The car lead us on towards Torridon, I had spied a new winter route of Ben Damph and the snow was low enough, so the line should be in “in”. Unfortunately we left my parents house in Dingwall just a bit too late and even after some judicious non-stop driving past Garve and Achnasheen we would be lucky to get to the base of the route by just before midday, and for an early winters foray, just too late. As we popped over the hill leading down to Kinlochewe a beautiful sight meet out eyes, full sun on the loch and the hills sparkling under their winters garb. For some time I had been spying some of the streams and small waterfalls that line these roads and as well passed the car park at the tourist lookout, I noticed a splash of blue-white in one of the stream-beds above the road. We parked at the viewpoint and traversed the hill side until we could look into the gully. There it was, a 150m or 200m long stream, completely frozen with rocks, steps of water ice and some mixed climbing. The other two did not fancy the lead so I strapped on the crampons and tackled the first pitch. The first, then became the second and then the third, steep short and very entertaining.
As the day wore on my compatriots not once volunteered to take the lead so by the four pitch I was slightly peeved at being the only one sticking my neck out. The final ice fall was by far the longest, but also the best formed, wide solid and about 70 degrees in angle and maybe 10m long . Using the excuse of needing to take photographs of this historic first ascent I cajoled Dave into taking the lead. I passed him the lead (sharp) end of the rope and then scuttled up the grassy hillside on the right of the ice fall to watch the show.
Dave set off slowly, and seemed to be having some difficulty getting his crampons to bite. Buy mid pitch the slow progress dropped to a painful scrape. I shouted across that he should put in an ice screw, no answer except another small step upwards. Higher and higher he went, protection-less, the ropes hung straight down to Robin who was belaying. There was nothing between him and Dave to slow a fall down. This now became very unpleasant viewing.
Dave still in compete silence had stopped breathing and every swing of his axes became less effective, they bounced of the ice, sending plates of frozen water crashing into the gully base, but still he pushed on with silent resignation and an increasing scene of doom. Far too high to climb down and obviously reaching the limit of his strength he reached the rounding at the top of the ice fall 5 feet from the end and safety. He swung his axe one more time, but as it struck the ice, the rest of the three points of contact failed instantaneously.
With a strangled wail, he disappeared from my cameras view finder and dropped like a stone, 10meters later there was a ice shattering explosion as Dave’s upright body connected with the base of the gully. On contract with terra firma he shot, back into the air and landed on his back, only to come sliding to a gentle stop and Robin feet.
Holly shit, if he's not dead, then he at least he has two broken legs. I scrambled down to the base of the gully fearing the worst. He was sitting up and talking and completely soaked up to the waist in ice cold water.
As he hit the base of the ice fall with such force, he crashed straight through the ice and into the deep pool below the waterfall. The collapsing ice had completely cushioned his fall. A quick examination revealed a very scared, exhausted and borderline hypothermic, but otherwise intact Dave. Having seen the rather rapid decent of the ice fall, Robin refused think about leading. Knowing that if we did not get out soon Dave was going to be unable to function due to the potential onset of shock and hypothermia, I tied into the rope to lead the fateful pitch. I think I enjoyed the lead, its funny and human, the ability to go on after disaster. Maybe it’s a key skill to surviving any challenge
The climb is called Helter Skelter.