New Year Meet 2009

January 12th, 2010 by Simon C

This year's new year trip was to the Alex Macintyre Hut, near Glencoe. A dozen of us made the journey north, and for once the snow didn't all melt the day before we arrived. Carmen and I drove up on Boxing Day, everyone else turned up a day or two later.

December 27. Sron na Lairig, grade II. Supposed to be an easy warm up day, but the deep snow put paid to that! The 4km walk in took a couple of hours, under grey skies with occasional snow flurries. The climb itself was trickier than expected, with no ice but loads of powder over rock with a little mostly frozen turf. A great mountaineering route, with some mildly terrifying pinnacles and an a cheval snow arete near the top, for which we roped up. The continuation to the summit took an age, as it was knee-deep snow all the way with little sign of any recent visitors, but also because the skies had cleared so we had to keep stopping to take photos. The summit too was deserted, nobody else had been that way all day despite its being a Munro. The descent was down the NE ridge, with its notorious bad step. Again, harder than expected – all possibilities looked too scary so in the end we abbed down the last section just as the last of the daylight disappeared. Luckily the full moon was bright enough to throw shadows as we continued along the ridge. We opted for an early descent into the valley, at a point where we could see there were no major crags to find a way round. It still took a good hour to cover the 1/2km to the bottom!

December 28. Definitely a short day this time, a walk up the twin Munros of Buachaille Etive Beag. We'd both done them before but not on as glorious day as this. Plenty of other people about (though most only did the main summit) so the paths were well trodden. Spectacular views in all directions, but especially of Bidean nam Bian and our previous day's route. Meanwhile, Alan and Nigel went for a long walk up Gulvain (near Glenfinnan), finishing long after dark.

December 29. Aonach Eagach (grade II/III). A winter traverse has been on my "to do" list for years, but every previous winter trip to Glencoe has been preceded by a massive thaw. Not so this year! Strong winds were forecast so it was without much optimism that Alan, Rich, Jenny, Carmen and I slogged up the hill. But somehow we managed to be sheltered along the whole ridge – Peter and Annie were on the other side of the valley and had trouble walking due to the wind (or was it the pies?), and Simon, Debra and Ben had a similar experience on Beinn an Dothaidh. It was worth the long wait for winter conditions, we had a magnificent day in clear cold conditions (between -6 and -8 along the ridge). Quick progress at first gradually slowed as we all started to tire, and the ropes came out to safe guard the pinnacled section. But we had passed the tricky bits before the sun set, all that remained was the ascent of the final Munro and the long descent in the dark back to the car we'd left at the Youth Hostel. 12 hours car-to-car, a great day.

December 30. Wild weather was forecast, and duly arrived. Ben and Nigel joined us for a short walk up Sgurr na' h-Eanchainne, a Corbett on the other side of the Corran Ferry. At least I thought it was a Corbett, but realised half way up it was actually a few metres short, so no ticks today, much to Nigel's disgust A nice little hill, with superb views across to the Glencoe hills and further north to Ben Nevis. Peter and Annie pushed their bikes round some snowy woods, I'm not sure about the others!

December 31. Expecting a sunny day, we plumped for the Ballachulish Horseshoe (Beinn a' Bheithir). The ascent up the NE ridge of Sgorr Bhan proved trickier than expected, and soon Carmen and I were on our own. Ben took a long detour round the awkward bit, hoping to meet us later, while Simon and Debra retreated to the nice warm hut. Sadly the forecast sun never arrived and we spent most of the day in the clag. We briefly considered heading back from the col between the Munros, but Ben had left his car at the far end so we pressed on. There was no sign of Ben, but not much sign of anything else either, so we decided not to wait. Navigation on the last section proved tricky, with undulating terrain and loads of identical small lochans, many not marked on the map. But eventually we emerged from the cloud, in roughly the right place. The final descent was a little more entertaining than hoped for, as we had to find a way in the dark round countless small outcrops and a couple of large cliffs, but we made it to the road and soon met Ben, who in best Annie style had bumped into an old friend on the hill and taken the descent from the col. I'm not sure what everyone else did – I think Annie and Peter went up Gulvain, but cheated by taking mountain bikes for the long approach.

New Years Eve. Preparation of the haggis supper was well under way, when suddenly we were plunged into darkness. The main fuse had blown! So we adjourned to a quiet and atmosphere-free Kings House for dinner before returning to the hut – where Nigel had nobly remained to organise an emergency electrician, so we had light in time for the customary new year falling asleep.

January 1. A return to the Beinn a' Bheithir for Carmen and me, this time for some ice climbing. Very slow going through deep powder with a hard crust which sometimes supported, and sometimes gave way. When we reached the north ridge of Sgorr Bhan we saw a small icefall and took the opportunity to stop for a rest and climb it. Nice easy climbing on fantastic ice, Carmen led straight up the middle for a good little 30m grade II. After this, some more crusty powder led to the main route of the day, Russian Roulette II/III. I say 'main' but it's only 50m high! Loads of ice, though more brittle than our first route, with lots of dinner-plating. Back to the sacks just as the last of the light disappeared, and the standard walk-out in the dark.

January 2. We decided on an easy day with a short walk in so went for a look at the Aonach Dubh cliffs on Bidean nam Bian. We didn't bother with a guidebook as we were just looking for some short easy angled ice to play on. Firstly we tried the Allt Coire nam Beithach but there was too much flowing water and not enough ice. Higher up though, there was loads of ice. A steep icy gully looked tempting but probably too hard, and there was a group of 3 just starting (we later found that this was Number 6 Gully, grade IV ***). So we went for an easy looking line of ice further right, which looked about grade II and one or two pitches. One minor epic and 3 pitches later, we reached the top – much steeper than it looked, the last pitch was vertical for a few metres! Harder than anything else we'd done, I reckoned about III/IV. Consulting the book later it turned out to be Squaddies Climb, grade II/III, only mildly humiliating – fun though.

A great week, in great weather – and it was just the beginning of a great winter!

Loads of photos here.
Peter's bike-pushing pictures here.
Debra's photos here.

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