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A fine winter traverse of the Ben Cruachan Horseshoe

A fine winter traverse of the Ben Cruachan Horseshoe


Postby Alteknacker » Fri Mar 04, 2016 8:59 pm

Route description: Ben Cruachan and Stob Daimh

Munros included on this walk: Ben Cruachan, Stob Daimh

Corbetts included on this walk: Beinn a'Bhuiridh

Date walked: 26/02/2016

Time taken: 8.75 hours

Distance: 13 km

Ascent: 1621m

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We planned the long weekend trip to Scotland many months ago - partly because, being a Surgeon, Chris can't up sticks at short notice (something - surely relatively unimportant??? - about lists...); and partly for some other reasons now lost in the mists of time - perhaps something to do with the fact that we'd planned to do the Cuillin Ridge last year in summer, but didn't manage to get it together.

Given the pretty horrible winter weather in the Highlands over quite an extended period, the advance planning seemed in hindsight to have been a good move; but when I saw the pictures in reports from the previous two weekends (eg wilkiemurray's amazing report of his overnight on Sgurr na Stri) I began to experience an increasingly neurotic anxiety: surely we couldn't have three good weekends in a row? Suffice it to say that there was a great deal of worried scanning of all the forecast sites and anxious email exchanges in the preceding days!

Worried 2.jpg


By Thursday - travel day - the auspices were reasonable: for Friday the consensus on the runes sites was for mixed sun and cloud, possibly a bit of snow; and for Saturday, clear skies and sun all day!
Alleluia 2.jpg


So, notwithstanding Dr Frank arriving at our pick up spot at J9 on the M62 without his boots (only rescued from disaster in the nick of time, just before starting, by a call from the long-suffering Amanda), we set off in good spirits late on Thursday afternoon, arriving in Tyndrum around 20.00 - M6 traffic conditions are very different on Thursday evening to the usual Friday crawl, thank goodness.

Packing our gear into the car the next morning as dawn started to break around 6.30am, the sky was clear, the frost hard, and the decision to make a early start obviously a good one. We'd decided on a shorter route for the first day as a kind of warm up - namely, the Cruachan Horseshoe - as none of us had done any significant walking for close to 6 months.

our_route.gpx Open full screen  NB: Walkhighlands is not responsible for the accuracy of gpx files in users posts



Moreover, we had no idea what snow conditions would be at higher levels - I'd read some WHRs where people had been sinking up to their knees - even thighs - in the glorious white stuff (weaselmaster even resorting to crawling on all fours!); and I well know this is pretty energy-sapping.

Some 20 minutes later we'd parked up at the Cruachan layby, and were crossing under the pedestrian tunnel beneath the railway adjacent to the Falls of Cruachan station, and on to the path on the upper East bank of Allt Cruachan that leads up to the reservoir.
Image On the way to Cruachan Reservoir, as dawn breaks.

Image20160226_072608. No wind at all, and, walking up the path, we soon worked up quite a lather. So I think Dr Frank and Chris are here discussing how far they can undress whilst maintaining the modesty appropriate to this hallowed environment....

Image20160226_074952. A bit of tarmac below the dam (a thing of beauty is a joy forever...)

Image20160226_080030. Sunrise hits Cruachan summit, slightly shrouded in cloud. The hills are looking sensational![/url]

Rather than taking the standard route along the West side of the reservoir, we strike directly up Meall Cuanail, for no reason other than that it is there, and the snow looks sooooooooo inviting!

ImageIMG_3306. Looking back towards the dam...

Image20160226_084205. Ascending Meall Cuanail, looking East across at Beinn a' Bhuiridh, and a rather strange and persistent mini cloud formation that looks like spindrift.

Still clear sky, no wind. And hearts beating - with exertion for sure, but mainly as a result of the sheer thrill of being in this fabulous environment on such a clear day...

Image20160226_091458. Approaching the top of Meall Cuanail, looking across at Stob Daimh. Note: not a cloud in the sky....

Image20160226_091501. View along the Cruachan Ridge from Meall Cuanail: Drochaid Ghlas in the middle background, Stob Daimh in the background. I don't realise but Dr Frank and Chris stop to don crampons at this point - the snow is just beautiful!

Image20160226_092515. View from the summit of Meall Cuanail looking down to Bealach an Lochan, between it and Cruachan. Some decent cornices there. It's a light and easy semi-run down the thickly snow covered ground to the bealach.

Image20160226_092530. And the ascent to Cruachan.... It doesn't look it, but there's just over 300m of ascent to the summit! Note again: the skies are still completely clear of cloud.

