Archive for the ‘Ski Mountaineering’ Category

Back on Skis!   6 comments

Several hours in the car and it’s time for our annual highland gathering up at Bridge of Orchy. No shortage of the white stuff on the first day before most people arrived so time for a day on skis.


Me, THO and The Plant Scientist parked up at the Kingshouse (next to the swanky new building which isn’t as much of a eyesore as I’d been told) and loaded very heavy packs with winter mountain gear and ski gear for a couple of miles up the track to Black Corries Lodge to reach the snow.


Cloudy day but it was largely dry and wind-free which is much as you can hope for in Scotland. Buachaille Etive Mor and the Blackmount looked very impressive.


The snow was pretty much down to Black Corries Lodge so we strapped the skis on and headed up. The snow was frozen after the overnight frost but a couple of guys walking nearby seemed to be post-holing and struggling. Skis come in to their own in these conditions, gliding over the surface (although you lose the time gained taking them on and off and removing/putting on skins).


Almost unnoticed we moved from partial to total snow cover as we headed up towards the summit ridge.


Our target was Beinn a Chrulaiste but we thought we may as well bag the top at the eastern end, Meall Nan Ruadhag. Pleasingly its a HUMP so one one more done in my quest to complete all 3000+!


Time for a short downhill stretch into the col before the climb to the middle twin summits of Meall Bhalach.


We stopped on the top while it was fairly benign for lunch


Another nice but short downhill stretch before the steep climb to the main summit.


We were pleased we stopped earlier as it was far from benign on the top. In fact it was a complete white-out and we had something of a challenge finding our way back off the top without plopping through a cornice.


The descent at the top would have been superb had we been able to see anything but care dictated skiing in pitches and slow careful progress. As we came out of the cloud we dropped into Coire Bhalach for a wonderful easy paced cruise over deep and complete snow cover.


A few action shots of me courtesy of THO.


Inevitably as we approached the car park the snow cover thinned and what snow there was was wet, patchy and punctuated with rocks. After falling over 2 or 3 times in the pace of a few yards I decided that was enough, strapped my skis to my pack and began the short walk down to the car. TPS also went one turn too far and ended up in a heap in the bog.


We’d done pretty well, with just a couple of miles walk up the track to reach the end of the ridge and no more than a few hundred yards back to the car (although it was an outrageously boggy few hundred yards). We’d kept skis on for almost the whole day and it had been a pretty good tour.


As we reached the car we even had some patches of blue and little watery sunshine.


Perhaps the forecast could be wrong and Saturday might not be that bad. A quick pint back in the hotel bar, outside to return to my room and it was chucking it down. A taster of things to come!


Winter Wonderland – Six Go Mad on Ben More   2 comments

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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
  3. 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!

Winter Wonderland – Ski Touring in the Tarmachans   4 comments

Our winter trip to the Southern Highlands has been a fixture now for 10 years. In that time we’ve had a few days of sunshine and a couple of days of proper winter conditions. We’ve never had both together and the weather has always been mixed although the weather has never been a complete washout.

This year, our 11th, the forecast looked promising with high pressure and cold weather following a snowy spell giving much hope for a great conditions. Drawing back the curtains on the Friday morning gave substance to that hope.


Lots of deep fresh snow equals a chance for some ski touring. I abandoned TBF to the tender mercies of the Sheffield Boys while we headed to Lochan na Larige for a high start. We had park below the reservoir as the road was blocked by snow and ice.



Spoilt for choice with the mountains plastered in snow above 500m, and after much debate we settled on Meall Nan Tarmachan.



The weather and views were just breathtaking. How often is it you’re glad you remembered sunglasses on a day out in Scotland. We ploughed our trail up towards the ridge that carries the baggers path to the summit




Alas the Scottish weather nipped at our heels as a bank of grey cloud drifted in and started to cloak the higher summits. We were even treated to the almost unheard of sight of MM struggling with tiredness (he had just flown back from a business trip to Brazil!)




By the time we reached the summit it had reached us as well so it was the briefest of stops, tinged with a little disappointment that the fine start to the day had petered out.


