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simon3
2011-09-21 13:34:49
That Errigal account - part 1.
Reading these accounts of near tragedy made me reflect on the times it has happened to me. I happened upon this account, reproduced with permission, from Richard Smith on newsgroup uk.walking.rec It's about the choices when one person's excessive ambition drags in another.

Richard Smith said:
"I've just been reminded of something that happened to me a few years ago on Liathach that I had all-but-forgotten. I'd be interested to know
what other people would have done in the same situation.

I was part of a group of four spending a few days in Torridon one August. We all knew each other well socially but had done relatively little walking together. On the first day we'd done Beinn Alligin over the Horns, and the second day was a traverse of the Beinn Eighe ridge, so by the third day when Liathach was suggested that seemed a reasonable suggestion.

The third day was a nice sunny August day with a light refreshing breeze -- ideal weather. We went up the steep path to Stob a' Choire Liath MÚr and followed the Liathach ridge westwards to Mullach an Rathain, negotiating the pinnacles along Am Fasarinen slowly but without incident. By now it was early afternoon and we stopped to admire the view from the summit.

We were talking about the various mountains we could see, and as some point somebody pointed to the northern ridge out to Meall Dearg. I said the ridge was called the Northern Pinnacles and that it was arguably the
hardest arÍte on the mainland. One of the group who I shall call James [not his real name] suggested we go out along it. I'd done it before so knew what it was like, and I was concerned that he was up to it so
quizzed him on what other similar things he'd done. His answers (Crib Goch, Tryfan north ridge, Striding Edge) made me think it would be overly ambitious, especially as we didn't have a rope.

James was quite persistent about wanting to do it; the other two, probably less experienced, were egging him on and were quite content to wait on the top in the sun while James and I went out and back. After a while I said I understood there to be a path a little way below the arÍte that avoided the worst step on the arÍte and that might offer a more suitable route out to Meall Dearg and back again. He said he it was the arÍte and Meall Dearg that he wanted to do. I told him I wasn't willing take him down the arÍte. "Fine," he said, "I'll do it by myself." I watched him start down the arÍte for long enough to be convinced he wasn't just calling my bluff.

I then chased after him, rather concerned for his safety. I'd done the route a year (maybe two) earlier and could more-or-less remember the line I'd taken, and from what he'd told me, I was fairly sure I had considerably more scrambling experience than he had. To start with I let James stay in front, hoping he might get to a bit he wasn't willing to lead down and turn back. We didn't.

The toughest bit of the route, in my opinion, is a bit where you have a choice between negotiating a sheer 8' drop onto a exposed ledge, perhaps 3' deep, and a steep 30' chimney packed with loose rock. (There may have been other possibilities that I hadn't found.) James had started down the chimney and seemed to be getting into difficulties -- unsurprisingly, as in my view the chimney was only suitable for ascent. I helped him back up, and then demonstrated how to get down the 8' drop, going first myself. (Basically, lower yourself over the edge until hanging from your fingers, and then drop the last 6" as there were no footholds to speak of.) At that point, I was committed to descending at least as far as the bottom of that pinnacle when I could get round to reascend the chimney.

James was very reluctant to continue (or go back, or anything else). I took a few minutes looking to see whether from below I could see an alternative route for him, but couldn't. The ledge he had to drop onto wasn't wide enough for me to stand behind him to prevent him from slipping backwards (not that that was actually very likely, but would probably have made it feel safer). I did in the end talk him down. After that, although the route was much easier, James was a nervous wreck and in quite a few places needed me underneath guiding his feet.

We did eventually get over to Meall Dearg without further incident; James (unsurprisingly) wasn't willing to go back up the ridge to rejoin the main group, so we decided to separate from them and drop down to the north. Fortunately we all had mobile phones and we were able to communicate this to the other half of the group who agreed to move the car to the Torridon House carpark where we would end up reaching the road.
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