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Mor Tussle But Buachailled Up The 50
by yokehead » Wed Feb 23, 2011 4:38 pm
Route description: Buachaille Etive Mor
Munros included on this walk: Stob Dearg (Buachaille Etive Mor), Stob na Broige (Buachaille Etive Mor)
Date walked: 22/02/2011
Time taken: 7.5 hours
Distance: 15 km
Ascent: 1137m1 person thinks this report is great. Register or Login free to be able to rate and comment on reports (as well as access 1:25000 mapping).
The Monday night MWIS forecast was looking bad for Wednesday onwards, 70mph winds and the rest, so I was thinking Tuesday might be the only day in the week for me to get onto the hill. Whilst Munro bagging isn't my primary focus, standing at 48 as I was it would be nice to get to the 50 mark I reckoned. With a higher cloudbase for Tuesday predicted 'north and around Glen Spean' that area had been my original intention to bag the 2, however yet another very late start made me change plans to somewhere closer to base. Of course, it would be no hardship in having the Buachaille as my goal, but on previous drive pasts cloud seemed to be especially low at that higher end of the Glen and I didn't really want a day of whiteout if I could help it - already done enough of those recently thanks! I was also a tad concerned about the snow condition in the north-facing Coire na Tulaich, it was this that had finally put me off having BEM as my first choice for the day.
However, I parked up and got ready to go, and sure enough my clag predictions were realised with base at about 500m. Oh well!
The layby was full so at least there were some other hopefuls about. It was drizzling as I set off, not enough for the sweaty waterproof trousers thankfully. The path quickly takes you up to the Coire and I was soon into the murky gloom of the gully.
As the snow thickened so did the clag and the world turned to a blur. At least there were footsteps to follow that helped in the deeper parts, but the snow was soft and boots were good enough here. It suddenly became deathly quiet, no wind and the trickles of the stream were suddenly hushed.
Visibilty was well down so I couldn't get that view of the headwall that I wanted, so I moved out of the gully confines with a little trepidition. OK, plenty of others had come this way, but the place just had a feeling about it. I had a look at the snow pack - 30cm of newer, fairly wet snow on top of an older harder layer, but the whole seemed fairly well bonded and there wasn't any evidence of slides. Where the slope started to steepen I stopped to put on crampons and over-trousers. Chunks of snow slid off a bank on the left and on down the Coire, I moved further to the right nearer the rocks. Now the slope was a mess of bootprints so to make things easier with the crampons I followed the line of harder compressed snow from someone's bum-slide. It was still hard going. Drifting in and out of visibility up ahead there was a rock that I aimed for. I heard voices and the rustle of a crisp packet. What, people, people, here, on this mountain?! The rock I'd been making for took on the new reality of 2 people sitting having their lunch. I stopped for a chat and made a big thing of shaking their hands, they looked at me strangely but perhaps understood when I told them they were the first people I'd come across in 3 weeks in the mountains! They were a father and son team, the lad was 11 and I think was finding the going tough in these conditions. Seeing them brought back happy memories of being on the hills with my son, in fact he and I climbed our first Munros together. I missed him. He should be with me, standing calmly a bit ahead and above me, waiting patiently for me to battle up to him after he's just bounded up the slope like a mountain goat. Take 100 steps then have a rest, he'd said. He's a hill natural, but at least I'm a bit fitter now, I think.
I left them to finish their lunch, saying we'd probably meet later. I pressed on, it was extremely warm and oppressive and I was getting really hot. Then I met a chap descending, another quick chat - he'd climbed Curved Ridge. Just a little further on and 2 Irish ladies descending, they'd also climbed Curved Ridge. If I'd had someone with me (and who knew the way in the clag) I'd like to have climbed Curved Ridge too. A quick photo of them, facing in for the down climb on this steeper top section.
Just a short final plod and I was over the lip and onto the col at its most easterly side, well placed for the next stage. Now into a brisk breeze after the complete shelter below. The corrie had been fine after all.
I took a compass course despite the obvious tracks, then followed the tracks seeing not much of anything. There was some beautiful snow and ice sculpture however - there's always something worthwhile no matter what the conditions.
Past cairns, wondering if this was the summit. But I'd prepared a card with bearings and distances for each of the stages so knew to keep going. Close to a drop on the left then finally the summit cairn. Visibility about 10m. 2 hours 20 to get here, I was fairly pleased. I stopped for 30 minutes for lunch, partially sheltered behind the cairn and hoping for just a brief glimpse of something. The drizzle turned into more persistent rain, reflecting the predicted temperature rise, so I got out the Paramo big guns and readied goggles for later just in case. I set off back the way I'd come and met the father and son team 5 minutes later. All credit to the young guy, after his climb to the col there was still 700m distance plus the ascent to the summit, he'd found it tough. I encouraged him with how well he was doing in the foul and difficult conditions, his Dad was right - it was a full-on undertaking. We said our goodbyes and I zoomed on, wishing after a while that I'd taken a photo to send to them.
I was soon back at the col and the start of a series of compass bearings and timings. No photos at all of the ridge (just 17 photos this entire day compared to the 177 on the Beinn Fhada extravaganza). The rain became heavier mingled with snow at times, and always coming in from the left and slightly ahead. A strong wind but never really troublesome. Hood pulled round a bit, the rain gradually finding little chinks in the armour. Trickle of cold by the right knee. Gloves gradually becoming sodden.