Luckily skiing downhill is great fun even in the cloud. This descent enlivened by my attempt to ski an extremely steep gully badly broken by deep footprints and with boots not adjusted properly. Ratio between ski and fall about 20:80! 🙂

We skied down to the track and then back up to the ridge for another descent back to the car. The fickle Scottish weather turned again and the sun came out


Not sure what I did with the camera settings but they came out rather dark and broody looking but still capture the essence of what was a cracking ski descent



The snow was a little heavy but fluffy enough for some wonderful easy turns as we picked a superb route through the crags and gullies


I seem to have lost the ability to keep a camera aligned to the horizon as I’ve got older. However this particular shot seems to be best yet. Pretty sure Loch Tay would empty rather quickly at that sort of angle. 🙂


The patches of blue and the sunlight on the mountains, backed by dark clouds was just magnificent



This shot of GM in action is my favourite from the day


The descent went on all the way down to the dam and the massive water pipe that pops out from the base



For most of us climbing under the pipe was the only time we took skis off all day. MM made a very brave effort at trying to limbo underneath without taking them off. A then made it look easy!


Blue skies, a ski munro, two cracking descents, and ski to/from the car on excellent snow with great company. Does a day get better than this? Watch this blog to find out.

Boys (and Girls) Weekend – Uphill and Downhill on Meall Ghaordaidh   6 comments

More snow and more skiing. Well more rain and more skiing to be honest. Courtesy to GM for a good number of the photos, a deserving chance to see me in action again for a change, again I’m the short-ar5e in the green jacket

Meall Ghaordaidh. skiing, ski touring, ski mountaineering, glen lochay, duncroisk

A grey and dreary day with the promise of deterioration does not make for an enthusiastic breakfast. Still, snow down to relatively low levels is a rarity in Scotland in these globally warmed times so best make the most of things. A bit of ski touring was called for and a combination of a new Munro for Mad Malcs and some route planning by JB picked out Meall Ghaordaidh. The fact that it’s also a new Munro for me of course had no bearing on my decision

Downside is the start in Glen Lochay is low and Meall Ghaordaidh is a pretty big bugger. The snow wasn’t down as far as the road so some spirited walking in the damp drizzle was called for to get to the snow. Problem with ski touring in Scotland is you often have to walk up hill to get to the snow. This has two main disadvantages. Firstly you have to wear ski touring boots, a combination of downhill boots and plastic mountaineering boots, which despite the marketing blurb are deeply uncomfortable to walk in. Secondly as is obvious from the photos and any degree of thought, skis are cumbersome and heavy, making for a heavy pack when combined with winter gear.

Meall Ghaordaidh. skiing, ski touring, ski mountaineering, glen lochay, duncroisk

Meall Ghaordaidh. skiing, ski touring, ski mountaineering, glen lochay, duncroisk

Not a an ideal start, heavy pack, sore feet, and drizzle. But here’s the thing. In the right conditions ski touring is a very fine way to gain a summit, especially when the snow is deep, heavy and soggy on a day like this

Meall Ghaordaidh. skiing, ski touring, ski mountaineering, glen lochay, duncroisk

We stopped to slap on skis after 45 mins slogging up from Drumcroisk but from there progress is so much easier and swifter.

Meall Ghaordaidh. skiing, ski touring, ski mountaineering, glen lochay, duncroisk

Meall Ghaordaidh. skiing, ski touring, ski mountaineering, glen lochay, duncroisk

Meall Ghaordaidh. skiing, ski touring, ski mountaineering, glen lochay, duncroisk

Meall Ghaordaidh. skiing, ski touring, ski mountaineering, glen lochay, duncroisk

Skis take the uncertainty out of the terrain and you can set into a smooth climbing rhythm. Those heavy skis and uncomfortable boots are suddenly a bonus. It’s still bloody hard work, don’t get me wrong but you get a much better return for your efforts. I’m pretty sure in heavy wet snow there is no way we’d have got to the top. In fact we were up and down in around 5 hours.

