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Jelly Knees on Bla Bheinn - when Skye is the limit

Jelly Knees on Bla Bheinn - when Skye is the limit

Postby Mountainlove » Tue Apr 01, 2014 11:42 am

Route description: Bla Bheinn (Blaven)

Munros included on this walk: Bla Bheinn

Date walked: 29/03/2014

Time taken: 4.15 hours

Distance: 8.8 km

Ascent: 982m

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It's not very often that I get scared on top of a mountain, in fact it takes a lot of dodgy situations, so when I started my walk up Bla Bheinn last Saturday I was blissfully unaware of the jelly knee situation I would find myself 2 hours later.

I had planned a trip to Skye with my friend Anya for a while. As she is a complete non hill walker, we agreed that I would drop her off at Sligachan so that she could go for a gentle walk, while I continued to quickly climb Bla Bheinn further down the road.

It was a nice sunny Saturday and even though the visibility was hazy, I expected to see plenty of people. You might can understand my surprise, when by my arrival at the car park at 12:30 it was deserted minus a van. I set off and my mind drifted to a day many years ago when I once wanted to climb the same mountain, but managed set off to the wrong direction through the forest. Just as well as back then, as I had no experience, no map or any company. 8) :lol:

This time I was well equipped and checking out the nearly snow free mountain, I had decided to leave the ice axe in the car- a decision I would greatly regret later! :thumbdown:

Bla Bheinn from the road

The walk starts from the road, across from the car park and continues alongside a lovely burn for the first half an hour or so. The climb was easy and followed a clear path. I enjoyed the first hour of the walk which led me up to the first flattish area next to a huge boulder. Up there I met a group of two women and a man, who were part of a bus tour. I was getting worried when they told me they took already two hours, seemed confused about the little height they gained and were not really sure about the path they had to take from their resting point.

The greenish water in the burn on the way up

Looking up

Gaining height

I had only briefly looked at the walk description, so I was not really sure about the path, but on my way up I had decided on the route I thought was the one and pointed that out when they asked me which route I would be taking.
From the large rock a very faith path zig zagged up a hill of scree. On top of the second 'plateau' was a small cairn were I stopped for a drink and to take on the views. Further down I could see that the group of 3 had started to follow me and I wondered how long it would take them..

Looking back down the scree slope

The only way is up

On the way to the top

Looking ahead the path was very hard to make out, but there was no doubt that it was up the hill :-). It had not looked too bad from the bottom, but the climb was arduous along loose rock and big boulders. I came across a few cairns, at least it was a path a few did take and knowing that I could not take too many breaks I moved on and was please when I reached the top 2h after setting off from the car. Looking back I did not see the group of 3 anymore and guessed they had been given up or maybe taken another route up.

Standing at the top I looked around, but was annoyed when in the distance I spotted another top. I checked my GPS and realised that I was not yet at the right top-argh! :? :( Moving along a single crow circled above me and saw my first sea eagle in the distance - nice! :thumbup:

The southern top, looking toward the real summit

Looking down

Even though my walk up was mainly snow free, the top of the south side of Blaven was covered in some large patches of snow. I walked towards the real top on flattish ground, until I got to the edge.Looking down I saw a big rocky drop off, surely this could not be the path. :eh: :problem: There were no footprints apart from mine and moving back I looked for another path without any results. I checked the GPS but the steep drop of seems to be the only way. Moving back to the edge I slowly climbed down a few meters, but it was impossible to see how far I would had to climb, or how steep it would be. From the top it looked scary! :shock:

Sitting down I cursed and mulled over my options. The rock was wet, covered in bits of ice in places and I was alone. So close to the other side, but it seemed so far. The crow I had spotted earlier on, landed on a rock just 2 meters away from me and we stared at each other. What do you think I should do I said to the crow and while I took from pictures, it flew away to the 'real' top and landed on a rock. 'Easy for you' I thought and made up my mind, I would give it a go.

