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Ben Lawers - Rescued by my Neighbour!
by Craiging619 » Mon Mar 28, 2016 2:20 am
Route description: Ben Lawers and Beinn Ghlas
Munros included on this walk: Beinn Ghlas, Ben Lawers
Date walked: 25/03/2016
Time taken: 5.2 hours
Distance: 10.9 km
Ascent: 925m5 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 plan for Good Friday was much simpler than this. For the last two weeks I had pored over maps, old guidebooks and WalkHighlands reports to pick the shortest and most straightforward Grahams in the Perthshire area. With the aid of my new car (I've had it for nine months but it still feels like such a novelty for hillwalks), I could head to Amulree in the morning, bag Meall nan Caorach and Meall Reamhar, then see which other ones I had time for in the afternoon.
Then I left the flat, noticed the sun splitting the sky, and started to get ideas slightly above my station. I had vowed not to atempt any Munros on Good Friday - indeed, I vow every year never to go climbing before the clocks go forwards, but with the Easter weekend falling unusually early this year and the cracking forecast, by the time I reached Crieff I already knew deep down that I wouldn't be heading to Amulree.
A sharp left turn at Crieff took me to Loch Earn. I was now heading for Beinn Ghlas and Ben Lawers instead, the glorious spring sunshine luring me to the higher hills. While Lawers is the tenth highest mountain in the British Isles, I was aware that a great path runs the whole way from the old site of the visitor's centre, so hoped that I could climb Ghlas and Lawers with enough time to allow an attempt at Meall Corranaich in the afternoon.
At 9:15am I arrived at the car park, and had my first moment of panic. The official car park was displaying a sign asking for a £2 fee, and much to my chagrin I had unloaded all my coins at home before leaving (my wife is now pregnant, and I felt so bad about deserting her for an all-day hillwalk that I left taxi money in case she didn't fancy the 10-minute walk!) Little did I know it at the time, but the £2 fee is only a voluntary (suggested) donation for the NTS (the WalkHighlands site confirmed this), but in the confusion I ended up parking up at a layby next to a family with a dog and multiple leads (for the children as much as for the dog).
The clear path led up towards the nature reserve, with the only clouds in the sky clinging onto Beinn Ghlas. I hoped they would lift soon, while wondering whatever happened to the old visitor centre. My mother and grandad came up here in 1973 and swear they saw it then. Did the National Trust do such a good job of demolishing it that they left literally no trace? It sounds to me like the Atlantis of visitor centres.
The well-signposted path led up to a deer fence and gate at 620m, then steeply up to the shoulder of Beinn Ghlas at 860m. I always have a point early in the hillwalk where I feel like I've lost the knack of the whole thing, and this was that point.
It was a great relief to reach the shoulder of the hill after only 1 1/4 hours, with the view ahead to the final ridge looking fairly straightforward with the excellently maintained path.
The cloud had now rolled in over the whole area, but ironically Beinn Ghlas was now attempting to shake off the mist that obscured the summit.
Approaching the summit, I came across a sight I've never seen before. It's probably quite a common occurrence in the great outdoors, but a sheet of ice on the path was protecting a gurgling stream of water underneath.
Trememdous views opened out on the final ridge towards Ben Vorlich, Stuc a'Chroin, Stob Binnein and Ben More. I was remarkably lucky that the cloud lifted at just the right time (how often does it work out the other way round?)
Ahead of me lay a small snowfield, but the gradient wasn't steep and there were plenty of existing footprints to dig into.
By this point, however, the wind was whipping up into a frenzy. It was barely noticeable at the car park, but the stiff south-westerly left me totally exposed on the Western ridge of Beinn Ghlas, and as I hopped between rocks and snow patches with some degree of difficulty, I felt a twinge in my right leg below my knee. I tried walking it off but a minute later it went again, five times worse (I can usually walk it off within a minute, but two days later there's still a slight pain). I wanted to scream, but there was someone on the summit of Beinn Ghlas and shyness overcame me.
At last! Upon reaching the summit of Beinn Ghlas I finally saw the mighty figure of Ben Lawers before me. However, with the wind steadily approaching ludicrous strengths, I took a few photos then scarpered down the Eastern ridge to the bealach. For possibly the first time ever, I didn't even take a seat on the summit (ok, The Cobbler doesn't count! ), with the wind almost completely voiding any enjoyment I had at the top.