Meall Ghaordaidh. skiing, ski touring, ski mountaineering, glen lochay, duncroisk

Meall Ghaordaidh. skiing, ski touring, ski mountaineering, glen lochay, duncroisk

There is a certain pleasure even on a miserable day like this in the steady progression skis give you. On foot this would have been a real grind, a grim relentless rigour of exhaustion and wet feet. My recollection of the climb was of hard work laced with good humour and enjoyment.

Meall Ghaordaidh. skiing, ski touring, ski mountaineering, glen lochay, duncroisk

Meall Ghaordaidh. skiing, ski touring, ski mountaineering, glen lochay, duncroisk

Meall Ghaordaidh. skiing, ski touring, ski mountaineering, glen lochay, duncroisk

We had a swift lunch under a boulder, surmising quite correctly that the summit would be unpleasant. A chance to capture the grim cheerfulness and take some very suspicious selfies.

Meall Ghaordaidh. skiing, ski touring, ski mountaineering, glen lochay, duncroisk

Meall Ghaordaidh. skiing, ski touring, ski mountaineering, glen lochay, duncroisk

Meall Ghaordaidh. skiing, ski touring, ski mountaineering, glen lochay, duncroisk

We pressed on to the summit, into the cloud and the weather turned truly nasty. It was amazingly swift how the wet and slushy snow turned to rock hard ice on the summit ridge (a warning for all as to just how swiftly conditions can change)

Meall Ghaordaidh. skiing, ski touring, ski mountaineering, glen lochay, duncroisk

Meall Ghaordaidh. skiing, ski touring, ski mountaineering, glen lochay, duncroisk

Meall Ghaordaidh. skiing, ski touring, ski mountaineering, glen lochay, duncroisk

Meall Ghaordaidh. skiing, ski touring, ski mountaineering, glen lochay, duncroisk

The summit was blasted by icy winds and spindrift, barely time to pat the cairn, recognise the tick before changing to downhill mode.

Meall Ghaordaidh. skiing, ski touring, ski mountaineering, glen lochay, duncroisk

Meall Ghaordaidh. skiing, ski touring, ski mountaineering, glen lochay, duncroisk

Meall Ghaordaidh. skiing, ski touring, ski mountaineering, glen lochay, duncroisk

Meall Ghaordaidh. skiing, ski touring, ski mountaineering, glen lochay, duncroisk

And here’s the other very obvious good reason for ski touring. Coming back down is swift and FUN! The icy summit slopes in a white-out proved interesting as did trying to ski in the snow equivalent of porridge.

Meall Ghaordaidh. skiing, ski touring, ski mountaineering, glen lochay, duncroisk

Laughs and thrills were had by all as we picked a route through the snowfields, arriving at the bottom of the snowline precisely where we’d started. No better way to descend a big Scottish mountain than on skis

Meall Ghaordaidh. skiing, ski touring, ski mountaineering, glen lochay, duncroisk

Meall Ghaordaidh. skiing, ski touring, ski mountaineering, glen lochay, duncroisk

By now the snow of high up had turned to rain and as we de-skiied it rained with a real vengeance. I haven’t been that wet returning from a day in the mountains in some years. Actually I tell a lie, I was this wet after last years walk up Ben Venue but you get my drift.

Meall Ghaordaidh. skiing, ski touring, ski mountaineering, glen lochay, duncroisk

I was soaked, my feet hurt and my shoulders ached. Was it a good day, you bet your ass it was! And Munro 215 to boot. Wins all round especially as we passed the parked cars of the other party still out on the mountains in what was now pretty much torrential rain. Schadenfreude is a wonderful thing 🙂

Annual March Gathering of the Clans   25 comments

It was that time of year for ageing ex-students from the 80’s to heed the call of the wild and head to the Southern Highlands. It’s been a tradition for nearly 10 years to get together in early March and the weekend seems to go from strength to strength.


This year TBF joined the gang and the both of us collected GM to head up on the Thursday to make a longer weekend of it. Our home of the past few years, The Suie Lodge Hotel, welcomed us late and looked after us with their usual relaxed hospitality.

