Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Beinn an Lochain

Like all easy snow covered scrambly bits on mountains, it always looks worse than it is when you actually start climbing. I didn't wear crampons as the snow was still soft and deep but I did take out my ice axe in case the surface started to harden. It could also be a life saver if I needed it to stop myself falling during a slip.

Once my companion saw that the snow didn't avalanche under my weight, he happily followed in my footsetps. Looking downwards and past him, I could see it was a long drop if the snow did give way and we went over the edge.

Nearer the top of the snow diagonal, the surface snow hardened, which gave better foot holds when we kicked into it and also gave a firmer support for the ice axe hand holds. I was glad of this, as the slope became steeper and a slip could mean a long fast downward slide.

Moments later, the ridge leveled out again. We paused to catch our breath and admire the views. The cloud was still high and thankfully the forecasted snow storm had not started yet.

Looking northwards back towards Glen Kinglas. The hump in the centre of the photo is part of the ridge that we had just walked.

Looking north east along the cliffs that flank the part of the ridge that we had just walked.

Looking west towards Loch Fyne and beyond the loch lies the coastline south of Oban

But it was the view to the south that held our attention the most. The summit of Beinn an Lochain was getting closer and was still cloud free. One more scrambly bit to go and we would be there.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Beinn an Lochain

I have to admit that I was quite relieved and surprised to see the heavy snow clouds rising off the surrounding hills. There was little in the way of wind and the forecast was for heavy snow showers coming in from the east causing prolonged white out conditions on the hill tops. But behind us, the sun was still shining on Glen Kinglas

While we were walking a little further along the ridge, the clouds rolled back to give us our first glimpse of the summit. It looked quite impressive flanked by its huge drops down to the loch far below. I just hoped that the snow was a bit more consolidated on the steeper slopes at higher altitudes.

So far the snow as still very fresh and soft. A couple of days earlier there was hardly a drop of snow left on the hills in this area. The low swirling clouds reminded me that there could be a lot more very soon.

Soon we arrived at the first steep scramble on the ridge. We were the only people on the hill on Sunday, so there was little sign of the path under the new snow. I presumed it went up the diagonal snow line running from lower left to top right in this photo. At least that looked the easiest line of assent under snow conditions.

We walked to the start of the snow line on the rocky outcrop, but before beginning our scramble, my companion asked me to pose for a photograph on a rocky outcrop immediately above the cliffs that fell vertically to the valley floor. I obliged but I refrained from standing on the very edge. It was a bit too slippery and exposed for comfort.

We then looked at the steep slope which I assumed was the route to the top of this section of the ridge. My companion looked a little concerned at the steep snow in front of us .. as he asked.. is this safe ?

I assured him that it was as safe as houses... to which he replied ...

Ok .. I trust your experience .. you go first and be the avalanche indicator... I guessed he had read my blog ..

I didn't want to let my younger companion know I was a little concerned of soft snow .. so said .. ok problem .. I will lead the way

Monday, 18 March 2013

Beinn An Lochain

To my mind, some hills are just crying out to be done in full winter conditions, and the one at the top of my list of "yet to do" was Beinn an Lochain, just off the Rest and Be Thankfull road in Argyle. I had this thought in mind last autumn and for preparation , I climbed to its summit, to give me some idea of what may be involved. I was impressed by its rocky ridge and, at times, narrow exposed path. It is just short of 3000ft high and was originally a Munro (hill of 3000ft or higher) until modern measurement technology shrank it a bit.

I made arrangements with a co worker to attempt the winter ascent on Sunday. I was a bit hesitant as the weather forecast was for rain on the lower slopes and possible whiteout conditions above 2000ft. Its not a mountain to get caught out in whiteout conditions as there are steep drops all around the route, but as winter is almost over, we decided it was possibly our last chance at the route before the snows disappeared for another year. I just hoped the possible whiteout conditions wouldn't mean it was my last chance ..end of story.

We parked in the lay by off the A82 at the start of the ridge walk. It was 9am and although the clouds where heavy looking and low, at least it wasn't raining yet. The snow was at road level although it was sparse and wet. The burn was easily crossed by the stepping stones as the water level was relatively low considering the recent weather.

It was a bit wet underfoot in the lower sections of the route. The snow hid the boggy holes which I found when my weight pushed through the white surface into the dark peaty water below.

Beinn an Lochain is a steep ascent right from the start and soon the views over loch Restil started to open up under the swirling snow laden clouds.

A sudden splash of sun broke through a narrow hole in the clouds behind us and brightly illuminated the slopes to the west of Glen Kinglas

Ahead, the ridge steepened considerably and the ground got drier as bog and moorland gave way to rock.

Surprisingly, the cloud level also got higher as we climbed higher. We stopped for a brief rest to admire the views when we reached the start of the main ridge

Sheer drops were now obvious on the left hand side of the ridge.

Loch Restil looked a long way down, yet I knew the steep climb was only starting. Although it was cold, it didn't feel much below freezing. The snow was getting deeper but it was still quite soft. I wondered about avalanches on the steeper slopes......

Thursday, 7 March 2013

A dark day on the Buachaille

Once I had clambered up the steep head wall and out of Coire Na Tulaich , the rest of the walk to the summit was very easy easy. The views across the rest of the Glencoe hill range opening up to the north was dominated by the huge mound of Stob na Doire, which is still part of the main Buachaille Etive Mor ridge.

There was hardly a breath of wind but I was still very aware of how cold it was on the summit ridge. My breath started to form beads of ice on my beard. The snow underfoot was ice hard and frost formed deep patterns on bare rocks.

As I made my way to the summit cairn, I thought back to my last climb into Crowberry Gully, to rescue three other climbers who became crag fast just below the crux of the route. I recalled the feeling then that I was climbing in a huge deep freeze. The look of both fear and relief on faces when I reached the young climbers. I could hear the helicopter's rotors again, shattering the icy silence of the gully as the down draft threw painful ice chips high into the air. I could almost smell the stench of their dead companion whom I left 1000ft below.

Lost in dark memories..I suddenly awoke to realize I was almost at the summit cairn of the Buachaille.

Once I reached the summit, I looked over towards the Rannoch moor and thought of the people who will never see that view again, and also of the unfortunate people who never saw that view.

Perhaps this might be seen to some as a morbid post and perhaps it is.

But my recent day on the Buachaille reminded me just how precious life is and also how worthwhile it is to reach our goals, but only if it is within our ability to do so.

The unfortunate "climbers" that I have mentioned had never been on a mountain in winter condition before and had mistakenly climbed into Crowberry Gully thinking it was an easy route to the top.

An easy mistake to do.. but they paid a very high price for that mistake.

I walked in silence back to the bealach to begin my steep decent back down the mountain. I could see my avalanch indicator making his way there too.

As I approached the bealach, another two walkers appeared out the coire to add some scale to the huge barren mountainscape.

As I made my way slowly back down the steep icy head wall, I remembered climbing back down Crowberry Gully. The helicopter was full of the rescued party and I was left to descent by my own steam. It was not a pleasant decent that day, passing blood and hair remains on the way down.

I gave up serious winter climbing after that incident. I guess I lost my "bottle" that day too.

As I descended the headwall, I decided that this would be my last time on top of the Buachaille too.

There are plenty other hills in Scotland.. some easier and some harder ..but none of them hold such dark memories for me.