A heavy dusting of early snow on Ben Hope and other far northern hills today. Some thin ice too in places on the faces.
Jason Bonniface, 27/10/2012
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Long held plans for a weekend on Skye came to realisation in early September, predictably accompanied by Atlantic low pressure systems sweeping across the north west Highlands! The view from the Sligachan campsite on the Friday morning was one of mizzle obscuring Sgurr nan Gillean and the Bhasteir hills. An all too familiar sight over the years. After a luxurious Trangia cooked breakfast we headed over to Glen Brittle planning to walk up to Coire Lagan in the hope of a break in the weather and making some progress on the surrounding peaks.
Gearing up at the car park the midges made the most of their breakfast before chasing us through the campsite and up towards the corrie. The mist began to move on the Sgurr na Ciche face as we gained height and after a while we spotted the summits through a tantalising break.
Full of hope for clearer conditions at the lochan we decided to make for the North Ridge of Sgurr Sgumain a Moderate climb most easily reached by a traverse from around a third of the way up the Great Stone Chute scree before it narrows. The shifting scree on the traverse required care and gave us a taster of loose rock above. We joined the ridge a little above the bottom of the route having had too much up in our traverse!
Broken rocks and scree led to the base of a steeper rock band barring easy progress. The route follows the left most arete of this band and in dry conditions this pitch of around 20 metres might provide pleasant climbing but on the day in question was dripping with water. Its amazing the number of times that the Cuillin’s wonderful grippy gabbro turns out actually to be fine grained, slippery when wet basalt and this was one such section.
Tom led the pitch steadily finding a little protection and Gavin and I followed up. I wasn’t sorry not to have been leading until a few metres below the stance the rope above dislodged a football sized boulder. Thanks to a rapid warning from above I got in close to the rock in time to receive a glancing blow. Initially I thought to my shoulder but without a mark it must have been to my sack. I watched the rock plunge onto and down the scree below, pleased to remain intact and in contact with the cliff myself.
Above the climbing and scrambling became much more enjoyable following a lovely gabbro ridge without great exposure. In the upper section it steepened then turned to lead almost directly to the summit of Sgurr Sgumain. By this time it was apparent the earlier promise of improved weather was unlikely to materialise as we were well buried in moist cloud. We pushed on to Bealach Sgumain and up the South West Ridge of Sgurr Alasdair via the chimney on the south face dodging the difficult pinnacled section.
By the time we’d left the summit of Alasdair and descended the short distance to the top of the Great Stone Chute the rain was picking up so we dropped off happy that we’d made the most of the conditions.
That evening in the bar we had a good chat with a couple of Swiss guys wondering about the possibility of a ridge traverse. Given the conditions and forecast we didn’t encourage them and poured over maps and guides with them. We weren’t too sure how hardcore they were but when we converted the Thearlaich-Dubh gap V. Diff grade into the French system they were almost dismissive! As it happened the cloud, rain and wind the following day put them off completely and they went sightseeing to the north instead.
The following day the weather was remarkably similar, dry at Sligachan, mizzle over the Cuillin interspersed with heavier showers moving up Glen Brittle. We decided on the relatively low level scramble, The Spur (Grade 2) on the north flank of Sgurr an Fheadain, best known for its conspicuous Waterpipe Gully that bisects the north west face of the hill.
The lower slabs gave pleasant scrambling even in the damp, though care was needed to pick out the grippy gabbro. Higher up on the ridge to Sgurr an Fheadain there were short steps of good scrambling and towards the top spectacular views of Waterpipe Gully.
From the summit of Sgurr an Fheadain we dropped down to the bealach between Coire a’ Mhadaidh and Coir a’ Tairneilear and then followed the ridge up towards Bidein Druim nan Ramh over interesting scrambly ground.
We avoided Druim nan Ramh with a traverse to the east beneath the north peak to Bealach Harta, the going was easier than it had looked from a distance and the weather improved somewhat with some brightness and a view down to Coruisk breaking through on the bealach.