Like the previous couple of years we went skiing for a day at Glencoe Ski Area. Last couple of years there has barely been enough snow. This year there was loads of snow, tonnes of the stuff, meters deep. In fact too much. The tops lifts weren’t running as they were completely buried.

Glencoe, Glencoe skiing

Still, the skiing was ok and we had some glimpses of blue sky but all in all it was pretty wild, windy and cold and by 3pm we’d had enough for one day. TBH said she “quite” enjoyed it. Scottish skiing is something of an acquired taste 🙂

Glencoe, Glencoe skiing

Me a GM did a little impromptu off piste touring to bag a small bump near the piste and escape the crowds.

Glencoe, Glencoe skiing

The runs were not open all the way down to the bottom but they were the best of the day. While everyone else downloaded on the chairlift. We had an empty run with some nice views as we emerged from the cloud. A 10 minute walk through the bog at the bottom was a price worth paying

Glencoe, Glencoe skiing

We headed back (via a beer at the Bridge of Orchy Hotel to celebrate) to meet with everyone else for beers, food stories and catching up

The following day (according to MWIS anyway) promised to be a cracker. I have never seen a mountain forecast in Scotland with the phrase “severe risk of sunburn”. I think you can guess the punchline……

Tarmachans, Beinn Ghlas, Ben Lawers, Coire Odhar

Despite the promise of some blue sky as we left the car for a ski-touring day, it rarely appeared again

Tarmachans, Beinn Ghlas, Ben Lawers, Coire Odhar

We were hoping for a grand tour across the Ben Lawers range and had left a car at the far end. Once out of the nature reserve and onto the snow the conditions were great and we made swift progress up to Beinn Ghlas.

Tarmachans, Beinn Ghlas, Ben Lawers, Coire Odhar

Tarmachans, Beinn Ghlas, Ben Lawers, Coire Odhar

By the time we reached the summit the only severe risk was frostbite. Complete whiteout, high winds and spindrift. The ridge looked nasty and corniced. Spotting a cornice at walking pace is hard enough, spotting one at skiing pace was deemed far too risky so we cut our losses and went for a descent down Core Odhar. It proved to be a fine and long descent, my only regret not being close enough to GM to see him hit a wall of snow at full pace. Some people have no sense of theatre. We toyed with the idea of another ascent but the weather was pretty miserable so we headed back to the hotel. We ventured out for a stroll along the disused railway lines behind the hotel at the end of the day. GM recovered his sense of theatre by grabbing an electric fence and getting a nasty shock, much to my amusement (that’s what friends are for I believe)

Another evening swapping jokes and stories and catching up with old friends some of whom I only see on this weekend

Tarmachans, Beinn Ghlas, Ben Lawers, Coire Odhar

For our final day we headed south to tackle Ben Venue. I’d never walked much in the Trossachs and I was looking forward to the walk as Ben Venue has often caught my eye.

Ben Venue

7.6 Miles

The weather forecast wasn’t great but the sun was out when we parked up and the views along Loch Achray were grand.

The Trossachs, Achray Water, Gleann Riabhach, Ben Venue

The Trossachs, Achray Water, Gleann Riabhach, Ben Venue

It’s quite a long walk winding along by the Achray Water and through the desolate forest – desolate now its being cleared

The Trossachs, Achray Water, Gleann Riabhach, Ben Venue

The Trossachs, Achray Water, Gleann Riabhach, Ben Venue

At least you get to see the views now

The Trossachs, Achray Water, Gleann Riabhach, Ben Venue

These two remaining bare trunks caught my eye – looked like the place had been hit by a nuclear blast. Lets hope it recovers its former glory in years to come

The Trossachs, Achray Water, Gleann Riabhach, Ben Venue

Where the made path ran out and turned into the usual sloppy mess that passes for a path in the Southern Highlands we decided to head straight for the summit. As we climbed the snow both on the ground and in the air grew thicker and we were in full blizzard on the summit

The Trossachs, Achray Water, Gleann Riabhach, Ben Venue

Time for  brief summit photo and then off back down. The walk along the rocky ridge was interesting and I’m sure its a fine high level traverse in clear conditions but it was pretty grim this day.

