When a slip could have been more serious on Binnein Mor

Route: Binnein Mor and Na Gruagaichean, Mamores

Munros: Binnein Mor

Date walked: 29/05/2018

Distance: 17km

Our first attempt on Binnein Mor last July was thwarted by the threat of incoming clouds spoiling the view. I was back up the path a few weeks later to climb Sgurr Eilde Mor, but deliberately left this big boy as I knew Moira was keen to return for him. On that first occasion I would have carried on (was out voted two to one) but had to admit this was a much better day for it with blue skies and clear visibility.

The drive down took a bit longer than expected, due to getting stuck behind a slow vehicle, and we were later starting off than planned. Got chatting to another walker booting up in the car park who gave me a big handshake when he found out I was dogplodder and said he reads my reports. If ever you read this one, I'm sorry I didn't get your name and hope you enjoyed your day and the descent from NG wasn't as bad as its reputation!

Considering how warm it was we didn't make too heavy weather of the climb up through the woods (it helped to have been up the path recently so no wrong turns) and didn't stop for a coffee until we found suitable rocks above the vehicle track.

Rocks with a view

Glencoe hills from southern flank of Sgurr Eilde Beag

A young German lad and his parents had passed us earlier, out exploring but without a map. I had showed them Coire na Lochan on my map and said the loch was worth getting to. But when I met them later they said they'd ended up walking over moorland and saw no loch. I realised what they had done and was kicking myself I'd not warned them about the peaty path that goes straight on at the cairn, where the correct path takes a sharp left.

Moira was feeling the heat as we climbed the shoulder of Sgurr Eilde Beag so I suggested a break to enjoy her first sighting of Coire nan Lochan. With the long daylight there was no need to rush and what better place to sit and drink it all in? We watched a couple looking for the ideal spot to pitch their tent and going for a peninsula on the lochan, which looked perfect.

Sgurr Eilde Mor

Binnein Beag and Grey Corries

From the division in the path there's a noticeable loss of height before the reascent of Binnein Mor's little brother, Binnein Beag.

Binnein Beag from division in path

As we rounded the corner to cross the north flank of Sgurr Eilde Beag we got our first proper look at our target hill. We could see tiny stick people already on the summit.

Ridge and summit of Binnein Mor

Ridge of Sgurr Eilde Beag from below

Interesting rock strata

I had said to Moira I didn't think with the recent warm spell there would be any issues with snow but towards the top of the ridge the zig zag path disappeared a few times under snow patches to reappear a bit further on.

Path disappearing under snow

Crossing the snow

Path disappearing under snow again

The first snow patch was okay to walk across but further up we had to detour round the remains of a cornice, which involved a bit of grass clutching on a steep wet grassy/muddy slope. I could see boot prints in the mud so this was what others had done before us, but it wasn't the intended (or most elegant) way to top out on to the ridge. While we had got up okay we both felt it was a bit steep to comfortably go down that way - which left us with a dilemma. Return by Na Gruagaichean, find another way off the ridge or go down the slippery slope we came up.

Topping out on ridge

Most people would have been continuing over Na Gruagaichean so wouldn't be returning this way. I'd previously done NG along with part of the Ring of Steall but was happy to pay it a return visit from a different angle but Moira thought on balance she'd rather not include NG. So I had a quick look for any potentially better way down to the path beyond the snow. But those old stalkers knew what they were doing choosing the best line for their paths and there wasn't any better way down that I could see, apart from retracing our steps.

For now the next objective was to reach the summit and for me this was the best part of the day. Starting off on a broad grassy ridge which narrowed beautifully the higher you got and stunning views on every side. I kept stopping to identify hills and thinking of the people I'd climbed them with - from Schiehallion to Lawers to Orchy to Black Mount to Glencoe to the rest of the Mamores, Nevis, CMD, the Aonachs, Grey Corries, Easains, Ossian and Alder. What a beautiful land Scotland is and today we were seeing it at its glorious best.

Ridge leading to summit

Ridge from above

Na Gruagaichean and over to Sgurr a' Mhaim

Ring of Steall and Ben Nevis

Nevis, CMD and Binnein Mor summit

Cornice hanging on to summit ridge

When I reached what I assumed was the summit I looked towards Ben Nevis and saw the narrow rocky ridge went on a bit further to what looked like another summit and there was no obvious cairn on top of the highest rocks where I was. I was pretty sure I was on the true summit but couldn't check on M's GPS as she hadn't arrived yet. I went along the ridge a bit but then thought this was daft and couldn't be bothered going any further so came back. It's a fairly airy top with not a lot of room to wander around taking summit photos, but after getting that done I found a fairly uncomfortable rock to sit on and sent a text to Pete to tell him we'd reached the summit later than we should, so not to wait up. Interestingly I also did something I very rarely do. My wrist had been sore all day (I think a touch of arthritis) so I took a couple of paracetamol, which was probably a good thing in view of what happened later.

