Thursday, 13 March 2014

Beinn Eighe and a windy Coire an t'Sneachda

     Following a wild couple of days around Glen Shiel we headed up to stay with Tom and Emily in Torridon. The fire was going and the whiskey was out so an early start the following morning was off the cards. After spending a few days around Torridon last season, we headed round the back of Beinn Eighe into Coire Mhic Fhearchair and the imposing Triple Buttresses. I had been around into the coire in the summer before and they are amazing, huge pieces of rock. I broke trail through the fresh powder round to the back of the coire and up onto the ridge behind. We couldn’t have asked fro better weather, gifted with sunny spells and light winds we worked our way along the ridge towards the trig summit of Beinn Eighe. 
Walking round the back of Coire Mhic Fhearchair
Out the Coire and up onto the Beinn Eighe ridge
     We headed down the Southen slopes off the summit and moved into the coire descending off the mountain. Digging a hasty pit revealed a pretty stable snowpack we only 2 defined layers with a good bond between them, although there were sizable amounts of avalanche debris within the coire. Happy with the slope we were on, we made a glissade down the slope to save the pressure on creaky knees, before meeting the path down to the road upon reaching the snow line.  

Walking into a windy Coire an t'Sneachda
     A full day of rain came down on Torridon following our day on Beinn Eighe as we weighed up our options, pouring over maps and forecasts for the following few days to make a plan. An early start the following day taking us East and down to the Cairngorms, but with a strong wind forecast we decided on an explore into Coire an t’Sneachda to refresh some of our Winter ML skills. The ski centre was closed and the wind made it a struggle just to open the car to get out of the car, balaclavas and goggles on, we ventured into the coire. The strong South-Westerly gusts whipping off the plateau created a snow cloud of fine powder blowing straight into our path. Teams of climbers and walkers were going in all directions, into and back out of the coire, trying to make the most of the day. We found a slope on our approach that was suitable for our needs, and rather scoured so we slid faster than we thought, making for some realistic arrests. After getting covered in the white stuff for a few hours we part retreated, part blown back to the car before making our way back south of the border.
Wild day in the Northern Corries
Practising ice axe arrests in Sneachda

Monday, 3 March 2014

Into the white exploring Glen Shiel

     This year has been a bit of a steady start for myself, a combination of Patella tendinitis in both knees and another kick in the guts from Colitis left me feeling weak as a kitten. This coupled with the pretty wet rubbish weather of late has meant canceling several trips North of the border. After a bit of rest and taking it easy since before Christmas, my knees were doing alright and strapped up for a weeks trip to Scotland. The plan was to explore areas we hadn’t previously visited and to avoid the honeypots, obviously weather dependent. We drove straight through Fort William en route to Glen Shiel, the rain hitting hard on the car roof as we squashed around the masses of kit trying to get some kip. 
Heading up into the cloud on Sgurr a Choire Ghairbh - Day 1
     Trying to keep our rucksacks as light as possible, we ditched the tent, and planned two day route around the location of a nearby bothy. The forecast wasn’t great, but the winds were weaker than of late over the summits, it could have been worse. Packing was a slow process as we woke to the patter of rain drops on the roof, and tried to get sorted without getting out the car. The cloud was already down to around 800m as we set off, slogging through the boggy undergrowth before reaching the snow line. As we climbed the snow covered ground and cloud blended into one, giving our view for the day of white, in every direction, with the odd rock appearing to keep our eyes going. The days route was to head along the the ridge of Beinn Fhada on the North side of Gleann Lichd, Kintail, before dropping into the Glen to stay at the Camban Bothy. 
Nav was the order of the day on Beinn Fhada- Day 1
     White, white, white. Everywhere I looked was white, the ground, the cloud and the constant snow. My eyes couldn’t focus. The ridge nature at the beginning of our route had changed as the ground became very open, we climbed a more gentle slope towards our highpoint of the day and trig. The open slope was making it hard for my eyes to differentiate between the cloud and the ground. I stopped, screwed up my eyes and blinked a few times. This was the last thing I needed, I was struggling to focus my eyes and couldn’t tell if I was walking up hill or down hill. I was kicking snow as I walked to see which way it was going, the clumps spreading across the metre ahead gave me something to focus on. 
One happy lad stood on the trig of Beinn Fhada
     I was concentrating hard, following a bearing aiming off towards an edge to the handrail along to our trig point. The major floor was that we were now following a bearing towards a corniced edge with very little visibility and dodgy eyes. We paced to within 100m of where the edge should be and moved closer with caution, throwing snowballs ahead of us to locate the edge. Very technical mountaineering skills, but it kept me sane. We found the edge and followed it so the summit; I was so happy to see the trig point that a quick dram was in order. 
The Camban Bothy
     The rest of the day seemed easier, as we slowly descended along the ridge and off the southern slope, the clouds slowly breaking as we dropped altitude. This gave snap shot views into the glen below to orientate ourselves and spot the bothy below. It had been a long day, I was glad of a small fire and ready for my sleeping bag.
Day 2 onto Sgurr a Bhealaich Dheirg
Off into the never-ending whiteness again on Sgurr a Bhealaich Dheirg
     We awoke the next morning to snow in the glen and a lower snow line higher up seen as it had been snowing for most of the previous day. We opted for a shorter day in the cloud, heading up the North-East ridge onto Sgurr a’Bhealaich Dheirg. There was fresh powder down to around 700m which made the ridge tough going. The wind had been Easterly the previous day causing any fresh powder to build onto the Western slope. This made the narrow ridge very un-nerving considering there had been a massive build up on the Eastern slopes from the strong South Westerly winds of the previous couple of weeks. We delicately crossed between either side of the ridge judging on the stability of the snow and we laughed at how we were glad of the cloud as it prevented us from the huge exposure of the slopes beneath us. Our technical tactics were employed once again as the majority of our day was spent following along undulating ridge and corniced edge. We descended back to the glen from the Bealach an Lapain, glad once more again to be out of the cloud and followed the track back to the car. Next stop Torridon.