Thursday, 11 February 2016

Garbh Bheinn of Ardgour

“Gharbh Bheinn is a magnificent mountain.” (1)

“Gharbh Bheinn of Ardgour is one of the finest mountains in the western Highlands.” (2)

The MWIS predicted a “rare benign day” as Storm Gertrude had passed and Storm Henry was heading towards us, due to arrive that night.  Garbh Bheinn was my major objective for the weekend and the calmer conditions forecast gave me the chance to reach it.  We made a relatively early start to catch the first ferry at Corran and after a short drive to Inversanda we were walking by just after 9’o’clock.

From where we were staying at Onich, there is a good view of the mountain when the weather is cooperative, but there was little chance of seeing it this weekend.  It is as a Corbett that Garbh Bheinn is best known but it was on my ticklist because of its inclusion in the TRAIL 100 list and it was my first attempt at a summit listed on my #trail7summits challenge.

The south-east ridge has a reputation of being “interesting” and with a liberal coating of snow, that interest became obvious.  Careful route finding was needed to avoid the icy rock steps and we had to resort to ascending smaller snowed-up gullies, plunging knee-deep to make progress.  As we moved up, I was thinking that returning this way would be a challenge late in the day as it would mean reversing some awkward moves.

the way up - Sron a' Gharbh Choire Mhoir 

Although there was no particular need to do so, we dug a snow pit and discovered a layer of graupel about five inches below the top layer of unconsolidated snow.  There wasn’t much risk of avalanche as there were no continuously big areas of snow cover and we were plunging to a level below the graupel layer.  That was lucky as a consolidated top layer would have given us pause for thought.

We continued up to the lower summit of Sron a’ Gharbh Choire Mhoir where we had something to eat and put on our crampons.  Although visibility had not been extensive – good enough to select a sensible route but poor enough to mask views of hills further afield – a quick break in the cloud gave us a tantalising view of the Garbh Bheinn cliffs looming above us.

ethereal Garbh Bheinn

A descent to the col was much easier now that we were wearing spikes, before picking our way up the final slopes to the top.  We took the obligatory summit photos and made our way back down to the col where we discussed the way down and agreed that finding a way down Garbh Choire Mor was a better option as it would lead to a much easier walk out down Coire an Iubhair.

Garbh Bheinn summit cliffs with hanging boulder

Sticking to the right of the corrie, an opportunity to bumslide down the first couple of hundred metres was gleefully taken and it saved us quite a bit of time.  An inch-deep layer of windslab was sliding away at the top of the slope but this dissipated as we lost height and the terrain became slightly rockier.  The rocks brought the fun to a halt and marked the start of footstep roulette, not knowing whether we would be stepping on rocks below the surface or plunging thigh-deep.  The croak of a ptarmigan became louder as we were obviously approaching it but its camouflage was hugely effective and despite looking around the corrie below us, we never saw it.

It was becoming obviously warmer as we reached the lower slopes with the debris of many small slough avalanches below the more significant crags.  We reached the track but after a mile on the very boggy, and sometimes indistinct, path we realised that rushing for an earlier ferry was pointless and we eased off the pace.

It’s not often that having climbed a mountain I would want to do it again, but I suspect that a summer ascent in good  weather would give a superb day out.  Not that today wasn’t, of course !

(1)        quoted from     “Walking the Corbetts Volume 2: North of the Great Glen”
            author              Brian Johnson
            publisher         Cicerone Press

(2)        quoted from     “The Corbetts & Other Scottish Hills”
            editors             Rob Milne & Hamish Brown
            publisher         Scottish Mountaineering Club

With Gertrude in Lochaber

As Storm Gertrude hit Scotland our motivation to get amongst the hills was lacking.  The MWIS forecast of sustained winds of at least 60mph on Munro summits put paid to any idea of heading high, so the only realistic option was a lower-level walk.

Decision made, and starting at Kinlochleven, seven of us were soon heading up past the Grey Mare’s Tail waterfall on the way to Loch Eilde Mor.  We and soon reached the snowline as well as increasing winds and had to cross a couple of streams, trying our best to avoid a soaking.  At Allt Coire nan Laogh the decision was taken to head towards the loch below us instead of a tentative plan to climb another 1000 feet up to Coire an Lochain at the eastern end of the Mamores.  The wind had reached over 35mph, not many of us had brought crampons and the chance of reaching any summit was considered so low that the option to head higher was quickly dismissed.

Pap of Glencoe and Loch Leven

We descended to the shore of Loch Eilde Mor and followed the path around to the dam to take some shelter before following the pipeline path above Allt na h-Eilde.  As we turned a corner into a natural amphitheatre, the wind speed reached a sustained 40mph giving us reason to appreciate our goggles in the increasing rain and sleet.

The walk down to and through the woods coincided with heavier rain and we all ended up soaking as we reached the cars.  Thankfully the drying room at the hut successfully lived up to its job description and gave us some wearable gear for us to take full advantage of the following day’s gap between storms.