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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.

Ben Lawers fail

Ben Lawers fail

Postby BigT » Mon Dec 09, 2013 10:34 pm

Route description: Ben Lawers and Beinn Ghlas

Munros included on this walk: Beinn Ghlas, Ben Lawers

Date walked: 06/12/2013

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Short report for the benefit of any other intrepid walkers keen to tackle Ben Lawers on a frosty cold morning. Setting off very early and keen to be at the car park for 7.30 and get the first hour nailed in the last of the twilight. I had planned the extra hour would let me get over to An Stuc. BBC weather had us down for a cold yet clear day, with a snow shower later on, MWIS had advised freezing at valley level.

So turning off the Loch Tay road at 7.10 I was very happy with progress and excited by the challenge ahead. It was dark, and the remnants of recent snow lay on the road surface. I moved the car slowly up the road becoming more and more uncomfortable as I felt the wheels occasionally spin. By about 300 m I was nervous about getting down this but plugged on. Nearing the car park, maybe around 1 km short, a 30 yard stretch of black ice stretched out on nightmare combination of steeper section and a bend. About 10 m in my car lost traction. No momentum could be established to get moving forward, so the inevitable controlled slide back the way was the only choice.

At 7.20 am it was still pretty dark. So not exactly easy to see where I was going, the bend aspect got the better of me and I found myself just a little too close to the right hand ditch for comfort. One final slide done me and I was in the ditch...and not getting out.

When light came up I new I would need a tow, and started the ball rolling on getting recovery. Some utility vehicles passed as sun came up, but none with tow equipment. One 4x4 stopped for a chat with two walkers, and they progressed up the ice stretch, but only just made it to my eyes. An Irish chap came past in a saloon car and was about to have all the same problems as me. Wisely he opted for the controlled slide back down the hill until he could 3 point turn. I guided this chap down about 100 m to a passing place, initially the danger was he was going to slide right into my car. Kindly he parked up and waited around until my recovery arrived. Eventually at around 10.30 a chap showed up to drag my car out...not exactly as easy as it sounds - to do so he would be driving into the black ice stretch. He flung down a lot of grit in front of my vehicle and his. Once out, the Irish fella returned the favor and guided me down in reverse to where I could turn and beat a hasty retreat.

My mood was not one for continuing to any other challenges that day, half the light gone and my nerves were frayed. So I called off my day and also my Saturday plans, and headed back to civilization.

Hind sight is a great thing but I'll try and factor this in going forward
  • Understand what the words "Freezing at valley level" means when you are going up a road from "valley level" to any height.
  • Small road off main roads unlikely to be gritted so assume the worst.
  • Wait for sun up before attempting controlled slides down a ice road.
  • Buy some friggin' snow chains or a 4x4 and pack a shovel and some grit

It was a glorious day once sun came up, and I'll be back again before the winter is out. It could have been worse but I'm taking out of it some notions about preparedness going beyond what you need on the hill. That's about the best I can make of it.

Some internet research when I got home revealed that I'm not the first, and likely won't be the last, to have this problem on that bend. The WH route would benefit by including a caveat on it in terms of reaching the car park in winter road conditions, although I accept my research should perhaps extend a little beyond WH only :D
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Posts: 83
Munros:9   Corbetts:5
Joined: Sep 21, 2013
Location: Glasgow

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