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Round the clock but the Clachlet Job is still only half done

Round the clock but the Clachlet Job is still only half done


Postby Graeme D » Thu May 14, 2015 10:36 pm

Munros included on this walk: Creise, Meall a'Bhuiridh

Date walked: 02/05/2015

Time taken: 12.5 hours

Distance: 31.3 km

Ascent: 1450m

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It was just gone 10pm by the time I had got back to the car in the Victoria Bridge car park after my evening circuit round Meall Tairbh and Beinn a'Chuirn. Most of the half dozen or so cars that had been there 5 hours previously had gone, their owners presumably down from a day on Stob a'Choire Odhair and Stob Gabhar. One remained, in darkness and seemingly unoccupied, while an orange glow leaked out from behind the closed curtains of a camper van that had pulled in during my absence.

I cracked open the first can of a four pack of lager and got the jetboil going for a dinner of rehydrated Mountain House chicken tikka. While that was on the go, I put one of the back seats down, blew up the thermarest, laid my sleeping bag out and rearranged various bits of kit for ease of access e.t.c. during the night. A second can washed down the chicken tikka, and a third was seen off while I sat chilling on the tailgate with the estate door up and enjoyed the sounds and smells of a Friday night in springtime in the great outdoors.

I gave the fourth can a miss, setting my alarm for 3.15 and getting my head down for a few hours kip before what promised to be a long, hard day on the Saturday. The plan was an anti-clockwise circuit of the Clachlet Traverse, taking in the four Black Mount Munros. It would involve a long walk in on the West Highland Way across the edge of Rannoch Moor before striking off the WHW at Blackrock Cottage and aiming for the foot of the Sron na Creise ridge which would lead me up over Stob a'Ghlais Choire to the first Munro of the day, Creise. From there, a detour off the main ridge would take me to Meall a'Bhuiridh and back, before continuing on over high connecting ridges to the final two Munros and the descent down to the Abhainn Shirra and the walk back to Victoria Bridge.

With the recent cold snap and the prospect of significant snowfall at that level, I knew I would have to take the axe and crampons, and I did wonder about the state of play on the Sron na Creise ridge, of which I had heard many stories. Everything I had heard about it confirmed that it required some pretty serious hands on scrambling at the best of times.

It was still dark when the alarm went off at 3.15, at least too dark to get a clear picture of what the sky was doing and what the cloud cover was like. I sat up and stared out for 10 minutes or so, contemplating whether to knock the idea on the head, reset the alarm and go back to sleep for a few more hours, and then decide on an alternative plan for the day ahead. In the end I decided to stick to my guns so I quickly got into the appropriate gear, fired the jetboil up for some coffee and porridge and repacked the Montane daypack. It was a tight squeeze with the crampons and emergency shelter in there (too tight in fact), but I really didn't want to have to take the Osprey expedition pack. I have since acquired a new Vango Traverse 30l which looks like it will occupy this middle ground very nicely.

I was away by 4am on the dot - still dark but with an almost full moon, light enough to walk without artificial light. As I crossed Victoria Bridge and passed Forest Lodge before climbing up out of the tree cover and onto Rannoch Moor, I was transported back to July 1997 and the last time I passed this way, walking the WHW with my mate Andy from London. That was an epic week long adventure, but we were both struggling quite badly by that stage. Andy's low point had been the previous day on the stretch from Tyndrum to Bridge of Orchy, while mine was on the long lonely walk over Rannoch Moor the following day.

Almost 18 years later, in the darkness of the early hours of a Saturday morning, things were entirely different. I am an altogether different kind of walker nowadays and I zipped along the track towards my long day on the Clachlet Traverse.

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Creachain, Achaladair and Dothaidh at first light

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Beinn Dorain now too

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Meall Beag reflection - cloud on Creachain and Achaladir in the distance

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The River Ba from Ba Bridge

Oddly enough, there was nobody else on the Way this morning, until that is a short distance beyond Ba Bridge where I came across a bloke in the final stages of dismantling his tent and getting his breakfast gear packed up. He was your average WHW punter, heading for Kinlochleven that day and admitting to feeling the strain.