Nevis from summit

View south from summit

Na Gruagaichean ridge and Bidean nam Bian beyond Aonach Eagach

When Moira arrived she didn't know what I was wittering on about. What do you mean is this the right summit? Look over there, I said. Could that be higher than this summit? So she checked her GPS thingy which she'd plotted our route into and hey bingo we were exactly on top. That was a very good thing because whatever it had said neither of us were of a mind to go any further. We were on the top of the highest of the Mamores at 1130 metres on a fabulous day - and it doesn't get much better than that!

On the way down we discussed our options. We could see the Na Gruagaichean ridge snaking over to the south west. I said the pathless descent folk complain about was my ascent route when I climbed it and apart from being eaten alive by midgies it wasn't too bad. Going that way would be shorter than returning the way we came and would avoid an awkward off piste descent from the ridge. But Moira wasn't keen on the thought of any more ascent so we stuck to Plan A, to retrace our steps down to Coire nan Lochan and return that way.

Descending the ridge

Bypassing minor top

We reached the point the path dipped off the ridge and disappeared under snow. It looked a bit more daunting in descent as the ground was wet with snow melt and very steep. I started off and when it got too steep for comfort sat down and lowered myself gingerly down, holding on to the grass. In the process of doing that stones were dislodged and bounced down the bare slope at increasing speed and didn't stop for a very long time. Not a good place to have a slip then.

We reached the path that came out from under the snow. The worst if it was over. Apart from a slip when Moira had grazed her arm, we had got off the ridge unscathed. There was just one more awkward bit to negotiate where the path disappeared into snow again. There was a short distance of steep grass to reach the path as it reappeared from the snow and traversed along the side of the slope. Beyond the path was another steep slope scattered with rocks so it wouldn't be the best idea to overshoot it. I went first, sitting down to execute my bum shuffle manouvre, useful for steep awkward places. I got to the path and before I had time to stand up there was a yell from behind. Moira had gone into a slide, tried to stop herself but couldn't and crashed into me.

At that moment everything went into slow motion. The impact tipped me over from the sitting position into front down on rocky ground, perched above a steep drop but thankfully not moving. The first thing I was aware of was pain in my chest and the second was that I couldn't move because there was someone on top of me. It reminded me of a skiing accident when an out of control French skier wiped me out from behind and I landed with my head stuck under their ski. That occasion left me with a bleeding ear and several broken ribs and the person who had crashed into me got up and skied off with no apparent injuries at all.

We carefully disentangled ourselves. My knee was bleeding with grit embedded in it but at that moment I wasn't bothered about that. I must have had pain in my shoulder because I said "It's not dislocated" but apart from that all was fine. Moira seemed to be uninjured but then she'd had a softer landing - on top of me and my rucksack. We were a bit shaken at the thought of what could have happened if she had slid off at speed down that slope and I was so thankful I'd been in the right place to break her fall.

I crossed the sloping snow patch very cautiously this time and the rest of the descent was okay apart from any time I had to put weight on my right shoulder which was very painful and I couldn't do without yelping. When we reached Coire nan Lochan we stopped for the last of our sandwiches and I made an attempt to clean the worst of the grit from my knee. That has healed up pretty well now but think I may carry around a souvenir of Binnein Mor in my knee for a while yet.

Coire na Lochan on our descent

The rest of the descent passed without further incident and we made much better time going down than we had going up. I had my first encounter this year with the dreaded midge in the woods but couldn't be bothered to stop to apply anything and got a few bites for my negligence. I was deeply grateful that Moira was the one driving home and we had a pleasant journey back.

The pain was quite bad through the night so in the morning Peter took me to A & E where I was seen very quickly by a lovely doctor who was very thorough and was herself a hill walker (always a bonus as they understand why we do it). X-rays showed I had no fractures to the shoulder or collar bone but there was soft tissue damage - 'muscle disruption' she called it. I've to keep using the shoulder as much as I can without causing severe pain and I've physio exercises to do to prevent frozen shoulder developing. Movement is easier now but there are some movements the muscles don't like, sleeves are awkward, weight bearing not great and sneezing is painful - which is tricky in hayfever season! Some of the pain is coming from the ribs which I know from past experience take a while to heal.

Binnein Mor from Sgurr Eilde Mor (taken Sept 2017)

Looking at the photo I took of Binnein Mor from last September I can see the tiny notch in the ridge where the descent path starts. It's a reminder how small and vulnerable we are in relation to this awesome landscape and how easily a slip could lead to something more serious. I've lost three people I knew who were all experienced in the hills. So much humility needed. I've not been back on the hills yet - but hopefuly it won't be long before venturing out again. Can't wait!

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