Experience, by Peter Reynolds

At one time the club used to have regular meets to the CIC hut on Ben Nevis; this is a cautionary tale of what can happen. The Mayflower is the pub in Celt Street where we used to meet on a Thursday night.

‘There is no substitute for experience’ we all mutter over our beer in the warmth of the Mayflower, but, as someone once said, experience is merely the sum of our near misses. Let me tell you a story…

It was a grey September day on the Ben, and a small party was gathered at the first platform on North-East Buttress. There was Archie Hannah, me, Mark Gear, and Mark’s dog Misty. The level of expertise can be gathered from the fact that we had taken over an hour to climb Raebum‘s 18 minute Route (mod). Nevertheless we set off up the Buttress and found that we could scramble most of the way – the dog often leading. All went well until the rain came on and we arrived at The Mantrap. For those unfamiliar with this bit of Scotland, the Mantrap is a 10ft wall with only a few polished and rounded holds; in the rain it was desperate! We roped up, Archie first, me in the middle, and Mark (and Misty) at the back. We each tried to climb the wall, and each of us failed.

Eventually Archie, our Senior Citizen, dredged his memory and came up with a solution – Combined Tactics. He climbed onto Mark’s back, then onto my shoulder, wriggled a bit, and then he was up. In turn I got a leg up from Mark and with a sharp tug of the rope I too surmounted the obstacle.

On arrival I noticed a curious point. Archie (who must have been well into his sixties at the time) was a climber of the old school. He had not belayed himself, just taken a waist belay and pulled me up. He now proceeded to do the same thing for Mark. Mark however had several problems – he had no one to give him a leg up, and the holds were now truly wet and muddy. He also had the minor handicap of a medium sized dog in his rucksack. The result was inevitable – a cry of ‘I’m off!’ and he was dangling from Archie’s waist. Archie was not a particularly big chap, and the combined weight of man and dog was inexorably pulling him towards the edge. With some alarm I realised that I too was tied between Mark and Archie and would inevitably follow them over.

I did the only thing I could think of – I unclipped from the rope. I then hastily grabbed Archie and the rope and together we got Mark back into contact with the rock, Misty seemed somewhat less concerned than Mark about the whole episode.

Alter that the rest of the route passed with no difficulty at all and we squelched wetly to the summit. All part of life’s rich tapestry, but how true is it? Well, my logbook records that the date was 8th September 1984, and that we met Mary MacKenzie and Marion on the top, after which we all descended to the CIC hut via the tourist track. The rest is as true as memory and numerous retellings can make it.

Experience? It’s just the sum of our near misses after all!