A trudge up Stob na Doire at 1011m, using footprints that were spaced just half a step apart, spot on for my slow pace. 5 minutes over expected, adjust timings ahead. Being able to see something does inspire and help the locomotion I feel. Getting small glimpses of something, just as quickly shut off leaving you thinking whether they were for real. The snow no longer its pristine white, now turning a dirty grey with the rain. Down, then up again to Stob Coire Altrium. Are we there yet? No, these cairns aren't the Munro but not far to go now. I'd looked at the bealach but could see no sign that anyone had been able to take the path down to the north from there. Cornice country that way, and loaded slopes that couldn't be seen. I'd decide what the Plan B descent route would consist of later.
Just another 1km and I was pleasantly surprised by the narrow bit of ridge approaching Stob na Broige. One section was true single file, one step in front of the next with cornice on the right and steep slope to the left. Lovely, great finish to the ridge! I exposed the poor camera to the elements to capture the shelter.
There was only one way down and that wasn't going to be retracing the ridge, no no no not all those ups and downs again in the murk. Compass out again and I continued WSW along the ridge. There were footsteps also going this way, however I left them and headed to the right to be near the ridge edge to look for a way down to the north and the Lairig Gartain. The map shows a small section between crags and I'd hoped to find this and look at the snow condition, this would also have got me down to the pass at its highest point. But the clag was still too thick. I did explore a possible steep rocky route down hereabouts, dropping down the slope about 15-20m. The snow was atrocious. My footstep would set in motion a small clump of snow. It would soon stop in the wet snow below. Or it would gather momentum and form a huge snowball as it slid out of sight. A few steps on another clump formed a superb wheel, quickly reaching 1m diameter before collapsing under its own weight. Fascinating. I was safe in the rocks but this, and seeing how in places there were small fracture lines where the snow had slumped, convinced me of the need to get back to the ridge. I retraced my steps and once back on the ridge got crampons off and poles out.
As I carried on down I was weighing up - go down to Etive, vague possibility of a lift but if not then a heck of a road walk, or make sure of the route to the north since even with the coming dark there's a path and I have my torch. The Lairig it is then, but how to get down from the ridge? There's a little plateau at just over 500m before the final neb of the ridge named Sron an Fhorsair. Hard against the rock of the Sron there's a gully to the north, it looked feasible. I could see the Lairig and path not far below, tempting and inviting.
The gully was indeed doable, easy at the top then a bit of weaving and scrabbling lower down. It had been used before. I came out of the rock-strewn lower part of the enclosed gully and turned to the NNE to contour to the path so I didn't lose too much height. Ahead, nearing the path, there were people, Again! I headed toward them, across a few minor gullies, picking up the pace as the slope eased. Always a good feeling in these conditions, knowing you're down and safe off the high ground. I crossed the river at a convenient place just above a minor waterfall and stopped for a chat with the group of 6 who were having a bite. 'Is this Glen Etive?' I joked. They were members of a 20-strong group from the Leicestershire MC, in hight spirits having done the ridge like me and had also used the gully I'd just come down. They'd been watching my progress. We bantered about fools being late out on the hill but agreed it was part of the buzz. They moved off, silhouettes against the ebbing light. It was 10 past 5 with maybe an hour of light remaining for the 6km to go.
After finishing my food I set off about 10 minutes later after a last photo looking along Glen Etive. At last it had stopped raining.
Shame there was an ascent to do, another 130m or so to the pass. No matter, the path was in good condition and there was the satisfaction of another superb day, captured despite the elements. And Munros nos. 49 and 50. As I reached the highest point there was a figure ahead taking a leak. 'That's no way to treat a cairn' I bawled. We walked on together, talking about our hill days. This his first Munros and first visit to Scotland. I explained It was 50 for me today, he went on to describe completing the Welsh 3000ers. Superb, I could never achieve that! We talked about the excellent book 'I Bought A Mountain' that describes this challenge and early records set. In fact the record may still stand? I'll have to check. I pushed on to test myself, having a brief chat as I passed each of the group, apart form the 2 who had stepped it out earlier. There's been a lot of very good work done on the path. Getting darker and darker until the path can be seen just by the sheen of water on it or by the different shading. Car lights on the road not seeming to get any closer until, at last, I'm there. I put on the headtorch for the most dangerous part of the day, along the road. To the right I could see 3 lights from a team making their way down the corrie, and driving down Glencoe there were still a few vans and cars in the laybys, and lights high up midway along the Aonach Eagach. Hope they were ok, looks like they still had a long way to go and now 7pm.
Seeing these folk still out after my own lateish finish made me again feel part of a special group, those who like a challenge and high places.
by malky_c » Wed Feb 23, 2011 5:18 pm
Funnily enough I'm reading 'I bought a mountain' just now, although I haven't got to the Welsh 3000's bit. I just checked on Wikipedia (so may not be accurate) and it says the record is held by that notorious Marilyn bagger Colin Donnelly who did it in 4 hours 19 minutes in the late '80's
Doesn't surprise me - I remember the guy from when I used to do the odd fell race in my teens - speedy bugger!
by lomondwalkers » Wed Feb 23, 2011 8:58 pm
by ChrisW » Wed Feb 23, 2011 9:18 pm
by rockhopper » Thu Feb 24, 2011 12:01 am
that looked hard going - think I'll wait until summer for these two
by yokehead » Thu Feb 24, 2011 10:48 pm
malky_c wrote:Interesting reading - do I remember a report from last year on the Buachaille by you? I've done virtually none of the Glencoe hills in winter conditions - this one certainly doesn't look like a light undertaking in those conditions.
Yes I was there last year doing a bit of easy climbing training, went up the ridge to the west of the corrie but didn't go to the summit. So I'd already been down the corrie but not up!
tango wrote:Great report Yokehead, That gully Coire na Tulaich claimed the life of my best walking/climbing back in feb08 so you have good cause to take your time & choose the best route.....
So sorry to hear that , it's certainly a place to take extra care.
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