Sunday morning dawned fairly damp and miserable, I on the other hand was cheerful as I was now experienced in winter conditions! The forecast low cloud base had materialised and the impromptu change of plan suggested by Des yesterday evening seemed particularly sensible. Fortunately we had haggis for breakfast for compensation and soon after we were fully geared-up and ready to go.The venue chosen for today’s adventure was the Pap of Glencoe (Sgorr na Ciche) conveniently located near our hotel and on the banks Loch Leven. At 742m the view from the summit should be fantastic but we did not have high hopes of views as we decamped from the cars.Despite the weather our spirits were high as we set off from essentially sea-level with a fair climb ahead. This started off on a steep gravel path that led to some waterworks. With some navigation magic from our guides the nearly hidden path that led up from the waterworks was found and were soon suitably off-road. After some time striding across boggy ferns and large boulders we stopped for a short break and attempted to enjoy the view. Rain had intermittently been falling and unfortunately cloud obscured the majority of where we had come from and also the peak ahead.
At nearly 500m we reached a flatter part of the Pap that formed a slight saddle between peaks. This respite in terrain was not to last long as with the path temporarily avoiding us we simply turned toward the peak and set off straight up the slope. We were now traversing some tricky boulder areas interspersed with slippery wet mud which proved to be more difficult than expected. On one particularly slippy bit I lost traction with my prosthetic foot, fell awkwardly and managed to activate the failsafe mechanism that protects my bone implant from undue force. The result of this first ever hill-side failsafe activation was my prosthetic leg making a bid for freedom whilst I sprawled in the ferns. Fortunately my leg didn’t get far and I was able to reattach it without difficulty and carry on – not a sentence that many ‘mountaineers’ can include in a description of their adventures! This episode did provide Des with some food for thought as he contemplated my leg disappearing over the edge of some treacherous Moroccan ledge but Grace (prosthetic engineer) and I assured him it would be safely tethered to me for the big event. In hindsight, we should have got that ready for Scotland – oops!
After that little bit of excitement, the next 100m or so of vertical ascent seemed rather tame but the terrain then started to get more difficult. The wind and rain had also increased by now and we had to carefully pick and scramble our way upward. Despite being snug and dry in my gear I began to hope the summit would appear soon as this would hopefully give us an opportunity for a small respite from the weather and a chance to eat another chicken tikka slice.
As a result of having to concentrate on where my feet are more than most people climbing hills etc, I spend a lot of time looking down. It was a pleasant surprise then when the cairn that marked the top loomed out of the murk into my peripheral vision and I happily followed our leader off the peak into a lovely sheltered spot he had found for comestible consumption. The rest of the group soon arrived and we had successfully mounted our first ‘Graham’.
Whilst we were happily munching, Des and co had decided that there were parts of our ascent that would be tricky to descend so planned to set-up a couple of rope assists. After all too short a stop we headed back in to the windiness outside our shelter, re-crossed the summit then descended one by one down the rope-strung rocky chutes, ably supervised / assisted by James and Simon in turn. The speed with which the ropes were knotted and secured provided more than just some help, it confirmed that these guys really knew what they were doing. Despite the wind and rain, there were no slippages down the tricky scramble or on the tamer path that we found on our further descent. Occasional pauses due to serious gust were the biggest impediment that we encountered but soon we were low enough to be out of the worst of it and we could enjoy our steady return down the ‘Pap’.
Once off the hill, a short dash to the cars up a road (walking luxury!) allowed us to get back to the hotel for our now customary chips and drink celebration. After quick showers we returned to the bar to meet Des, James and Simon for our final evening meal of the weekend. All three of our guides expressed their positive feelings about our chances on Toubkal and I was left feeling pretty satisfied with both my own and the groups performance on the hills around Glencoe – Toubkal here we come!
Monday morning provided the last opportunity for haggis which I’m pleased to say that most of us took advantage of. We then sadly packed our gear away, crammed it all in the hire cars and headed for the airport. We had sufficient time for the obligatory ‘after’ photo whilst waiting to board then our mini-break was truly over. Not long until Toubkal now…