April 23rd, 1989, when Scottish winters had an element of certainty about them. It’s good to look back .
March 1940 – April 2018
There’s a story to be told and I don’t have much of the text. In fact, Con would most likely have approved. At one time he felt that climbing west and north of the Great Glen should not be recorded and that large tract of mountainous country, be left for exploration only, with nothing recorded in print. He helped me with the fourth edition of ‘Winter Climbs – Ben Nevis & Glencoe’, but preferred not to be acknowledged. There will be many of those reading this obituary, who can fill in some of the big gaps that I’m left with. Cunningham, Geddes, Docherty, MacIntyre, Chambers are no longer with us. They all climbed with Con. To me, and many others, he was always encouraging and helpful. Nicolson and ‘Skip’ are amongst those who agree that Con was “one of the good guys”.
Arriving in Fort William in 1971 I discovered an active winter climbing scene, that included Con and other members of the Creagh Dhu mountaineering club. Some had work, some not. They all had a passion for the mountains. Even on marginal weather days, Con and the team would go up…. “for a look”…. This attitude of ….“if you don’t go, you’ll not know”…., produced a good clutch of new climbs on Ben Nevis. I went into Carnmore in the winter with another pal and Con, but nothing doing, so we walked out again. Competition for new ground was intense, especially between east and west and the SMC and Creagh Dhu. The poor winter of 1973 only produced three new climbs. Boomer’s Requiem, by Con Higgins and Dougie MacArthur being one of them. The crux pitch is fierce and much steeper than anything on Point Five Gully. Who was Boomer, by the way? Con often turned up with axes he had made himself. He was a brass fitter by trade with an engineering background. A variety of shapes and axe sizes, at a time when anyone with a knowledge of metalwork was experimenting, from Clydeside to California. We all have a lot to thank these fertile minds, when clinging on to modern tools. Climbing with Con on Ben Nevis was always interesting, challenging, hard and successful. At the start of every day, heading towards a new climb I knew very little of the destination. Meeting and climbing with Con improved my ice climbing ability dramatically, at a time when lower grades were all I had in the bag. It was a natural progression and Con showed me what was possible on winter climbs.
The social scene enhanced days out. In particular, a small flat above the West Highland Museum, where the curator was friendly with one of the crowd! Drunken nights in the back bar of the Kingshouse. Performing involuntary 360deg skids on an icy A82 in Glencoe, on the way home to Fort William. A trip home, using the Ballachulish ferry, before the bridge was built, when one member of the party, dived over the side and swam the rest of the way. He asked for a refund on the other side. Some Creagh Dhu members were present and very encouraging of these aquatic efforts. Climbing by comparison was a lot safer.
Mountains were the common gel that joined us all. It’s on the mountains of Scotland and particularly Ben Nevis, where Con Higgins left us a fine legacy of great climbs. To me and many others, Con Higgins was a good and trusted companion on the rope. He’s at rest now and I’m thankful for that, as well as being able to share in a small part of his life.
Co-op Funeral Parlour, Hume Street, Glasgow. Near the Singer Railway Station (Clydebank)
12:30, Friday 13th, April 2018.
From a group who spent a high, snow hole bivouac at approximately 3000ft in Coire Leis. This classic traverse is very popular. Surrounded on all sides by steep icy slopes, dropping towards Glen Nevis or the Allt a’Mhuilinn. The easier approach is from the north-west, starting at the North Face car park. In this direction, an ascent of Ben Nevis can be included and descend by the ordinary ‘mountain track’ towards the halfway lochan. On this day, we descended back towards the snow-holes in Coire Leis by steep, sustained and icy slopes from the summit of Carn Mor Dearg. Treat this descent with great respect, as a slip could have a serious outcome. We used a rope in ‘alpine’ mode for the whole descent. Take care.
Plenty of teams out on Tower Ridge. Some on Orion Direct, Point Five Gully, Observatory Gully, N.E.Buttress. Those who started up Zero Gully backed off in the face of poor protection. Not very busy, considering the good forecast.
Another top day in Fort William with almost zero wind and blue skies. Victoria went for a little ski tour with Spike Sellers and Adele Pennington. Skinned up the ski area and over to the col before Aonach Beag. The various faces of Aonach Beag are forming up well, but few climbers were seen, if any. Certainly good for winter walking and some of the safer ridges. Check out SAIS before going into any gullies or loaded slopes
Just when you were thinking of dry rock and sea stacs. Thanks to Paddy Cave who continues to drive north to enjoy quiet ice on Nevis. Alpine training. Bivvy beneath your chosen climb and climb by torch-light into the dawn.
From Paddy:…..Good to catch up with you and a few shots for your blog/fb etc attached from today and yesterday. See the narrows on Point 5, looks complete but the photo doesn’t show the water pouring!? A good freeze ‘might’ have it OK but who knows, would need a closer look. Other routes look better anyway, Hadrian’s/Smiths/Scoop/Indicator as you mentioned..
I got hooked this morning by a Facebook post on incidents on the Ben Nevis Mountain Track, especially over an early Easter with tons of snow and possible bad visibility. Not being able to resist, here it is again:
Enhance the height and location of cairns. Since the debate on poles in ’96 a lot has been improved, even against the wishes of a small minority, who are mostly members of agencies like JMT and MCoS. Ben Nevis is a special case and will always be so. No amount of advertising of dangerous conditions will stop ill-prepared folk trying to climb the highest lump in the UK. The majority of those trying this weekend, will not even have heard or seen the media blast from well-meaning people trying to avoid more deaths. Short of putting the Gendarmes at the foot of the mountain on all sides to STOP ANYONE CLIMBING the peak, there is diddly-squat we can do about it. This debate and deaths have been going on for far too long, so just get the job done properly. Frankly I believe the JMT took on the wrong chunk of mountain and should hand it over to another owner/agency who have safety in mind over conservation philosophy. JMT do a good job, but need to leave their morals behind in the glen on Ben Nevis please. I was a member of the Nevis Partnership for many years and left disheartened when they went against their original idea of joining up the ‘path to nowhere’. It took many years of wrangling between them and the Lochaber MRT and myself and others, to even consider putting the current set of half-buried cairns 50metres apart. Once again many are well-meaning individuals, but unfortunately their mountain morals fall apart in the face of deaths on the UK’s highest peak. I still have a note from a prominent MCoS member saying…”If they cannot navigate they deserve to die and a few deaths are a small price to pay for a pristine mountain”…This person is still a big pal of mine and respected throughout the outdoor and educational world. We had been having a ‘dram’ at the time and I doubt if he truly meant the comment with any real malice or forethought. However, I do believe this attitude does still exist and we all need to stamp it out ASAP. We still have time this weekend to pay local guides and instructors to PATROL the hill in order to try and avoid incidents.
More of the good climbing on Ben Nevis last week. Check out Tower Scoop and Smith’s Route. Yesterday was very good and teams were out in Glen Coe on Twisting and S.C. – N.C. Gullies, reporting good conditions. Today is more unsettled and snow is falling below 600 metres. Avalanche accident on Ben Nevis yesterday so be aware.
Starting to put together some footage of the last two weeks. The weather remains very good and looks like continuing into the first week in April at least. The ice, high on Nevis is in perfect ‘nick’. Check out Green Gully