Benighted on Fionn Buttress in 1959 with Robin Smith

© Stewart walker

Liz Evans introduces her article:

In 1959 I became benighted in rather unusual circumstances whilst climbing Fionn Buttress with Robin Smith, at that time a fellow member of the Edinburgh University Mountaineering Club, and another friend.

Subsequently I wrote a light hearted article for the Club Journal. Robin sadly died in 1962 on an expedition to the Pamirs, but I kept the article which I recently came across on a spring cleaning spree.

On the second day we found the gin. We returned, rejoicing to our stall. After about an hour and a third of the bottle, Smith's singularly inappropriate monologue on moral obligations and the meaning of life had degenerated into incoherent bursts of current juke box favourites and horrible puns, and we fell asleep.

Evening view from the top of Carnmore Crag after finishing Fionn Buttress  © Bob M
Evening view from the top of Carnmore Crag after finishing Fionn Buttress
© Bob M, Jun 2007

Fionn Buttress, pitch three  © Bob
Fionn Buttress, pitch three
© Bob, Jun 2010
We woke to find the sun and the atmosphere in the barn high! Smith had honked in his sleep. The smell drove us outside. Breakfast didn't appeal so Robin and Dick read bits of the guide book to me while I held my head and wished it would rain. I heard vague mutterings about Fionn Buttress, loose bollards, delicate slabs, and finally the words V.S. After much argument I was persuaded to consider a V. Diff. called Poacher's. It took us about ten minutes to reach the cliff and about an hour to organise the 300 foot rope. They weren't on form. It was now 3pm and the weather didn't look promising. I did not like to look too closely at the cliff which was about 800 feet high and very exposed. The route we were planning was evidently 750ft long. All I felt like doing was a Mod. on some small, sheltered outcrop in the Lakes.

The first two pitches were, however, accomplished without much more difficulty than could reasonably be expected from a party of three suffering from a hangover. It started to rain as I began the crux pitch - "a delicate slab". Robin laughed like a drain when I peeled on the last move and they hauled me gleefully onto the shelter of their stance. Robin took a long time oner the next pitch and Dick chose to comment that it would be as well if I kept my head. Since I had not so far considered losing it, I pondered this remark in my heart. I admit to a tight rope on this pitch, a very wet, holdless corner. I pondered even more in my heart on the next stance as I heard Robin and Dick mutter again about "loose bollards" protection for me – on a V. Diff.?

Nagging doubt led to a certain feeling of nervousness which was not helped by gathering darkness and the prospect of 200 more feet of climbing in the rain. Robin took even longer over the next pitch but eventually his belch was heard some way above as he heaved himself up a nasty looking overhang. When my turn came, I found the others more than usually forthcoming with words of advice and encouragement, and vastly more than usually interested in where I thought I'd swing to if I peeled. I successfully disappointed them on the traverse which led to the overhang, which was overcome indelicately and with much assistance and I pulled out on to a small, very sloping ledge. I remarked that this was a very odd V. Diff. and that I would like to go home. Robin, however, successfully thwarted this idea by disappearing into the gathering gloom along an exposed traverse. Some time later he returned to say that we could all go home. I stifled a desire to mention last buses and they began to organise the rope.

The exposed traverse on pitch 6 of Fionn Buttress, Carnmore  © Stewart walker
The exposed traverse on pitch 6 of Fionn Buttress, Carnmore
© Stewart walker, Jun 2007
I squatted on this foul ledge and idly watched their feet. Neither of them was belayed and their feet kept sliding gently towards the edge. I dare say the view and the exposure would have been "fabulous" but I couldn't see a thing except when the moon broke through the cloud every now and then. There was a nasty howling wind and a horrible blackness below. They took an hour to organise the rope while I repeated bits of The Highwayman to myself and wished we hadn't missed the last bus. I had never abseiled before which didn't help. Just as I was considering sliding gently over the ledge into eternal blackness, I realised that Robin was ready to abseil. The moon came up just then and I can still see that horrifying silhouette walking backwards into space yelling "Great Balls of Fire". I looked at the rope slowly jerking round the little flake to which we were also belayed, and quickly looked away again. Snatches of song floated up to us and finally a yell that he was there.

A brief lesson in abseiling followed and I began lowering myself into nothing. I did have a top rope which, although cheating, is reassuring. I actually enjoyed the first feet quite well but soon became worried and fed up, particularly after I discovered that if I stopped concentrating I turned upside down. I shouted down to Robin to ask where he was and a faint, horribly cheerful reply wafted up "Miles away". At one point during the descent I kicked a loose piece of rock which then rested gently on my feet. Having yelled a warning, I let it go and watched it bounce its way down, sparking as it hit the rock. It took a long time. When I reached Robin, he was looking like the Cheshire Cat. Dick joined us on this slightly larger ledge and we waited anxiously to see if the rope would follow. I must admit to a certain feeling of disappointment when it did as I had a strong desire to remain forever on this ledge which was really quite spacious.

It took four abseils, including one traverse, and four tiny insecure ledges to reach the ground. Dawn broke and I discovered that I had left the seat of my trousers somewhere on Fionn Buttress (V.S). The Colonel kindly invited us to breakfast and we went to bed, as we had risen, in broad daylight. Robin's comment "A fine V.Diff " or alternately " An epic shambles"

The next day they did the climb in three hours while I rested.

Editorial Note: The author of the above wishes the whereabouts of the "epic shambles" to be identified as Carnmore Crag and the hospice in which they were so kindly received by the absent owners as the house of the same name. But as for the gin...

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27 Jun, 2011
Lovely stuff. Thank you, Liz. Mick
28 Jun, 2011
Super stuff Liz. Thanks. Who is Dick?
29 Jun, 2011
Thanks very much for this, Liz. Lovely tale from what must have been wild and wonderful times!
29 Jun, 2011
Lovely. Not such unusual circumstances where RS was concerned, judging from the recent excellent biography, which also focussed on late starts and singing. jcm
29 Jun, 2011
Enjoyed that. More please!
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