get into the hut. We knew that the hut custodian lived in Kingussie (we were lucky it wasn’t Glasgow or Edinburgh), but didn’t have the address or phone number. By chance I had recently been in touch with Nick Hamilton (a former IMC member now in Dundee) and learnt that his club had a meet to Mill Cottage the following week. I remembered Nick’s address, and four telephone calls later we had the custodian‘s number. Luckily again, he was at home, and although I had assumed he must have locked the hut and expected to be reprimanded for leaving it open, it turned out he hadn’t been near the place and obviously believed one of our group to have locked it. What mattered was that he was willing to let us have another key, I raced off to Kingussie to collect it, and twenty minutes or so later we were in. Everything was as we had left it, and our key hung peacefully on its nail.

The customary sociable evening followed, except that the party games and feats of strength and contortion sometimes engaged in were replaced by the exchange of speculation as to the identity of our locker-out – the more rational theories based on the carton of fresh milk as evidence of recent occupation being replaced by a multitude of wilder and more unlikely fantasies as the evening wore on. We eventually learnt that a local member of the previous party still had the key, and was asked to retrieve something left by one of his friends, but why he took it on himself to lock the hut having found it open with obvious signs of occupation remains a mystery.

Suileag bothy

A final tale concerns a shutting in rather than a shutting out, and occurring as it did at an unlocked bothy, has nothing to do with a key. On the Sunday of a Burns supper meet at the Caving Club hut a year or two ago Marion, Robin and I decided to walk to Suileag by the path from Little Assynt and come back over a little hill to the East. On the way in we met two or three women walking out, who said they had been at the bothy overnight and that the rest of their party, including the children, had gone out by Lochinver. We arrived at the bothy in time for lunch, and chatted about bothies and so on to the other occupants, a couple from Thurso who had also been there overnight and were loud in their complaints about the children in the other party rushing from room to room with a great deal of noise and disturbance, and totally unrestrained by their parents. We duly sympathised, said goodbye and went on our way, following a small path from the bothy to Sron a Bhuic and back down the attractive Allt an Tiaghaich to our starting point.

At home on Monday evening I received a phone call from a gentleman in Thurso, (I’d mentioned I was Maintenance Organiser at Alladale, and he had traced me through an MBA list), who informed me with a politeness which must have required considerable restraint that when we left the bothy the previous afternoon we had shot the bolt on the outside of the door and left him and his wife shut inside. Of course I apologised profusely, and he was gracious enough to concede that we probably hadn’t done it on purpose. He had apparently spent a long time working at both sides of the door, trying to move the bolt or unscrew the hinges, before having to resort to breaking the back window and climbing out. None of the guilty party has any recollection of shooting the bolt, which must have been done as an automatic and unconscious sequel to closing the door and we have no idea as to which of us actually did it. Fortunately the MO when I telephoned rather sheepishly to apologise and offer to repair the damage, was kind enough to treat the whole affair as a joke. Not much fun at the time though for the couple locked in, for whom the disturbance caused by a few excited children the previous night must have paled into insignificance by comparison.

Mountain List Mania

This sad story is a warning to us all. Further details of this affliction, and a list of sufferers, are given by the SMC at . The picture is of Sir Hugh Munro.

New Helpline

Do you suffer from the following?

  • A compulsion to climb lists of obscure hills
  • An inability to go up hills not on a list
  • Anxiety about others ticking hills first

If so, you could be suffering from Mountain List Mania.

Mark’s Story (name changed to protect his identity)

“It all started as a bit of fun. I thought I could just do a few hills now and again and that would be it. But then I started to do lists of hills. Soon I just had to do them all on the list, then one list wasn’t enough. Eventually I was hooked. I couldn’t go and do good, interesting hills, I had to do the ones on the list. I stopped climbing and would even drive past the Ben on a good winter’s day just to get another couple of ticks. I’d con my friends into doing them with me, saying they were good view points. Nothing else mattered. Eventually I was doing hills every weekend and even in the evening. I would wake up in the middle of the night, sweating, worrying if my friends had done more than me. It completely controlled my life.”

Mark is now in deep therapy. He is slowly rebuilding his life although he knows he will never really be normal again.

If you have a problem call our 24 hour helplines

0800 273 276 or 0800 277 284

We are here to help


An account of a climb on Carn Dearg, Ben Nevis, by former member Ken Martin.

The summer of 1976 was an exceptionally long and hot one, and the summer meet of the club at the CIC hut was to enjoy the same dry spell. We arrived on the Friday evening via the Jacobite, and a little the worse for wear. We could not believe our luck would hold, so a few pints had seemed in order. It was after midnight when we arrived at the hut and found a few others already ensconced.

My climbing partners were Mike Phimister and Jerry Smith, and although we had no firm plans the word Centurion figured largely in the drink induced euphoria during our meander up to the hut. Saturday lunchtime saw us taking a tentative look at the first pitch before we made our excuses and left! A quick look at the Guide book showed a possibility round the corner to the left; a nice Scottish V.S (they were all V.S’s in those days!) and what’s more this route, Bullroar, was currently featured on the tourist postcards.

