Another day and another superb clear blue sky morning. Hopes were high that the sun would stay with us all day and deliver a classic. More Ski Mountaineering was on the cards so we ramped things up a notch and decided to tackle Ben More, the highest of the Southern Highlands at over 3,800 feet and a “serious” ski route according the guidebook.
Downside was a low start that involved a long trudge up the forestry tracks to reach the snow in Coire Chaorach. The heavy packs (carrying skis) and heavy ski boots on the feet makes for hard work but the views and awesome weather kept us going
When we finally reached the open corrie and the snow we were indeed walking – or rather – skiing in a winter wonderland. Ben More beside us and Stob Binnein ahead
Skis on and it was a sheer delight to slide effortlessly – well not effortlessly but you get the idea – over the perfect snow under a deep blue sky in blazing sunshine
The perfect winter day with many stops to take in the views across the Southern Highlands, Lochaber and the Cairngorms glinting in the distance
We reached the ridge and the views were just immense. Distant mountains and the light making waves on the sculpted frozen snow.
It was full winter conditions, hard packed frozen snow dominating. The NE ridge of Ben More has a couple of steep rocky steps, far too steep for skis so we switched to crampons. You can see one of the steps in the photo below
I found this especially tough. Steep snow in very heavy boots with an awkward and heavy sack and I was left way behind. As I trudged, wearily up the easier slopes you can imagine my “disappointment” as most of the group started off again just as I reached them rather than let me catch my breath. I was bloody furious. Luckily MM, who is a very kindly soul, waited for me to recover (and have a serious rant) and then walked with me to the point where we could put skis back on and I’d calmed down a bit. Once back on skis I realised pretty quickly that it wasn’t a day for temper tantrums and I was soon back in the groove and “at one” with the mountains again
The views were still sensational and the final slopes to this high summit were a delight
As we celebrated the summit with some of our other friends who attained the summit the old fashioned way on foot, it looked like the weather might be selling us down the river again. Clouds gathered and for a while we had some rather moody views
It was short lived though and almost as soon as the cloud appeared it seemed to vanish, We left the summit to a group camping there for the night (must have been a chilly night!) and started our ski route down
It was tricky descent, steep, with a serious drop off to the left and mix of ice and rocky slopes. A couple of the group tried to head straight down and ended up having to remove skis and climb down. Me and JC headed right and found a decent route down (scarring my skis on the bare rocks) and down to the col.
The plan had been to go over Stob Binnein as well but I announced that my climbing for the day was done and I intended to chill in the warm sunny col and top up my tan before what looked like a magnificent cruise down Coire Chaorach. Reports from other walkers seemed to indicate the slope to the summit was hard and icy making a ski ascent very difficult. GM decided to join me a more leisurely way down. In fact the others only managed to ski up a few meters before the rock hard icy slopes forced them to revert to boots and crampons and climb to the top on foot
As an aside, I’ve always referred to GM as, well, GM (Geordie Munro). ED has pointed out that he is neither a Geordie or Scottish and as this is self appointed moniker we felt he needs a new one. ED provided several suggestions but seeing as GM is now growing an appallingly daft looking beard and has a appetite for plain boring oat based biscuits then The Hairy Oatcake seems more appropriate and will remain his identity on the blog until I come up with something funnier or more annoying, or hopefully both
So, after an extended scoff of goodies me and THO headed down. The corrie wasn’t steep but it was completely plastered in snow and was a truly magnificent easy cruise down on perfect untouched snow. The earlier descent almost meant we were in the sun the whole way down.
I reset the exposure on my camera to a more average setting, hence the much brighter shots from hereon. I think I prefer the lower exposure ones from the first part of the day
You even get the added delight of some photos of yours truly looking like the hard mountain enthusiast he is
The skiing brought many shouts of delight as we cruised down without a care. One of the finest hours I’ve ever had in the Scottish mountains. Wonderful skiing, blue skies and bright sunshine
I like this photo for the rather bizarre fork-like shadow that THO seems to have created
One of the fun parts of Ski Mountaineering is picking a route as the snow starts to thin out. We had a great time weaving in and out of snow filled peat hags on ever patchier snow, desperately trying to find the last possible spot to take off the skis. Eventually you end up on slopes more grass than snow with patches only a foot or so wide in places.
All the while the views and the situation were unrivalled in recent memory
When at last we decided skiing on boggy grass would be rather foolish we reluctantly took off the skis, fixed them to the pack and set off for the long trudge back to the car. Despite the weight and the distance to go we were all beaming smiles and feeling pretty damn good. Could we finish the day off to make it even more perfect? Hell yes:
- We managed to hitch a lift all the way down the forestry track with one of the guys working on the Hydro Scheme in the valley.
- We were back early, decided on a cheeky beer before we went back to the room to change and ended up staying a couple of hours (and several beers later) chatting with a group of very friendly locals in the bar
- When everyone else was back we enjoyed a fine evening of great food, more beers and tales old and new with friends and friendships going back 30 years
That was a great day!