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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.
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Sun and snow on Ben Wyvis last hurrah
by Ranger » Fri Apr 03, 2020 10:11 pm
Route description: Ben Wyvis, near Garve
Munros included on this walk: Ben Wyvis
Date walked: 20/03/2020
Time taken: 5 hours
Distance: 13.5 km
Ascent: 980m1 person thinks this report is great. Register or Login free to be able to rate and comment on reports (as well as access 1:25000 mapping).
Less than a dozen hours after enjoying the sunset on Carn Chuinneag, my 5 am alarm call woke me for another mountain jaunt smuggled into my work schedule. I was away from the Inverness Inshes Premier Inn before breakfast, the last the Brewers Fayre would be serving before a Coronavirus shutdown. The dawn was crisp and clear and I was keen to make the most of the limited time I had. In February, on a work trip to Kinlochewe, I had been turned back by snow drifts on Ruadh Stac Beag, and I set off westwards along the A832 in search of redemption. However at Lochluichart I u-turned – I still had half a survey to finish at yesterday’s site on the Black Isle, and an epic struggle against the clock wouldn’t be wise.
Instead I headed to Ben Wyvis. My last ascent had been tinged with frustration, a 277th Munro ascent on a November afternoon in 2012 where showers and cloud failed to clear, the summit reached in a near whiteout. It would be redemption of a sort.
Mine was the only vehicle in the car park as I set off in full winter boots, ice axe and crampons packed, at 6:40 pm. The frost-touched woodland beside the Allt a’ Bhealaich Mhoir was alive with bird song, although the sun was entirely concealed beyond the white whale-back of Wyvis. Despite my thermometer dropping below -3, there was barely a breath of wind, allowing me to shed my fleece and continue in my base-layer on the well-built path up An Cabar. I fell hopelessly into the trap of stopping every few minutes for a photograph despite knowing the views would improve with every step upwards. Although I remained in shade, the peaks of the Fannichs, An Teallach and the Beinn Dearg range illuminated in winter glory were a fantastic sight. My eye was drawn westwards towards the pointed Torridon peaks, a view spoiled by unwelcome intrusions from wind turbines. Two ptarmigan hopped into view only a few metres away, as close an encounter as I could ever recall.
Having looked jealously to the sun-glistened slopes of Little Wyvis, I finally enjoyed the elation of the sun warming my face for the first time as I approached snow-sculpted summit ridge of An Cabar, topping out after 2 hours of walking. The stunning views westwards kept the spirits high on the mile and a half tramp northwards across the arctic plateau. A metal pole was decorated elaborately with spikes of rime ice. Mist bubbling up on the easterly breeze from from the cauldron of Coire na Feola was an unexpected irritation. As I tip-toed close to the corniced corrie edge, I recalled how the late Martin Moran was famously avalanched here during his ascent of all the Munros in one Scottish winter.
At 9:20 am the gradient fell away to the north, and fleeting visibility amidst the swirling mist was enough to confirm I’d reached the summit, despite no cairn or trig point protruding from the snow blanket. A few metres to the east, a finely sculptured crest of windblown powder was exactly the kind of impermanent delight winter walking offers. I hung around for 25 minutes in hope of the milky sun burning away the whisps of cloud, but – for the second time – Ben Wyvis was to deny me. Third time lucky in future I hope!
On the homewards tramp I passed a ski-trekker and various other climbers heading upwards, leaving me relieved at the outstanding views enjoyed earlier in the day. The staircase-constructed path was unforgiving in descent so I took to the snow and the mossiest heather. The sunshine lifted the spirits along the woodland path before I returned to the car park, at 11:30 am, with 12 other vehicles now present.
I completed my work on the Black Isle, with Ben Wyvis teasing me to the end, basking cloud free under the afternoon sun. After a pit-stop at the Inverness MacDonalds (they would be shut nation-wide soon enough) a drive over the Lecht took me home to face the oncoming Coronavirus lockdown, albeit with memories and photos from two fine hill walks to sustain me.
by emily_b » Sat Apr 04, 2020 11:02 pm
Fantastic conditions Climbed Ben Wyvis years ago one summers day. That path up makes all the difference! Some effort must go into building those.
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