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Racing the weather on the mountains of Glen Affric
by Mal Grey » Fri May 22, 2015 4:36 pm
Munros included on this walk: Toll Creagach, Tom a'Choinich
Date walked: 06/03/2014
Time taken: 6.5 hours
Distance: 16 km
Ascent: 1150m3 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).
The forecast for Thursday was good…if we got up early and tried to get off the tops by 1pm when a band of rain and snow was due to hit. When we woke, though, motivation wasn’t hard as blue skies dominated, so we were actually on the walk in before 9am for once, despite a reasonable drive first. Today we were headed for two mountains north of the wonderful Glen Affric – Tom a’ Choinich and Toll Creagach. A decent track led us for a couple of miles to the foot of the hills.
Our two hills came into sight ahead, we would climb up to the left hand skyline onto Tom a' Choinich then cross the bealach to Toll Creagach on the right.
As we approached, we could see our line up the foreshortened ridge facing us to the snowier ridge above, then rightwards towards the summit. It was clear there were some very large cornices up there, another reason to get it done before the weather changed – you don’t want to be navigating a ridge in whiteout conditions with cornices just to your side
After a short bog-trot, we were climbing up to the snowline and our ridge was clear above us. Again, the snow soon became good enough for crampons and ice axes to come out quickly. As we climbed, the views to Sgurr na Lapaich above Loch Affric, and ahead to our sun-dappled summit, were stunning.
Conditions were still perfect, and we gazed across the east face towards the top, peeping out behind a sun lit ridge. Later, we would need to find a way down this face.
Hitting the ridge line, those cornices were soon apparent, with great cracks between them and the hill itself. We kept well clear, only approaching them from obvious solid rock areas.
That winter had seen more snowfall than most in the highlands, and the cornices were enormous. Some were more like glacial seracs than the usual soft, sculptured curves of snow we are used to.
In places, the snow had gripped the heather and rock of the hill, frozen, accumulated more and more weight, and then cracked and physically ripped the lip of the hill off as it sagged.
Pressing on, we soon reached the summit of Tom a’ Choinich and looked around us.
Now we had to negotiate the crux of the day, and we were very glad we'd pushed on to arrive before the cloud came down. Beyond the summit lay the bealach between us and our next hill, Toll Creagach. Running down to this is a spur which should be safe from avalanche and cornice, but we had to find the start of it, between the hanging cornices we had seen from below. A convex slope dropped away below the cairn, and very careful compass work took us to the spot. Nige scouted the route ahead.
We found the spur and descended steep, firm snow. A small ice step, probably covering rocks, had to be avoided to one side.
To the sides, avalanche debris littered the flanks below the cornices.
Below the steepest bit, the snow suddenly softened beneath one foot, and I took a tumble head over heels. Fortunately ice axe braking works well, though it wasn’t very steep by then anyway. Looking back up, we could see how our spur was the only line down.
We stopped for a bite to eat, having pushed on to get clear of the harder section before the weather came in. The first showers were outflanking us to the north.
Our next summit, Toll Creagach, looked much easier, and we knew we’d simply have to use compass work on relatively safe terrain if the clag came down.
As we climbed, we looked back at the east face of Tom a’ Choinich, again showing how our ridge was the only possible way between many cornices and the traces of up to a dozen or so avalanches.
Approaching our final top, the snow arrived, and we were in a blizzard as we reached the trig point.
On compass bearings once again, it was a gentle descent to the glen below, though the snow was now coming down hard.
In remarkably quick time we were down in the glen and walking out through the rain.
Another outstanding day, the snow sculptures of the cornices, and the excitement of the descent from the summit, will stay with me for a long time.
by Alteknacker » Fri May 22, 2015 9:47 pm
by BlackPanther » Tue May 26, 2015 10:21 am
by Mal Grey » Tue May 26, 2015 11:11 am
Alteknacker wrote:Enjoyed this. It just looks so much more challenging and indeed threatening than in the middle of summer (I'm scared to death of cornices in clag!!)
This one did feel slightly "tense" as we knew we had to press on. Luckily visibility was good for long enough, and once we'd checked, discussed, and double checked our compass bearing it was actually easy to find the drop off point onto the ridge.
We took exactly the same route on Tom & Toll, but had much less snow (it was early April, I remember). I'd love to return to them in full winter conditions. Your story just increased the appetite
And I'd like to return here in summer conditions, and maybe get onto Carn Eige, Mam Sodhail etc, which look like a long way in winter conditions.
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