Tuesday 24 March
After our superb day yesterday we went hunting for a snow gully again, so back up the road to the north west where Gary thought there would be some sport to be found on Stob a’ Ghlais Choire along with a circuit giving 2 Munros. The weather was a bit grim, low clag, wind and a damp feel but no rain as we set out from where we’d parked at Blackrock cottage. We headed west across boggy patches and made good time as we skirted around the base of the north west ridge of Creag Dhubh and into Cam Ghleann. Our objective came into sight through the murk and we decided to go for the narrow gully to the east of the face.
As we set out up the slope toward the start of the higher snow filled part of the gully it started to snow. I looked back and could just make out the Kings House hotel where people would probably be having a morning coffee and biscuits in warm and snug surroundings. I did not wish I were there, not at this point anyway.
We stopped to get the ironmongery out and made our way onto the gully snow, there was plenty of snow here and the modest amount elsewhere was being topped up by the new snowfall. At first soft, the surface soon changed to neve as we got higher and I was able to use the crampon front points and 2 ice axes once more, wonderful.
In places where the gully narrowed the snow had melted away from the boulders at the sides leaving a gap that was quite deep, in a couple of places the snow was not very thick and was soft, here the ice axe shaft would go all the way through so we had to tread lightly. There was one particularly narrow point where the snow had melted on each side leaving just a small, brief arête to climb up and gave an added bit of spice. Just after this there was a rock step to negotiate giving some scrambling work with the aid of the axes. It really was exhilarating and interesting and a contrast to the terrain on Ben Lui.
We approached the top of the gully that widened here and had superb hard snow, Gary went to the left of some rocks and I went to the right into a last narrow section then traversed across to him.
The gully doesn’t end near the summit; there are still some snow slopes to cross and lovely scrambling to do across rocky terrain and snow slopes before the high point is reached. We had made good time to here but were only just over a third of the way round our circuit, still a way to go. We headed north for Creise and I soon became aware of a problem, pain on the ball of my right foot just behind the big toe. It was still snowing and windy but I managed to find a place to get a plaster on, sure enough a blister. How can I have a blister now when I’ve been walking nearly every day for the past 2 weeks, with no trouble?
Goggles on. The terrain to Creise is a lovely jumble of rock and boulder, scrambling paradise. With crampons still on and the pain I was beginning to struggle though. Then the left foot started to get sore in the same place as the right. Another stop, another blister. Trying to get the feet on flat ground as I progressed now and then the tendon started to get really sore, it had eased a bit from the week before but was constantly bothering me, now it was complaining big time too. To cap it all I seemed to lose all strength in my legs. So I stumbled across the rocky ground and took a little slip at one stage ending up with a few bruises as I clattered against some boulders. I could only think that the toe kicking and front pointing of the past 2 days had given the blisters, the rest of it maybe I’d just been doing too much.
Up to the summit of Creise and straight on without stopping, no views anyway. The going was easier for me on descent and where there was a snow slope and the plasters had helped with the blisters so I was even able to enjoy some of the steeper sections.
On to Meall a’Bhuiridh, the wind fairly strong now and the snow had turned to rain as the freezing level rose; the weather forecast had been accurate. We sheltered behind the building at the top of the ski tow whilst we had a quick bite, then downhill all the way from now.
An easier descent now on the ski run and under the lifts with crampons in the hard snow, a glissade or two and we were soon at the snow line and removing the crampons. We start down the ‘footpath’, wry smiles as the whole mountain is being washed away and you can’t tell if you’re on a path, a bike track or in a burn. What a mess it is here. I’m not against well-managed development and love skiing myself but the unreliability of the snow results in a shoestring operation on the resulting limited budget. And why can’t all the junk be cleared away, that would at least help a bit with the appearance?
This route would be good outside of winter I think, with some scrambling available and a circuit instead of an out and back outing.
Halfway down to the Ski Centre, it is lashing now and very unpleasant combined with the wind and it’s 4pm. We meet a chap who is going up, a brief chat and he’s maybe going to go for the circuit. This cheers me up no end to know there’s even more of a nutter on the mountain and he's the only other person we've seen all day, good luck to him! We speed up on the last leg, back to the car and my legs and feet are feeling a bit better. We are soaked, this is the worst rain I’ve experienced in the hills. We make a stop at the Bridge of Orchy hotel for a beer on the way back, sitting by the fire. A memorable day in many ways but what can I do about the old feet?
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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.