Image20160226_093237. Some spectacular fence post rime on the way down the slope.

Image20160226_094015. Looking back at Meall Cuanail from about a third of the way up to Cruachan. Quite showy from this angle!

I hadn't realised that my companions had stopped on the summit of Meall Cuanail to put on their crampons, so when I reach Cruachan summit I'm 10 minutes or so ahead of them. Before very long I begin to get cold, and the wind starts to get up quite strongly. And, out of nowhere, all the summits are suddenly swathed in ...

Image20160226_101901. ... cloud!!?? Where on earth did that come from???? (Looking West from the summit of Cruachan towards Stob Dearg).

Image20160226_102120. Cruachan Reservoir was in bright clear sunlight moments ago!!!!

Chris and Dr Frank have now arrived. While I'm fitting my crampons, Chris gets out the strange orange bivvy thing he was telling me about last night, and after battling with the wind for a while, the three of us manage to get underneath it and sat on the edges to create a kind of tent, with our heads as tent poles. As he'd promised, it keeps off the worst of the wind (we can't quite manage to get the all the edges down properly so there's still something of a chilly draught), and in conditions of enforced orange intimacy, we chew on some food.

By the time we've finished and packed away, I'm really cold. It's blowing pretty hard now, and visibility is very limited indeed. Fortunately someone has been up here reasonably recently and there are prints in the snow - fortunately, because the map indicates an impressively big drop on the North side of the ridge :D . So we set off along the ridge, in pretty good snow conditions. My specs are getting covered in condensation in the mist, so I take them off and stuff them in my pants pocket.

ImageRIMG0234. One of the moments of somewhat greater visibility, when we got some inkling of what might happen if we weren't careful in our wayfinding when the cloud closed in...

We stop at one point - I don't recall exactly why. And as we're stood there fighting the wind and chewing cloud, Dr Frank drops a glove. Now this is one of a pair of absolutely top of the range, blizzard-proof, waterproof, everything proof things; so without thinking, he sets off after it. Towards a cornice edge.

I'm not sure how loud I shrieked....
shreik.png

... but anyway he did stop. Thank goodness!

Very sad to lose it actually - it has a lot of emotional significance, having belonged to a much loved uncle who succumbed to the big C not that long ago; but better than joining him in the place where all good mountain folk go... :shock:

Deep breaths; and onwards.

I'm contentedly pootling along in my own hood-and-balaclava-clad world of swirling white, wind noise, and hill karma, when we break out of the cloud...

Image20160226_112432. Cruachan Reservoir viewed from the bealach between Ben Cruachan and Drochaid Glas. It's a blessed relief to be out of the thick mist!

ImageRIMG0241.

ImageRIMG0246.

I'm walking slowly forward down a gentle slope, absorbing the rather spectacular view, when a pint-sized aluminium-clad thermos flask leisurely slides past me down the slope. I recognise it: it's Dr Frank's. So I speed up so that I can catch it up. Unfortunately it is accelerating, so I don't. I start to semi-jog after it. Now I'm gaining ground. But the slope is steepening and I've stopped gaining. It's only about a metre or so: decision time. I take a headlong dive, and my gloved fingers touch the flask. But it accelerates out of my grasp... closely followed by one of my own water bottles that's slipped out of my sac....

As I get up, I recall that I've put my specs in my pants pocket... I gingerly pull them out. Yes, side bust off.... :clap:

dumb.jpg


Evidently this is going to be one of those "lose things" days....

After re-assembling the multiple broken bits of our dignity and pride, we continue along what is really a wonderful classic (= great views either side) ridge.

Image20160226_120258. Snow conditions remain good, but the cloud conditions are quite spooky....

Image20160226_120259.

Image20160226_123030. Some of our number get a bit hysterical... altitude sickness...???

[Image20160226_123048. A great ridge walk ...

ImageRIMG0252.

ImageRIMG0257.

We press on through cloud, and I notice that Chris keeps getting out a little thing that looks rather like a mobile phone encased in thick black rubber. A little gentle probing reveals that this is some form of navigation device, that is not a map and compass - rather it is a red spot on his mobile screen....

red spot2.png


As we continue I manage to keep us on the right route with the proper navigational methods (albeit we do stray a bit too far to the East and off the ridge at one point). Eventually I'm really quite touched by the faith he has in this electronic stuff (and secretly quite comforted by the additional navigational certainty it provides). It's quite alarming how unreliable one's instincts are in clag; the only answer I've found is to keep up a continuous sotto voce chanting: "follow the compass, follow the compass, follow the compass...".

