Day 7 of Scottish Season 15/16. On the Last day of my break from work I had to head north again to Glencoe. Weather was fair with snow showers blowing through. There was some fresh with the wind distributing snow around the mountain. I told myself I was going to do the East Ridge today as I have not done it for a long time. This is an off-piste part of the mountain just to skiers right of the Flypaper, Scotland’s steepest marked run.
When I arrived I asked a ski instructor where the entrance to East a ridge was at the moment. He advised that I should talk with ski patrol as he suspected the snowpack was unstable on that part of the mountain.
At the rescue hut, the sign did say Flypaper was closed due to avalanche risk. I was listening to conversations around the mountain and I heard chatter that East Ridge was a bit risky. As I was on my own, I thought I’d just pass on it for the day. However, as the day went on I got chatting to more folk on the lifts and some were indeed going down East Ridge without issue.
The weather was mostly bright, but squally snow showers occasionally reduced visibility. I made the most of Main basin and Happy Valley which were great fun with soft yet packed snow. The top of the Wall was great too. By the end of the day, I was keen to give the East Ridge a go. I sat at the top of Spring Run and waited. Visibility was virtually nil at this point and I thought I’d wait it out. It was getting quite dark and more people were making their way off the hill. as the snow flurries cleared I notice a group of skiers remove their skis and walk over to the top of the Flypaper/East Ridge. I thought I’d go for it, follow them down and give East Ridge a go. As I said, it had been a while and I wasn’t sure about the lay of the land.
No sooner had I strapped in at the top of East Ridge, when I realised the group I was following had disappeared down the closed Flypaper. I decided to bear right and made a few turn when I came to a rock band. This was a problem! I felt my gut wrench when I realised I’d got myself into a pickle. With the slope falling away beneath me it was impossible to see what lay below. It could have been a perfect slope or a hundred meter drop. I couldn’t tell. Light was fading and flat. I didn’t want to remove my board. It was too steep to walk on.
There were 2 choices, left or right of the rocky outcrop. I didn’t know what lay to the right other than the distant flat ground I thought I could make out beyond. Behind and to my left was what I thought was Bailly’s gully which feeds into t he closed Flypaper. After the short thought that I may have to spend the night on the mountain, I hopped up the slope and decided to drop into Bailly’s. The slope is steep and once I was in the Flypaper I could feel that the snow was weak. I got out of there as fast as I could. Once clear I looked back up the mountain and thought how careless I had been. All the signs told me not to do it and I didn’t listen. If I had been with someone at least I’d have backup or a second opinion. Had it been earlier and lighter, I’d maybe be able to pick a route more easily.
Anyway, lesson learned at the end of what was a fantastic day. I’ll be back to do the East Ridge properly next time.