Tuesday, 17 February 2015

A Forcan Windy Day

     Our decision on where to go today was made a lot easier after seeing Ken Applegate post a picture on twitter of the stunning Forcan Ridge bathed in sunshine yesterday. This was an option for some point this week and a route I have been meaning to climb for a while. We had a relatively early start and a drive round from Lochcarron to Glen Shiel. There had been fresh snow from yesterday or perhaps overnight down to around 650m, but we were greeted with lashings of rain as we put off getting out the car, thinking we’ll give it five more minutes to see if it stops. We started our approach to the ridge following the well defined path that contours it’s way up the hillside, spotting fresh foot prints in the snow, perhaps Ken’s from the previous day. 
Piers on the early sections of Forcan Ridge
Piers kicking steps up a section of firm snow
     It was still raining hard as we followed the tracks ahead until the lower sections of the ridge were in view. We spotted another team on the ridge just as it was entering the cloud, around an hour ahead of us, they must be their tracks we were following. We moved quickly up the the lower sections of the first slope weaving between the rocks making use of the lower grassed slopes. As we climbed higher onto the ridge, we undulated through and over little rock steps which provided much interest. The wind had picked up by this point, whipping across the ridge, buffeting against us as we hunched over the nearest rock or crouched down. 
Down climbing a short gully to avoid the abseil on Forcan Ridge
     The powder slowed our progress as it made our boots feel insecure on the slabby rocks and grassy ledges and the build-up made it hard to judge the depth or the solid ground which lay beneath. Occasionally the ridge narrowed from rocky blocks to narrow snow ridges which didn’t look too stable and we quickly moved across these, timing our dash with a break in the gusting wind. Soon we reached the abseil, which I had read about in the guide, however it didn’t specify its length and said it would be possible to down climb. After a look down the line this wasn’t really an option and we opted to put on our crampons and down climb a short gully and traversed around the buttress to rejoin the ridge. 
He is walking on a snow ridge, honest.

     With the perceived crux passed, we continued through the cloud taking each difficulty in our stride, but the ridge kept on giving as the next section revealed itself when we approached. Steadily we reached the upper sections and the the ridge began to broaden and ease off as we neared the saddle and the trig point summit. From here the climbing was over, map and compass out as we discussed legs to take us off the summit. We descended through the cloud down a snow slope before following our next bearing to reach a bealach, avoiding dropping into the wrong glen far from the car. Making the bealach we tracked down the valley, dropping out of the snow-line and into the bogs beneath, following a stream back down towards the car and back into the rain. There had been a thaw through the day, with rain falling at around 900m and the snow on descent from the summit feeling relatively slushy. The fresh snow from the previous day had gone completely as we looked back up from the glen. Fingers crossed that the forecast rain and warm air leaves some snow in the North West for the rest of the week. 
Some windy navigation to get off The Saddle

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