Suddenly I realise that something is missing. I touch my head - yes, my hilly is gone! I've no recollection of having taken it off; but a search of all pockets and the sac confirms the sad fact: my hilly is no more; it is not of this world; it is disappeared; vanished; gone....

As I said earlier: one of those days :cry:

But...

Image20160226_140056. Out of the cloud - orienteering successful!!! View East from Lairig Torran (bealach between Stob Garbh and Beinn a' Bhuiridh.

Now there's some 250m of quite steep ascent up the flank of Beinn a' Bhuiridh.
Image20160226_143647. Chris on the final few metres of ascent up to Beinn a' Bhuridh. Magically, after a couple of hours in mainly dense clag, the sky suddenly started to clear as we reach the summit.[/url]

As they say, it was all downhill from there.

Back at the car just in time to miss tea at the power station visitor centre (they close at 4.00pm); but not too late to visit a building of cultural, historical and architectural interest in Tyndrum for a half of shandy....

A really excellent start to the weekend :D .
Last edited by Alteknacker on Fri Jan 25, 2019 8:11 am, edited 5 times in total.
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Alteknacker
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Re: A fine winter traverse of the Ben Cruachan Horseshoe

Postby Petr Dakota » Sat Mar 05, 2016 3:16 pm

Nice one :clap: :clap:
I still need to do the ridge as I did only Cruachan ( very limited by time ) two years ago...looking forward to do it in clear day 8) - my views from the summit was almost ZERO, fog, ice and snow... :roll:
Glad you had productive days in Scotland :D
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Re: A fine winter traverse of the Ben Cruachan Horseshoe

Postby Alteknacker » Tue Mar 08, 2016 9:52 pm

Petr Dakota wrote:.... I still need to do the ridge as I did only Cruachan ( very limited by time ) two years ago...looking forward to do it in clear day .... :D


Yes, it's a really fine ridge. If I was to do it again I would include Stob Dearg to the West, and Sron an Isean, Beinn a Chochuill and Beinn Eunaich to the East, and return to the start via Beinn a Bhuiridh. On a fine day that would take a bit of beating, I think - great views on both sides of the ridge for the whole way :D .

And lucky you: you're only a few hours away :sick:
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Re: A fine winter traverse of the Ben Cruachan Horseshoe

Postby rockhopper » Tue Mar 08, 2016 10:04 pm

A good day for it all in all - one set of hills on my return list having seen almost nothing when walking the four and few years ago - cheers :)
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Re: A fine winter traverse of the Ben Cruachan Horseshoe

Postby litljortindan » Tue Mar 08, 2016 10:49 pm

The hill that got me hooked on hills. Can be great to get that sort of in and out of the cloud walk but don't think I'd be in a hurry to dive after an escaping water bottle!
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Re: A fine winter traverse of the Ben Cruachan Horseshoe

Postby jamesb63 » Wed Mar 09, 2016 8:47 am

You certainly had a great spell of weather for your weekend :D
I done the same route in thick clag never seen a thing from 100m
above the dam ,
With the losses you had you must have left the hill looking like a car boot sale :lol: :lol:
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Re: A fine winter traverse of the Ben Cruachan Horseshoe

Postby Alteknacker » Fri Mar 11, 2016 11:44 pm

jamesb63 wrote:You certainly had a great spell of weather for your weekend :D
I done the same route in thick clag never seen a thing from 100m
above the dam ,
With the losses you had you must have left the hill looking like a car boot sale :lol: :lol:


Yes, we were incredibly lucky, especially given that, contrary to my normal practice, we'd fixed the date a long time in advance. I thought it was a really brilliant ridge (in fine weather, of course).

On the other point: I think we could have done with going to a car boot sale after this day!!!
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Re: A fine winter traverse of the Ben Cruachan Horseshoe

Postby katyhills » Sat Mar 12, 2016 12:13 pm

Fabulous photos and report - and a bit of excitement to add to the outing with all your 'dropping and diving' ! :wink: Thanks for sharing it all.
Particularly love the rimed posts. I'm surprised you had time to take so many photos!
Hard work in the snow, but a fantastic achievement, and great that you had clear weather most of the time :D

One of my favourite walks although I did the four hills in two stages. I was lucky with views although the cloud came in and out.
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Re: A fine winter traverse of the Ben Cruachan Horseshoe

Postby ancancha » Sat Mar 12, 2016 3:39 pm

Some great photos Alteknacker :clap:
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