Quite a weekend - started pretty grim but finished with a perfect winter mountain day.
Allison was away having a "Christmas Break" so I was free to do Corbetts. I'd suggested that my son join me on Saturday for some winter skills training. The forecast was a bit iffy for Saturday however and he couldn't make Sunday. I really wasn't sure what hills to do - I have plenty grouped around the West in particular. Glen Etive? Glen Coe? I thought I'd start off with Beinn Mhic Monaidh down in Glen Orchy - then see what I felt like. If Ally was coming up I thought we could do Beinn A'Chrulaiste then play about in Coire na Tulaich to get some snow skills - there's always snow in there...
When I was looking at my Corbetts Map last week, I had the nagging suspicion that something wasn't right with those in the South...right enough I found I had forgotten to change the blue back to red balloons on three Galloway Corbetts when I reset my list after round two. So instead of having 101 Corbetts, I had only 98. Something needed fixing and fast!
I drove down Glen Orchy, meeting one other car and arrived at the parking place by Eas Urchaidh about 9.15. It was raining. I remembered this hill well enough, although I didn't remember there were quite so many fords along the forest track. Nothing too deep, but it did make me mentally delete the plan I had been making to go up Beinn Mhic Chasgaig by crossing the River Etive later in the day. Once out of the trees there's a pretty reasonable path up the southern flank of Mhic Monaidh and the summit was easily reached - no Simm diversion this time round! But no snow!! This wasn't going to be suitable for my lad...
24B71D1D-E0D2-4B6A-91BD-5C6DA937F700_1_201_a by Al, on Flickr
A distinct lack of snow
631699A8-B318-494D-8068-12E6B29F5C04_1_201_a by Al, on Flickr
74C9A4D8-2565-432A-A77F-929CB2F0F327 by Al, on Flickr
I headed back down to the car following the outward route, met no-one. I thought I'd drive up Glen Coe way and see how the snow situation was there...not much different. Virtually none in Coire na Tulaich either. The forecast suggested it would be heavy rain/snow from tea time tonight. Ally was planning to drive up after work and get to the Kingshouse, where we'd decided to camp, at about midnight. Blizzards and freezing conditions over the Orchy pass...I felt really uncomfortable about him coming up in such weather, especially if the snow was going to be poor, so I messaged him to cancel.
That left a few hours of daylight...I reckoned I'd just go up a'Chrulaiste myself then pitch behind the Kingshouse, something I haven't done since it re-opened. I parked in the hotel car park and walked over the bridge, checking for the best camp spots on the other side. Then - after a bit of a false start - headed up the track by the Allt a'Bhalaich. I've never been this way before - we've previously climbed it from the other side and returned by the same route. This is definitely easier, once the very boggy initial section is traversed. Up onto the shoulder, rain and clag spoiling the views over to Buachaille Etive Mor. No snow to speak of at the top of this one either. I'd spotted two Simms to the east that I hadn't done - this enabled me to make a nice loop of the hills coming off the northern spur of a'Chrulaiste and aiming for Meall Bhalach. Some peat hags to negotiate, but nothing tricky. Then straight down along the edge of Coire Bhalach following deer tracks. The light was starting to go, but I could see the lights of the Kingshouse ahead of me, giving me something to aim for.
No snow on A'Chrulaiste either
62E87858-5DFE-4310-903F-9FB8EABA1C8B_1_201_a by Al, on Flickr
591A1078-10DF-4A14-B63B-6AAFD9027066_1_201_a by Al, on Flickr
AF2BE137-5E62-4659-AEDB-FBB7C637ABBC_1_201_a by Al, on Flickr
Corbett 100 (really, this time)
7C1ACEBD-2D79-4786-B575-32E4E64537E7_1_201_a by Al, on Flickr
82AC95C8-5F06-4263-802B-C4FDC982E730_1_201_a by Al, on Flickr
78D36A86-8487-4D33-A333-EB72436EE2A5 by Al, on Flickr
Back on terra firma, I collected my gear from the car and pitched over beside the river in quite a nice wee spot. It was raining when I set up and this got heavier as the night went on. Quite windy too. Despite this I slept fairly well. There were a couple of cars and a van on the road, but I didn't hear any noise either from them or the hotel - the proximity of the river no doubt helped that.
