Friday, 14 March 2014

Sgurr na Ciche and Garbh Chioch Mhor

In a happy coincidence, what felt like the first good weather of the year happened at the same time that my husband had a week off work.  However, with warm temperatures and monster cornices prevalent throughout the Highlands we faced the reality that even with the settled weather, winter climbing is a particularly risky business right now.  We've been away from the action, and with no first hand experience of conditions, we opted for less committing activities, whilst making the most of the good weather. Sadly this might be the first winter in 15 years that I haven't ticked a graded climb.

We kicked off the week on Sunday night with an evening stomp from Loch Arkaig up the forest road in Glen Dessary to A'Chuil Bothy. We found the bothy in good shape, and soon had a fire going and dinner on.

A' Chuil Bothy
The following morning was more damp than we had expected. However, after  second brew, the clouds parted and things looked more positive. We were soon heading up the glen in the direction of the peaks overlooking the Mam na Clioch Airde (the stony pass to Sourlies Bothy and Knoydart).

Looking down Glen Dessary
Just below the first bealach, we struck up through open ground in the direction of Sgurr na Ciche. This munro is a spectacular cone of rock- a proper mountain that I've admired a lot from the Knoydart side. It's one of those peaks that just asks to be climbed and ever since I first laid eyes on it I've been slightly obsessed. From the Glen Dessary side, it is less impressive, but still steep and fun.

In the gully that leads to the ridge
To gain the ridge, we postholed up a chossy gully filled with hollow snow and boulders in to a col between the Sgurr and its neighbour, Garbh Chioch Mhor. From there it was possible to strike up snow runnels to the summit ridge. Fun in ascent, these gave pause in descent! The views from the top were worth the work, and it's something I will relive every time I look at the eastern skyline from Knoydart.

Final snow cone to the summit. 

Looking west to Loch Nevis and Knoydart
Awkward descent....
From Sgurr na Ciche, we followed the switchback ridge over Garbh Chioch Mhor and it's little brother, Garbh Chioch Bheag.  The sun shone and the views were stupendous. In the clear conditions the terrain should have been straightforward, but the treachery of the soft snow and sagging cornices kept us guessing.

Looking back to Sgurr na Ciche
Garbh Chioch Mhor summit
Final switchback to the bealach.
Beyond the Chioch Bheag, we descended in to the bealach.  It's traditional to continue here on to Sgurr nan Coireachan, but it had been a long day, and to prove we are not baggers, we left it for next time, and struck down hill in to Glen Dessary and dinner in the bothy.

Monday, 3 March 2014

A Novice Skier's first tour

This winter has been mission learn-to-ski for me and it has been a slow (very slow) and often painful journey.  This weekend marked a watershed because, under the gentle guidance of experienced friends Dave and Pauline (plus Wally), I was coached and nurtured up a hill, off piste, with skins on.  Not only that, but I skied (some) of the way back down.  The received wisdom is that you really need to be a proficient piste skier to ski tour in Scotland, and as I'm still limping down green runs, this is far from a description of me. My survival on Saturday is entirely due to excellent route choice by my friends, good instruction, and benign conditions.  I admit I was terrified some of the time. The rest of the time it was brilliant glorious fun.

Skinning up on to the plateau of A Bhuidhenach Bheag. 

We set off from Dalnaspidal in the Drumochter pass in the direction of A' Bhuidhenach Bheag, a rounded munro on the east side of the A9.  Skinning up hill on my new touring skis was a revelation.  I'm happy to report that this aspect of ski touring was way easier than expected, and much easier than walking up hill.  Eureka!  I'm a convert.  

Fabulous views of Glen Garry
I did find the navigation very disconcerting when the clag came in.  At times we were in whiteout conditions, and the plateau is very featureless in those parts. On foot, I'm used to being fully plugged in to the landscape.  On skis, I had no idea of my speed, and suprisingly even found the slope aspect and gradient hard to judge. Skiing in a whiteout is also very unbalancing. Lots more practice required here....

And the descent?  Well, the initial slopes were wind scoured icy snow and I panicked. Having never skied anything so steep or technical, the skis came off and I stomped down the hill.  I'd packed the crampons for this eventuality, but my second hand ski touring boots were fine on the crusty ice so I was soon able to catch up with the others at the point where the snow softened and the gradient eased.  On the easier ground, I settled in to my tentative snowplough turns feeling right at home on the gentle slopes. Lots to learn- but I'm very keen, and happy to mark the milestone of my first munro by ski.

Cruising very very gently down the hill!