York Mountaineering Club
winter weekend February 2012
The trip was organised by Maria the new club secretary and all thanks go to her for a great weekend that was had by all.
The weather forecast was all about the cold front from Russia when the advance team set off from York early Friday morning hoping to get on the hill that afternoon.
Brian H, Brian T and John Mac arrived at Balquhidder along the side of the beautiful Loch Voil at 1.45 pm and after a walk along the private road to Inverlochlarig climbed the steep grassy slopes of Beinn Tulaichean passing through huge rocky boulders smothered in icicles.
The book said to chose your own route up around or over the crags and Brian H and John Mac, taking this literally, soon lost Brian T as they wound their way onwards and upwards chasing the glorious sunshine.
Realising Brian T was holding the beer money, John Mac down climbed to find him. Brian T was later heard to complain that he was lost due to “Due to John Mac’s lack of observation of the rest of his party”
2 ½ hours after setting off we arrived on the summit in superb conditions with no one else on the mountain. At the summit despite the late hour Brian T was keen to walk on and upwards into the dark top of Cruach Ardrain but being the unselfish mountain man that he is, he decided instead to assist the more elderly John Mac (who was struggling on the icy slopes and muttering to himself “bxxxard walking…what’s the point of it”) down safely to the glen below. It was a good weather start to the YMC weekend. Unfortunately for the rest of the party this was to be the only decent day of weather until the Monday.
Friday night the weekenders arrived at the Laggan bunkhouse. The old Firm of Frank A and Matt D accompanied by Dave C, Mike F and Maria D.
After the usual bunkhouse evening a bleary eyed team was early on the hill in various states. The night had been disturbed by some minor snoring until one of the main culprits , no stranger to sacrifice, removed himself to the living room whereupon a slightly better second half of the night was had by all despite the fact that the main culprit remained asleep and oblivious. The morning saw 3 intrepid teams depart for separate destinations. Team Tucker headed off up Binnein Shuas having planned ahead with John Mac that the car keys would be left under a wheel for him if he was the first back to the car park.
The old Firm (Matt and Frank) planned to start from Newtonmore and climb Carn Dearg with the intention of crossing the Monadhliath plateau to bag 2 more Munros. Luckily for the old firm common sense prevailed and when they were met by a complete white-out on the summit of Carn Dearg they reversed their route back to Newtonmore and into the nearest pub - some have claimed that the old firm never in fact left this particular pub in Newtonmore and never ventured onto the hill at all that day – although if this was true the photo that Frank A was a little too keen for everyone to see of him at the top of Carn Dearg has yet to be explained!
The rest of the gang had planned to go into Creag Meagaidh to do Staghorn Gully but the considerable avalanche risk and the unfavourable wind direction and speed caused a rethink. Mike F came up with a cunning plan. He happened to have a scrap of old paper, on which there were a few notes he had jotted down in a pub about a climb his uncle had done up the east ridge of Beinn a’Chaorainn. There was nothing in the guide book but armed with the few faded lines and an enthusiastic Mike F we set off up the east ridge into grim whiteout conditions and varying bursts of 60-70 mile winds that picked up even the heaviest of us from time to time and pushed us towards the ridge edge.
Different lines of varying difficulty provided continuous enjoyment and challenge all the way to the summit where all topped out safely. Due to whiteout conditions it was decided to descend the less steep southern slope of the mountain rather than attempt the second Munro on the route.
Back at the car team Tucker was nowhere to be seen. Instead an abusive note was found on John Mac’s car windscreen saying that after yet another successful summit for Team Tucker he couldn’t find the keys despite crawling around on all fours and digging trenches behind each wheel in a blizzard and so had set of walking/hitching the 12 miles back to the bunkhouse. John Mac recovered the keys from within the wheel where he had cunningly placed them. We set off after Brian T and caught up with him several miles down the road looking wet and frosty but in good spirits despite the little trick played on him by that joker Johnny Mac.
Saturday night saw us in the Monadhliath hotel for refreshments and to watch one half of the old Firm, the Glaswegian Frank A cheering on his second favourite country as England beat Scotland 13-6 in the six nations rugby.
Brian H, John Mac and Maria D headed up to Coire an Lochain to attempt the 100m climb Ventilator. Dave C and Mike F joined them in the Coire. Initially Dave C was keen to climb “The Hurting”, but conditions not being quite in he was persuaded instead to attempt Y Gully Left Branch They found conditions poor with vertical powder snow on top of the ice and ended up retreating using an ablakov thread and then climbing the Couloir as a consolation prize.
Brian H, John Mac and Maria queued for an hour at the bottom of the route in freezing conditions behind a couple of Edinburgh University students and part of the Oban Mountain rescue team. Eventually they moved up allowing John Mac up the first part of the pitch only to find himself stuck again behind the log jam of climbers. Fingers froze, nerves frayed and toes numbed whilst we discussed the options. Eventually realising that the other teams were likely to be still on the climb into the small wee hours Johnny Mac down climbed, belaying himself from a sling and we retreated down the slope and back to the café.