Meall Corranaich, my final objective, looked rather steep to the North, but provided I stayed to the left of the snow line I figured it was possible.
The final 220m or so to the summit of Lawers was tricky, between the icy cold wind and my leg playing up, but by slowing down a little I was able to ease the pain.
AHA!!! Much earlier than I expected, the grand summit of Lawers appeared, although it still looked a good 10-15 minutes away. Seeing the trig point was a great incentive to haul myself up the final freezing stretch to the summit.
Just over 2.5 hours after leaving the car park, I reached the summit of Ben Lawers, to be greeted by a jovial Spanish man who was similarly overjoyed. We took alternate photos, before I committed the ultimate faux pas and exclaimed, "Grazi!" He laughed nervously, before I corrected myself - "Emmmm Gracias sorry!" He laughed again. I headed off for lunch.
As to be expected from the highest summit for a gazillion miles around, the views were incredible. Vorlich, Stuc a'Chroin, Tarmachan, Nevis, Schiehallion and Beinn a'Ghlo were all clearly visible. I remembered someone in a previous thread here posting an amazing photo of a snow-capped Ghlas and Lawers from the Blackhill Transmitter just behind Airdrie, but sadly the reciprocal Lawers-Airdrie view was not spotted on this occasion. You can't have them all.
Lochan nan Cat lay completely frozen to the East. I pitied anyone attempting An Stuc in these conditions. The temperature was around 5C in Glasgow, so using crude maths I estimated that it was quite possibly -7C on top of Lawers, and that was before the wind chill effect. I was visibly shaking by the time I finished my lunch, and was glad to scuttle back down to the Ghlas-Lawers col.
At this point, things started to turn rather awry. The photo ahead shows the Northern face of Beinn Ghlas, where the loop path heads down then turns right to traverse the shoulder of the hill and reach the Ghlas-Corranaich col. I was still hopeful of climbing Meall Corranaich before my agreed curfew of 4pm (I wwas picking my wife up from work in Glasgow at 6), and the time was only 12:45 when I reached the Ghlas-Lawers bealach. The thin white line in the centre of the picture above was presumably the snow-topped path. I was a little confused that it seemed to be heading right into the bowl of the corrie rather than round the side, but convinced myself that it was either a red herring (white herring?) or that it was the path, but it would turn right before the solid chunk of snow in the picture.
Gulp. A huge patch of snow lay ahead, but the gradient wasn't too bad and there were other people around, thank goodness. I headed past a young Chinese man and his friend, a girl from Europe, and ended up in the middle of the family with the dog that had parked next to me. The leads that the father had for the dog and children were really coming in handy now.
Ahead of me lay a line of parallel footpints heading round the side of the corrie, and the family with the dog appeared to be heading this way. I didn't like the look of it for one second though - it wasn't clear where the path was disappearing under the snow, or where to pick it up on the other side. The bealach with Meall Corranaich was now heading out of sight, so I took the executive decision to head straight down the hillside for 20m or 30m, beside the snowfield, to find a better place to cross. The family with the dog stayed level, with the man shouting instructions at his children (and perhaps at the dog).
Two minutes later I was much further down the hillside, but still had no blinking idea where to pick the path up again. I tried heading across the snowfield, with the first section proving somewhat steep for someone of such limited experience. I switched tactics, turning to face the snow and using my hands to edge across to the large clump of grass in the middle. Two people were still larking about further up the slope. I assumed they were members of the dog family.
A quick glance back up to Lawers revealed the extent of my misfortune. I was seemingly stuck on the only part of he entire range that still contained a thick snowfield, and the second half of my traverse through the snow - to an unknown destination on the shoulder of Beinn Ghlas - looked more treacherous than the first. I cursed my lack of judgment (surely I should have known North-facing corries in high Munros could still have thick snow at this time of year), had horrible flashbacks to an enormously stupid day on The Brack in 2013 and even started to question the possibility of snow being dislodged higher up.
The two people further up (who I had assumed were the dog family shouting at each other) were in fact the Chinese man and his European friend from earlier. Much to my surprise, they seemed to be almost playing in the snow. I began questioning my own fears: was it that dangerous a situation? It's often difficult to tell on the hills.