Given the improved weather we decided to go for a circuit to the north taking in An Caisteal and Bruach na Frithe on the main ridge. As we ascended the ridge towards An Caisteal we were treated to a stunning view back to Bidein Druim nan Ramh, a tricky and inspiring section of the main Cuillin ridge.
The summit ridge of An Caisteal provides interesting going with 3 gaps requiring negotiation. The 2nd and 3rd are quite interesting!
Beyond the summit of An Caisteal the north ridge descends to a narrow bealach before Sgurr na Bairnich. The descent starts easily enough but leads down to a steep drop into the bealach itself which is graded Moderate. Not knowing this section of ridge we were fairly cautious, opting to down climb with some protection in place. In the event it was tricky in descent but the holds were good.
As soon as we’d negotiated the step into the bealach the rain came on and we trudged through the wetness without significant difficulty on to Bruach na Frithe. With the weather deteriorating further we made a hasty retreat down the easy north west ridge and back to Glen Brittle drying out again once we’d dropped off the mountain proper. Beers and curry in Portree beckoned!
Sunday morning was windy and the Black Cuillin were buried in cloud. The Red Cuillin hills looked more inviting and being abandoned by my compatriots who were returning south I headed off for a circuit of the Glamaig hills.
The Black Cuillin remained deep in cloud throughout the day but Glamaig and Beinn Dearg Mhor remained largely clear. The hills are a good rough walk with some entertainment for the scree runner and are no doubt excellent viewpoints in better weather.
Descending the steep screes on the west side of Glamaig I wasn’t jealous of the Glamaig hill racers who annually run up the mountain by this route, the fastest managing the round trip from Sligachan to the summit and back in around 45- 50 minutes (the record was set in 2012 at 44 mins 27 secs by Finlay Wild).
Jason Bonniface, 25/09/2012
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After a poor winter how things can change! I’d packed my ski gear away (shoved it in the garage anyway) weeks ago and turned my attention to scrambling in Torridon on a couple of occasions but the recent snow falls were too much to ignore. After continual snow on Friday 11th Cairngorm ski centre was open for business today, 12th May, packed with snow starved skiers. It was too busy for me so I stuck the skins on and headed over Cairngorm for Coire Raibert. There were more off piste skiers and ski tourers than I’ve ever seen over the back there but there’s plenty of space.
Below, the view from my lunch spot across the Loch Avon basin to Beinn Mheadhoin, Loch Etchachan and Ben Macdui from Stac an Fharaidh. A group had made some lovely tracks over the other side of the loch down from Beinn Mheadhoin into Coire Bhuidhe above Loch Avon, a very nice effort.
After a couple of runs south from Cairngorm I plodded round the northern corries and descended from Coire Lochan to Lurcher’s Gully, taking the view below through the Lairig Ghru to Cairn Toul. Avalanche debris was prominent on Sron na Lairige. The warm sun was affecting the snow conditions lower down but it is May after all.
There’s a deep low coming tomorrow and perhaps further snow fall in the next few days so this might not be quite the end of the season.
Jason Bonniface, 12/05/2012
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Ben Hope had beautiful powder and a white out to go with it on Sunday 18th December. Unfortunately my ski descent coincided with the whiteout. It was so bad that I fell over twice on the descent due to a strange unbalancing effect encountered when believing I was still moving but had actually stopped!
Lovely powder snow on a firm base, possibly the best quality for skiing I’ve seen on Ben Hope in 12 winters of regular ascents. This was taken during a break in the snowfall on my ascent about 50 metres below the summit. Whilst on the summit the weather closed back in from the north west providing some very dense conditions for the descent and definitely spoiling the skiing.
Around 10cm of snow had fallen on the lower slopes whilst I was up high. The sun cast this beautiful light across Ben Hee (centre left) and Strath More as I descended back to the strath.
Very mild conditions have ensued since Wednesday 21st, it won’t be looking like this now. Hopefully cooler weather will be back soon.
Jason Bonniface 22/12/2011
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