The Trossachs, Achray Water, Gleann Riabhach, Ben Venue

The bad weather promised had really set in. As we descended, the snow in the air turned to heavy rain and the snow on the ground turned to wet slush and then sloppy bog. It turned into a bit of route march back down the way we’d come up and it was absolutely tipping it down by the time we reached the cars. Goodbyes were brief in the rain, everyone wet and tired and ready to start the long drive home. Another weekend over, another one to confine to the memory banks, another one to remind you do it all again next year

Memories of Snow – Sledging and Skiing in Herefordshire   4 comments

Sitting here on a cold and very wet Sunday, my thoughts drift back 3 weeks to a time when the white stuff was all around and there was fun to be had. After a heavy dump of snow on the Friday it was only right and proper that we took the kids out for some sledging.

Ewyas Harold, Sledging

Ewyas Harold, Sledging

I live in a pretty much countour-less world around my village but a short 20 minute drive takes us to Ewyas Harold on the Welsh border where there is a top-notch sledging site that you can park at the bottom of. Perfectly sculpted, the slope is steep and long enough for some pretty fast rides with a decent run off at the bottom so you don’t come an unfortunate cropper if you run out of control (other than a strategically placed metal water trough for the sheep and cows but that’s by the by). It’s local popularity ensured that the slopes were well polished by the time we got there ensuring some very swift descents

Ewyas Harold, Sledging

Needless to say the kids had a great time and so did the adults.

Ewyas Harold, Sledging

A few photos and a nifty little  video below courtesy of my HD Headcam to get the vibe.

Ewyas Harold, Sledging

Ewyas Harold, Sledging

Ewyas Harold, Sledging

Ewyas Harold, Sledging

Ewyas Harold, Sledging

Alas the camera wasn’t able to capture the highlight of the afternoon. TBF took a ride and headed straight for a ramp that the braver kids had made. She hit it at maximum velocity and bounced a good couple of feet into the air before landing in a most undignified manner in the snow. It was the funniest thing I’d seen in a while and the kids were in hysterics, mainly due to the fact it was so unexpected. She survived the incident without major injury I should add. If only I’d had the camera on.

Ewyas Harold, Sledging

The next day it was time to try some skiing. The weather was pretty dreary and my previous experience of skiing in the Brecon Beacons wasn’t great. Loose unconsolidated snow on heather and tussocks does not make for great downhill skiing. What I needed was close-cropped grass and Hergest Hill possesses plenty so it was off to Kington. You can drive pretty much to the top but I figured the road would be undriveable so I parked up in town with a view to walking or skiing up (I have touring skis and skins to climb hills). Have to admit I felt somewhat conspicuous walking through the town in ski boots with skis strapped to my pack, gathering curious looks as I went. Luckily there was enough snow on the side and middle of the road to ski on so I was able to get the skis off my pack and skin up the narrow road, gaining more quizzical looks as I went. Once on the open hillside  I was in proper touring mode and apart from a few brave sledging souls (the weather was pretty grey and grim) I had Hergest Hill to myself.

Hergest Ridge, Ski Touring, Kington, Gladestry

Passing the usual Monkey Puzzle tree markers on the summit I decided to try and ski down the other side of the long ridge to Gladestry.

Hergest Ridge, Ski Touring, Kington, Gladestry

It was at this point I was reminded that what feels like a hill on foot is not quite the same as a hill on skis. The slopes down to Gladestry were nothing like steep enough for any white knuckle adrenaline and I just gently cruised down, barely putting a turn in. Someone else had been up here on skis and I followed their tracks down. After a brief pause above the village (the final slopes are steep and covered in gorse) I simply retraced my steps back over the top, another gentle and unexciting trundle although it was good to be out on skis.