The Cam Dearg buttress is one of the most imposing cliffs in the British Isles; the base is at the 2000 ft contour and its North face soars in a series of vertical  walls and slabs a further 700 feet to the top. I got the first pitch, a steep groove with a thin section some thirty feet up. The problem was to enter the continuation of the groove above which took me some time to crack, and then only by placing one foot in a sling and so on up to a belay. Mike and Jerry followed without too much trouble and we were all gathered below the second pitch when the first drops of rain were felt. Despite this Jerry led through and up a fairly difficult and unprotected groove which ended up in a magnificent position some 200 ft above the scree, with improbable walls to the left and a seemingly featureless slab sweeping up to an enormous roof which stretched over to the right some fifty feet above our heads and seemed to bar all hope of upward progress.

Carn Dearg Buttress

To our right the slab ended at an aréte some 100 ft away with no further clues as to what lay beyond. The guide book indicated that a traverse up and across the slab would lead to a precarious stance on the edge of Centurion, and after following this route for a few feet the traverse would continue across the spectacular right wall. By now the rain that had threatened earlier seemed to have set in and we decided to retreat the two rope lengths to the base of the cliff, and less than an hour later we were back at the hut basking in afternoon sun in a typical Nevis weather double take! It hadn’t been a total waste of a day and we had cracked what is thought to be the crux of the route in the first 200 ft of climbing. However 400 ft of this magnificent route waited to be explored, with the intriguing prospect of seeing round the blind comer of Centurion, so Jerry and I resolved to go back and finish it whilst Mike was going to explore in the Orion Face area.

During Saturday Ian Ruscoe and his brother had arrived and decided that they were going to climb a route on the Dearg Face also, so after a fairly restrained night alcohol-wise we retired reasonably early and awoke at about 8 o’clock to a beautiful day. Jerry and I were away at 9 am, some half an hour after Ian and Co, and were roped up at the bottom of the climb for about 9.30am. We decided to do the climb each leading alternate pitches and as I had led the first yesterday Jerry got the honours. The first two pitches were quickly behind us and Jerry led off on the first traverse pitch towards Centurion. He had no sooner started than a strange whining noise overhead heralded the arrival of a volley of small rocks disturbed from the climbers above us and made us feel very exposed.

The difficulties of the traverse were not great but we were glad to get onto the rib overlooking the second corner pitch of Centurion. After crossing the latter, our route ascended the right wall before again traversing right to an exposed stance below a series of short corners and walls reaching towards the top of the cliff. We thought the main difficulties were over as pitch followed pitch but there was still a sting in the tail at a particularly nasty crack with an overhanging start that made us wonder whether or not we were still on route. In the end it proved to be a two move wonder after which we were able to climb vertically to the top without further difficulty This was to be short lived as the descent in ultra-tight PA rock boots took a lot of gloss off the climb and a lot of skin off our toes.

A bus not to be missed

This story of the early years of the IMC is by Ross Martin, who was a leading member of the club and combined the offices of Secretary and Treasurer for many years.

My active involvement with the IMC covered the period from 1956 to 1966, and some recollections of these faraway days may interest and amuse the younger members of the present day and stir some memories in the older generations.

As the club approached and passed its tenth anniversary, many of the founder members had moved away from Inverness. Happily at this time there were two fertile sources of new recruits, firstly the many young engineers working on the many hydro-electric schemes then under construction, and secondly university and college students who had cut their mountain teeth with Inverness Royal Academy Outdoor Club.

The pivotal feature of the club in the l950’s was the club bus that then provided a unique form of regular transport for those wishing to travel to the wilder parts of the Highlands and back in the same day. There were virtually no rival forms of transport particularly on a Sunday (Sunday because most members worked at least part of Saturday) and the bus formed a focus for a happy and diverse band of people with a common interest in the outdoors. In addition to climbers and hillwalkers, the bus was patronised by botanists, ornithologists, and even, despite some protest, skiers! The bus left (relatively) promptly from Strothers Lane at 7.30am on Sunday. It returned there at varying times, on occasion up to four hours after its scheduled time of retum.

The proportion of hillwalkers to rock and snow & ice climbers on meets varied considerably from year to year, but my recollection is that hillwalkers were always in the majority. Wednesday evening meets were held during the summer months to local outcrops, mainly to Duntelchaig but also to Dunain Hill and Dun Riach, always with an eye on the routes pioneered by Richard Frere. The IMC can take credit for introducing the RAF Mountain rescue team to the Duntelchaig crags on a joint meet in the late l950’s. In winter it was the custom for a member of the committee (or more accurately his mother or wife!) to hold “open house” on an evening in the week preceding a meet, when plans were laid for great deeds on the following Sunday.

On the hill, although vibram soled boots had become the rule in summer; Timpsons supplied the boots in commonest use for four guineas, or £4.20, and it was considered irresponsible not to wear nailed boots, or at least a combination of nails and vibram soles in winter. Crampons “were only for use abroad” and we believed the dictum “their use in Britain leads to slovenly technique”. Ice axes were of walking stick length, wooden shafted, and frequently bore the WD broad arrow dating them to World War II.