Still some good bit of snow in places

The ledge

Youtube video of the snow covered ledge and the drop offs and bit I had to climb down (never looks as bad, as it does in real life)

View down

Over on the other side


The crow

Strapping my poles to my backpack and putting on my gloves (the rock was razor sharp) I slowly climbed backwards down, while mumbling curses under my breath. At the end it was not too bad, but when I turned around to see what was laying ahead my knees turned to jelly. In summer it must be a small small walkway with a steep drop to either side, but now it was covered in a high layer of snow with a small cornice to one side and steep snow covered drops to either side.

Some rather unlady like swearwords escapes my mouth. Why on earth did I left the ice axe in the car!??? :thumbdown: :thumbdown: :thumbdown: One wrong step or fall and I would be on a unstoppable downhill slide....the reason why one should take an ice axe!
Without snow it would only need a head for heights, in these conditions a ice axe would be vital. Still holding on to the rock I inched towards the snow. It was soft - at least no ice, but the possibility that if I would fall, I woudl probably not be able to stop myself just played over and over in my head.
To make the decision to turn back in summer would have been the wisest one, but I decided against all logic to to the walk. I wanted to reach the stupid cairn. There were no footprints and choosing the right side, I crawled the first few metres on hands and feed. My knees were jelly when I had to stand up to cover the last bit and repeating the mantra 'Don't fall, don't fall' in my head I walked on. I don't think I was ever more happy to reach the other side and placed a kiss on the first boulder I came across. With weak legs, still shaking I moved alongside a beautiful cornice on snowy ground until I reached the cairn. :D

The cairn

More than happy to have made it


More views

Challenging fate twice had not been on my mind, but as I had no clue how to get down from the main top, I decided to return the same way. Following my steps back to the 'death drop' I took time to look at it and as pictures never really show the real level of drop I tried to capture it on video. Walking back was equally scary than the first time and using the same technique and retracing my footsteps I reached the rocks I had to climb up. I remembered briefly that the walk description had talked about some mild scrambling and wondered if the bit I had to climb was considered mild, what other scrambling would awaits me by the time I walked up the remaining Munros of Skye. When I stood on top of the south peak again a prayer of thanks had to be said and shaken I made the journey down the hill.

It was only when I looked at the walk description afterwards I realised that there would have been another way up, :roll: but I had completed my first exciting Skye Munro- with a story to remember and a decision to take my ice axe at least until July! :lol: :lol: :lol:

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Re: Jelly Knees on Bla Bheinn - when Skye is the limit

Postby peter tindal » Tue Apr 01, 2014 12:42 pm

It's a learning curveball never ends. I still have to do that one and two others on Skye.

Well done for making it back in one piece :clap:
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Re: Jelly Knees on Bla Bheinn - when Skye is the limit

Postby AnnieMacD » Tue Apr 01, 2014 1:10 pm

Oh goodness, you have a lot of courage. So glad you made it safely down. The 'tourist' route is much easier and only a tiny bit of scrambling is involved. (This was my first Munro!)
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Re: Jelly Knees on Bla Bheinn - when Skye is the limit

Postby BlackPanther » Tue Apr 01, 2014 1:15 pm

You were not the only one with jelly knees that day... We climbed Bruach na Frithe, balancing somewhere between bravery and madness... Snow on the way up to Bealach na Lice was very soft-porridgy with hard ice underneath, the soft layer didn't give much support at all, we had to cut steps using ice-axes with our crampons ON :shock: Three other walkers gave up and turned back, we were crazy enough to push it all the way to the summit. Luckily, there is an alternative descent route, it involves quite a stiff scramble (as for me), but it was much safer to stay on the hard rock.

I always fancied Blaven in winter conditions (we climbed it in summertime), but after last Sats experience...gulp... maybe not... :wink:
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Re: Jelly Knees on Bla Bheinn - when Skye is the limit

Postby rockhopper » Tue Apr 01, 2014 1:35 pm

Glad you made it over OK and some nice views for your troubles (much better than we got on this hill last year :roll: ). Can remember still carrying an ice axe in May last year - now have a smaller, lighter version for the "unlikely to be needed but just in case" type days - cheers :)
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Re: Jelly Knees on Bla Bheinn - when Skye is the limit

Postby kaiserstein » Tue Apr 01, 2014 4:04 pm

Man that's what's called a sweaty palms story.