Hergest Ridge, Ski Touring, Kington, Gladestry

The top section of the road was steep enough for a few turns and little more excitement but there were cars skating around on the lower slopes so I cut across the fields back to Kington. There were some pretty decent little runs across the fields, although the right of way traversed far too many stiles for my liking (I haven’t yet worked out a technique to ski over a stile). Trying to ski down a narrow rutted farm track was an interesting sensation! The last run of the day was the best, a steep private driveway that no-one had cleared gave a nice few turns in some decent powder to finish. In truth there was enough snow on the pavement on Kington to ski on, but I figured trying ski down a narrow pavement next to a busy road probably wasn’t all that smart. Not exactly ski-mountaineering but a fun afternoon out in the snow. Good practice for my proper skiing trip to France the following week

Suie Lodge Weekend March 2011 (aka The Uncle Fester Memorial Weekend)   4 comments

For the past few years our tribe of ex- Manchester University students (plus honoured guests) have been heading up to Scotland for a winter weekend getaway from the pressures – sorry – pleasures of family life. This is the sixth year we’ve done it and previously we’ve stayed in a cheap but not very cheerful hotel near Crianlarich. This year we decided to splash out and try a new hotel and we weren’t disappointed.

Friday 4th March – Glencoe Skiing

We normally gather on the Friday night but this year GM, MM and me took an extra day off and despite there being very little snow (again!) we headed off to try and find some skiing in Glencoe. After the usual hearty and unhealthy fry up in Callendar we arrived at the ski area where it didn’t look promising but the lifts were running and despite the top lifts being out of order we thought we’d give it a go

GM and MM wading through the snow in the car park

Once above 6oo metres at the mid station it was clear there was enough snow for some fun so after a couple of brief runs low down we put the skins on and headed up to the top of Meall A’Bhuridh in overcast but bright and dry conditions. It’s munro number 209 for me and despite GMs protestations that using the ski lift to get half way doesn’t count I’m claiming it – especially as we skinned up it twice this day.

MM and GM enjoying lunch on the summit

Skinning up for the second time

After lunch on the top we did try and get further into the Blackmount but there simply wasn’t enough snow. We satisfied our cravings with some descents back down to the main ski area down Etive Glades. Whilst the snow was a bit heavy it was continuous and, best of all, deserted. and the 400m descent was great. After another couple of runs in the lower area (steep and interestingly patchy at the bottom) we returned to the summit again. The skies began to clear and after some glimpses through the thinning veil of clouds it cleared completely treating us to some spectacular views down over Rannoch Moor and across to Glencoe. We descended Flypaper which is pretty steep and would be fantastic in better conditions especially with the views. Once at the bottom we found we could ski back to the top of the chairlift via the line of the drag lift which provided a really pleasant finish to the days skiing with the ever clearing sky and expansive views

Rannoch Moor

MM with Flypaper to the left

We’d been playing with my Headcam during the day and the collected footage is below. Still need some practice getting the angles right but it is a fantastic way to relive the days fun.

Despite the patchy snow it was a really superb day and well worth the effort to get out. The brew in the cafe with the view across to Buchaille Etive Mor was well earned

A well earned brew

Buchaille Etive Mor

We drove back across to our weekend hotel under a cloudless sky with awesome views of the Blackmount, Ben Dorain and Ben More. We arrived at at the Suie Lodge Hotel to a warm welcome ready for a few beers and a hearty meal to await the arrival of the rest of the posse. By 11pm the numbers were complete minus, alas, UF who had been struck down by nasty case of “feeling a bit glandy”. After we’d recovered from the shock, wiped away the tears and raised a glass to our missing comrade, we proceeded to take the p**s out of him for the rest of the weekend. UF – we salute you!!

Saturday 5th March

After the usual haggling between the 11 of us about where to go – we split into two groups, 4 heading off towards Ben Lawers while the rest of us sought a route befitting our level of fitness i.e. not very far. Independently ED and me came up with a route to traverse Stuchd An Lochain by leaving a car on one side at Pubil in Glen Lyon and then driving round to the dam at Loch an Diamh. We could then start at 400 metres and walk over to the car.

