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Sunday, January 27, 2019

Bidean nam Bian

We arrived into Glencoe late in the evening but it was clear to see that the snow was non-existent. After a quick shower and some hot grub we planned the next day out and figured we would pack axe and crampons just in case the conditions changed while we were on the hill.

To our delight we woke to the arrival of winter. The forecast said some precipitation possible but it was clear from the valley floor that some mountains had established a thicker winter coat than others.

Our first aim was to follow a route we found on the internet but after reaching the end of the valley we noticed a striking ridgeline that would bring us out near the final North ridge leading to the summit.

The ridge turned out to be a good bit of fun and by sticking to the main part of the ridge we encountered some nice sections of rock at about grade 1 allowing some use of the axe and some nice short sections of exposure.

We arrived at the summit around two and a half hours after we left the car and were greeted by full on winter with strong icy winds and lots of blowing snow. After a few minutes taking it all in we checked the map and headed on a bearing to find the way off and back down to the car via the lost valley.

For those who have never been to the lost valley in Glencoe it gained infamy as it provided a perfect shelter for the McDonald clan to hide cattle they had rustled from a rival. The valley is completely invisible from the road and its easy to see why they choose this area to hide their ill-gotten gains.


Ring Of Steall

The Ring of Steall is a classic route that takes in four Munros offering 2500m of ascent over 12 miles. In summer this classic route is quite and undertaking but the winter is a completely different game. Deep snow and poor visibility will slow you down and corniced edges and rock steps on the ridges need extra special care when its blowing a hoolie.  

Looking up from the car the wind was howling around and large storm clouds above were dumping snow on the higher tops. We had picked a pretty awful day to do this and neither myself or Matt  were that sure it would even be safe to complete. (Yes we are both called Matt)

Starting out we were both very mindful of the conditions and we spent most the morning exploring escape options and what ifs should the weather become un-workable.  The wind speeds were forecast to gust at up to 60mph around lunch which would make the tops feel pretty full on, we decided it would be worth trying it and if all else fails we would drop down into the valley and retreat.

The crux of the first section is the Devils ridge and you need to be able to move quickly over exposed pinnacles and rock steps to ensure you don’t loose too much time. We found the ridge pretty straight forward but needed to keep it together as some of the gusts would stop you dead and could risk you blowing you off into oblivion. We took care but also did not hang around.

Reaching the end of the ridge we both felt in great shape so stormed off at a good speed ticking off the next two peaks. The occasional bearing was needed when visibility reduced as some of the summits had more than one ridge line and taking the wrong one in whiteout would have been a terrible error.

We climbed up and over Am Bodach still feeling fresh and the deep windblown snow on the ridges gave us a good solid footing which helped keep us on time.

By the final ridgeline we were both feeling a little tired and the wind speeds were certainly slowing us down. The windchill was pretty horrendous and most of our skin was covered but our noses were starting to feel the windburn. I told Matt (The other Matt) that if we kept giving it everything we could reward ourselves with a whole pack of chocolate hobnobs on the way home. As if by magic we both found ourselves moving quicker and more efficiently and before long we were stood on the last summit.

We headed down from the last summit towards the Steall Falls and the wire bridge. Unfortunately the first river from the falls was in spate so we had to wade across with our boots around our necks. After much procrastinating I took the plunge and found myself up to my thighs in icy water with Matt following me through. My legs instantly got the hot aches and it took a few minutes for the pain to subside but I was eager to push on and grab these Hobnobs.

After crossing the first river we headed for the Steall wire bridge and over the main river. We then made our way along the long trail back to the car reaching the finish after around 10 hours from when we started. We stopped off at the shop and smashed a whole pack of Hobnobs (Other biscuits are available) on the way back which everybody knows is a scientifically proven method of helping muscles to recover (MBS)


Stob a Choire Mheadhouin and Stob Coire Eassain

After yesterdays monster day out Matt and I were looking for a slightly easier day out so that the legs could recover for some bigger mountain adventures in the week. Alex had arrived from Birmingham and with fresh legs and some good experience under his belt he recommended two Munros he’s been wanting to tick which are an easier day out in the eastern part of the Nevis Range.

The walk in to the start of the trail felt hard going on our legs but after a few miles Matt, Alex and I were feeling good and the motivation was building in us all. The first part of the walk was mainly farm trail then it heads up boggy ground to gain the first part of the ridge.

After some steep heather climbing we arrived at around 700m giving us a great view of the two Munros and the clear skies and good visibility meant we could head straight for our summits with little need for navigation.

On the summit of Mheadhouin we met a group of local “ramblers” who described themselves as an extremist off shoot who spend most of their time climbing mountains in all conditions. It was great to be able to enjoy the views and share some stories before heading back down to find the car.


Sgor na Hulaidh

Walking up the long track toward Sgor na Hulaidh was a slog and it was taking a long time for my mind to agree to this walk. I’ve often found that the biggest element that holds you back from achieving in the mountains is your mind. Find a way to silence it and everything gets easier. For me I have a routine, I turn my mind off and just get into a rhythm and focus my mind on positives or thoughts that will keep me distracted.

At the end of the valley we reached a spur that would take us on towards the summit. After around an hour we found ourselves on steep terrain and deeper snow so decided it was time for axe and crampons. The decision to use axe and crampons is a subjective decision and everybody has their own comfort levels. For us we figured that a slip on this section would ensure a bumpy 100m+ fall with an uncertain outcome so crampons and axe were deployed.

We reached the summit in good time but the combination of high wind speeds and freezing temperatures made the windchill exceptionally cold to any exposed skin. We didn’t hang around on the summit and after a short walk down some steeper ground we found ourselves on the exit point that we had spied from the bottom on the walk in.

Dropping down the side took us out of the wind and it was pure bliss to feel the warmth return to our cheeks and noses. We opted for a descending traverse down the mountain side that would bring us right out on the path we had walked in on making the return leg much easier.


Beinn Fhionnlaidh (The day that made all the effort worth it)

Some days you reach a summit and its grim, other days you don’t even make the summit. Today was Scottish winter walking at its very finest and only the luckiest or most seasoned mountaineers can attest to such incredible days.

The walk up from the valley was a long old walk and I think we all were hoping one of us would give in so that we could all turn around and go eat cake and drink nice coffee. Thankfully because we are all stubborn that didn’t happen so we continued to slog up the mountain side, which, if we reach the top would have made our ninth Munro bagged in 6 days.

Near the top we all got an idea of what was happening and through the clouds above us we could see blue sky. The cloud was getting thinner and the thoughts of a cloud inversion gave us all energy and we were excited to see if we could peak just out of the clouds on the summit.

Reaching the summit was simply breath-taking. We stood on the cairn and looked around to see all the 900m+ peaks poking out of the clouds which looked like a see of mountains floating on the cloud tops. We stayed on the summit for quite a while and as the warm air was pushing over the cold front it was certainly warmer on the summit than in the valley.

After what felt like ages we headed down using our previous footsteps to save us breaking through the deeper snow. Today was the best ending to a week of winter walking and it certainly felt like we were being rewarded for pushing through all the grim weather on the days before. 



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