We found the old Firm in an even worse state than we were. Matt was crying into his beer and Frank A had had to go back to the bunkhouse to lie down. They had suffered ignominy and defeat. After many Munros together over many years the old Firm had suffered their first ever mountain retreat. They were gutted. They had attempted Ben Macdui but were forced to back down due to severe white-out conditions on the plateau.
Brian T and Team Tucker was the only YMC team to have any luck on the hill on Sunday. He topped out on Cairngorm at 11.15am being the first and maybe the only man on the hill that day before heading north to add another “top” to his collection. Some one scoffed at the collection of a top and Brian T was heard to mutter, “It’s better than a Corbett!”
After a swift collection of gear at the lagan bunkhouse Brian H, John Mac and Brian T headed off back to York after an excellent few days in the hill.
So Sunday evening found the remnants of the YMC Winter Weekend (Mike, Maria, Matt D and Dave C) back at Laggan and pondering their collective failures. The decision was made to eat an impossibly large quantity of pasta, drink some whisky, get an early night, (blissfully silent and snore-free) and then get up at 5am, drive to Glencoe and attempt the Aonach Eagach.
Monday's weather forecast looked promising, and as the intrepid quartet weaved up the road to Spean Bridge in the wee small hours, the anticipation was mounting. Arrival at Glencoe was greeted by a cloudless sky, and still, clear, crisp frosty air.
By 7.30 am the team was on their way. The route up to Am Bodach, whilst steep, was via a well engineered track, made a little edgy with the occasional smear of verglas just to keep the eyes on the ground in front. The developing view however was becoming increasingly stunning, with the view to the south dominated by Bidean Nam Bian, the Buachailles and Beinn a’ Bheithir to the Southwest. The crest of Am Bodach then brought the vista of what looked pretty much like the entire Highlands; the Torridon Peaks visible off in the distance, the Nevis range, the Mamores, Schiehallion standing proud at the far end of Rannoch Moor, and the Ben Lawers range coming into view, shrugging off their last threads of mist.
On went crampons and harnesses for the first challenge of the day – traversing the “Chancellor” (Am Bodach’s intimidating western rampart) with a short abseil and then a solo pull across to Meall Dearg – the first Munro of the day. Then without too much ceremony it was on to the traverse of the Aonach Eagach proper: a series of sharp narrow pinnacles, steep narrow descents and clambering up a series of slabs, chimneys and beautiful snow covered aretes.
The snow was powdery and loose in what was becoming a remarkably Alpine day (sunblock and water were in short supply!). But the rope stayed untouched for most of the traverse, save for a couple of difficult steps.
The YMC team was one of only four groups to traverse the ridge all day; in what were almost perfect conditions. Stob Coire Leith was finally reached and the team shared out the last of their water and basked for a while munching jelly babies, before the last pull to Sgurr Nam Fiannaidh. (the second Munro of the day) An easy descent on tired legs to the col below the Pap of Glencoe followed, and then a sketchy path led all the way down to a point conveniently close to Glencoe Youth Hostel.
All were a bit tired by then. A quick enquiry at the Hostel sorted out some very comfortable accommodation, Mike ventured off to retrieve his car (and all the team’s stuff), Maria elected to chill out; whilst Matt D and Dave C did the right thing, borrowed some money off Mike and carried on walking to the pub to rehydrate in style. They then went all the way back to the hostel, cleaned off a substantial layer of dirt, and then back to the pub again. A huge quantity of food and drink was consumed, and the team – joined by a couple who had also traversed the ridge – entered the pub quiz. It would be fair to say that their mountaineering prowess overshadowed their pub quiz prowess…
The evening’s revels over, it was decided to do a nice simple hill walk for the final day, just to stretch the legs, and to provide an early finish for the journey home.
Beinn a’Chleibh was selected as a likely candidate (only 3.5 km from the road and just so happened to be on Matt D’s tick list) It did however require a river crossing to start – or rather a diversion for 1.5 km down the rather deep river to a footbridge that led to the railway (the day was already beginning to resemble an assault course). Then the ascent required climbing up across very rough ground that had recently been clear felled, and finally the North West Ridge of the mountain was reached and a long slow slog to the summit (Dave C was heard to mutter “God this is a dull lump” – as they toiled up past a series of false summits).
The wind was now blowing in from the South East chilling the air and carrying in banks of mist that obscured the summit and appeared to push it further and further away. But finally they made it. Reward was a stunning view of Ben Lui, and all around a fine vista of peaks. A quick descent onto the col between the two mountains and down out of the wind and lunch was taken. Matt D’s map case decided to suddenly slither down the mountain, slowly at first, and then just disappeared over the edge… This event did raise a considerable degree of hilarity. Discussion then arose as to the climbing potential of the North East Face of Beinn a’ Chleibh which looked to have a couple of fine gully routes, artfully decorated with spectacular ice falls (another time perhaps).
A short walk down the mountain, through the forest – vand straight across the river this time (which did appear a little less deep than it had earlier) and it was back to the car, back to York. A great end to a great weekend.
YORK MC February 2012
Brian H. and Matt D.