Still debating whether to take my ice axe / crampons on my next trip (which includes Blaven) but you may have just helped the side of caution win the debate.
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Re: Jelly Knees on Bla Bheinn - when Skye is the limit

Postby dogplodder » Tue Apr 01, 2014 5:27 pm

Glad you got out of that in one piece. If you'd followed the WH route up (turning right instead of going up to the south top) you'd have saved yourself much stress - and to think you did it all again on the descent! :roll:

How many of your lives have you used up now? :wink:
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Re: Jelly Knees on Bla Bheinn - when Skye is the limit

Postby Riverman » Tue Apr 01, 2014 6:53 pm

Great report. Scary stuff. I missed the second top when I did it in 2012. Blaven is an important munro for me. While on Ben Macdui earlier in 2012 I didn't even know what a munro was. It was in the wake of my day on Blaven I became much more interested in hill walking and have written about it on my blog.

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Re: Jelly Knees on Bla Bheinn - when Skye is the limit

Postby Collaciotach » Tue Apr 01, 2014 10:11 pm

Skye is an arse clencher without snow but still good craic.

I ve still to do this easy one ,perhaps you ll be my guide ? :lol:
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Re: Jelly Knees on Bla Bheinn - when Skye is the limit

Postby weezul » Tue Apr 01, 2014 10:27 pm

Great photos! I am even more excited now about my upcoming trip to the Isle of Skye. Never been to Scotland and hadn't planned on carrying my ice axe on the plane....guess I'll keep checking conditions as the date of my trip approaches. :)
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Re: Jelly Knees on Bla Bheinn - when Skye is the limit

Postby tomyboy73 » Wed Apr 02, 2014 6:44 pm

i think i`ve called you a mad woman on occasion, that trip report backs me up ! :lol: not always a bad thing, well done and at least you had a good day for it
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Re: Jelly Knees on Bla Bheinn - when Skye is the limit

Postby Mountainlove » Thu Apr 03, 2014 11:31 am

@ peter tindal - I guess it is just as well that we never stop learning...hill walking would end up rather boring

@ AnnieMacD - looking back I wish I would have taken better care to make sure were the tourist route started...but I think I will be back at some point as BlaBheinn is too nice to visit only once!

@ BlackPanther- I have just read your trip report and could feel the sweaty hands approaching again.Well done to you as well!!! As for cutting steps I had to do that the previous week for someone without any crampons or iceaxe...but thats another story :-D

@rockhopper- the views were ok, but I wish to return on a really sunny day as I have seen some pretty amazing photos, it is a good idea with a smaller axe...although I need to invest in some summer boots first.

@kaiserstein- I would suggest taking the ice axe...just in case. I had crampons with me, but as there was no ice and only soft snow they would have been useless.

@dogplodder- Not sure how many 'lives' I used up so far, but I am hopeful on more a cat is supposed to have.

@ Riverman - oh you got some cracking photos when you were up there and it is always great to remember the hill which changed you into a 'Hill Person'

@Collaciotach - It depends how much excitement you can take in your life- the last few trips I did have all been rather exciting (reports to follow)

@weezul - I hope you will have a fantastic time in Scotland and great weather!!!

@ tomyboy73- last summer I had been missing some excitement in my life...that certainly returned this winter
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Re: Jelly Knees on Bla Bheinn - when Skye is the limit

Postby Sarah86 » Thu Apr 03, 2014 1:51 pm

Stunning scenery, looks a great walk and a good day out.
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Re: Jelly Knees on Bla Bheinn - when Skye is the limit

Postby Alteknacker » Thu Apr 03, 2014 11:43 pm

Another really great report, and truly wonderful pix - it's reason enough to climb Bla Bheinn simply to get that spectacular view of the Cuillin Ridge. It's the one I still have to do on Skye.

And what weather!!! To say I'm envious doesn't begin to do justice to my emotions on looking at your pix! This is what we were contending with on the same day on Ben Vorlich (Loch Lomond)!! I knew MWIS had forecast clear weather somewhere north of the border....... :-(

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Re: Jelly Knees on Bla Bheinn - when Skye is the limit

Postby lomondwalkers » Fri Apr 04, 2014 2:22 pm

I made the same mistake as you in summer and ended up on the South top. The "walk" over to the true summit was bad enough without the white stuff, so well done you
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