WINTER WEEKEND #1 – 22nd TO 25th FEB 2024

The first of two winter weekend trips for 2024 took place over the extended weekend of the 22nd to the 25th of Feb and the club was based at the Alex Macintyre Memorial Hut near Ballachulish. There was a tremendous response to the trip with all sixteen places taken within hours of the booking being announced and the pressure was on to deliver another classic club trip to an exiting new venue.

The weather throughout the season has been unsettled and unusually warm with only occasional cold spells. Prior to the trip there had been a long thaw and much snow and ice had melted. However, in the days immediately before and in direct response to the winter weather dance performed by the Club Chairman there was significant snowfall and the temperature dropped. Phew!

Six club members in two cars headed north on Thursday. An alpine type start saw them arrive in the Ballachulish area in the late morning and gave the opportunity for some prompt mountaineering action. The Chairman's weather dance was still working so rain, sleet, snow and wind were all evident and likely to remain all day and into Friday. Dave C, Derek W and Charley S headed up a nearby Corbett, Mam na Guilainn which gave Charley his first chance to try out the strange metallic, spiky outer footwear known as crampons. The Corbett was in good shape and was an ideal starter for the trip. Ed H, Ewart P and Carwyn E opted to take a look up Schoolhouse Ridge. The ridge, although in reasonable condition, required a big effort which took time and returning via the soft snow and heather to the north side of Beinn Bhan ridge resulted in the first head-torch assisted descent of the weekend.

On Thursday Martin P was climbing in the Central Highlands on the east ridge of Beinn a Chaorainn. Martin had been in Scotland for a few days and would come to meet us at the weekend. Neil D was also in Scotland, at Ben Lawers range where he had positioned up to bag some Munro's on Friday before joining in the evening. Gavin M drove up later on Thursday evening and had a straight-forward journey until traffic ground to a halt for a half hour delay due to a traffic incident barely twenty miles from the hut.

On Thursday evening there was much debate about conditions and where best to go and on Friday morning a group of six headed around the corner to Glen Nevis for the Ring of Steall. Carwyn sensibly decided to have a rest day.

The Ring of Steall project did not go as it was hoped. Deep powder in places, poor visibility and the nature of the route all stacked up against the team. It was an ambitious plan that required enroute adjustment but even so it was a very long and tiring day where, for the second time, headtorches were needed in the descent. Perhaps the idea was over-optimistic but nontheless a fantastic effort was put in by all to keep the team together, keep moving and still be able to reflect positively on lessons learned. Maybe the fish and chip supper in Fort William helped because despite being hardly able to stand when back at the hut all were in remarkably good spirits.

Dave M, Gav H, Tracey H arrived in Ballachulish on Friday afternoon. Neil too. Oli B and Oli T were with us at teatime and had travelled north with Adam H who kindly offered a lift as he was skiing locally over the weekend. Enroute they had stopped for a leg stretch and hiked up to the summit of Ben Vane. Later in the evening Steve M and Brian Y arrived.

Saturday morning was a busy start in the kitchen. Plans made the previous evening saw Dave M and Carwyn heading up to Aonach Mor. Tickets were booked for the gondola at Nevis Range which made the first 650m of ascent a real pleasure. The rest of the ascent was hard work on mostly soft and occasionally deep snow, sometimes over ice. Before reaching the summit plateau the sky had totally cleared and the visibility became almost unlimited. There was no wind and because the ski area was closed there were very few people about. It was quite a contrast to Thursday's mini adventure and much more like the winter mountaineering that Carwyn had imagined and hoped for. Aonach Mor summit was reached in good time but Aonach Beag would have been too far to make the last gondola down to the car park.

Oli B and Oli T with Gav H and Gavin M, plus Brian, Steve M, Neil, Tracey and Martin all headed to Schoolhouse Ridge and on to summit the two Munro's of Sgorr Bhan and Sgorr Dhearg. The weather and ground conditions here were much improved from Thursday and everyone had a tremendous day, comfortably achieving both Munro's and this time without having to make use of artificial light.

Dave C, Ewart, Charley, Ed and Derek had a rest day on Saturday. The major effort of Friday had taken its toll. However, in the afternoon after tidying the kitchen, they summoned strength for a recreational wander up Glencoe and very fortunately found the Clachaig Inn to take a break at the mid point of their walk.

Saturday evening was a full team dining-in event. Chilli con carne, a ton of rice and garlic bread followed by another ton of apple crumble and five gallons of custard. I think. Whatever we had, it was a great evening and so nice to catch up with the day's news as well as what's been going on with everyone. Sunday's forecast was good, plans were made and all cleared up ready for an earlyish start.

The kitchen was properly busy on Sunday morning. Everyone would be out on the hill today and most were heading home in the afternoon. Dave C, Charley, Ed, Derek and Ewart headed to the top of Glencoe to tackle the Buachaille Etive Beag. Fantastic scenery and clear skies ensured that it was a worthwhile venture. It was a tremendous boost after the difficult day out on Friday.

Neil, Steve M, Oli B, Oli T, Gavin M and Tracey had another wonderful and successful day summiting the Munro's of Meall a Bhuiridh and Creise, walking from the Glencoe Ski Centre.

Carwyn took the opportunity to check out the Glencoe Ski Centre and facilities. After a short walk up the lift access tracks and within the ski area he retired to the cafe and tested any food with haggis in it.

Brian Y had been harbouring a romantic notion of the history of 'the Lost Valley' so went for a solo walk up Coire Gabhail as far as the base of the buttress. Fortunately there was no lingering evidence of the Glencoe massacre.

Dave M, Gav H and Martin had decided to tackle the Carn Mor Dearg (CMD) Arete and Ben Nevis. The good and improving ground conditions on neighbouring Aonach Mor had been noted on the previous day and the arete had been tracked. It was a stunning day, the best ever and so few people about. All three had put in another big effort today but were staying for one more night in the hut so after completing the route enjoyed an evening meal at the Clachaig Inn.

Dave M and Gav H were planning on having another day on the hill. However, Gav had tweaked his knee so despite the continuing glorious weather they decided to avoid possible further damage and head for home. The hut was left in good order with several other climbers from around the UK arriving for courses and hill walking. It was a tremendous weekend. Tough at first but everyone achieved a couple of successful days out and in the best ever weather conditions. The hut was in a great location, well equipped and easy to extend bookings so will most likely be used by our club again.

Thanks to everyone for coming and for the additional help given by others. Even before the start of the weekend there was a superb effort by all club members to help with planning, monitor weather, arrange transport, loan equipment and give time to less experienced members. It was great to achieve so much and we're grateful for everyone's contribution to make it such a fun and worthwhile weekend. Let's hope the weather dance works so well for the next one.

Dave M

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One Comment

  1. Great Trip report DaveM, and thank you all for such a great few days mountaineering, and socialising.

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