On Sunday 29th December site user Peter Corrigan and his walking partner Sue fell through a cornice on Beinn a' Chaorainn in poor visibility. Large cornices often build up on the steep east flank above Coire na h-Uamha, and due to the incut corrie edge a safe line between any of the hill's three summits requires a dogleg rather than a straight line. It's a well known spot for tricky navigation, and for accidents, but though Peter's guidebook mentioned the cornice it was silent on the dogleg needed to avoid it. Peter first posted this account in the forums, but we think his experience deserves a wider audience since it could prove useful for anyone heading up the Munro in thick weather.
Sue and I were traversing a wide ridge on Beinn a'Chaorainn between the southern two tops, in a complete whiteout. When we got to the plateau I calculated we were nearer the cliffs than I wanted to be, so we walked on a bearing roughly NNW to give use some 'wriggle room' with the cliffs. We paced 100m, rechecked were we were and set off again.
The guidebook and the map didn't indicate that there was a big dogleg between the two southerly tops.
Because I couldn't see it I fell through the cornice and into the corrie below. This came as a surprise, as I thought I was walking away from the cliffs.
"I was airborne for a long time and bounced a few times before being buried in snow, and unable to move"
I was airborne for a long time and bounced a few times before being buried in snow unable to move. The plateau is at 1040 metres and the corrie's floor is 900 metres which means I fell 140 metres or 450 feet in old money.
Luckily my face was not buried although the rest of me was. Sue fell too and also survived, and although she had busted four ribs and broken her shoulder she was able to dig herself out, and then dig me out.
We were then both injured at the bottom of a cliff on the wrong side of the mountain an hour before dark, in bad weather and no phone signal to call for help... not ideal.
My only explanation for our survival is that we 'clipped' the extreme inside edge of the corrie rim and went down the gully in the corner (there must be one clear channel!). I think that this must have happened because we didn't hit anything hard and looking up from the corrie it is clear that there are lots of rocks all around the corrie.
My first inclination was to go down, however the maps said there were cliffs and we'd fallen down one already; not a good option.
I did think about staying put, but 16 hours in the dark and cold wasn't appealing, and we'd still have to get ourselves out. I've dug a snow hole with an ice axe before... it's hard work; not a good option either.
That left climbing out of the corrie. I wasn't keen on that either as I was hurt and exhausted and I wasn't sure that we wouldn't set off an avalanche. However I thought it was the best of the bad options.
We climbed out of the corrie up the snow on the south wing, kicking steps, and then up the ridge to the south summit. We got a phone signal here and did debate calling the Mountain Rescue, but as we were mobile we decided to walk out.
It took us about three hours to get out of the corrie, but five hours to walk back to the road, arriving about 21:00.
We went back to our apartment as I couldn't face sitting in A&E for 4 or 5 hours. We went to hospital the day after, Monday, and got patched up as a day case.
I'm back in Yorkshire now and am going to the fracture clinic tomorrow to find out how damaged I am.
After the event I've found out that it's a notorious black spot. The lesson learned is to do more research.
I don't think I did anything wrong on the day, I just didn't do enough of it, i.e. when I was calculating my bearing I should have walked more NW than NNW.
In conjunction with the 2016 Arc'teryx Alpine Academy in Chamonix, France, we have a series of articles on some key skills in... Read more
Admit it, you're guilty. When you fall off, it's never your fault. The conditions weren't right, your belayer is an inattentive... Read more
Whatever game you play, the one thing that is universally accepted is that no one wishes to meet the ground whilst accelerating... Read more
'He failed to make me a cup of tea in the morning, ever!'As reported earlier this week, British climbers Nick Bullock and Paul... Read more
The biggest experiences of my life have almost all been in the Chamonix Valley, with very few exceptions. These mountains shaped... Read more
Stefan Morris writes about growing up in - and growing out of - Pembroke. 'I wrote this after meeting UKC's Rob Greenwood on... Read more
|Rock "fall" Alpine... 11:06 Sun|
|NEWS: Skye Wall and Skye Fall:... Oct-16|
|Wanted: Avalanche transceiver Sep-16|
|FS: Book Navigation in the... Sep-16|
|Small avalanche caught on camera. Sep-16|
|Chee dale cornice dry? Aug-16|
|Has the Italian earthquake made... Aug-16|
|Lead fall practice prohibited at... Aug-16|
|List more discussions...|
"Every so often you meet someone in climbing that makes you take a step back. Someone with a fire in their eye, passion in their... Read more