The walk up through the woods was uneventful, but we could hear the wind roaring on the open slopes above. At the top car-park we prepared thoroughly for the walk up to the hut, with goggles headtorches etc at the ready. The wind was high but perfectly manageable as we began our walk to the hut. The path was clear of snow (all powder had been wind-scoured) and it wasn't too icy. As we got higher, the wind grew stronger and gustier. Scott, who is a pocket battleship who moves quickly close to the ground, seemed to be suffering less from the buffeting than I. A couple of little rises in the path proved particularly problematic, and eventually I was thrown over by the wind. This happened a few more times. One fall resulted in a tear in the shoulder of my jacket.
We'd made pretty good progress and were up opposite the Castle, but the path was becoming more icy and darkness had arrived.
We stopped and cramponed up. Now progress was more difficult. We could hear stronger gusts roaring down the glen, and would stop and brace ourselves till they passed. It was becoming a battle. Suddenly, a gust hit me without warning from the left. I was sent sprawling, sore and winded. I joined Scott who was ahead. Although both of us were feeling strong physically and psychologically, my feeling was that one or both of us would certainly be blown over again before we reached the hut. As the terrain is much more difficult, with the possibilty of being blown over a steep edge, or into the Allt a'Mhuillin it was safer to retreat to the valley.
We turned tail. The wind we'd been battling was now at our backs, but it made for treacherous going as it continually tried to force us to run before it. Leaning back into it for balance seemed more difficult than leaning forward.
We were making good progress and arrived at the top of one of the little rises where we'd had problems. I was braced at the top waiting for a fierce blast to pass when I was swiped by a blast out of nowhere. I was aware of trying to dance along boulders in my crampons, then I was fully airborne, slowly somersaulting forwards in mid air. I landed on my right shoulder lying face upward. I knew immediately something was very seriously amiss with my right upper arm and made strenuous efforts to free it from the rucksack strap before the inevitable pain kicked in. I succeeded, but seemed unable to take other remedial action. I self-diagnosed a broken collar bone. There was no way I could get on my feet, and I'd lost my walking poles.
Scott scuttled up; he'd been blown over too, but was uninjured. I explained what I thought was wrong, and that I thought it better for me to sit tight in a survival bag and call the M R than try to attempt to walk out. A fall on my damaged arm would almost certainly result in unconsciousness, making the situation very serious.
Luckily, Scott had a signal on his phone, and he alerted the Lochaber Team. Scott maneouvred me into the lee of a boulder, got my legs into an orange bag and upper half into my belay jacket. He wrapped another survival bag round our backs and we cooried doon to wait.
In less time than I could have hoped we saw lights moving towards us up the path. As they approached, we realised it was not the team, but a pair on their way up to the CIC. They hove into view and came over to see how they could help. Once we'd established I was not keen on trying to walk off, they stuck us inside a nylon group shelter, which provided us with extra insulation from the wind and cold. Unfortunately, it made communication difficult, but the presence of other climbers provided a real psychological boost. These guys were stars.
Eventually after what seemed like an age the team arrived. They had had to chainsaw their way through several trees blown down over the access road to the dam. The nurse, Fiona, gave me a shot of morphine, and a simple but effective solution to stop me falling over was implemented: three guys behind formed a windbreak, one guy short-roped me, one supported my left arm, one got hold of me on the right to make sure I didn't stumble on to my injured side. We walked.
Remarkably quickly, with a lot of "f" ing and "b" ing, but only a few squeaks of real pain we were down at the dam. A slow drive to avoid bumps down the now clear road and we were at the Belford.
All the staff seemed to be climbers and we had a pleasant chat as they assessed my injuries (they may think it was morphine-induced drivel on my part though). I had no break, just a simple dislocation of the right shoulder, which they got back into place before I disappeared into sleepyland.
Scott was given a lift back to the NF car park, and drove down to the club cottage over snowy roads. He picked me up on Saturday afternoon and brought me home. Two of the party from the club managed to get to the hut on Saturday, but nothing was climbed. The owner of the bivvy bag got it back through the internet.
Don't underestimate the danger of high wind, even on a familiar path.
Support Mountain Rescue; they're stars
Thanks to all the brilliant NHS staff at the Belford.