Snow under blue skies - Torridon & the Grey Corries
by Mal Grey » Tue Dec 06, 2011 4:37 pm
Munros included on this walk: Meall a' Bhùiridh, Sgòrr Ruadh, Stob Bàn (Grey Corries)
Date walked: 06/12/201112 people think this report is great. Register or Login free to be able to rate and comment on reports (as well as access 1:25000 mapping).
Snow everywhere. Stories of doom on the traffic news. “Don’t travel unless you have to” they said. Well, we HAD to – for the first time in years our annual winter walking trip to Scotland fell on a week that actually WAS wintery, & we WERE going to make it there!
Nigel & I filled the car with hill gear, emergency gear & shovels, plus essentials (36 pints of Old Berkshire Ale & a bottle of Laphroaig Quarter Cask), & headed north from the South East, to pick up Steve at his home in Fife. The journey was mostly uneventful, though there are a LOT of roadworks on the M6! Only when dropping down from the Pentlands did we find snow on the road & a growing tail of lorries stuck on a hill going the other way. Oh, & a gently pirouetting Audi in front of us who didn’t anticipate the car in front stopping. Safely at Steve & Andrea’s, the seal on the beer was broken, & a large pie & mash supper was provided to fuel us for the journey & the hill tomorrow.
The morning dawned slightly snowy, but with improving forecasts it was time to head north to Lochcarron, via a hill off the A9 near Drumochter – subject to the lay-bys being clear! Fortunately all was good, & the traffic light. However we were in for a shock. Be careful what you wish for. We had wished for snow. After 100 yds of struggling from the car, we realised we had got what we wished for, & more!
The going was tough, & with thigh-deep windblown drifts every few hundred yards, & ankle deep snow between them, we soon realised that summiting today might not happen!
After 2 miles in 2 hours, we gave up, ate pie, & then turned for the car & cake in Inverness. After a mammoth food shop it was then a final hour’s drive to the (in)famous Gerry’s Hostel in Glen Carron near Achnashellach. This is an old stomping ground of ours, & after nearly 20 years of trips we finally have Gerry tamed & susceptible to our needs, sort of, & at a price!
The next day we woke to sunshine. In Scotland? In March? On one of our winter trips? Could this be true? It was! We hastily, well after a few rounds of tea & bacon butties, headed for Achnashellach station & the fabulous stalkers path up to Coire Lair & the Coulin Forest hills. Our target was Sgorr Ruadh, the Red Rocky Peak. Well actually, it was black & white! A long but straightforward trog up the valley brought us to the Bealach, where crampons were donned, ice axes brought to the ready & a snow slope followed onto the ridge.
All this snow had been dumped by a northerly/north easterly blizzard, leaving avalanche warnings in place on the opposite southerly slopes of the hills, so caution was required & a quick pit dug to look at the snow layering. Luckily on this side of the hill it was well bonded & firm so up we headed, muscles quickly warming to the strain.
Ahead of us was an outstanding vista of mountains, rock, snow, sea & sunshine. As we gained the skyline the whole of Torridon appeared, towering over us across the glen. Nearer at hand, the massive bulk of Meall Chean-Dearg (Bald Red Hill, a bit like my head in the sun!) sat squat & business like above frozen lochans. Behind it a rare site – snow on the Cuillins of Skye. This was a day to remember.
Heading up the ridge, if anything the views improved, until we reached the narrow summit.
Here a cold wind meant we put off our pie stop for a while, until we’d romped down softer slopes keeping to areas where rocks were visible & snow slides unlikely.
At last we found a sheltered spot in the hollow of the hill, & dug ourselves seats in the snow before diving into the soup, pie & sarnies we had carried for just such a perfect lunch spot. All that was left now was a relatively easy drop down to the valley, & back down the stalkers path for an evening in front of the best real fire in Britain at Gerry’s, with the added temptation of the Old Berkshire Ale.
In 1991 we had come up to Gerry’s as a group of relative novices, & our most memorable hill day had been going over the Horns of Beinn Alligin (forever to be “sung” along to the Muppets tune – Beinn Alligin, do, doo, do, do do etc). We’d made it over the Horns & finished the round, but not without scars on our memories of dodgy snow, crampons not biting & a sense of being on the edge of our ability. This was particularly true for Steve, who had very basic crampons on floppy boots at the time. So for years, we’d been waiting for a great day to repeat this circuit in good conditions, & to enjoy every minute of it. Maybe today would be that day?
