Howard Bentley
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Howard Bentley - Ullswater, The Lake District, 1963

So here we are sometime in the late 70's, three of us high on Creag Meagaidh on a relatively easy Grade 2 route called Zig Zag. Bob and Keith, my partners for the day, were not ice climbers but very good all round mountaineers. My usual partner Hywel decided that day not to climb. He felt that something was not quite right. Read on!
I finished the last pitch digging through a small cornice to be met with a typical Scottish blizzard and high winds. Belayed there sat in the snow motionless until Bob and Keith move, I must have looked like a corpse as two other climbers jumped out of their skin as there tapped me on my shoulder to see if I was alive! They could see no rope and assumed I had met my end sat in the snow.
After Bob and Keith arrived we moved away from the edge knowing that it was well corniced to easy ground that sloped away to our left. We unroped as walking from this point would be fairly easy albeit on a compass bearing as we were now in the dark with a semi whiteout. Bob and I were in front and had just taken a compass bearing off the map when Bob shouted something to me. I shook my head and said I did not hear so I move to his right side. It was only to give me the actual bearing. I said OK and took two steps only to find myself in space.
I had gone through a cornice where the ridge line cut back into our path. This was barely visible on the map and certainly went undetected in the dark and swirling snow.
Down I when, sliding at an ever increasing rate down the top snow slope, space again as I went over a crag of about I guess 30 feet, Bang! hit another snow slope at a great rate of knots. Ice tool flayling I said "Do something and fast Howard!"
I did an ice axe brake which I first learnt at Ullswater OB, taught to us my our patrol instruction Gerry Wilson I believe. He impressed on us to get our body weight over the head of the axe and slowly force the pick into the snow/ice.
I laid on that axe harder and with more aggression than Gerry have taught us. I can hear his voice saying "Too much pressure, too fast!"
Hours went by, really only seconds then I came to a halt feet hanging over another crag. I hauled myself back up onto the slope. "What now? Think".
I had one rope, some Warhog ice screws and a couple of chocks on rope and proceeded to half abseil and half down climb the face, sticking to formed ice where ever possible. It over hung, it was vertical, it was wet and there was spin drift everwhere.
After what seemed hours and hours of down climbing my arm were starting to become shot, so daft as it now seems I made a very carefully calculated decision to jump off if the face did not easy after the next pitch of down climbing/abseiling. Luckily for me I guess, that was the last serious pitch and the slope fell away to the valley bottom.
What a relief! I made it to a big prominent boulder and found Bob's torch on the way, still shining through the snow, as it went flying when I hit the cornice. Thank goodness I thought as my head torch by this time was done. As soon as I touch the torch it went out! Stripping it down on the boulder was no good so a long, dark walk followed.
I arrive back at the old farm house starting point at 1.00am. We topped out of the climb at 5:30pm the previous evening.
Being greeted by two other friends was a very moving moment. Hywel was very concerned as to why he had not gone that day but I am sure he was pleased not to have gone.
What happened to Bob and Keith? They spend a night out without bivi gear in a very shallow snow hole eating peanut butter and honey sandwiches each refusing to discuss my "death" and how to tell my family!
We retruned to the old farmhouse at 7:00am that morning to wait for Bob and Keith as we knew they would be out in time for the pubs to open! Sure enough at 10:30am the walked out, suffering from slight exposure, blue lips etc to a very emotional reunion. That first pint never tasted so good!
There is another part to this story involving a prominent UK mountain school and what happened to their men as they were the two who tapped me on the shoulder. Those two also stayed out the night. But that is a whole new story!
So I really owe it to Outward Bound and more specifically Gerry Wilson who saved my life up on Creag Meagaidh by impressing upon me the importance of a good control ice axe arrest.