Saturday morning was wet and grim. I stayed in bed longer than I should have and eventually struggled out of my warm nest about 9.15. I had decided I wanted a longer walk today - not another up and down two individual Corbetts - especially when starting at sea level. I thought Ghlas Bheinn by Kinlochleven would be a good use of the day, although I could - had I got up earlier (a lot earlier) have tagged on the Graham of Beinn na Cloiche. But there would not be nearly enough time to do that now. I parked by the church, where I see a new house is being built and started off on the well trod track towards Loch Eilde. Met a group of three walkers going up to Sgurr Eilde Mor. I cut down to the dam at the he'd of the loch and found the (very wet and muddy) track following the southern shore. The mountains were certainly whiter than yesterday, but it all looked dreich and wet. Heading up the track to Meall na Cruaidhe I decided to take an ATV track, visible under the snow, that I thought might gain me height more quickly. Well, reader - don't make this mistake - the track started taking me back round towards the loch and I had to scamper over a million peat hags to get on the right track again. The snow was thick and wet here, as I slowly ascended the southwest flank of Ghlas Bheinn. Eventually I got back onto the proper line and could make out the outline of the path to the summit under the snow. The wind was cold and chill.
800AAD66-1FD4-4C3D-8D68-33FC9645DC94_1_201_a by Al, on Flickr
1B74123D-41C2-4134-97C1-28D015A8D5AD_1_201_a by Al, on Flickr
ECF2FE96-4E1A-49F3-AF08-4CB92BE55384_1_201_a by Al, on Flickr
8CEDB684-8F78-46A0-9F74-070F1943843A_1_201_a by Al, on Flickr
I could have gone back the way I'd come but I thought I might as well head down to Blackwater Reservoir, taking the standard Walkhighlands route. Once I'd started descending I was sheltered from the wind - the rain also stopped and it turned into quite a pleasant afternoon. I managed to follow a somewhat longer path than the route I had suggested, but got to the water's edge at last and enjoyed the view of Buachaille Etive Mor from a different angle. Then back to Kinlochleven along the pipeline path. Plenty of waterfalls. The footbridge at Eilean Dubh is no more, although crossing today wasn't an issue. Met a couple of women looking for a lost dog as I walked the last stretch into town. Back to the car at half-past four, just nice timing.
8A84C903-71CB-45EF-B58A-4A40B0E0F594_1_201_a by Al, on Flickr
0EF55DF2-F354-44D0-A6A7-7E2FCD895D0D_1_201_a by Al, on Flickr
58999386-0D7A-4DC2-82AC-1C6AED1FF74D_1_201_a by Al, on Flickr
DBC39EEF-699F-49BE-BF6D-29F0F54973AF_1_201_a by Al, on Flickr
E58903A5-1C4B-488E-9A5B-0E1311EBEE62 by Al, on Flickr
Where was I going to spend the night? I had been looking for places as I walked back along the road, but there wasn't much unless I wanted to walk about 3km back into the Torr Garbh woods. I decided to nip up into the woods behind the church and found a nice flat spot, not underneath trees too much (didn't want a "branch-awakening" during the night) and stetted down to have my meal. I'd managed to leave my wee bottle of whisky in the car, much to my annoyance. I could easily have walked back to get it - would only have taken 10 minutes, but I decided to do without. Looking out of the tent, I could see a line of head torches coming down the track for the next couple of hours. Then, at about half past eight, I heard noises over by the stream. And headtorches, throwing bizarre shadows of tree branches and twigs onto my tent. What was going on? Turned out it was three or four guys setting up a tent. A tent! Who the hell camps out in the woods behind Kinlochleven on a Saturday night in December??? Mental I reckon they were climbers as they were civilised and didn't really keep me awake for long.
I had decided to get up earlier on Sunday morning as the forecast was fine. So up at just after seven, breakfast in darkness and thoughts of what to do today. I quite fancied Mam na Gualain, from the south - I reckoned that would leave me enough time to get another hill in. But what? Garbh Bheinn, Meall Lighiche and the Pap of Glencoe were all possibilities. As I packed up the tent I could see the other guys' tent over in the woods. I think they were still in bed as I hadn't heard any noise from them. I drove along the road towards Callert Cottage where there's an old coffin road that heads up to the bealach with Tom a'Mheadhoin/ Mam na Gualain. Initially through oak woods then open hillside, with regular way markers. I kept to this fr a while, then turned off more sharply uphill towards the Callert Lump. Snow began around 500m and became thick and powdery as I continued to climb. Views back over the Loch to Beinn a'Bheither were excellent, the sun starting to pick out the snowy ridges.
After a bit I reached the fence line and could make out the path to the summit. I swapped poles for ice axe for teh final section and thrilled at the expanse of white that made up the western Mamaores. It was surprisingly windy for a section of the climb, although the wind had almost completely died away when I was on my return leg.
