Although there were thirteen names on John’s e-mails about the Christmas meet, in the event only nine of us made the journey up a snowy A82 to North Ballachulish. Those who travelled in daylight were periodically able to view snowy hills when the clouds parted and the roadside was snow-covered from Tyndrum onward. Since our visit last year some work has been going on at the hut and it now benefits from replacement double-glazed windows and new doors – very smart!
Nigel and Calum elected to go to Glencoe to climb Sron na Lairig while the remainder of the party, led by John, headed for South Ballachulish with our sights on Sgorr Dhearg the higher of the two Munros on Beinn a Bheithir. (see Trail Magazine January 2016!) It was only a short drive across the bridge and up a track to the Forestry Commission car park in Gleann a Chaolais from which a marked path through the woods led us quickly upwards and a couple of viewpoints allowed spectacular views to snowy hills across the loch. Above and in front of us we had fine views of the snow-covered rocky peak of Sgurr a Chaolais – where we would not be going!
As soon as we left the cover of the forest we were walking in snow and we soon struck off to the left and made our way up the side of the north spur of Sgorr Dhearg. Ice axes were deployed and as the angle steepened we had to zig-zag up the slope until with a final lung-bursting pull we crested the ridge – and what a fantastic snowy prospect opened in front of us. Just ahead was a little rocky outcrop which we had to scramble over and then it was a short walk along the ridge to the summit – blue skies, snowy hills, sunshine and no wind –just perfect.
After recording the conquest and drinking in the view we descended lovely snowy slopes towards the bealach and stopped for lunch. Lunch with a 360 degree view! Bidean and Aonach Eagach and the wonderful landmark of the Pap of Glencoe featured to the East, Ben Nevis and the Mamores to the north; layer upon layer of hills in every direction.
Our route of descent into the corrie followed an old fence line. The snow was much wetter and heavier going; at times there were holes to trap the unwary and there was a danger of filling boots with water from the burn or the bog. The light on the hills on either side of the valley was beautiful and it changed as the angle of the sun declined. Soon however we were back in the forest and we retraced our steps down the path, taking care not to slip on icy boulders.
Well done to Beth on her first winter ascent. Hope there will be many more to come.
Back at the hut the oven was lit and soon cooking of the Christmas feast was underway. Thanks to everyone for their contributions. I think the result was well up to the standard set over the past five Christmas weekend trips. Some of our regular weekenders were absent but we had some new friends along instead.
On Sunday the temperature at sea level was -3 degrees C. There was a completely different feel to the day. While the rest of the party headed for Kingshouse Hotel (it was closed) and a walk on Beinn a’Chrulaiste, John had to drive back to Edinburgh. The track we followed across the moor was frozen and there were lovely patterns among the ice in the burn alongside. The going was heavy once we hit the hillside above the burn and Beth and I were quite content to enjoy the scenery without reaching the top. Calum and other members of the party managed to tick off another Corbett – I think we’d have been short of daylight by the time I’d have got there. I’ll save it for another day.