It’s an eventful drive to Pubil as the “road” from Glen Lyon is ever so slightly potholed but enjoyable nontheless unless you happen to be in the back of my car when I’m driving. Strangely no-one fancied that option. Glen Lyon is a wild spot and not somewhere I’ve been before and my eyes were drawn to the north facing corries on Meall Ghaordie – one for next year.

Glen Lyon

It was pretty damp and dismal when we set off but these weekends are great for catching up with the boys. We only meet up a few times a year so it’s a great chance to catch up and tell a bunch of old stories – a bit sad but they still make us laugh and that’s the main thing.

The dam at Loch an Diamh

A quality baggers path led us easily up to the summit ridge for a lengthy lunch and more stories and chat.

Lunch on the summit

The ridge is broad and easy angled, giving just the right terrain for walking and talking, and as we progressed the cloud thinned in places giving some views north and south into the impressive corries particularly down to Lochan nan Cat. Despite the encouraging signs we never saw the sun that kept promising to show up.

EWO and GM enjoying what passed for sunshine

GM and Lochan nan Cat

Having bagged the summit (munro 210 for me) we felt our appetite unsatisfied and the now named Eternal Weather Optimist (EWO) convinced us that his personal patch of blue sky that forever sits above his head (the deluded fool) would show itself to all of us if we climbed up the Corbett next door. He always says this and always (and I mean ALWAYS) climbs an extra hill at the end of the day so no real surprise at his suggestion. This time however he was nearly right. When we arrived at the summit of Sron a Choire Chnapanich the sky started to clear, there was blue sky above, the sun came out (kind of) and we were treated to some misty views back down to Loch an Diamh. Sadly it never really cleared but in Scotland you take what you can get and we savoured the views, just long enough to get cold and decide that it wasn’t going to clear fully.

"It's blueing up laaads"

Loch an Diamh

Time to head back down to Pubil over the boggy ground that can only be Scotland, play at taxis and back to Suie Lodge for more beer, food and stories – and yes, some of the same ones from earlier in the day!

Sunday 6th March

After saying goodbye to our excellent hosts at Suie Lodge, this morning’s “where shall we go” argument was between Ben Venue and Beinn Chabair.

Suie Lodge Hotel

There was heated debate, factions, claims, counter claims, negotiations, arbitrations before we all gave up and fell in behind the Hard Man (HM) who seemed to have a real urge for Ben Chabair so we met up again in Inverarnan by Loch Lomond.

ED had already set off when we arrived and it took us a good 45 minutes of serious effort (for me anyway) to reel him in. He’s suffered a bit with his health and fitness over the last few years so it’s great to see him really able to enjoy long days in the hills again.

An excellent path got us easily past the really steep lower slopes to emerge on the wild and VERY boggy moorland where the path  promptly vanished. It’s a long trek up towards Ben Chabair and the heathery/boggy terrain was becoming a little tiresome but once we hit the wild corrie holding Lochan Beinn Chabair the ground improved and we could see our route above.

Lochan Beinn Chabair, summit looming behind

The weather was pretty dreary and grey but it would be a fabulous place when clear with the complex crags and knolls of the west ridge of Beinn Chabair looming high above. As we climbed higher everything became coated in ice and frost but unlike the day before there was no sign of the cloud clearing. We ascended the south ridge and all reached the summit (munro 211 for me) for the obligatory team photo. ED compares us to the Bash Street Kids in his blog. All I can say is we’re an excellent testimonial for Care in the Community.

Combined Years 350+, combined mental age 100 (mostly Old Father Sheffield)

The route down twists and turns through the aforementioned west ridge knolls. On a better day it would be interesting to take this ridge all the way down and explore the many crags and hollows. On a dreary Sunday with legs wilting after a couple of decent days and long drive home we simply retraced our steps back to the end of Lochan Beinn Chabair and back down to the cars.

As always my flickr photos are here or you can take a look at the slideshow below that I’ve posted on YouTube

The “Jolly Boys Outing” over for another year – roll on 2012!

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