As I slowly edged out on the second half of the snowfield, on all fours, the man dramatically slid down the hill, stopping over to my left and immediately bellowing instructions.
"DIG YOUR HEELS IN!"
I waited for a second, unsure how to deal with this most awkward and unusual of social situations. Lying on all fours on a snowy hillside is not the natural place for introductions. I eventually mumbled possibly the most British response I could possibly have conjured up:
"Oh, right, thanks!"
His friend was now sliding down the hillside to join us. When she arrived she immediately handed me professional-looking winter gloves, and told me to dig my heels in. At least, I think that's what she was saying. I was approaching a state of shock by this point, and I thought they were telling me to dig my heels in but with the front of my foot. I nearly asked them, "What on earth do you mean?", but I felt that questioning your rescuers is not a good look.
The woman walked over to the far side of the snowfield somewhat effortlessly, and the man instructed me to use the footprints for sturdiness. It wasn't working. I was taking every single step with trepidation, so terrified I was of taking a tumble. It was hardly a sheer drop beneath us, but it was more the feeling of uncertainty accompanying the whole thing. I slipped and fell about three feet, clawing onto the snow to stop the slide. In my mind I was now certain to slip again, only this time I would surely keep slipping for another 100m. Or 1000m. I wasn't sure what was going on by this stage.
By this point the pair were literally holding onto me to keep me upright. I was dreading falling into one of them, as they were underneath me on the slope. The man again ordered me to dig my foot into the snow, but this time with the side of my shoe. It worked a little better. After what felt an eternity (but was probably only about four minutes or so), we made it out of the snow to the shoulder of the hill, where we promptly landed right on the path!!! And who says miracles don't happen?
The path was slippy but we walked in single file down to the proper bealach and fenceline between Beinn Ghlas and Meall Corranaich. It's fair to say that those were a rather awkward five minutes. Every time I stopped to try and take a photo I was pushed onwards. At this stage I had offered the pair nothing in the way of chat, other than repeatedly saying thanks, and I wouldn't have blamed them if they held me in deep contempt at that moment.
At the bealach the fencline reached upwards on the ridge of Meall Corranaich. I still had time, but after that scare there was no way I was even considering leaving my rescuers. I sort of got the impression the woman would have stopped me anyway (possibly with one of those leads that the dog family had).
Actually, yeah, where had the dog family got to?
So the kind-hearted pair were stuck with the company of Muggins for the rest of the gentle descent down the clear path to the car park. I tried making some small talk with the man, who informed me he was studying at Glasgow Caledonian and that the woman was from the Mountaineering Council of Scotland. No wonder they had spare gloves and advice for me!
The man asked where I live. Why, just off High Street in Glasgow. No way, me too, came the response. "Above the Aldi." I stopped in amazement...
"THAT'S WHERE I LIVE!"
Well what do you know? I ended up in a world of trouble in a snow-laden corrie in the Central Highlands, only to be saved from potential peril by a woman from the Mountaineering Council of Scotland, and a man who has travelled all the way from China but now lives in the same block as me! What are the chances?!?
At just after 2:30pm, we arrived back at the car park, I handed back the gloves and we said our farewells. I genuinely would have handed them money if I'd had any on me, but they seemed rather humble about the job they had done. I collapsed into the car and had a quick snack, thanking my lucky stars for the timing and quick thinking of their intervention.
Just before driving away, I noticed activity to the side of the car. It was the dog family, returning down the main path and packing everything into their vehicle. I deduced that they must have turned back at the large snowfield, headed back up to the Lawer-Ghlas col and then all the way back over Beinn Ghlas, adding another 200m of ascent to the day but still arriving back at roughly the same time as me. I will always be grateful for the good fortune of two experienced and professional hillwalkers staying on the same path as me. Because that's when good Neighbours become good friends!!!
by ancancha » Mon Mar 28, 2016 5:12 am
by rockhopper » Mon Mar 28, 2016 10:35 pm
by Craiging619 » Tue Mar 29, 2016 11:00 pm
rockhopper wrote:On the higher hills even when there are only snow patches left, I find that I can still be carrying an ice axe as late as May or maybe even into early June. Gives reassurance and assistance where needed on awkward patches especially if steep - cheers
Good advice, I'll bear it in mind thanks. Like you say there could always be occasional patches in the springtime that an ice axe could help with.