Glencoe Weekend Lagangarbh Hut (and Browns Rescue)

Dave Jones

Always a favourite weekend by many WBMC members, hence the reason that this weekend becomes booked up very quickly. Lagangarbh hut is owned by the National Trust for Scotland and has been occupied and maintained by the Scottish Mountaineering Council since 1946. It was recently refurbished in 1994.

The hut is situated north of Buachaille Etive Mor near the River Coupall, the hut was originally a crofting home typically with a central entrance hall and stairs ahead, two rooms up and two down, left and right. The roofing is still the local Ballachulish slate which covered much of Scottish housing. The walls are of thick stone, built to withstand the battering of gales.

Choose the right side upstairs dormitory (which I did) and you are rewarded with a unique view of one of Scotland’s best mountains – Buachaille Etive Mor.

Most members decided to travel up on the Friday (15th January) some had decided to go the day previous (Neil Easter) who had spent a very pleasant evening by all accounts on the Thursday evening at the Clachaig Inn & Kings House Hotel prior to kipping down in his well equipped van to the side of the of the buckle on the Glen Etive road. Guy Harris & Tracey Cook had also done a part journey up on the same day.

I was travelling up on the Friday morning with Andy Brown & Fred Hammonds, the Midlands had seen a good covering of snow and ice on the Thursday evening and Scottish conditions were a little closer than expected. We began our journey at 08.30am and travelled to Bloxwich to pick Fred up, prior to travelling north.

We stayed at Carlisle for fuel and a rather nice little fry up for me and Fred, Andy opted for Liver & onions, we witnessed a numerous houses that had encountered flood damage in previous weeks in the area, due to the river bursting its banks. It becomes reality when you see such conditions in real life.

As we travelled through Loch Lomond, the snow capped mountains started to appear, on what can only be described as “picture post card” We arrived at the hut and parked down the small layby were we met Neil & Guy. I think at first they need not see me in the back of the car due to looking quite relaxed between numerous sleeping bags and pillows, guy commented that I looked “cocooned” in the back seat.

The only negative side of staying at this location is the amount of times you have to keep going forwards and backwards between your vehicle and the hut, you have to walk over the footbridge and up a path, before gaining access and in wintry conditions it can get a little slippery, but still enjoyable.

We then met up with other individuals present, Tracey Cook, Sam Grosvenor, Pete Poutney, Mike & Marcus Smith arrived virtually at the same time we did. There was then a slight issue for our Chairman, Andy realised that he had forgotten his clothing bag. (This was the First Mishap of the Weekend more to follow) He had his walking jacket and boots with him, but everything else had been left at home. Without hesitation Andy got in his car and drove back to the “Green Welly Shop” in Tyndrum to purchase required items.

Fred and I came up with clothing that we would supply, but obviously it would be tight on Andy (Lol)

Tracey by now had started to get the wall heaters switched on within the hut, and in the other room the gas fire had started to get the seating area nice and cosy. The usual good conversation was being had and tea and coffee was in abundance, even though Tracey kept thinking it was “Wine o Clock”

Neil had kindly brought up the Mountain Weather Information Service report up on his laptop, which stated that it was going to be a little cloudy, but also cold, by know everyone had a general idea of what they was going to do on the Saturday morning, the climbers knew exactly where they was going. Myself and Fred decided to attempt Bidean nam Bian lying to the south of Glen Coe lying on the Glen Etive road.

Early Friday evening “No kit Brown” arrived back with waterproof trousers, underwear, socks, base layer, toothbrush to name a few. Fred Hammond had kindly made a curry at home that the three of us was going to have, Phil Matthews had brought along a large one man pizza, and Mike Smith was preparing chilli & rice, with everyone warm and either preparing to eat or had already eaten the scene was set for an enjoyable sociable evening.

Later on in the evening the last person to arrive was Nick Pitrowski, Nick had set off a little later departing the Midlands at around 13.00 hours.

So the whole WBMC team consisted of: Guy Harris, Tracey Cook, Neil Easter, Fred Hammond, Andrew Brown, Sam Grosvenor, Mike & Marcus Smith, Nick Pitrowski, Phil Matthews, Pete Poultney.

The Saturday morning arrived and everyone had started to wake relatively early, one person in particular Nick Pitrowski had got up very early and stated that he was going to attempt the Aon Eagech, Andy was going to do a Corbett Beinn Maol Chalium.