In the l960’s we entered into a period of rapid change. Earnings were increasing, and car ownership amongst members became less of a source of astonishment. The resultant flexibility of private transport combined with increasing costs of buses placed increasing pressure on the club to cut down on or abandon bus meets. Unofficial day and weekend meets became more frequent, but IMC membership still provided a strong bond.

Fooled Again

by John Burns

I had become resigned to death but it was the manner of it that rankled. I was going to die on a Mod. If that wasn’t bad enough I’d forgotten my helmet. I could imagine the conversations about my death.

“On a Mod, really!” they would say, “Of course, he never was much good on rock. No helmet too, I hear.” Vague innuendo of incompetence before the conversation returned to the weather. Searching in my memory I tried to remember when I had last been so scared and then it came to me, the common denominator, John. He had lured me, there can be no other word, on to this crumbling edifice of a climb on the Ben, why had I let him, why had I been fooled again?

I met John in the IMC almost 15 years ago now. I remembered the first Winter route we did when he led me, unroped and trembling, up my first grade II. Little has changed since then. We are contrasting climbers. I pride myself on safety, practice my belays, do everything by the book. John has never read the book, and if he had he would have tossed it contemptuously aside and done the crossword in the Sun. I always hoped that I could balance out his disdain for caution by making both of us safe. On this route that was not to be. Even if you know all the tricks you need something that won’t instantly crumble to attach yourself to. I looking at the detached block we were tied to. I could see that if John fell the slightest pull would dislodge it. I imagined us falling, landing in a heap in the corrie only to suffer the final indignity of being crushed by our own belay like Wily Coyote in the Road Runner cartoons. I was also certain that John would walk away with barely a scratch whilst I would suffer horrible injuries. Such are the torments in the mind of a second who has all the time he needs to contemplate his doom. The leader at least has his destiny in his hands and often little time for imagination.

All the while I was tormented by my own incompetence at letting him get me into such a situation. I had been reluctant to start at all, seeing the state of the rock. John had assured me that it would improve higher up and carried on climbing through greasy slabs and loosely attached vegetation. Here I had begun to murmur my mantra “Let’s abb. off“. It had started as a suggestion but had become a prayer.

John was impervious to this and kept saying it would get better soon. He had led out up the crag avoiding some overhangs and disappeared out of sight. After a while the rope stopped running out and I waited for a long, long time. Eventually I decided that he must have died, the lager, roll ups and pursuit of l’amour had finally done for him. Clutching his chest he must have fallen back into the heather and departed for another life. What upset me most was that he had chosen to pass into the afterlife with me tied to him on this vertical slag heap. I was just about to solo up after him when the rope was taken in. Unfortunately for me it did not follow John’s line of ascent but drooped under the overhangs compelling me to follow through the overhanging rock. As I climbed up to the overhanging flake I noticed a little grassy ledge just below it that would allow me to hold the top of the flake and walk my feet along underneath. This was a trap, as soon as I did so the grass departed from the rock and left me swinging free from my hands. I looked left and saw another little grassy foot ledge. Lunging for it I discovered that this was also a trap as it too plunged into the corrie. At this point I was doing a passable impersonation of a cyclist who has, for some reason, been plucked from his bike and suspended in mid-air. My legs continued to pedal a non-existent machine. With my last dregs of strength I threw a leg over the top of the flake and was up, gasping like a landed fish. In a few moments I was with John.

I think I said something about ‘abbing off‘;  he said it would get better soon and carried on. It was only when I was about to leave the stance that I examined his belay. There in the back of a crack lay my only flexible friend. I say lay because it wasn’t attached to anything. It was twisted as if it had been the victim of some terrible road accident. The wires were bent and the cams hung at weird angles. It dawned on me that whilst I had struggled with the overhang, this had been our only protection, I might as well have soloed it. Dark thoughts began to well up in my mind, I wanted to kill him. Very, very slowly. It is strange that for one of John’s mechanical aptitude Friends are beyond him. John makes the old pioneers look over-equipped, he has basically nothing, which is just as well because if he had a rack of high tech gear it would simply weigh him down.

Eventually we made it to the plateau, I have never been so relieved to get off a climb. “That was the worst climb I’ve done in my life.” I announced to John. He looked hurt “Oh, I’ve done worse.” he said. I didn’t doubt it. “I’ve had people in tears you know,” he had once told me with a mixture of pride and delight. Now I was one of them. Since we met, all those years ago in the club, we have climbed, drunk, fought and letched together for nearly 15 years. We have moved together in darkness 1500 ft above the corrie floor in Meagaidh with only a single ice screw pushed into neve between us. I have lowered him off into darkness on one shaky runner retreating from the NE Buttress of Aonach Beag. Somehow he always gets me into trouble and though we’re not the best climbers in the world we probably have the most fun. It is more than a rope that joins climbers. I know that despite myself I’ll always get fooled again.