The Magic Blue Line
Featuring Richard Bowman & Steve Johnstone
A DAY OF TWO HALVES...AND A FEW PINTS
The day didn't get off to a great start when I was informed that the road to the ski centre was shut and the bus was returning to the depot. Damn!
I returned at 9:20, a less than ideal starting time, in the hope that the road would be open and I'd at least get to see the mountains. Needless to say, this wasn't so and I settled for a walk in Glenmore Forest instead.
Later on, while waiting for a bus back to town, I posted to good old Facebook, searching for willing "models" for the following day. Almost immediately my phone pinged. Big Steve was keen to strut his stuff on the catwalk and, even better, my old friend Rich was on his way in his van and keen for a walk. Result!
If there is one thing that is guaranteed to make me happy is the magic blue line. Essentially the blue line signifies freezing at sea level so, if its on it's way south, you know it's going to be chilly!
With snow on the forecast, one thing was for certain, I was going North! I didn't really have a plan as such this time. Having been stifled by my inflexibility at the competition, I was wary to pigeonhole myself too much especially considering the fickle nature of winter. Anything could happen!
I packed for every situation and headed for the train. Despite Storm Caroline's best efforts, I did eventually make it to a snowy Aviemore where I settled down for the night ahead of a day of the unknown.
With freshly fitted winter tyres, we were up the hill in no time and began walking. With no real objective and it being so late in the day we decided to pop into Coire an Sneachta to see how winter was shaping up. It was a little wild with lots of deep snow and spindrift flying about, but it felt great to be out stomping about the hills again. As to how things were shaping up on the climbing conditions front, was anyone's guess. The visibility was so bad we never managed to see a thing!
Later that evening, I met Steve for a "brainstorming" session at a local establishment and we hashed out a rough plan for the next day. I had a belly full of the black stuff, a strong team and a plan. I was psyched!
The plan in the morning was simple. Meet Steve and Rich in the hostel carpark and drive up to the Ski Centre together. From there we planned to walk up Fiacaill Ridge to the top of Fiacaill Buttress. Once there, we would locate the top of The Seam, a route chosen for both its accessibility and its aesthetics.
Once we arrived the guys would abseil down the interesting top pitch and pull their ropes. I would follow and wait for them to climb back up. Once back at the top, all we had to do was retrace our steps back to the car. Simple!
HOW IT WENT
We set off from the carpark and walked in through the deep powder snow that had been falling all night. Lucky for us, there were a couple of teams ahead of us breaking trail. Unlucky for them, no sooner had we passed them to take our turn than we veered off right, away from the path, up onto Fiacaill ridge, meaning no respite for them from the wading.
Once on the ridge we made quick progress, so quick in fact that we overshot our objective, and ended up at the top. Oops! A quick back track had us at the top of the The Seam, our choice of route for the day. Looking down, there was no sign of any teams below. We were in luck!
We rigged up an anchor and the guys abseiled into the murk below. As soon as they pulled their ropes, I made my own way down, keen to escape the frigid northerly winds.