Sun and snow on Ben Wyvis last hurrah

Route: Ben Wyvis, near Garve

Munros: Ben Wyvis

Date walked: 20/03/2020

Time taken: 5 hours

Distance: 13.5km

Ascent: 980m

Into sunshine on the ridge up An Cabar.

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.

The route up An Cabar to a mist-free summit ridge
Little Wyvis catching the early sun

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.

Ptarmigan up close on the ascent of An Cabar
Dawn sunshine on Little Wyvis
Looking south from An Cabar to Little Wyvis and beyond
Looking beyond Little Wyvis to the Strathfarrar peaks
Looking into the sun near the summit of An Cabar

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.

Enjoying the beautiful conditions on An Cabar
Long morning shadows looking westwards from Ben Wyvis
A cairn near the summit of An Cabar
Looking north towards the summit of Ben Wyvis, mist beginning to bubble up from the east
An Teallach seen from Ben Wyvis
High peaks of the Fannaichs from Ben Wyvis
Looking beyond Fionn Bheinn to the peaks of Torridon
Looking to the summit of Ben Wyvis
Looking back along the summit ridge to An Cabar
Rime ice clinging to a metal pole looking towards Ben Wyvis summit

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!

Ski tracks appearing in the wind blown snow, cornices up ahead
Distant snowy peaks to the south-west
Cornices near the summit of Ben Wyvis above Coire na Feola
Mist clearing to give views of the corries to the east
Snow-sculpted ridge at the summit
The summit trig point and cairn are buried under the snow here!

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.

Ben Wyvis from my site on the Black Isle later that afternoon

Couldn't resist an ice axe picture at the summit

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Comments: 1

Sunset from Carn Chuinneag

Attachment(s) Corbetts: Càrn Chuinneag
Date walked: 19/03/2020
Distance: 15km
Ascent: 780m
Comments: 5
Views: 749

An autumn scramble on sunny Beinn Dearg, Torridon

Attachment(s) Corbetts: Beinn Dearg (Torridon)
Date walked: 21/09/2019
Distance: 11.5km
Ascent: 960m
Comments: 5
Views: 985

New year at Loch Arkaig, 3 Corbetts and an inversion

Attachment(s) Corbetts: Fraoch Bheinn, Sgùrr Cos na Breachd-laoidh, Sgùrr Mhurlagain
Date walked: 02/01/2019
Distance: 16km
Ascent: 1780m
Comments: 6
Views: 1216

Return to where it began, 22 years on

Attachment(s) Munros: Stob a' Choire Odhair, Stob Ghabhar
Date walked: 18/11/2018
Distance: 16km
Ascent: 1230m
Views: 667

Meallach Mhor on the evening commute

Attachment(s) Corbetts: Meallach Mhòr
Date walked: 30/04/2018
Distance: 25.5km
Ascent: 530m
Views: 495

You Only Climb Twice. Meall a' Ghuibhais.

Attachment(s) Corbetts: Meall a' Ghiubhais
Date walked: 15/04/2018
Distance: 7.5km
Ascent: 880m
Views: 652

Fire and Ice - An ascent of Ben Gulabin

Attachment(s) Corbetts: Ben Gulabin
Date walked: 11/01/2018
Distance: 5km
Ascent: 480m
Comments: 3
Views: 1212

Sun, snow & a Corbett - New Years Day on Deeside

Attachment(s) Corbetts: Creag an Dail Bheag
Date walked: 01/01/2018
Distance: 19km
Ascent: 700m
Comments: 2
Views: 1057

1, 2

Scotland's last "glacier" & NE ridge scramble, Angel's Peak

Attachment(s) Munros: Sgòr an Lochain Uaine
Date walked: 19/09/2017
Distance: 40km
Ascent: 1480m
Comments: 17
Views: 5255


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