Saturday, 13 December 2014

Guest Contributor – Eddie Dealtry


I have approached a number of people to write articles, but if readers would like to contribute an article please contact me. The only two stipulations I make are that the article has to be hill related and that I don't end up in court through its publication! Otherwise the choice of subject matter is down to the Guest Contributor.

Guest Contributor – Eddie Dealtry

On Monday 13th October 2014 Eddie Dealtry completed the Marilyns, becoming only the second person to do so with the first completion preceding Eddie’s ascent of the St Kilda sea stacks by only one hour.

Carn Liath, Creag an Dail Bheag is “where it’s at”

Learning to bag a hill, from Snowdon to Stac Lee

“Crossing the sharp edge of Crib Goch each blast of the storm abates to leave gently falling snow flakes which grow in size and increase visibility. Below, the Pass of Llanberis appears once again, after a quarter of a century”.  The re-visit in 1994 in order to verify ‘Furth of Forth’ hills visited before any diary entries began, turns out to have been unnecessary. The well-made path over Crib Goch and the trig columns on Crib y Ddysgl and Yr Wyddfa accurately locate the highest points and also repeat well within a six figure map reference precision. Each top is remembered as though it was yesterday.  On the other hand, never-to-be-repeated was the utter astonishment on reaching a mountain ridge to discover a railway track.  And despite the initiation to Moels and Mynydds, Pikes and Fells, and Sgurrs and Beinns, Yr Wyddfa will always be the “Snowdon” in an English childhood and suddenly uttered on a memorable, summer afternoon part way up to Crib Goch.  If that was Snowdon, no bad step was beating me.

Another quarter of a century and thirteen years of hill diary entries add up to thirty Munros. A notion of “Doing the Munros” becomes a serious consideration while waving goodbye to Hugh Symonds and his family in Glenelg, also journal­ised in Running High.  Once Munroing the ’Short’ and the ‘Wildness and Wet’ diary entries record Munro classifications. Yet, we’re none of us beyond needing correction.  From Hugh’s continuous Munro round, in the spring of 1990 to arriving at the two St Kildan Stacs in autumn 2014, many entries, new classifica­tions and relocations are recorded.  Another quarter of a century of entries follow to arrive at the other end of Wales from the Snowdon of yester­year, to record a celebration on Pen y Fan.

The ‘All except the two Kildan stacs’ celebration is short-lived. After swinging our legs from a rock cannon, waiting until 1pm when Iain Brown, Ken Whyte and I cross the summit to meet Smudge and raise a glass.  Sitting on The Wall lasts for a matter of hours.

(L-R) Mark Smith, Iain Brown, Eddie Dealtry and Ken Whyte on the summit of Pen y Fan.  This was Eddie's 1555 Marilyn out of the then total of 1557 and he joined Iain and Ken on the M-2 figure
That evening’s announced promotions are all bagged except, maybe, that swap of tops on a Carn Liath, “That could be a problem that one, Iain”. The contemp­orary Corbett book shows two summits in a diagram.  But, before the Graham location list and then The Relative Hills of Britain* with its footnotes, Corbett routes were straight-line jobs.  A line from Carn Liath to Ben Avon’s western-most top just misses the twin.  Back in ‘94, if it was possible to save a few feet, you saved a few feet.  On interrogating the diaries, any alternative summit of Cairn Liath is alarmingly noticeable by the complete absence of an entry between Cairn Liath and Creag an Dail Mhor on Ben Avon. Even after the discovery of sub­sidiary classifications, ‘subs’ had always been half-hearted bagging affairs, only visited where nearby or en route.  With some regret, twins earned even less attention.

Morning escape downwards to the Glen Lui
Whatever the promotion, you’ll not catch me with a lone hill for long.  No single, mainland hill is beating me.  A running club weekend in Braemar is only six weeks away.  If I can’t bolshy anybody into a run around Invercauld Estate, no problem. I’m staying over a day or two anyway.

The fact that an M-2 member and a short-lived M-2 member made a false start towards Pen y Fan, a popular hill, goes completely unheeded.

Weather could once have been a problem, when time was an issue before retire­ment.  Twice previously, both times in a contest with the wind, a summit had resulted in defeat.  From on our hands and knees, my wife, Jen, and I retreated from the shoulder of Swirl How. A long time and many hills later on, of all the Grahams the most northerly, Sabhal Beag, took two attempts a year apart. On the first go, at the end of a long autumn day, reaching the summit plateau “Half a step, half a step sideways” came to a complete standstill, more like a station­ary crouch than a ‘stand’. Facing ahead, it was impossible to breathe.  Turn away and you were on your back.  Within half a kilometre from the summit, any advance turned into a rout - a speedy retreat down towards a remote glen just to get out of there. In the day-sack, the repeated falls had split a water bottle and bent a metal key.  The following summer on a good-weather day, Sabhal Beag still put up resistance. What would be a natural horseshoe around a mem­or­able Corbett, not because it deserves its five worded name nor because it demands three map corners, Meallan Liath Coire Mhic Dhughail involved a laborious mid route detour: adding a big descent and big climb followed by another big descent, another climb and a long contour to return to very nearly to the point of departure.