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The loneliness of the Rannoch Moor track

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The Sub2Ks around Lochan na h-Achlaise and the Orchy Munros behind

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Sunrise hitting the lower flanks of Sron nan Giubhas and Stob a'Choire Odhair

Soon enough the high point of the track over the moor was reached and I started to drop down towards Kingshouse and the jaws of Glencoe, with the familiar bulk of the Great Herdsman of Etive increasingly dominating the view ahead.

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The Buachaille and Chrulaiste guarding the entrance to Glencoe

After a short break by the path that branches of to the ski centre and bunkhouse, I continued down to Blackrock Cottage where I left the WHW and took a direct line across the rather unappealing looking moor towards the base of the Sron na Creise ridge.

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The Buchaille from Blackrock Cottage

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On the boggy moor between Blackrock and Sron na Creise - the long arm of Creag Dhubh to the left, the Buachaille to the right

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The Buachaille with a hat on

After a 10 minute sit down on top of a large boulder in the middle of the Allt Cam Ghlinne for a handful of wine gums and to refill my water bottle, it was down to the real business of the day, starting with Sron na Creise. It had taken me four hours already to reach this point.

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Sron na Creise from the Allt Cam Ghlinne

The Sron na Creise ascent did not disappoint. As with many of these scrambly ascent ridges, there are different routes to choose from in most parts, and you can make of it what you like. Early on I tended to stay a little to the right of the crest so as to get the views down Glen Etive, but higher up, as the ridge narrowed, I stuck pretty much to the crest.

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Up Glen Etive with Stob Dubh centre stage

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Stob Dearg across lower Glen Etive - Mamore peaks in the distance

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Getting above the snow line

As I hit the snowline, I found myself being funnelled into a rocky gully which provided great panoramic views back down to the Kingshouse Hotel and reminded me somewhat of an epic late winter ascent of Ben Cruachan several years ago.

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The start of the gully

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Back down the gully to the Kingshouse

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The Big Bookil

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Airy shot back down Sron na Creise

At the top of the gully, a sudden snow shower came in fast and I spent 10 minutes or so huddled against some crags until it passed. It was only then that I realised that I had a tricky looking bad step immediately ahead of me with no apparent easy way round. I left the pack off and tried out the first few moves. There were good hand and feet holds but it was still an awkward little bugger to get clear of.

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There's a storm a'comin!

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Looking back down the Bad Step

From this point, the gradient eased as I approached Stob a'Ghlais Choire but the underfoot conditions deteriorated quite significantly. The snow cover was substantial, and in places it was blown into deep drifts of powder that threatened to swallow me whole. Umpteen times I fell waist deep into a hole and it was a case of two steps forward and one stumble backwards as I wallowed feebly in the powdery drifts.

It was beginning to dawn on me now that, with the conditions underfoot making for far more arduous going than I had anticipated, I would be unlikely to complete the whole traverse of the 4 Munros today. Or rather I still could, but it would take me longer than I was prepared to spend. I have nothing against 15+ hour days but I had said I would be home by late afternoon and it was already looking like that would be a tall order.

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Gradient easing towards Stob a'Ghlais Choire

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Approaching summit of Stob a'Ghlais Choire

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Beinn Mhic Chasgaig and Stob Dubh

As if this were not bad enough, the views then closed down significantly as I got up into the cloud and the teeth of the storm. It was absolutely bitter and even although I managed to find a degree of shelter down in a snow hole on the summit of Creise, I still got several icy blasts and a load of snow blown up my back as I hunkered down and tried to eat some lunch.

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Creise

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Back to Stob a'Ghlais Choire

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Stob a'Ghlais Choire from the northern summit of Creise

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Summit of Creise

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Clach Leathad

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Meall a'Bhuiridh

Then it was on to towards Clach Leathad and the connecting rib across to Meall a'Bhuiridh. There were some pretty fierce looking cornices dropping down into the head of the Cam Ghleann and I began to wonder where and how I might get through them, with the exit point from the main ridge still not visible.