E2054DD3-7264-4FB4-B290-E1A04BF76298_1_201_a by Al, on Flickr
E550939B-2FF2-413D-B482-918CCDF3ACBA_1_201_a by Al, on Flickr
922E3BDE-32C8-41DE-946D-483574C267FF_1_201_a by Al, on Flickr
44ED04AF-1DC3-408A-A883-3FBE310AE697_1_201_a by Al, on Flickr
4721B052-6752-4D84-8DC6-CF5913AFA69D_1_201_a by Al, on Flickr
C36FD353-CE27-48CB-85EE-0F1A49ED2B1F_1_201_a by Al, on Flickr
871CB19B-43A1-4CD4-B33E-FA7462C85F51_1_201_a by Al, on Flickr
33822F37-B590-45A7-AEC9-F01D040C7551_1_201_a by Al, on Flickr
F78D3F21-51A5-4E9F-A57B-18E2661DCEA8 by Al, on Flickr
I got back to the car about 11.45 and decided to have a quick lunch by the loch side. A flotilla of paddle boarders slowly glided by. What a day. I withered what to do...deciding on ether Garbh Bheinn or The Pap. I didn't have a route with me for The Pap and remembered it being quite steep and scrambly when we did it to finish off the Aonach ridge. So maybe Garbh Bheinn. I drove back through Kinlochleven and arrived at the starting point for Garbh Bheinn to find it full - a guy had obviously just arrived at the one space west of the bridge as he was just setting off as I passed by. There's not really anywhere else to park there, unless one wants to risk blocking the "lorries turning" area along the road a bit. I cursed, thinking that if I hadn't had lunch I'd have got in there. But having made my mind up to do Garbh Bheinn I was going to do Garbh Bheinn! Allison and I had once attempted it from the Blackwater Hostel end of the route, but had been beaten back at around 700m by a blizzard.
2EFBBCB6-9B44-4AE7-AB7B-BF2492C4D09C_1_201_a by Al, on Flickr
I drove back to Kinlochleven and parked by the smelter where there's lots of parking. The Hostel / campsite seemed closed. Off up the WHW for a bit then steeply uphill following a deer fence at Bac a Nid. I remembered this being lung-burstingly steep and it was just the same today - although on that occasion I think the snow was lower down. I followed the line of a stream uphill, using deer paths when I could, aiming for the fence line coming up from Creag Chaise. Once up at teh 734m point everything gets much easier. I could see that much of the ridge to the summit had been wind scoured, so no deep snow to plough through. The view across to the Aonach Eagach was delightful. I made my way towards the top, fastening on crampons for the last 100m of ascent as the snow was turning icy in places. made the summit - a couple of sets of footprints there, one of which looked like trainer soles. Not enough to account for the four cars parked at the start though. I turned around and followed my own footsteps down. I rather like following my own footsteps as it means I can switch off as far as route finding goes.
1CA1B414-0C81-464E-B1FA-89E88386B7E1_1_201_a by Al, on Flickr
ABD445A4-7144-4737-BEA0-B3338CBF24C1_1_201_a by Al, on Flickr
BA57C77B-6BDC-435E-915F-C3C394D0ABE6_1_201_a by Al, on Flickr
71B5400A-69BD-4970-A6DC-62F146131E32_1_201_a by Al, on Flickr
211BC62F-A92C-4D92-B357-548649E834B4_1_201_a by Al, on Flickr
Sundown over the Aonach
EA2FD059-2F37-48F1-8C09-4FEBB92BF00A_1_201_a by Al, on Flickr
CCDFA3EC-2DF0-4D6D-B378-6305356E2E9F_1_201_a by Al, on Flickr
DC3C04F8-8A75-4087-8619-9108CC25BC74_1_201_a by Al, on Flickr
I tell you, this route is much easier coming down than it is going up! A pleasant romp down the snowy hillside, crashing through the remains of bracken and back to the fence line. The Mamores were turning pinkish in the pre-sunset glow - it would have been lovely to stay high for a bit longer. But I had to get back home. Three and a half hours - last time I went up the standard route, not in snow, it took three hours, so this route isn't bad, even if it is a bit longer. Worth considering, I'd say.
FD2187D9-0516-46FA-8F26-58BA50BC094D_1_201_a by Al, on Flickr
6121227D-D22C-47C0-8E50-FB16B77947DD by Al, on Flickr
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Warning Please note that hillwalking when there is snow lying requires an ice-axe, crampons and the knowledge, experience and skill to use them correctly. Summer routes may not be viable or appropriate in winter. See winter information on our skills and safety pages for more information.