Nonetheless, if a gale blows up, I’ll just stay over another day.

Two attempts may be acceptable for hill bagging.  Bagging half a hill in a day, that was once a ridiculous idea.  “Half a Munro”, was a reply to my friendly query about the day in Torridon hostel. Meet Beinn Eighe - before its Marilyn top was promoted to a Munro summit.  One advantage to long days that combine many Munro tops is a quieter, unfrequented route. Taking the plunge into the crags up to Stuc a'Choire Dhuibh Bhig you get part of the popular Liathach to yourself.  Once on the ridge and back in with the crowd, to an exclamation of “a pair of Walshes” I’m paired-up and at play over the pinnacles on Am Fasarinen.  Later, out on the Northern Pinnacles, an abandoned partner stands and watches three would-be little boys clambering over big rocks.  Climbing down off the end and jumping down into the old snow makes for a speedy finish off Liathach by glissading into Coire na Caime. All is again quiet in the solitude in the glen. That’s two Munros and five tops done by lunch-time, leaving just one Munro for the afternoon.  Easy.  Okay, on Beinn Eighe you got eight tops, but you’re starting from 1,200 feet high.  Yes, easy.   The foreground is dominated by a white scree slope, leading up 2,000 feet to the Beinn Eighe ridge. In actual fact, what the Short Diary entry will show, yet to be traversed is a small matter of a farther 10 miles and 5,200 feet of ascent, up and down along a long ‘W’ shaped ridge. The Liathach - Beinn Eighe day is memorable, for a glorious sunset, glimpsed over the loch while shuffling down Glen Torridon, all the time staring at a pair of flat feet slopping along in a pair of collapsed Walshes.

There shall be no surprises bagging a single Corbett, visited on a previous occasion.

On the big day version two, it’s Bob Hughes and me under a clear, December-cold sky running out of Invercauld with everybody else on bikes by an alternative route. Our route along a track is visible all the way out and up between Culardoch and Carn Liath, “All we need Bob, is that one, the hill over on the left”.  Easy.  After trudging up through knee-high heather the first snow is firm and fast.  Now the blustery wind in the glen blows up into a head-on gale across the top, blasting spindrift into our faces.  Visibility is still good but you need to zip up, which covers the map case, and keep your head down into the flurries.  “It looks closer than a kilometre, Bob.  That’s it over there. No need for the map”.

Though close, there are no other ridges higher.  “It’s definitely the top.  We’re nearly there”.  Crouching on knees, a bearing to Culardoch seems suspiciously obtuse - but the magnetic deviation nowadays is still reducing by the month.  “Right, let’s exit”.   Traversing back over the old summit of Cairn Liath, Bob queries the absence of any footprints in the snow left by those bikers.  “But we’re moving so fast, Bob. Just let’s get out of this Arctic wind, over that subbie and into Braemar to buy a bottle of whisky”.  Even during the celebratory tipple, the second in two months, the queries from the bikers over the lack of our footprints on the new summit, Creag an Dail Bheag, can be passed-off as the effect of that hurricane over the tops.  The penny does drop event­ually. The following week, analysing the diary entry, the lower 857m top clearly matches the distance and bearing.  The diary saved the day. 1,554 and you are just far too cocky out on the hills.

Carn Liath new summit with Creag an Dail Bheag and Ben Avon in the background
“There’s more to this than meets the eye”, queries Rob Woodall.  Not so subtle at all; there is no conspiracy theory, no membership to secret society who do every hill but one, nor anything we suspect of others at all, Rob.  It is more like no longer taking care, presumption of ability, unheeding all the cues and over-confidence followed by the inevitable pay-back: what’s called dramatic hubris.

The penance imposed is not in a violent storm but in a silent mist, like Conrad’s Lord Jim in a featureless mist that evokes an awareness of human fallibility.  Knee level, drifted snow calls for single-minded effort like Melville’s Ahab against a white but evil chimera.  The conditions and the potential for yet another blunder do not go unheeded this time.  Prudence in the Last Chance Saloon brings an end to the punishment for hubris. Nemesis is withdrawn. Suddenly, the mist lifts, rolls away off the hill to reveal a glorious winter’s day.  A blue sky appears over the memorable crags from the glen below up on to Creag an Dail Mhor, Ben Avon. The more immediate foreground resolves into a carpet of snow draped over the high points on Creag an Dail Bheag.

Stac Lee and Hirta at dawn.  Photograph: Richard Mclellan
“It’s a twin top”, warns Rob, with a wry smile, as he descends Stac an Armin.  Sure enough, the summit sports two little crags.  Stac Lee is a different kettle of fish altogether.  That it must be the most difficult Marilyn to climb there can be little argument.  On the other hand, there is no doubt about the location of the highest point.  Every sloping gallery leads to the summit crown.  All three sides on the summit crown lead you up to an apex, a point on a child’s simple mountain drawing, that anybody and everybody can precisely and accurately locate, to be able enter ‘Completion’ in The Relative Hills of Britain, and into a priceless diary listing the hills.

Denise Mclellan and Eddie on the summit of Stac Lee.  Photograph: Richard Melellan

Eddie Dealtry
12 December 2014

* The Relative Hills of Britain Alan Dawson 1992

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