We drove quickly round to Torridon for an early start. Err, no we didn’t. We drank more tea than we should have, & dawdled round in sunshine gawping at the views & stopping for photos. This meant we didn’t leave the car park until nearly 11am, but we were moving steadily on a good track & the light would last until into the evening.
There were now clouds building, & we lost the sun & even had light snow showers as we approached the steepening of the hill up to the Horns. Soon all was bright again though, & we enjoyed a sustained but relatively easy scramble up the face of the hill and onto proper snow for a lunch stop. Pie anyone? The snow showers were now coming every half hour or so, & lasting 20 minutes, but between them it was glorious, with vistas of snowy mountains peeping between clouds. Majestic Liathach, the Grey One, looked serious, & is so.
A slight feeling of anticipation was growing as we climbed in lanky Nigel’s footsteps towards the Horns. I for one was a little concerned, as the snow here was soft & balling onto our crampons making grip less certain. We soon reached the first horn, & easily ascended onto its spine. Now for the interesting bit. My memory said the crux of the route was getting down from the first Horn & across to the base of the Second. This entails dropping down the south face then traversing across. And it looked scary. Nevertheless I volunteered to investigate the route – in the old days I loved this sort of thing & was a moderately successful climber. On solid gritstone. I descended off the left flank of the hill for 20 feet or so, and then started to traverse a little. The trouble was that the snow was slipping from beneath my feet, but at the same time building up on the soles of my crampons, taking away my confidence as well as grip. Five minutes of careful exploration, with the slope below me sweeping 1000ft to the Coire, & I was left with a decision. I was very happy climbing upwards, kicking firmly into the underlying snow, but it wasn’t so easy traversing or descending. This was like 1991 all over again, but I am now less fit, less brave, more experienced & more cautious! I shouted to the guys that I was returning back to the ridge, the confidence returning quickly now the decision was made.
A quick scout about gave us no better option, so we decided to return the way we came. We had failed. Except we hadn’t. Not really. We were standing in brilliant sunshine, amongst vast snowy crags, having pushed ourselves to the edge of our comfort zone, & having made the correct decision to go no further today. Now we could savour our position. We hung around in the sunshine, in no rush to descend to the real world, before a more prolonged shower swept over the ridge & it was time to move on through worsening snow.
The next day was a parting of ways, with Steve returning home for a few days with his young family whilst Nige & I were headed for colder parts. Much colder parts. With temperatures of -14°c forecast for some glens we were off to a bothy for two nights, further south behind the Grey Corries near Fort William. The Lairig Leacach bothy is one of many shelters in the Highlands run by the Mountain Bothy Association as very basic accommodation, but owned by the estates on which they stand. One-roomed Lairig Leacach is about 4 ½ miles in from the small road to Coirechoille near Spean Bridge, & even before we reached the remote parking spot our wheels were on snow & thin ice. However, the forecast could scarcely be better for the next 3 days, so after fuelling ourselves on haggis, neeps & tatties at the local hotel we got ready for the afternoon walk in. I don’t know how heavy the packs were, suffice it to say that the 10kg of coal Nigel was carrying on top of his full winter camping gear, ice axes, crampons & personal food was actually fractionally lighter than the pack I had with the food, some firelogs, stove, pans & my own kit. So he got to carry the energy drinks!
The next 3 hours were tough going, with our heavy loads making it a real struggle as we sunk deep into the snow. Nigel’s ridiculously long legs meant I struggled in his tracks, but not half as much as I struggled making tracks. Fortunately the way forward was obvious, as a couple of ski tracks & a lone deer had followed the same track we were on.
At times we thought we were nearly at the top of the pass to the bothy, but as we rounded each corner the climb continued steadily but not steeply. At one point, tracks that we then thought could be a wildcat, but now think was a fox, crossed the path.
Eventually we cleared the top of the pass & dropped slightly for another mile before the lonesome bothy appeared in front of us.
But where was the river! Our source of water was buried under the snow, & only by judging the dip & listening for a very faint burble did we locate the right spot to dig. Digging for water in the Scottish Highlands is not something I ever expected to do! With bothy spade & ice axe wielded, Nigel finally cracked through the ice to find a bubbling stream of clear, cold water.
