I was looking forward to this meet which is surely the pinnacle event in any climber's calendar. Thanks to the herculean efforts of our meets administrator Steven, the club had managed to book out the whole CIC hut in February but the forecast was turning very grim with high winds and a storm forecast. People even began pulling out and I lamented that it was almost 2 years since I had been on a meet with good weather, but my weekend was set in stone and I would go even if it meant sitting in the hut for two days playing the hut's board games (which there were none) or warming beside the fire (which didn't work). I had previously been looking at doing the White Line, which has 7 or so pitches so would be a good, full day out and a return back down from the summit. But as the weekend loomed, I had to re-visit the plans as any appearance on the summit was to be met with 90mph winds from the south. We looked at alternative routes which didn't finish with a summit top out and Cameron pointed out Garadh Gully, which was a grade 2/3 (or maybe even a 1), and looked like a tiny boulder in the guidebook, a wee dafty* route that barely looked worthwhile but I secretly hoped that something more exciting would appear and we could skip this plan.
We headed up on Friday with Cameron and Jesse, who isn't a jessie, and stopped en route at a bizarre mock hick-diner and had a large dinner. This meant that once we arrived at the North Face car park it was dark, blowing a gale and full bellies meant we (or maybe just I) were ready for a nap rather than the long walk in. Yomping through the wind and rain up to the hut, a line from a Metallica song kept repeating in my head intime to my humphing, not even being able to remember the words properly it was driving me mad all the way until I clattered through the doors into the hut. Stephen, new-Steven, Lee, and new-Colin were already in residence along with four friendly Czech climbers who were staying for a few nights. Once settled, we looked at the guidebook and made some plans that involved heading to the same area where a number of non-summiting climbs would reveal themselves. Hopefully something better than Garadh gully, I thought. In truth, we all internally doubted if we could do anything if the weather was to be as forecasted, but nobody would want to be the first to admit it.
One of the new members was about to prove how well suited to the club they would be. After spending a large amount on brand new winter climbing equipment especially for this meet, proceeded to forget to bring any of it, but instead had brought a full bottle of single malt to share with everyone. It's like he was made for this club.
During the night, the wind rose to a howl and battered the outside of the hut. The wind turbine thrummed rapidly and thoughts turned to the hut wall's names, history, stories.
In the morning, the wind noise wasn't so wild. After breakfast we went outside and were met with the towering arena of the north face. The weather wasn't so bad. We could see Garadh gully and buttress and it actually looked pretty hefty. We all headed up to the gully and traveresed around to the start. Stephen and Jesse abbed down to do another route rather than being caught up in our own traffic, so set off to do the west of Douglas Gap. Lee, Cameron and I began our pitches up Garadh gully, which turned out to be a great wee route with ice, neve and some spindrift to add drama. Once at the top, the clouds lifted and the summit ridge and aretes were all visible. Our luck had paid off. Heading back down we met new-Stephen and new-Colin who were doing winter skill drills and could see Steven and Jesse on the gully beyond.
That night, we shared stories of bravado of completing our 1/2/3 grade route (even had a star) with other worthies of the JMCS who had been on gargoyle wall. Later, without Lorna's presence to cook us a grand meal, people resorted to eating dried food from foil bags. Comparisons between bag-flavours to see who had the worst food formed most of the entertainment.
The wind picked up to a real storm by the evening, probably the worst type of weather for jolly camping adventures, which is why the group setting up tents outside the hut drew much attention (but no offer of help) from those within the hut. Wondering how we should act in such ferocious conditions, we decided the best approach would be to have a sweepstake to guess the time when they would bang on the window for help. During the night, I heard some shouts from outside and head torches glancing off the windows I checked my watch - 3am, my time! Sadly no knocks on the window came and part of the group struck camp and headed off. The rest remained till early morning until they headed off, being blown off the path and rucksack cover being whipped into the abyss while we watched, amused, from the kitchen window.
It was too wild for any type of climbing on Sunday so we all headed off, just in time for a large group of Italians to swarm into the hut. The walk down was a real battle. Just as my patience and will had been rewarded the previous day with good conditions and dramatic views, my heartless mocking of the campers would face justice as I was picked up and blown into the air by the wind, literally flying for a moment, luckily my fall was broken by my face.
*The definition of 'dafty' was discussed at length during the weekend, with my suggestion that 'dafty' not only referred to one who willfully made reckless choices, but would also encompass those who were not operating at full mental capacity. Cameron tried to refute this by claiming the second part of my definition to be false, but then again he would say that, being a dafty and all.