Thursday, 3 March 2011

Spring on Beinn a'Chaorainn

Monday last I abandoned my poor partner in crime to his flu ridden campervan-fest and met up with Ben Keen from Shearwater Adventure for a day in the winter hills. The east ridge of Beinn a'Chaorainn was our objective for the day and the weather forecast couldn't have been better.

We began with a quick bushwack through the forest on the west side of the Allt na h Uamha, before emerging in the glen and joining a forest track that took us through a second plantation. Before long we were bashing up the heathery hillsides towards the base of the ridge which was looking alarmingly devoid of snow as we approached.

Knowing that the ridge is also a popular summer scramble we decided to go for it, whatever the condition- and were pleased to find when we got to the toe of the buttress that the north side of the ridge was still very snowy and a series of grooves led up towards the snowy crest higher up.  Ben and I decided that this was the ideal time to practice our winter ML techniques so we dispensed with climbing harnesses, tied the rope round our waists, and Ben shot off up the first snowy groove.

In five short pitches we made the crest, and took in coils. It was then a quick bundle up a series of short but fun rock steps before we were level with the curly cornices on the plateau on either side of the ridge. There was some avalanche debris and evidence of cornice collapse during the recent thaw.

The ridge is graded I/II but in the firm snow and dry conditions on the day it was a lot easier.  It is a popular choice in avalanche conditions, and I imagine that when buried it is quite challenging and for safety reasons teams will stick to the crest all the way.  I owe Wally a day on this route, so expect I will be back before long to see what it is like under deeper snow.

Meanwhile, Ben and I had topped out and it was barely even lunch time.  The sun was shining, I was getting my first tan of the year, and the summit of Creag Meagaidh was winking at us from across the glen. We had lunch on the summit of Meagaidh, and from that vantage, there were great views of Beinn a Chaorainn, which was showing its more wintery side. The East Ridge is the well defined central diagonal line in the picture.

Descent was a simple matter of following the eastern arm of the horseshoe around the glen back down to the Allt na h Uamha and a reasonable path to the road on the east side of the burn.

I have since paid for my desertion with a bout of the same flu that Wally was suffering with.  Well deserved, but no regrets!

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