Guy, Tracey, Neil, Mike and Marcus opted to go to Glen Orchy, they done an ice gulley on Coire Daimh which later turned out to be an eleven hour epic (well done, everyone at base was a little concerned) Mike Smith opted for a change of mind and attempted a Corbett,Beinn Udlaidh but was snowed off even though he stated that it was a good day.

Andy, Fred and I started our walk, we all walked together then Andy was going to head to the left to do Beinn aol Chalium and me and Fred would go straight on for Bidean nam Bian.

At ground level there was a layering of soft snow, and it was boggy as we started to walk upwards following the stream, we had to skirt around the forest, we soon found a half decent path, but as we progressed, the snow became thicker and deeper but very soft.

We had to keep taking it in turns to try and tread a path, extremely hard work for the front person that was doing the hard work, the other two just trod in the footsteps that had been made. We got extra layers on and I and Fred looked at the Gully we had to attempt, Fred was becoming cautious stating that the snow could avalanche in the Gully and he did not feel comfortable with one ice axe. Visibility was very poor; we could still see Andy applying his touring skis, so we made a team decision to head up to Beinn Maol Chalium and accompany him.

We started to head up, Andy was having a few issues with the bindings, and so as he was trying to adjust Fred and I became cold, the weather was bleak with zero visibility and driving snow starting to hit us head on. I have not done many Corbetts but believe me by the time we had got to the top they felt as difficult as a Munro.

We had a brief photo at the top (see attached) and we started to head down. Again snow very difficult, thigh high in places and Fred even commented that it had been harder work than his recent trip to Kilimanjaro!

At one stage we came to an edge and started to head down and the top layering of snow started to move, believe you had never seen three individuals virtually run back onto the ridge.

Considerably hard graft coming down trying to locate a good descent, at one stage Fred was leading and the next he had slid and feel down a very steep ridge, fortunately he was ok, he did slide a good way which I think did startle him to a degree.

We had to make a brief stop to put head torches on, and we eventually got back down to the forest which we had to crawl under, over, up, down etc. Each time helping each other through fallen trees branches with twigs swinging back and hitting and trying to avoid taking your eyes out. When we got back to the car we realised that if we had had have skirted to the left of the forest we could have actually avoided going through it.

A four hour Corbett, had actually taken twelve hours due to the snow conditions, we got back to the car and started heading back down the Glen Etive road, but this is where we had the second mishap, due to wintry road conditions, we lost control of the car and ended up in a ditch. After numerous attempts and the front wheels spinning and trying to place bricks under the tyres to try and get traction, we realised that we would have to come back the following morning and have another attempt at getting the car out of the ditch. We left all the gear in the car and started to walk down the Glen Etive road. Mobile phone signal was very intermittent, I had made a couple of calls to various individuals, but they were either still out on the hills or they had not got their phones at hand. When in the Lagangarbh you can only get phone signal when at the top of the staircase, so the chances of getting through to someone was going to be a little difficult.

Head torches on we plodded on and eventually I got through to Mike Smith and I explained the situation. He said that Phil Matthews would head out to come and pick us up, after about thirty minutes we saw headlights coming down the track, and we found an area where it would be better for Phil to turn the car around, bearing in mind that the road is a single track and turning around can be a little difficult to say the least.

We got into the car and headed back to the hut. When we got back we realised that not everyone had returned and some were still out in the hills, I went straight for a hot shower and then prepared some food. By the end of the evening everyone had returned a little weary, all with a good story to tell around the gas fire with a drink.

Sunday morning arrived and some was stating that there had been a lot of snoring coming from one dormitory; we won’t mention names Neil Easter

After breakfast it was decided that Guy would go down to Glen Etive with his van to try and pull the car out of the ditch, along with Fred, Andy, Phil, & Nick, the outcome was the car tyres had to be deflated to get the car out and Guy put a tow line on between his van and the car. The team got back at around 13.00 hours.

Tyre pressures were checked and the car was loaded and we started our journey back. Some individuals were staying an extra night, Mike, Marcus, Pete, Neil, Guy, Tracey, Sam

So that’s how Glencoe went for January 2016, everyone had a very enjoyable time, snow was very soft which could have done with freezing, but this is the chance that you take.

Many thanks to Guy & Tracey for organising the weekend and we look forward to next year.

This article was written by Dave Jones and published on this website on the 1st March 2016