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Across Beinn Mhic Chasgaig to the Etive hills

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Back to Creise

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To Bidean

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Clach Leathad and some serious cornicing

Eventually I came across the small marker cairn and stumbled my way down through a tangled mass of large boulders made more challenging by the thick layer of powder snow which blanketed them. There were a good few leg breakers in there but I managed to get down onto the flat of the connecting ridge without falling foul of any of them. It was now patently obvious that Odhair and Gabhar were not going to be happening today.

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Descent towards Meall a'Bhuiridh

At this point I passed my only two hillwalkers of the day - two blokes who had come up on the tows and were heading over onto the main ridge where they hoped to "ski some lines if the visibility remained". Good luck with that one chaps!

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The way home later - Loch an Easain, Creag an Fhirich, Rannoch Moor and the Orchy Munros

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Down Cam Ghleann - Creise and Stob a'Ghlais Choire to the left, Beinn a'Chrulaiste to the right

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Back along the connecting rib to the main ridge

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Over the cliffs of Sron nam Forsair to Stob Gabhar

Eventually I reached to bleak summit of Bhuiridh from where I headed east then south down behind the top of the ski tows onto the treacherous scree and snow slope that ran down to the Loch an Easain.

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Summit of Meall a'Bhuiridh - is it not obvious?

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Scree and snow slope from hell - descent into the Coire an Easain

From here I dropped down between the Allt Coire an Easain and the slopes of Creag an Fhirich to rejoin the WHW at Ba Bridge for the tramp back along to Victoria Bridge.

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Sron nam Forsair from the edge of the forestry at GR272485

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River Ba

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Ba Bridge

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The last stretch - Meall Tairbh, Beinn Mhic Monaidh and Beinn a'Chuirn ahead


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User avatar
Graeme D
 
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Re: Round the clock but the Clachlet Job is still only half

Postby rockhopper » Thu May 14, 2015 11:53 pm

Jings, that sounded tough but well done for trying ! It's a long walk on the WHW and even worse having to go both ways. :thumbup:

Wondered if you'd considered approaching Meall a'Bhuiridh first via the ski car park then on to Creise instead but assumed you'd wanted to go via Sron na Creise ?

Weather hasn't been "helpful" recently - just goes to show what a difference it can make - can remember walking these hills in April with almost no snow at all - makes it so much easier :roll: - cheers :)
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rockhopper
 
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Re: Round the clock but the Clachlet Job is still only half

Postby Borderhugh » Fri May 15, 2015 7:40 am

Great report. Well done for attempting the long walk around. Your story resonates with a couple of trips I have done but have yet to document. I haven't done these yet but they are on my radar for sunnier days.
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Borderhugh
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Re: Round the clock but the Clachlet Job is still only half

Postby basscadet » Fri May 15, 2015 12:11 pm

Love your reports graeme, tough luck on this walk.. I do hope the weather perks up soon, but another gloomy weekend seems to be looming :(

Dougie and I tried to do the whole S Etive ridge to Starav over 3 days, but ended up with a fail ourselves bacause of the weather :lol:
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basscadet
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Re: Round the clock but the Clachlet Job is still only half

Postby BlackPanther » Fri May 15, 2015 2:02 pm

Wow, fantastic. That's what I call hardcore mountain porn :wink: Funny, we did these two last Saturday, as "a quick nip up a couple of Munros" :lol: using the easiest approach, of course. How it's changed since, most of the snow is gone and we had absolutely no problem traversing from MB to Creise and back. It was like a giant staircase, we managed to stick to the rocks most of the way, and the cornice on top of the arete has melted away:
creise 271.jpg
From Meall a'Bhuiridh to Creise ridge - 09 May 2015
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BlackPanther
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Re: Round the clock but the Clachlet Job is still only half

Postby AnnieMacD » Fri May 15, 2015 7:47 pm

That's one long and tough trek for the conditions. Great perseverance on your part.

I had wondered a couple of weeks ago how winter walkers know how deep and soft a snow-field is. You have just answered my question - you don't! I'm quite scared of stepping into snow up to my waist - how on earth does one extricate oneself?
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AnnieMacD
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Re: Round the clock but the Clachlet Job is still only half

Postby Collaciotach » Fri May 15, 2015 10:37 pm

Good shift !

Aye weather is pants :(
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Collaciotach
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