The night passed surprisingly quickly. With plenty of coal, a firelog, some candles & a large supply of pasta, oatcakes & cheese we managed to get ourselves pretty warm & by bedtime the bothy was up to a balmy +3°c inside! Goodness knows what the temperature was outside. Luckily we have warm sleeping bags!
The next day the weather had deteriorated. Disaster. It was only sunny SOME of the time, not all! Our plan for the day was to climb Stob Ban, a modest Munro behind the higher ridge of the Grey Corries. Modest maybe, but today it looked like the Matterhorn. But snowier!
With light packs we plodded onto the lower ridges, praying for firmer snow. Eventually our prayers were answered, & though hard work the higher slopes were relatively firm in the main. There were still a few deeper bits to wade though, & the battle for the summit wasn’t an easy one.
Finally we were there, & the reward was superb. To our north a huge wall of perfect whiteness, the Grey Corries were not that colour today! To the south, Rannoch Moor went on forever, not a soul in sight, not a habitation visible. To the east, the twin peaks of the Loch Trieg hills were dominant. But to the west, more magnificent than all, was the Ben. The Ben, Ben Nevis, on a day like this looking like the king of mountains it truly is, with its massive north face looming above all others.
We returned for afternoon tea in front of the bothy, after an invigorating snow bath to remove the worst of the sweat.
That night, the “warmth” of our bothy wakened the long-term residents. Small shapes, without fear, scuttered across the floor looking for food, & it seemed, moisture, in their recently frozen world. Cheeky, but cute, the mouse family even clambered over us in our sleeping bags. Luckily ear plugs meant I slept like a log, even though a forgotten chocolate bar in my pack was heavily munched on 6” from my head. Nigel didn’t sleep so well. The little critters’ hole was just by his head.
If possible, the views were even better the next morning. A perfect blue sky was peppered with cloud, & the beautiful cone of our conquered peak dominated our bathroom facilities.
After an extended breakfast we donned our loads & returned to civilization, in awe of the beauty of our surroundings & totally de-stressed from modern life by our adventure in the wilds. The welcoming Invergarry Lodge hostel, & the nearby hotel, offered different delights that night partaken in the company of fellow residents & with a shared camaraderie of the hills.
Our final two days could have been a little bit of an anticlimax. Friday dawned grey & damp, & a planned climb of a munro off the Loch Quoich quickly turned into a drive to Kinlochourn along snowy singletrack & a couple of hours coastal walk towards the incomparable, but hidden in cloud, hills of Knoydart.
On Saturday, Steve joined us once more, as we headed towards Crianlarich to shorten the journey home the next day. The plan was Creise & the Blackmount, but after a slow, difficult start & a properly dodgy ascent of a steep, frozen slope covered in loose, wet snow we changed our objective to Meall Buiridh – the location of the Glen Coe ski tows. In theory this should have been a horrible day, alongside the hordes of skiers & snowboarders, but the weather was stunning, the snow wading physically challenging & the summit hard gained. With Creise ever visible as a perfect ridge to our right, we struggled upwards alternating leads through the soft snow, sweating hard & lacking water thanks to a certain someone leaving their bottle in the car. Err, couldn’t have been me, surely.
Our final summit was busy compared with everything we had done before – two chaps passed us with a friendly greeting.
All that was left was the descent, through slippery, damp snow, back to the car before we headed for a last night in the Rod & Reel, content that we experienced one of the best weeks in the hills we could ever have.[/i]
by dogplodder » Tue Dec 06, 2011 4:55 pm
You can't beat snow clad hills under a blue sky for stunning photographs! Thanks for sharing them.
by Stretch » Tue Dec 06, 2011 5:05 pm
by Fudgie » Tue Dec 06, 2011 6:02 pm
by rocket-ron » Tue Dec 06, 2011 6:41 pm
by SusieThePensioner » Tue Dec 06, 2011 6:50 pm
by Klaasloopt » Tue Dec 06, 2011 8:41 pm
(even better: next March is only three months away, will be booking plane tickets soon... )
by Scotjamie » Tue Dec 06, 2011 11:13 pm
Though I find some of it hard to believe ..............
Mal Grey wrote:This is an old stomping ground of ours, & after nearly 20 years of trips we finally have Gerry tamed & susceptible to our needs, sort of, & at a price!
by Mal Grey » Wed Dec 07, 2011 8:33 pm
Just need to get time to get up there more often! Roll on February...
by LeithySuburbs » Wed Dec 07, 2011 8:49 pm
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